Searching for Depth in the Backfield

The depth at running back isn't pretty. The Florida coaches have been forced to get creative this spring, including getting some reps in the backfield for Omarius Hines and Chris Johnson, to make sure there are enough capable bodies in the fall. After only one day of practice in pads, Florida head coach Will Muschamp is optimistic about the position changes.

Moving Omarius Hines into the backfield wasn't just about numbers. It was also about how underused he was throughout the 2011 season. Hines caught just seven passes for 106 yards and had one rush for 12 yards.

"He's an explosive athlete who has done some nice things," Will Muschamp said on Monday. "He hasn't carried the ball as much, and it's hard to judge in (just) helmets. He did some nice things carrying the ball. He's got some instincts with the ball in his hands. I'm interested to see him progress."

Muschamp said Hines' role could be similar to the role that Trey Burton filled out of the backfield. Burton wasn't an every down back for the Gators, but ran some wildcat, caught the ball out of the backfield and did take some handoffs. Hines is versatile enough and possesses a similar skill set.

"It was adding a bigger body in the backfield that has played," Muschamp said. "He's a guy we need to find a role for to use different ways to get him the football. When you go through our team and who can be the explosive playmakers, he's certainly a guy that stands out."

Sophomore Chris Johnson made the move to running back after the 2011 season ended after playing on special teams last year and serving as a safety/linebacker prospect. Johnson played some running back in high school, so Muschamp thought it was worth a shot to give him some reps in the backfield this spring since he doesn't have an obvious position on defense.

"He's really a tweener as far as the secondary is concerned," Muschamp said. "He gets swallowed up as a linebacker, but he's a very physical safety and a box safety type of guy. He was a guy that was a good back in high school and has explosive power. Let's give him an opportunity to take a shot."

The starters by default at this point in the spring are Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown. The two running backs combined for 68 carries last season as they were stuck behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey on the depth chart. Gillislee has shown flashes during his career but never got the consistent touches to make it count. This spring he has that opportunity.

For Brown, it's about taking advantage of the opportunity. He has been stuck behind older, more proven players in recent years. He now has the chance to see consistent playing time. Either way, Muschamp was non-committal about a running back by committee.

"We'll see how that goes," Muschamp said. "Mike Gillislee is a guy we're excited about. Mack Brown is playing his best ball since he came to Florida, according to Brian White. Both of those guys have jumped out."

Muschamp also mentioned using Hunter Joyer at tailback as a possibility.

PUSHING FOR MORE FROM DUNBAR: Muschamp was clear with Quinton Dunbar about his expectations. He told the redshirt sophomore wide receiver in front of the entire team that he is no longer a freshman and needs to be a trusted part of the offense.

His teammates raved about Dunbar last fall as a player that would have a breakout season as the deep threat in the offense. He caught 14 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns last season.

The expectation is that those numbers will jump in the fall.

"He has always worked extremely hard. Quinton was a redshirt freshman," Muschamp said. "There aren't many redshirt freshmen that you rely on to be your go-to guy at the receiver position or any position.

"It didn't have anything to do with physical ability. It had to do with mental aptitude of consistency in his performance every day in our league."

LOOKING AT THE DEFENSE: The biggest jump from year one to year two with a coaching staff is the comfort within the scheme. As the Florida defense returns all of its position coaches and most of its players, the group has looked good through just three practices.

"We have really good retention on the defensive side of the ball as far as where we are with our scheme and the understanding of what we're doing," Muschamp said.

In the two open practices last week, cornerback Jaylen Watkins stood out. The Gators will search for their second cornerback, next to starter Marcus Roberson, once the fall season starts.

"We really challenged him on his physical traits in the offseason of getting stronger and winning on the line of scrimmage more," Muschamp said of Watkins.

There has been a transition period for JUCO transfer Damien Jacobs. There have been plays where the junior has shown his talent, but his issues aren't different from most players going through their first spring practice. He needs to show his skills on every play.

"The consistency every snap and the effort," Muschamp said of what Jacobs needs to improve. "He show some flashes in his get off, and he's got quick hands. He can flip his hips in the rush and anchor in the run game. He's got all the tools. It's just the consistency in his performance, down-in and down-out, we've got to get him in that direction."


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