Running Backs Add Depth Through Spring

The running back position earned some clarity over the spring. It didn't look like the position was in good shape after the departures of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey last season, but the Gators spent the spring searching for depth. Mike Gillislee looks to be locked into the starting position while the battle for the backup is more complicated.

The Florida coaches saw enough of Mike Gillislee through the spring that he only touched the ball six times for 35 yards during the Orange & Blue Debut on Saturday. The senior has produced enough through his career that the coaches know what he can do on a bigger stage and in games.

Saturday was aimed at what the unproven players at running back can do.

Omarius Hines was moved to running back before the spring. He totaled three carries for 13 yards and was active catching the ball out of the backfield with five receptions for 47 yards. His 6-2, 223-pound frame gives the Gators a bigger body to line up in the backfield.

"We've discussed this as a staff -- how much does Omarius get at running back and how much is Trey Burton's role at fullback, slot receiver, a guy who can do some different things? He'll be carrying the ball from that position, as well," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said of Hines. We've got to narrow down where we are there.

"You can see a lot of different positions offensively. In order to find out what they can do, you need to evaluate them in game-type situations. That's why (Saturday), we moved some guys around. Omarius is a guy, you have to get him in a spot and let him go."

Chris Johnson surprised during his first public shot at running back during the spring game. He totaled 13 carries for 50 yards and one touchdown on Saturday and showed good vision and a desire for contact. Instead of trying to go out of bounds or avoid contact, the sophomore looked like he was trying to find the contact.

Mack Brown, who totaled eight carries for 31 yards and a touchdown on Saturday, seemed like the logical fit to be the backup running back behind Gillislee. However, Muschamp said they're trying to keep the job open.

"There ain't no question," Muschamp said about Johnson being in the running for the backup job. "He's a tough, physical runner. He's got a strong lower body. He was an outstanding runner for John Brantley down there at Trinity Ocala. He's done it before, just not here."

The role of Hunter Joyer could also expand. After losing so much experience at running back, the Gators could lean on the sophomore for short yardage carries. He totaled three carries for 12 yards on Saturday on the same short-yard situations he touched the ball in as a freshman..

"Yeah, I really think so," Joyer said about there being carries for him in the offense. "I'm not expecting to get a lot of carries in any other package or anything. Just trying to get a couple yards when we need them most."

Even after losing experienced talents like Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, Muschamp isn't worried about the position. Part of that comes from the improvement in the trenches.

The offensive line went through a down season during 2011, but the youth at the position went through tough stretches that made them grow up. The coaches and players were happy about their growth in the early part of the season.

"We're just better up front," Muschamp said. "We're tougher. We're stronger. We're doing a better job at the first level climbing to the second level and getting displacement up front. We've got some bigger girth guys defensively that we're moving and doing a nice job with.

"I'm just really pleased with our progress on the offensive line. If there's any one unit of our football team that I think has made tremendous strides and needed to, it's been there. We've got to continue to do so."

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