A Positive Difference: Down Hill Running Game

Yet again we venture into an inexperienced part of the Florida offense and have to believe that it too will be better. Will the Gators run for more yards in 2012 than 2011? More than likely they will. But more of what head coach Will Muschamp is looking for is effective running. The Gators averaged a pretty measly 4.0 yards per carry in 2011 and that should improve dramatically.

Gators everywhere should be thankful for what Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey did for this football team in a time of need. They were the offense for the most part in 2011 catching passes when necessary, but more importantly adding speed to an offensive unit that needed it.

Unfortunately, the old offensive coordinator was a little closed minded when it came to the two and so as much as they were needed, they also became overused and the offense was overly predictable.

One issue with them and all their speed was their size. Demps topped out at 190 pounds while on a good day Rainey may have weighed in at 180. In the SEC that isn't going to cut it.

With the old coordinator, out went the conservative roster use and in comes Brent Pease who wants to utilize as many parts as he can. What this unit may lack in a little less speed makes up for it in size. None of the running backs that will be thrown in the fire this year will weigh less than 205 pounds. For those counting, that is about a 13-14% increase over Rainey's weight, pretty significant.

It all should start with Mike Gillislee (5-11, 208). If he can stay healthy, Gillislee looks to have a very big year for Florida. Muschamp talked at a recent gator gathering about his stable of backs including Gillislee.

"Mike Gillislee is a guy that I am excited about,l" Muschamp said. "He is a guy that was banged up a little bit last year. I think he can be a force in our league. If he stays healthy in the SEC, he can tote the ball 150 to 200 times. That is probably going to happen."

What Gillislee and company bring to the table is a more direct running game that will run north and south. The offense relied too much on an outside running game to utilize the speed of Demps and Rainey, but also to preserve their health for a long season. With numbers and size, Muschamp has an athletic group that should be able to run behind their pads and get a first down in short yardage situations.

"We have some depth at the position," the head coach said. "It will be interesting to see how the roles hash out in fall camp. Trey Burton (6-3, 227) will play some sort of (H-back), (fullback), slot, or other positions. He is one guy that gets it, and just knows the game of football. He is very smart and can do a lot of things for our football team.

"Omarius Hines (6-2, 223) is a guy like that. We will play him at running back and at the slot and it will be hard for defenses to identify exactly what he is. He is an explosive back and another guy we need to stay healthy."

At different speaking engagements Muschamp has talked up backups Chris Johnson (5'9, 205) and Mack Brown (5-11, 210). Both bring power and speed to the game.

"Hunter Joyer (5-10, 244) can be a one back or a true fullback," Muschamp said. "He gives us a lot of flexibility."

And we should also expect the lone running back signee to get in the game quickly when he arrives on campus in June.

"Matt Jones (6-3, 230) is a guy I am excited about coming in from Armwood High School," the head coach said.

Outside of Hunter all of these backs present SEC type speed at the position and a whole new ball game with the power they bring to the table.

To complement the running backs and their style will be a significantly more experienced offensive line than a year ago to go along with the right offensive line coach to go with the group.

"Tim Davis is the offensive line coach, if you saw the spring game, you saw the most improved unit was our offensive line," Muschamp said.

The Gators return a ton of experience on the line and seven players that have started at Florida before. Last season it was quite the opposite and injuries played a big role in the demise up front.

"Jon Halapio (6-5, 325) and Xavier Nixon (6-6, 315) and Matt Patchan (6-6, 280) had a great spring," Muschamp said. "Those guys have all made tremendous improvement and gotten stronger in the weight room.

"We can make the most improvement there and I really saw us running the ball downhill. You look at Chaz Green (6-5, 305), Kyle Koehne (6-5, 304), James Wilson (6-4, 327), Jon Harrison (6-3, 315), and Sam Robey (6-4, 305) , will figure in on what we are doing."

Muschamp is also excited about two newcomers to the squad that enrolled early from January and look to make an impression in their first year on campus.

"We signed two outstanding offensive linemen in Jessamen Dunker and D.J. Humphries," he said. "They are big, athletic, and smart. Dunker is over 300 pounds, Humphries is a little short of that right now, but he will be there in another couple of months."

Nixon and Halapio each have 20+ starts to their name at Florida. Harrison has started 14 games in his career including all of last season. The unit returns with 80 total starts under their belt. A year ago, the same unit returned with 27 starts as Gators. It is a much more experienced group in 2012 and the plan is to make them bigger and stronger.

The combination of numbers and size at running back, with strength and experience on the offensive line should prove to make the downhill running game a big part of the Florida offense in 2012.

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