Running Back Depth Stands Out

The running back job wasn't in much doubt when the Gators opened fall camp. Mike Gillislee didn't waste time making sure it was his. The senior running back secured the starting position early in camp while Florida head coach Will Muschamp and his staff are now searching to find out who will back him up. It's a different style of group than 2011, but the position looks to be in good hands.

"The bulk of (the carries) are with Gilly," Will Muschamp said of Mike Gillislee. "That was pretty evident through camp—Gilly is going to get a bulk of the reps. Mack (Brown) and Matt (Jones) are in that next pecking order, and Omarius Hines is going to get his touches as well."

Gillislee's opportunity to start has been a long time coming. In three years of playing time, Gillislee has averaged 306.7 yards per season. Despite the production and the solid ability off the bench, there were always questions about what Gillislee could do as the feature back at Florida.

He'll get his chance to prove it this fall.

His role was limited in 2011 because of the starters. Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey featured blazing speed that was a better fit for a perimeter-oriented run game. Gillislee was supposed to be the power back off the bench, but his growth was slowed by injuries. He missed the spring in 2011 and part of fall camp because of injuries. Then, when the coaches were ready to give him more carries at Auburn last season, he went down with another injury.

"He has been healthy," Muschamp said about the difference for Gillislee this year. "The running game we're running now is more suited for him. That's not a slight on what schematically we did last year, it was who we had. (This offense) fits him better. He looks better running the inside power and inside zones as opposed to the stretch to the boundary. He looks better. He gets his pads north and south. The run game fits him better in what we're doing now."

Behind Gillislee, the Gators show promise but don't have proven players at the college level. Freshman Matt Jones has been impressive in fall camp and will see the playing field this fall. Redshirt sophomore Mack Brown is also fighting for touches.

Matt Jones has impressed this fall

"Very encouraged with the other guys," Muschamp said. "There's not a tremendous drop off other than experience. Those guys haven't played a lot, and Matt hasn't played at all. That's the deciding factor—the confidence we have in the experience that Mike has as opposed to the other guys."

Sophomore Chris Johnson could also fit into the position. He was moved to running back in the offseason after splitting time at linebacker and safety last year. That's part of the reason he was moved to offense—there wasn't a clear position that he projected at on the defensive side of the ball.

Muschamp recently spoke with Johnson about also playing some fullback.

"We liked his film at running back out of high school," Muschamp said. "We looked at where he was fitting because he was kind of a tweener between linebacker and safety. We didn't know where that was headed. Looking at our running back situation, not really sure with some injuries, we felt like he could be a guy that could be really valuable at that side. We like him at running back."

Johnson carved out a role on special teams last season that will continue in 2012. Muschamp called him the team's "most valuable special teams player" because of how much he does.

They'll monitor his time on the field, as the coaching staff does with every player, but Muschamp doesn't believe in sacrificing on special teams for offense or defense.

"We're always pretty cognizant of it, but special teams are critical, especially when you're talking in terms of punt and kickoff," Muschamp said. "Those two units can change the game, either for or against you, pretty quickly.

"Special teams take precedent over offense or defense, and our guys understand that. D.J. (Durkin) has got full reign for the personnel he needs on any situation. We'll rest them on offense or defense in terms of special teams."

IDENTIFYING PLAYMAKERS: Muschamp stated clearly on Monday morning that he feels much better about where the receivers are at this point in camp than where they were at this point last year. Part of it has to do with health, as he pointed out the time that Jordan Reed and Solomon Patton both missed in camp last year.

"There is a lot less uncertainty of who is repping where," Muschamp said. "We've had to do a lot less cross training on both sides of the ball. Our depth is much better. We've stayed healthier through camp, but certainly not to the extent it was last year."

The injuries and depth chart caused for issues in practice at all positions. Muschamp goes through and makes the practice schedule for every day of fall before camp even opens.

"You adjust as it goes based on numbers and how the team is doing," Muschamp said. "I've had to adjust very little things year. Last year, I had a lot of red ink on the practice schedules."

The added depth at receivers has helped, but players at other positions have Muschamp convinced that the winner of the quarterback battle will have plenty of targets to throw to.

"When you start talking about the receiver position, I always go to Trey Burton and Jordan Reed," Muschamp said. "It's not just the receiver position, it's how you're utilizing those guys. We do a good job of utilizing those guys."

DEPTH CHART ON THE OFFENSIVE LINE: The Sunday meeting of the Florida coaches didn't produce any set depth chart, but there are some clearer answers for the offensive line. The offensive tackle position has a top four of Chaz Green, D.J. Humphries, Xavier Nixon and Matt Patchan with Trip Thurman also mixing in.

At right guard, it's Jon Halapio starting and Jessamen Dunker backing him up. At left guard, James Wilson is penciled in to start, with Kyle Koehne and Ian Silberman behind him. Koehne can play all five spots on the line.

Jonotthan Harrison is penciled in to start at center with Sam Robey and Koehne behind him.

Although Maryland transfer Max Garcia can't play this season, Muschamp said he is "really pleased" with his play and that Garcia can play inside or outside on the offensive line.

Silberman is finally healthy and has built strength back in his shoulder after an injury kept him off the field in the spring.

"He can play tackle and guard," Muschamp said about Silberman. "He missed all of spring with the shoulder and has come off that very well. He's a very physical player. It's just turns and reps. That's what he's got to work to get through.

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