Spring preview: Running backs

The battle for carries in the Florida backfield will get underway when the Gators start spring practice on Wednesday. Mike Gillislee had a strong senior season during 2012, but there are two experienced backs returning plus a high school All-American that will be on campus for spring practice. The Gators have talent in the backfield but hope to find a group that can replace Gillislee's production.

Running back

Mike Gillislee had a breakout senior season that saw him run for 1,152 yards and 10 rushing touchdowns. After three years of serving as the backup for Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, Gillislee was finally given a chance to be the man in the backfield, and he put together a strong senior season that will get him drafted next month in the NFL Draft.

Behind Gillislee, the battle to win the backup job last season produced time for Mack Brown and Matt Jones. Brown started the year as the primary backup with Jones still getting touches. That changed as the season went on, as Jones assumed the backup role and got most of the touches when Gillislee wasn't on the field.

Jones runs hard and can break tackles

Jones, the 6-2, 226-pound sophomore, ran for 275 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He also showed good hands in the passing game and made three catches. Jones capped his freshman season with the knockout blow against Florida State, completing a season-high 32-yard touchdown run to give the Gators a 37-20 lead with 2:33 left in the game.

Brown ran the ball 25 times for 102 yards, averaging 4.1 yards per carry. With Gillislee gone, Brown will head into the spring of his redshirt junior season with a clean slate and trying to hold off the younger players for the starting running back position.

The biggest name at the position is freshman Kelvin Taylor, even though he hasn't played a down of college football. The son of former Florida running back Fred Taylor enrolled early after running for 2,423 yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior at Glades Day. Taylor totaled 12,121 yards and 191 touchdowns during his high school career.

Taylor will be expected to contribute immediately

The eighth-ranked running back out of high school, Taylor steps into an ideal situation for a star freshman. Last year's starter is gone and beginning his professional career, leaving the starting job wide open in Gainesville. He heads into the spring at 5-11, 215 pounds and wants to win the job.

Florida also signed Adam Lane in the 2013 recruiting class, but he will not be on campus until the summer.

Fullback

Hunter Joyer heads into his junior year after starting at fullback during his first two years at Florida. The 5-10, 235-pound fullback can also be a force in short yardage situations, although that happened more during his freshman season.

Joyer does the dirty work for the offense

In 2011, Joyer had 18 carries for 82 yards and two touchdowns during a season when the Gators struggled to get a consistent running game between the tackles. Gillislee proved capable of being that back, and Joyer's carries dropped to two for zero yards in 2012. With an inexperienced running back taking over the job in 2013, the Gators could use Joyer becoming a more consistent blocker this spring.

Trey Burton is the wildcard here. He's listed as a running back on the official roster, but he'll line up more at fullback, wide receiver and as the wildcat quarterback. Burton ran 29 times for 190 yards and two touchdowns last season, including an 80-yard rush at Tennessee. Burton also added 18 receptions for 172 yards and one touchdown.

He's versatile for the Florida offense, but his blocking could use some improvement this spring if he will spend more time in the backfield. Heading into his senior season, Burton being a better blocker is an important part of the Florida offense.

Burton is a versatile player for the offense


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