Notebook: Distance at running back

The battle to replace Mike Gillislee hasn't turned into much of a battle at all. Matt Jones served as the backup to Gillislee at the end of last season and has carried that momentum into this spring, impressing the coaches and players with his ability. Despite Mack Brown and Kelvin Taylor putting together strong springs, there's no doubt who leads the race to replace Gillislee this fall.

Matt Jones earned his spot on top of the depth chart with what he did last season. Near the midway part of the season, Florida head coach Will Muschamp challenged him to be more physical and run with a purpose. That flipped the switch for Jones, who ended the season with 275 yards and three touchdowns on 52 carries.

He looks to be turning that strong close to the year into a starting job in the fall.

"He's playing very well," said Will Muschamp, noting that Jones is clearly ahead of the other running backs. "When we're in thud, which means you stay (off the ground) and tackle but we don't pull to the ground, sometimes when we thud they think that they tackled him. When we're tackling, they don't tackle him."?

Muschamp is happy with the progress of the passing game, but it was the ground game that earned his praise about Saturday's scrimmage. And everyone got involved.

"Matt Jones, Mack Brown, Kelvin Taylor did some nice things," Muschamp said. "Mark Herndon, the walk-on from Ocala, that's really done a nice job for us on special teams, has become a dependable back."

FULLBACKS ADDING DEPTH: The Gators have been one injury away from trouble at fullback during the past two years. They didn't have the depth behind starter Hunter Joyer. To change that, the coaches decided to move Gideon Ajagbe and Rhaheim Ledbetter to fullback before spring ball started.

Muschamp said that Ledbetter "played extremely well" during Saturday's scrimmage.

Ajagbe is the one that has received most of the praise from teammates and coaches. Now a redshirt junior, Ajagbe hasn't been on the field much when he was at linebacker, but he's showing natural hands out of the backfield in the passing game for Florida.

"Gideon has been really productive for us. With Hunter-- one hit and you're out of it," Muschamp said. "So you've gotta be careful as a coordinator, with Brent, how you invest your time with a guy that you don't have much depth at the position. All of a sudden we feel very comfortable about that package. That's something we want to be."

TWO POSITION NOTES: Darrin Kitchens has spent most of his time at Gainesville as the SAM linebacker. Now heading into his senior year, Kitchens recently started working as an inside linebacker. He'll provide more depth inside behind Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor. Freshman Alex Anzalone was expected to play a part of that, but he has missed most of the spring with a shoulder injury.

There was also position news in the secondary. Muschamp said that defensive back Jaylen Watkins would likely start fall camp as a safety. With Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson at cornerback and Brian Poole starting as the nickel, Watkins can use his experience to fill one of the two voids at safety.

"He's a guy that we need to get on the field," Muschamp said. "He's a good football player and he's played well for us."

The second safety position still seems to be up for grabs, but Muschamp said on Tuesday that he is happy with the play of redshirt freshman Marcus Maye.

ROBINSON GETTING COMFORTABLE: Demarcus Robinson suffered a sprained ankle and missed about a week of practice, but he returned to the field on Monday with a slight limp. He's still learning positioning and where to line up in the offense, but the coaches continue to work with him to ease the learning curve.

"He still has to have Joker kind of get him in and out to show him some different things as far as what we're doing, but he did practice (Monday) and he should be getting better as the week rolls on," Muschamp said. "I don't think he'll be full speed Saturday. But he's a tough kid and he will practice."

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