Can Mack breakout?

Two years ago the Florida Gators were looking somewhere new for their running game. The losses of speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey left a mighty big hole to fill in 2012. Up stepped senior Mike Gillislee and the first 1,000 yard rushing season at Florida since 2004. In 2013, Florida was back trying to figure things out. Freshman Kelvin Taylor performed well but so did junior Mack Brown.

Kelvin Taylor is the guy that looks to be the leader of the contingent of running backs heading into the fall, but Mack Brown has made some changes to try and make himself a more valuable entity at the running back position in his senior year.

We see it a lot in college sports where a player plays through the first three years of their career and at a medium to high level and then all of a sudden, they mature physically into someone a little different. Maybe it is the lure of a senior season, or the lure of a future playing pro ball, but a lot of seniors transform themselves in that last season to give It one last chance to shine.

In Brown’s case, he has worked hard his whole career. He has been on-call when needed and gladly accepted his role and whatever that is. That doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want to play more, he does, but he has minded his time as a team player and worked his way through school.

In 2010 Brown was brought in as the only top running back on the recruiting board that Urban Meyer signed in his six years at Florida. The Gators got his commitment in July before signing day and held on from strong pushes from Georgia and Florida State to keep Brown in the fold.

As a true freshman, Brown came in late in the USF game and rushed for 23 yards, but that was the end of his playing time in that first year. In 2011, Meyer left the scene and Will Muschamp became the new head coach. While a down-hill running game was important to Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, a lack of real play makers and speed on offense meant the Gators would lean heavy on Demps and Rainey liked mentioned above. In his red-shirt freshman year Brown rushed for 42 yards total, 36 in one game and didn’t get a carry past the fourth game of the season.

As a sophomore, Brown carried the ball 25 times as the speedy and elusive Gillislee shined on offense. Brown finished with 102 yards but showed the propensity to run inside and handle the ball well.

With Gillislee gone, 2013 was a different year for Brown. The starter-to-be was supposed to have been sophomore Matt Jones, but Jones started off the season with an illness. Brown got his first career start against Toledo and ran for 112 yards. It was 2/3 of the total yards he amassed in his career before that point and things seemed to heading in the right direction.

One game later and Jones was back from his illness and got the start against Miami. Jones struggled in his first game back with lack of conditioning missed with all of the off-season off. He also coughed up the ball at a crucial time and was part of a one score loss to the Hurricanes. Jones had a good year as a freshman in limited duty, but clearly struggled in year two with the illness.

Brown returned again the next game against Tennessee, and was handed the ball 24 times for 86 yards. It had become clear by this point that they trusted Brown with the ball in his hands in terms of not turning the ball over. He hasn’t coughed the ball yet in his college career.

Jones did well against Kentucky the following week on the road running for 176 yards on 28 carries and relegating Brown to the next guy in. There also was a pattern of putting him in short yardage situations with the safe feeling of knowing he wasn’t a guy going to cough up the ball.

Brown got his only other start against Missouri on the road after Jones was hurt in the LSU game and out for the year. Unfortunately for Brown, Taylor made a few plays late in the Missouri game and was the starter for the reminder of the year. The good soldier continued to play hard and stayed true to the team, he averaged around 10 carries a game for the rest of the year and finished with a solid 543 yards and four touchdowns on the year.

That year he played at a solid 5-foot-10 and 218 pounds His hard running style was great for the short yardage game and should have been great for the power running game of a year ago, but as much as it was solid, the spectacular didn’t follow.

Now, a new offense, a college degree in his hand, and an ambition to do bigger and better things, Brown has changed his body a bit for his last season in a Gator uniform. Maybe the four pounds he lost to reach 214 pounds doesn’t sound like a lot, but watching Brown in the spring, it was quite apparent that he was leaner and seemed faster than he has been since his arrival.

In fact he has changed his muscle mass, made it leaner and improved his quickness and speed. His propensity to hold on to the ball is so huge for coaches, that any ability to break the long run that has eluded him while at Florida, should allow him to really get on the field even more.

It won’t be difficult for the staff to give the ball to Mack Brown and to know they will live to see the next down, what Brown is putting himself into position for, is to be the guy that keeps getting the ball. Can he be that guy? Not many thought Gillislee would do it.

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