Making a Recruiting Statement at Running Back

What a difference a year makes for the Florida offense. In 2007, the Gators could not get much production out of the running back position and now they find themselves turning to the position to win games and put them out of reach. There have been some that have said it for a while, but this isn't an offense dependent on it's receivers to move the ball, it is one that relies on playmakers.

The Gators are starting to utilize their running backs like they have not in recent years. It should start paying off dividends at the position on the recruiting trail.

In 2007, Florida running backs accounted for 761 yards and six rushing touchdowns on the entire season. The Gators relied heavily on quarterback Tim Tebow and wide receiver Percy Harvin to run the ball. Harvin and Tebow accounted for 764 and 895 yards respectively, both single handedly eclipsing the rushing totals for all the running backs combined. Harvin and Tebow combined for 29 rushing touchdowns on the year.

Fast forward to 2008 and with a hand full of talented running backs on hand, the Gators are leaning a lot on the young group. In just half of the regular season the Florida running backs have surpassed the total yards and touchdowns from a year ago by the same position. Freshmen Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, along with sophomore Emmanuel Moody, junior Brandon James and senior Kestahn Moore have all combined for 760 yards and eight touchdowns and a very nice (7.4 yards per carry) average.

The ability for the big play is there this year from the position as opposed from years past. The Gators had three runs of 30 yards or more in the entire 2007 season from running backs. In six games of this season, the running backs have accounted for seven runs of 30 or more yards.

The ability at the running back position has taken away the reliance of Tebow and Harvin to run the ball as much as they did last season. Both Tebow and Harvin are on schedule to both maybe crack the 400 yard rushing mark for the season, a little more than half of their rushing total from last year. Is that a good thing? Well I am all in favor of putting the ball in your best players' hands as much as possible, but heading down the home stretch of the season a healthy Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin from less wear and tear are absolutely good things.

So, what is missing? Give me some size and brute to go with all of that speed.

Jeff Demps (5-8, 185), Chris Rainey (5-9, 185), and Brandon James (5-7, 185) are all smaller backs and although they can run for a touchdown any time they touch the ball, they are not optimum for goal line and short yardage situations. They are still utilized in those areas because of the staff's desire to make them full functioning backs and available for every play, but they aren't going t push many piles back. Emmanuel Moody (6-0, 210) and Kestahn Moore (5-10, 212) have the size, but both have been injury prone in 2008 and this is Moore's last season and one that he has been utilized less than any of his previous.

The Gators need a big back that can also take it the distance when running the ball. Now, with a new emphasis on running the ball with the running backs, the Gators are out recruiting the position harder than ever and are eyeballing several players, most of which are already committed to other teams.

This is why Urban Meyer was seen at Tampa's Gaither High School last week watching running back Jarvis Giles (6-0, 180) who has an excellent frame to put on more weight and the explosive running ability needed in this Gator offense.

This is why the Gators continue to recruit the likes of Jaamal Berry (5-11, 193) of Miami (FL) Palmetto (committed to Ohio State), and Trent Richardson (5-11, 225) of Pensacola (FL) Escambia (committed to Alabama). Both are big backs that will only get bigger and both can definitely hit the hole for long touchdowns.

In the case of the three mentioned above, the Gators started out in the hole this year in recruiting these big and spectacular ball carriers. That all three are headed out of state to play football is most likely a sign that they felt the other top two programs in the state were on the down slide and that Florida does not utilize their running backs to carry the ball.

Well the other two programs are still wait and see as they both get into the meat of their schedule, but the Gators have certainly shown the ability to run and the willingness to run from the running back position. The fact that Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow are no longer the only threats at the position will likely open the eyes of some of the backs that just would not give Florida a chance before now.

Giles, Berry, and Richardson aren't the only big backs the Gators have and will target for the 2009 class, there are certainly more that are getting phone calls and going out to other worthy backs. The Gators were in on prospects like Notre Dame commitment Cierre Wood (6-0, 196) of Oxnard (CA), LSU commitment Michael Ford (5-11, 205) of Leesville (LA), Georgia commitment Washaun Ealy (5-11, 198) of Twin City (GA), and Mississippi State commitment Montrell Conner (6-2, 215) of Monroe (LA) at the start of the recruiting process. Look for them to fire up the process on a few of these before all is said and done.

With an offense that already leads the SEC in scoring and is second in rushing offense per game, the Gators should be making waves with big time running back prospects. They have just missed on prized big backs in the last few years, this year they can show proof of production and still a definite void to be filled.

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