Spring Breakdown: The Running Backs

The Florida Gators had one of their best rushing seasons ever in 2008, rushing for more than 3,200 yards. The running backs were a big question mark coming into the season and a goal of 1,000 yards was put in front of them by the end of the season. 1,930 yards later, the play at running back was a huge success and Coach Kenny Carter is looking for that to improve starting this spring.

Of top concern is the health at the position. By late January, the top three running backs from last season were busy healing from injuries suffered either during the season or running track as was the case of true freshman Jeff Demps. According to Florida running back coach Kenny Carter, all three guys should be good to go for spring.

"All of them are healing great," Carter started with a smile emphasizing the importance of their play in the spring. "Chris Rainey is healing well, he's not 100 percent. but he's pretty dang close. He and Jeff Demps are racing already, and it's really good. He really needed the surgery and it's drastically different."

There will be one that is limited, but Brandon James looks to take more of the slot receiver role in the offense and will share his time at running back and receiver once his foot injury is healed.

"Brandon James won't do much in the spring," Carter said. "He still has a cast on. He's going to do receiver and running back stuff, so he's not going to do much."

The Gators had great success running the ball for most of the season, but there were times when the running backs seemed to get bogged down and not be much of a weapon for Florida. Consistency is key for the Florida offense who will be missing its most dynamic playmaker from last season, Percy Harvin. Carter is looking for consistent dynamic performances from this group returning.

"I expect for us to take it to another level," Carter said. "We were very productive at the position but we can be a lot more productive. We should be able to have multiple games with guys being able to take over a game in the running game. We had two games where we had two 100-yard rushers and we should not have a game where we do not at least have one."

With Harvin gone, the offense will likely lean on Demps, Rainey and Emmanuel Moody to get the ball in the end zone. Carter expects the playmaking ability to shine through with his explosive bunch.

"We will likely have more touches because of the way our playmaker situation is until some of the younger receivers are able to mature and learn how to play," Carter said. "But, we are excited to see where we can take off now because of comfort. They all have played and now they are going to be able to go where we need them to go."

Carter wants his guys ready on every single down. A 'treat every down like it is your last' mentality is what he is striving for. Number of touches is something his guys won't worry about.

"You would always like to have a 10- yard rusher, but the biggest thing we talk about is competitive excellence," Carter said. "We don't know how many touches we are going to get but it shouldn't matter with these guys. Any time they touch the ball it could be 70 or 80 yards and a touchdown. That is the mindset they have, when my time comes, I have to go."

Even though they may run differently, Carter feels his trio of backs are all good enough at each thing to be put in the game in any situation. It is a luxury to have the versatility of playing any of these guys at any time during the game.

"They are interchangeable," Carter said of the trio. "They all have different styles and get along very well. It's not about the individuals."

Junior Emmanuel Moody transferred into Florida before the 2007 season and sat out that year. He came into games in 2008 and at times showed the power needed at the end of games to run out the clock and push for first downs. At other times, he showed his ability to break tackles or make defenders miss all together. It was his general health and some attitude that got in the way at times and kept him from producing more than his 424 yards and single touchdown.

"Moody is doing it," Carter said with a grin about his oldest player's attitude and work ethic. "He is committed to the system and not being hurt is the biggest thing. He is fighting through injury. He strained his groin in work outs and never backed out. Last year he didn't fight through things like he should have. This year, he's done a terrific job with it."

Demps is the blur. Give him a crease and it's turn out the lights time. If he is the deepest guy on the field by even a yard, he will score. Carter loves the way Demps soaks everything in so quickly.

"Demps caught on fast," Carter said. "He is very sharp and his football IQ is tremendously high. That was the thing that got him even with everyone (older) really fast. He gets it and understands what we are doing. He has the great ability to conceptualize things when the defense is not what you think it is or what it thought it would be.

"Making people miss in space is something he is working on more than anything else. If he gets that under control he will be really pretty dangerous, even more so than he is now."

Rainey is the jitterbug of the bunch and his elusive running style can get the crowd roaring in a split second on any given Saturday. Carter has seen Rainey mature off the field and also physically as his body has been fighting weight gain since his arrival.

"He's about three pounds from being 180 and really gaining weight," Carter said. "He is doing a good job of managing things off the field which in turn will take care of things on the field. You don't have to worry about accountability. Physically he can do great things running the ball but we want him to be more consistent in the passing game and give us a new weapon."

Which leads us to a new look for the Florida offense. Carter is really excited about seeing his guys used in the passing game and expects to see a lot of times where more than one is on the field at the same time.

"Those guys are going to be utilized a little more in the passing game a little more than they have in the past," he said. "Two of them will be on the field a lot. That is our plan. We have guys like (Andre) DeBose coming in and we will have to see what he can do. Until then, we will see two of them on the field at the same time.

Another important spot for his guys is on special teams. If the University of Florida recruits you to play running back, it is because you are an elite talent. The Gators under Urban Meyer want to utilize that talent as much as possible and that means finding a place on special teams to make a difference in every ball game.

"They have to play on special teams, they have no choice if they want to play," Carter said. "Jeff blocked two punts and most of the time Chris was right next to him. Moody was training to be our off returner and in turn it means he could be the returner. We are also looking to see him on punt, because Chris and Jeff will be on punt as well."

What I want to see this spring...

Rainey goes hard on every play like all of them do. Using his slight body to block has been an issue, but not one that he shies away from. He can and will get better. Of course Carter made it a point to get him more involved in the passing game, so we will need to see him make moves there as well this spring.

Demps as noted needs to work on making moves to create more space. Given large area he can out run anyone, but ankle breaking moves are not his forte and something they are working on through exercises.

Moody just needs to stay healthy. He has the Adonis type build and has all the ability in the world. Staying healthy will keep him on the field at practice and make things easier in knowing what to do when his time comes during the game. I also want to see his performance catching the ball.

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