Spring Evaluation: Running Back Shined

The Florida Gators have to replace a lot of talent from a 2009 squad that finished third in the country. One spot they don't have to replenish is at running back as the Gators return everyone and will add a freshman into the mix in June. This spring was really all about one guy. Sophomore Mike Gillislee was a workman and needed the time to get to know the offense. He did just that.

Only two scholarship running backs really participated at all this spring and that was Mike Gillislee and senior Emmanuel Moody. Junior Chris Rainey spent most of his spring as a slot receiver and so we will talk about him more at that position. For now, it was a chance for Moody to reacquaint himself with the coach that recruited him here in the first place and a chance for Gillislee to really get to know the system that he didn't play much in last season.

Unfortunately for Moody, he spent over half the spring injured and away from the fracas that would allow him to earn a reputation as a dependable back. Right now, the Gators head into 2010 with Moody much like they did in 2009, not really knowing how much he can do.

Emmanuel Moody
It isn't that he doesn't play hard. I could argue that Moody's injuries have been pretty tough and that they come from him being such a hard-nosed runner. I actually believe that. It is just hard to get a real feel of what he brings to the table.

I do know that after his first ankle injury early in spring, when he came back, it was with a vengeance. He ran extremely hard and looked like he was really trying to make everyone notice. Unfortunately, that lasted all of about three practices and he was back on the injured list. For Moody, he gets an incomplete for this spring.

That leaves Gillislee as the only other real running back that participated this spring and boy did he do just that. We all saw glimpses of what Gillislee could do last year when he ran for a team leading 8.6 yards a carry on a very modest 31 carries in mop-up duty. Gillislee showed breakaway speed and the ability to get to the open field in a limited number of chances.

This spring he added toughness to his bio, and running back coach Stan Drayton has grown to really trust his sophomore back and the way he hung tough the entire spring despite some nagging injuries.

"It's huge because you evaluate the toughness and durability of a running back by the way he comes out to practice every single day," Drayton said late in spring drills. "It has been an extremely physical spring practice for that young man and I compliment him. He hasn't missed a day, missed a beat, or missed a drill. He played with some small injuries, but that is what running backs do. They have to be able to play with those things and he has proven he can do it. My confidence in Mike Gillislee is through the roof."

They put Gillislee through the wringer this spring and ran him hard inside and out. Collision after collision he got up and went back to the huddle. He earned a lot of stripes this spring.

Drayton didn't know a whole lot about Gillislee only having coached him at a summer camp back when Gillislee was an underclassman at DeLand High School. Drayton believes Gillislee's growth as a player came from learning the system.

"It was a learning experience for me from square one, because it was my first time coaching him," Drayton said where it was Gillislee progressed the most in the 15 practices of spring. "It was his knowledge of his assignments and coming out here executing with confidence. I evaluate that in protection and where these kids go when the balls not in their hands. From a technique standpoint he has a long way to go, but from an assignment standpoint he understands and gets it. That has been huge from him this spring."

Next season, the Gators will get a healthy Moody, a blazing junior Jeff Demps back from track, and junior Rainey back along with freshman Mack Brown who will step on campus for the first time in June. What they will have is a conglomerate of different styles that they can try to utilize in different ways within the system they run. Drayton is thoroughly excited about the possibilities.

"We don't want running backs that bring the same thing to the table," Drayton said about recruiting guys that can do different things. "I love the mix and different styles of backs we have. From a home position, guys can get down hill. We have the spread offense component and the speed guys, there is a lot of versatility in that backfield right now."

He also knows they have some things still to improve on in the fall.

"There are some things that we need to iron out...catching the football, technique and protection," Drayton said. "Some guys do it better than others. At the same time, when the ball is in their hands, all of them can bring something different to the table. Going into the game plan room and finding ways to get those guys the ball is really fun right now."

The key this spring was figuring out just how much of a load that Mike Gillislee could handle. After being the only back for most of the spring, that was answered absolutely how the staff wanted it to be.

Tomorrow we will present the spring highlights for Moody and Gillislee.

Fightin Gators Top Stories