Role change for Tebow

More slashes for Florida's tailbacks should mean fewer mad dashes for Florida's quarterback this fall.

Translation: Gator running backs project to carry the ball more in 2008 and QB Tim Tebow projects to carry it less.

Before each game Gator coach Urban Meyer makes a list of the backs and receivers he plans to utilize that day. Next to each player's name he puts a slash for each "touch" he wants to give him. For instance, a player with 15 slashes projects to get 15 carries and/or receptions. Meyer carries this check list with him throughout the game and tries to use it as a guide.

"I'm happy to say this year it will be more running backs than we've ever had with slashes next to their names," Meyer said at the recent SEC Media Days, "if everybody stays healthy."

Getting the tailbacks more involved in the ground game may seem a tad unnecessary since Tebow rushed a team-high 210 times for 895 yards and 23 touchdowns last fall en route to the Heisman Trophy. There is one overwhelming reason for him to carry the ball less in 2008, however: The risk of injury.

Tebow took so many hits last year that he was seriously banged up by Game 8 against Georgia. As a result, he was limited and the Gators were beaten 42-30.

Tebow won't say he expects fewer carries this fall but he readily admits that he expects fewer collisions.

"My biggest goal this year is becoming a better decision-maker," he said, adding "I don't always have to run somebody over ... maybe get down or step out of bounds, just be smart with the decisions I make on the field. That will help out a lot."

Another reason Tebow will have fewer collisions this fall is because Gator tailbacks will have more collisions. Meyer has some rushing options this season that he didn't have a year ago.

Percy Harvin returns after running for 764 yards (9.2 per carry) in 2007. Also back are Kestahn Moore (580 yards) and Brandon James (133 yards). Joining the tailback mix are redshirt freshman Chris Rainey (who boasts 4.3 speed in the 40-yard dash) and Southern Cal transfer Emmanuel Moody (now eligible after sitting out 2007).

Most likely, the Gators will use a tailback-by-committee approach this fall. Harvin (5-11, 195), Rainey (5-9, 185) and James (5-7, 186) are a bit small to be every-down backs. Meanwhile, Moore (5-10, 212) and Moody (6-0, 210) appear to lack the big-play dimension that Meyer prizes. Harvin's carries will be further limited by the fact he is the team's most dangerous pass receiver.

"There's a part of me that says line him up at tailback and let him go," Meyer conceded. "I think he'd be one of the best tailbacks in the country. But we also have Rainey, and getting him the football is going to be a big part of our offense."

No matter how many guys share the job, the tailback position projects to play a more prominent role in Florida's rushing game than it did last year. And that means Tebow projects to play a less prominent role in it. Still, if Meyer thinks victory cannot be achieved without Tebow carrying 27 times – as he did last fall vs. Ole Miss – then Tebow will carry 27 times.

"The bottom line is that it (protecting the QB's health) has no bearing on the calling of a game," Meyer said. "You have to win that game.... There's only one way to judge it – on the left-hand (win) column.

"You get it or you don't."


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