UF Football Preview: Running backs

As the season opener vs. Bowling Green approaches, GatorCountry.com is taking a position-by-position look at the 2012 Florida Gators football team.

This will be a eight-part series as we’ll breakdown running backs, receivers, quarterbacks, offensive linemen, defensive linemen, linebackers, defensive backs and special teams in an effort to help fans have a quick guide for what to expect come 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, when the Gators kickoff the 2012 season vs. Bowling Green in The Swamp.

Up first: Running backs. Up next: Receivers.

Senior Mike Gillislee has been waiting for his opportunity to step into the starting role the past few seasons while playing behind Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, a pair of speedsters now vying for time in the NFL.

Gillislee (5-foot-11, 201 pounds) is nothing like those two guys. He brings more of a bruising running style that bodes well in the new scheme first-year Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease is trying to implement. Expect to see plenty of runs off tackle or between the tackles when Gillislee gets the ball.

Gillislee’s more of a north-south runner than Demps and Rainey. He prefers to run through a defender instead of juking around them. He does have the quickness and vision to make defenders miss, though. He runs with a low-center gravity with the balance and power needed to bounce off of would-be tacklers.

At Southeastern Conference Media Days in late July, Gillislee said his goals for the season were 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns. Some took that as a bold prediction, but Gillislee reaffirmed that the lofty numbers were simply his personal goals. He averaged 5.9 yards per carry last season and finished with 328 yards and two touchdowns.

The key for Gillislee will be staying healthy, something that’s tough for any featured back to do against the SEC’s grueling defenses.

Mack Brown (5-11, 210) earned the No. 2 spot at running back on the first depth chart of the season, which was released Monday. Brown has improved his blocking and is learning the new offense well, which reportedly has been a hurdle.

Brown has not lived up to the hype he garnered as an Under Armour All-American in high school. Scout.com ranked Brown as the No. 12 running back in the nation, but he’s only carried the ball 15 times for 65 yards in his career. Ten of those carries came last season against UAB, and he finished with 36 yards in that game.

Brown is just a redshirt sophomore, so there’s time for him to live up to the expectations. He’s certainly going to be pressed for the No. 2 spot this season by true freshman Matt Jones, who has impressed thus far by all accounts.

Jones (6-2, 213) offers a change-of-pace to the power running of both Gillislee and Brown. He is more of an upright runner, who uses his vision to find the open hole. Now, he’s not a speedster either, and he’s likely not going to break many 80-yard runs, but his mix of size, speed and power make him an interesting backfield addition.

Jones also has nice hands, so expect to see him used to catch passes in the flat and turn them into big gains. He’s shown all of the maturity needed to contribute as a true freshman, and his physical skills will make it tough for coaches to keep him off of the field.

Omarius Hines (6-2, 223) is a fifth-year senior who asked coaches to switch him to running back in the spring. His versatility may have him featured in positions other than running back in the offense.

Sophomore Chris Johnson (5-9, 205) is another player who has pulled a switcheroo — more than once — since arriving on campus. He began at safety, moved to linebacker and now finds himself adding depth at running back. He’s another power runner with the ability to pound the ball between the tackles.

At fullback, sophomore Hunter Joyer (5-10, 244) is listed as the starter, but he’ll likely trade reps with junior Trey Burton (6-3, 227) depending on the situation and formation. Joyer, one of the strongest players pound-for-pound on the team, is a better blocker than Burton.

While Joyer has showed nice ability as a runner, Burton offers versatility to the position. He’ll line up at receiver, tight end and may even take direct snaps in the Wildcat formation.

Overall, Florida has several options at running back, but most are unproven. That said, limiting turnovers and mistakes will be instrumental, as will staying healthy.

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Mike Capshaw brings a wealth of experience to the Gator Country team. He’s been overseeing all editorial aspects of GatorCountry.com and Gator Country magazine by managing our team of staffers, interns and freelancers. He is now moving into a bigger role as a reporter by covering the football and basketball beats as well as providing coverage of all sports on campus. Mike’s 15 years in the business has included more than six years of covering SEC sports and recruiting at a daily newspaper in Arkansas. He has also helped launch a newspaper, magazines, websites and even a sports talk radio show. Because Mike puts family ahead of his career, he left the place where he was established when his wife received an opportunity to further her career at UF. He took a leap of faith that he could find a job in the Gainesville area and worked for a year at a newspaper group before joining the Gator Country family in November, 2011. Mike has won Florida Press Association awards for Best Sports Game Story and Best Sports Feature Story in the past two years as well as a company-wide award at his former newspaper group that includes some 60 publications, for Excellence in Sports Reporting. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeCapshawGC.