Football is a violent game. Most of the things that take place on the field would land you in jail if you did them in the real world. We know it’s violent, the coaches know it’s violent and the players sign up to play the game with the same knowledge.
With football comes injuries, it’s just part of the game and is to be expected and prepared for. Florida has taken up the mantra “man down, man up” this offseason, however, two injuries in particular will vastly change how Florida’s offense operates this season. On Friday, Will Muschamp told the media that Matt Jones would miss the opening game against Toledo and would be questionable on a week-to-week basis after that. Jon Halapio – who has started 27 consecutive games – will also miss time. Muschamp said that Halapio would miss the first two games but that he was confident Halapio could return for the Tennessee game.
Muschamp hasn’t feigned anything about Florida’s offensive strategy since day one. In his opening press conference, Muschamp said he wanted to be a physical, downhill running football team and that has been exactly what Florida has tried to do the past two seasons. With two of the key pieces of that rushing attack unavailable heading into the opening week, how does that change what Florida will try to do offensively?
“Certainly they are huge absences,” Muschamp said of playing without Jones and Halapio. “Obviously, I think Matt is an outstanding back and a big back at that. He runs our run game very well. But I certainly feel comfortable with the guys we have filling in for them in Mack Brown and Valdez Showers and Mark Herndon. If the young backs get an opportunity, I think they will play well.”
“At right guard you got Tyler Moore, you have some other guys that can fill in and play well at that position,” Muschamp continued. “So I feel comfortable about our run game. Would I say that we’re going to miss those guys? I think we’ll play well in their absence but certainly they are good football players and we want them back playing.”
It’s the right thing to say if you’re a head coach who is just eight days away from kicking off a football season, but there is cause for concern. Jones was set to be a feature back and there was talk that he would carry the ball 20-25 times a game for the Gators. Jones really came on towards the end of last season and was impressive throughout all of spring camp. He separated himself from the other running backs in such convincing fashion that the coaching staff essentially gave Jones the day off during the Orange and Blue Debut. The staff might be confident in the players that are healthy and on the roster but there is no doubt that none of them can replace Jones.
When asked if Mack Brown or one of the other running backs would handle the same workload that Jones was expected to, Muschamp said that they would spread the carries out more among the healthy running backs than they would if Jones were available.
The line that will be pacing the way for that stable of backs also took a hit this fall camp when Jon Halapio suffered a torn pectoral muscle in a freak weight lifting accident and has been ruled out for at least two games.
Halapio had been an iron man for the Gators the past three seasons, making 27 consecutive starts – the most of any player on the roster. In Halapio’s place will be Tyler Moore. Moore has been heralded by the staff for his solid play in fall camp and appeared to have knocked the rust of not playing football in a year off when we saw him during open practice.
With consistency and cohesion being critical for solid offensive line play, having Moore working at right guard for the entirety of fall camp was a good thing for Florida, but not having Halapio hurts Florida’s depth along the line. The Gators can ill-afford another injury to the line if they want to be able to run the ball effectively this season.
Florida doesn’t have time to ease these new players into their increased roles. Toledo is no slouch and the Hurricanes are going to throw haymakers at the Gators down in Miami.
Florida’s motto this season has been “man down, man up” but are the men that are being thrust into the prominent positions ready to answer the call and lead Florida in 2013?