Florida Gators: Adam Lane
It might sound silly for him to laugh off a word used to describe an offense ranking 12th or worse in the SEC in scoring (23.8 points per game), passing (191.8) and total offense (403), but Brown sees more than just stats and believes the best is coming for Florida's offense.
"I feel like if the running game is successful every game and we can control the clock, we can do what we planned for before the season: Be in Atlanta [for the SEC Championship Game] and then end the season in Cali. [for the BCS National Championship]."
Added starting running back Matt Jones: "We know as running backs that we have to contribute because without us, our offense kind of goes sideways."
For all the talk about the loss of starting quarterback Jeff Driskel and what Tyler Murphy has to do in his place, if Florida is going to play for an SEC title, it's going to have to strap onto the back of its running game just like last season.
This wasn't much of a passing team in 2012, and the first four games of the season have shown that 2013 won't be much different. Fans want to see more passing and more explosion, but the bottom line is that this offense is built to be a hard-nosed, physical running team first and will throw second … or even third.
Just look at Florida's ugly loss to Miami. People piled on Driskel for his three turnovers and indecision, but check out the running game. The Gators averaged just 2.8 yards per carry, the lowest average since gaining just 1.9 yards per carry in last season's 17-9 loss to Georgia.
"For us to be successful, we need a guy -- or guys -- to be able to make some big plays in the running [game] and hit some bug runs for us," coach Will Muschamp said.
Heading into Saturday's game against Arkansas, Muschamp might finally see the return of his feature back in Jones. Hampered by a viral infection during preseason camp, Jones said he didn't feel close to 100 percent until last week's Kentucky game, where he rushed for a career-high 176 yards and a touchdown on a career-high 28 carries.
"It felt good being the workhorse of the team," said Jones, who leads Florida with 272 rushing yards.
"I have a good feeling about it."
But he won't have to shoulder all of the responsibility. He has a solid sidekick in Brown and feels confident in walk-on surprise Mark Herndon and freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. While we've seen a majority of Brown and Jones (combing for 123 carries), Brown expects to see all five backs get more time.
"That's real dangerous," Brown said.
Even with Driskel under center last season, the Gators ranked third in the SEC in rushing, averaging 187.7 yards per game. With or without him this season, the running game was going to be the focus of this offense, as the Gators look for more consistency in the passing game.
In three games, Florida has rolled with its running game, but defenses are going to get better from here on out.
"When [defenses] aren't worried about playing the run, you have some issues offensively," Muschamp said. "Especially with how we're built at this point, we need to have teams respect our rushing game."
Florida has rushed for more than 200 yards in every game except the loss to Miami, but Jones still thinks this running game isn't getting its due. But he expects that will change. Couple his health with the depth in the backfield, and Jones expects to see the running game drain opponents as the season continues.
"We're kind of overlooked right now," he said. "We're kind of in the shadows, but we do wear a lot of teams down. They get really tired of tackling [the running backs].
"We wear people out when we need to."
As the Gators begin preparations today for the Aug. 31 season opener against Toledo, the depth chart looks like this:
Projected starter Matt Jones has yet to practice because of a viral infection.
The next player in line is sophomore Mark Herndon, a former walk-on special teams player who was awarded a scholarship on Tuesday.
Behind Herndon is redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers, who was a safety until last week.
Then you finally find Kelvin Taylor, the nation’s No. 1 running back recruit and the son of former UF standout Fred Taylor, and fellow freshman Adam Lane.
It’s that last part that’s the most surprising considering there was some thought that Taylor, who enrolled in January, was going to beat out Jones for the starting job during the spring. Instead, he and Lane will get just scraps of playing time because they have yet to prove their reliability.
"No. 1 is ball security," Muschamp said. "You’ve got to take care of the football. That’s the number one thing. They’re very talented runners [but] so much more goes into it other than just running the football. … We like to make sure the quarterback is protected.
"They’ve got to take a step. Very pleased with both guys. They’re going to help us this year. How much, their role, will depend on how they continue to develop. It’s a long season."
Obviously the Gators want the 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones back as soon as possible. He underwent blood work on Monday and was out on the practice field for 10-15 minutes on Tuesday but still has not been cleared to practice. Muschamp said UF is preparing to play the Rockets without Jones, who had a fantastic spring and was named a preseason All-SEC third-team selection.
"All I know is he is progressing very well," said Muschamp, who is scheduled to meet with the media on Friday and provide another update. "I get a daily update. He feels good. He’s doing more and more every day from a workout standpoint, and that’s all I know. We’re playing it by ear and every day we have a staff meeting, we have an injury report and he [the trainer] gives me an update."
Brown has been a disappointment since he signed, mainly because he was hobbled by a hamstring injury and a broken ankle. His biggest contribution came in last season’s game against Texas A&M when he carried the ball four times for 11 yards to help the Gators run out the final 3:13 and preserve a 20-17 victory.
Herndon is the surprise considering he has played in just six games (all last season) on special teams. He ran for 1,600 yards and 19 touchdowns as a high school senior and Muschamp mentioned him as a standout in the spring, but to be the No. 2 back heading into the season opener is not something for which Muschamp would have hoped.
"Coach Muschamp always talks about ‘man down, man up’ and I just felt like it was an opportunity," Herndon said. "It (Jones’ viral infection) was really unfortunate. Me and Matt are teammates, so we talk and hang out. I was sad, but if he’s down, I’ve got to step up because the team needs me.
"That’s what I did. I tried to push Mack Brown. He’s the No. 1, so I tried to push him and keep him on his toes. I didn’t want anybody slacking."
Showers fell behind junior Jabari Gorman and redshirt freshman Marcus Maye in the battle for playing time at safety and was moved to running back last week. It’s not unfamiliar territory because he was a running back and cornerback at Detroit Madison, where he rushed for 3,596 yards and 49 touchdowns in his final two seasons.
Showers was heavily involved with the first-team offense, especially in the passing game, during UF’s open practices and Muschamp said the move is permanent.
"He's got great top-end speed. He's got really good ball skills," Muschamp said. "He can do a lot of different things for us as far as lining up at receiver, lining up in the backfield. A tough guy to account for a defensive coordinator. Been very pleased with what he's added for us offensively."
Muschamp will be more pleased when Jones returns. If that doesn’t happen within the next day or so, it might be too late for Jones to be prepared to play against Toledo. His season debut might then have to come against Miami on Sept. 7.
"Any time you have something like this and you’re in uncharted waters and you’re uncertain of it, you always plan without the player," Muschamp said. "If the player’s there, it’s great. That’s gravy for everybody."
The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Patton doesn’t really fit into coach Will Muschamp’s philosophy that bigger is better. Not just on the line of scrimmage, either. Big receivers. Big defensive backs. Big linebackers.
"This is a big man’s league," he said. "When you go pay to watch a boxing match, you don’t go watch the featherweights fight. You go watch heavyweights fight. This is a heavyweight league.
"So we need have a big, physical team. You can still be really fast, but you better be big and physical if you want to win in this league right now."
Muschamp is in his third season and working on his fourth signing class, and he has certainly made the Gators a bigger, more physical team in that short period of time. To see the difference, look at UF’s roster from 2009. The Gators had five starters or key contributors who were 5-9 or shorter: Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Ahmad Black, Markihe Anderson and Brandon James.
This year’s team has only one starter that small: 5-9 safety Cody Riggs. Patton is a role player (he’s the jet sweep guy) and the shortest player on scholarship is 5-7 freshman running back Adam Lane -- who weighs 222 pounds.
Muschamp’s philosophy goes further than just the size of the players. He wants the bulk of his 85-man roster to be comprised of what he calls big-skill positions: offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends. He wants 50. Right now he has 42 (see breakdown below).
Muschamp wants 15-17 offensive linemen, and the Gators are close to that number. They have five scholarship tight ends, too. The defensive line is where the problem is. The Gators are short on ends, especially speed rushers. There are eight scholarship defensive tackles, but only three have played in a game (Dominique Easley, Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs), and just two bucks (hybrid defensive end/linebacker).
It’ll take at least a couple more signing classes for the Gators to be as stocked along the defensive line as Muschamp would like. Muschamp believes long-term success at Florida -- and therefore the SEC -- depends on beefing up those defensive numbers.
And not just to compete with Alabama and Nick Saban, either.
"When big guys run out of gas, they’re done," Muschamp said. "We don’t ever want our big guys up front to play more than six or eight snaps in a row and have the intensity you’ve got to play with to be successful in this league. So you can’t ever have enough defensive linemen or pass rushers, especially the way the game’s going.
"You look in our league at Missouri and Kentucky and Tennessee, a lot of schools are going to a little bit of a Big 12 model, like Texas A&M, where they’re spreading the field, and you can’t ever have enough guys that can play in space and rush the passer. The most exerting thing in football is rushing the passer. Those guys are battling against a 315-pound guy and trying to push the pocket, so you can’t ever have enough of those guys."
Here’s the breakdown of what Muschamp calls the big-skill players:
Ideal number: 15-17
Number on the roster: 14. Tyler Moore, Quinteze Williams, Rod Johnson, Octavius Jackson, Cameron Dillard, Trip Thurman, Jon Halapio, D.J. Humphries, Jonotthan Harrison, Chaz Green, Max Garcia, Trenton Brown, Ian Silberman, Kyle Koehne.
Comment: The Gators will lose four players to graduation but have four offensive line commits for 2014, three of whom weigh more than 300 pounds. The line has gotten bigger, stronger and more physical since Muschamp called them soft at the end of his first season.
Ideal number: 8-10
Number on the roster: 8. Damien Jacobs, Joey Ivie, Leon Orr, Darious Cummings, Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley, Antonio Riles, Dominique Easley.
Comment: Not a lot of experience here, but the four freshmen (Ivie, Bostwick, Brantley and Riles) will gain valuable experience as part of the rotation this season.
Ideal number: 6-8
Number on roster: 4. Alex McCalister, Jonathan Bullard, Jordan Sherit, Bryan Cox.
Comment: Easley also can play end. This is perhaps the most flexible position, with several players having the ability to play inside on passing downs to get the best pass rushers on the field.
Ideal number: 4-6
Number on roster: 2. Dante Fowler, Ronald Powell.
Comment: This position also needs to be beefed up quickly, with Powell likely leaving after this year if he has a good season. Some flexibility here, too, because Cox and McCalister could spend time here.
Ideal number: 9-12
Number on roster: 9. Michael Taylor, Matt Rolin, Jeremi Powell, Jarrad Davis, Neiron Ball, Darrin Kitchens, Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone, Antonio Morrison.
Comment: UF has one bona fide stud (Morrison) and a mix of veteran role players and freshmen. McMillian is a player to watch. He could become a starter by midseason. This is an important position group because it produces a lot of special teams players.
Ideal number: 3-5
Number on roster: 5. Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Kent Taylor, Colin Thompson, Trevon Young.
Comment: A lot of players, but little production so far. Burton, Westbrook and Thompson are mainly blockers, but there’s optimism that Thompson can develop into someone who can work the middle of the field.
Now that Florida nears the end of the second week of preseason practices, coach Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease have begun making adjustments to the offense.
The Purifoy move has been planned, but the others are partly because there's still no word on when Jones (viral infection) will be cleared to resume practicing.
"We met Saturday night after the scrimmage, as a staff, [and] we kind of talked about our roster," Muschamp said. "My question to our staff is, 'Who can you count on? Who can we win with? Who do you have confidence in?' It's not always necessarily Aug. 31 [for the season opener]. It's throughout the entire season and understanding that maybe some of the younger guys don't know what to do right now, but athletically, they are guys we need to be coaching and developing for the season."
Two of those guys are the 5-foot-11, 215-pound Taylor and the 5-7, 222-pound Lane. Redshirt junior Mack Brown is working as UF's No. 1 tailback, but Taylor and Lane are getting additional reps. It's especially beneficial for Lane, who would have been fourth on the depth chart had Jones been healthy. Instead, he's getting the work that likely would have fallen to Taylor as the No. 3 back.
"[Taylor] put it on the ground last night, and that's something we can’t have happen," Muschamp said. "But, again, very pleased with his progress. He's very quick in his lower body, gets it north and south, and he runs the way we want it to be run at Florida.
"Adam's done some nice things. He's a guy that’s really a tough guy to tackle. There's not a lot of soft spots on him."
The Gators are also taking a look at the 5-11, 190-pound Showers, who wasn't making much headway at safety. He was a running back and cornerback at Detroit Madison, where he rushed for 3,596 yards and 49 touchdowns in his final two seasons.
Muschamp said he envisions Showers filling the same role that Omarius Hines did the past two seasons.
"We experimented with it on the scrimmage, and I thought he did some nice things carrying the ball," Muschamp said. "Vertically he can do some good things in the run game, and we're going to look at that over the next three, four days and sort of see where that takes us."
That's additional insurance should Jones not be ready for the Aug. 31 season opener against Toledo. Muschamp said Jones has begun some cardio work but added there's still no timetable for Jones' return to practice. He didn't rule out the possibility of Jones missing more than one game.
Purifoy's move to offense was planned before preseason practices began. He was to spend the first 12 practices on defense so the staff could get a look at the young receivers and see if the veterans had improved. Muschamp said they have, particularly redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar, senior Trey Burton and senior Solomon Patton.
In addition, he said he's pleased with the development of freshmen Demarcus Robinson, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice, and Ahmad Fulwood, who at 6-4 gives the Gators a big downfield target.
The 6-1, 185-pound Purifoy spent half of spring practice at receiver. The move was done to take advantage of his athleticism and ball skills, but he's limited in what he can do, because he's still learning the offense and route adjustments. He saw spot duty at receiver late last season but pretty much just ran fly routes.
If Muschamp's praise for the receivers is warranted, then Purifoy might not spend much time on offense this fall.
Not after the way Mack Brown performed in the spring and during the offseason. He might not be able to replace Jones, but he’s certainly capable of being the Gators’ top back -- even if Jones’ absence were to bleed into the regular season.
It’s an opportunity that many people -- including Brown -- thought would have come much sooner.
He signed with Florida in 2010 as one of the nation’s most talented players -- the No. 34 overall player in the ESPN rankings and the No. 4 running back -- but never quite lived up to that hype. Injuries (a broken ankle and a strained hamstring), a poor attitude and a less-than-intense work ethic limited the 5-foot-11, 213-pound redshirt junior to a combined 40 carries for 167 yards from 2010 to 2012.
The arrival of Kelvin Taylor, the nation’s top-ranked running back and the son of former UF standout Fred Taylor, sparked Brown’s turnaround in the spring. He beat out Taylor for the No. 2 spot behind the 6-2, 226-pound Jones, who had the coaches excited about his potential after a fantastic spring. But now Brown is the No. 1 back for the foreseeable future.
"I just want to show everybody [and] really prove to myself that I still can do what I know I can do," said Brown, who had 25 carries for 102 yards last season. "As far as talent-wise, last couple years I felt like I really couldn’t run like I wanted to [because of injuries], so this whole offseason I just tried to get better and improve in every aspect of the game."
Behind Brown are Taylor, freshman Adam Lane, and walk-on Mark Herndon. None of them has carried the ball in a game.
That makes the timetable for Jones’ return pretty significant, but Muschamp said there’s no way to know when Jones will be able to practice. Jones had to be hospitalized and, according to teammates, has lost weight. Muschamp said Jones is recovering.
"We’re in a little bit of uncharted waters here exactly about him coming back and when that’s going to happen and how good of health he’s going to be in," Muschamp said. “I don’t know any of that right now. It’s very uncertain. It’s very frustrating, for him first of all, and for us a little bit.
"Matt’s going to be fine. I do know that."
Regardless of which player is the Gators’ top tailback, the goal is still the same: 1,000 yards. Mike Gillislee did it last season, making him just the eighth player in school history to rush for at least 1,000 yards. That has been a rare accomplishment in the program’s 106-year history, but one that Muschamp said should become pretty standard from now on.
"That’s not going to be the exception any more at Florida," Muschamp said. "That’s going to be the norm.
"I’m excited moving forward with our style."
If Jones or Brown or Taylor or any of the other backs reach 1,000 yards, it will mark the first time in school history the Gators have had players rush for 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons. Emmitt Smith and Errict Rhett each had two 1,000-yard seasons at Florida, but they each had a season with less than 1,000 yards in between.
No. 33 Mack Brown
Redshirt junior running back
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With tight end Jordan Reed, the Gators’ leading receiver last season, headed for the NFL, Driskel has to find someone else upon whom he can rely for a sure completion and positive yardage.
Offensive coordinator Brent Pease wants him to start looking at the guys lined up beside and behind him.
Pease said the Gators’ running backs were not used enough in the passing game last season. Not counting Trey Burton and Omarius Hines -- who were utility players who lined up in the backfield as well as at tight end and receiver -- UF’s backs last season combined to catch just 26 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown.
A: Michel is a big-time prospect and has five-star potential. He mentioned on Facebook on Monday that Florida is in his top five along with Miami (Fla), Georgia, Notre Dame and Florida State. However, Michel said in a story by DawgNation's Kipp Adams on Tuesday that Alabama, not Florida, was in his top five along with the other schools mentioned on Facebook.
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Key holes to fill
The Gators lost key personnel along the offensive line, wide receiver, linebacker, running back and secondary and are hoping to replenish their talent with junior college transfers and incoming freshmen.
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Dave (New Jersey): Mike you say we are done with our class at 26? Don't we have 8 EEs that can date back to next year giving us another 6-7 spots open in this class? We lost a lot of bodies so the staff must get at least 31 in this class IMO. Thoughts?
The Gators will try and sign several more players, but Muschamp has gone on record before saying he’s not going to sign players just to fill out a class. I anticipate only two to three more commitments, if that. UF is still after DT Jarran Reed, Jay-nard Bostwick, Montravius Adams, Elijah Daniel, Jason Hatcher, Chris Jones, James Clark, Alex Collins, Jalen Ramsey, Kennard Swanson and Quinton Powell. If Muschamp can get some of those guys, fine, but if not, he won’t just sign guys so he can fill out the class.
RemmyR (Maple Shade, N.J.): Just want to say thanks to you for dropping UF science on us every week!!!
You’re welcome. I enjoy interacting with fans. You guys are the lifeblood of what I do so these chats are the least I can do.
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Most of the time leading up to Florida's bout with Louisville in the Allstate Sugar Bowl involved conversations about how good the Gators could be in 2013. The overwhelming thought from pretty much every side of the college football spectrum was that the Gators would handle a talented, yet, overmatched Louisville team and then wait to see how high they would rise in next year's preseason polls.
With a chunk of talent returning on defense and an offense that just had to get better, Florida was looking at being a legitimate national title contender in 2013.
From there, Florida panicked offensively (star running back Mike Gillislee ran the ball just nine times), and Driskel's composure and pass attempts became harder and harder to watch.
The offense rarely wowed in 2012, but during its first appearence in 2013, with a month of work, it totally collapsed, leaving the Gators with a load of question marks entering spring practice.
That Gators always found a way to bounce back with its mediocre offensive attack, but had no answers against the Cardinals. Now, it really is back to the drawing board for Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
But what does Florida do? Backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett is still unsure if he'll return, but if he leaves, players have to have more confidence in Driskel than they had this fall. The rhythm and timing has to improve or this offense isn't going anywhere.
RB Chris Johnson
5 carries for 35 yards; 11 tackles, 1 fumble recovery
The good: The 5-foot-9, 202-pound Johnson has a knack for knifing through kickoff and punt coverage and making the tackle. Not only does he lead the team in special teams tackles, he leads them in solo stops on special teams as well (five). He also was in the right spot at the right time to help deliver one of the most important plays of the season. His fumble recovery on a kickoff set the Gators up inside the South Carolina 15-yard line and led to a touchdown and 21-3 first-half lead.
The bad: Johnson needs some stability. He’s played three positions since signing with Florida in 2011. He started out as a safety and was playing linebacker when UF coach Will Muschamp asked him to move to running back this past spring. But it doesn’t look like he’ll get to be a significant contributor on offense because the Gators bring in two high-profile recruits in Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane. Matt Jones enters the offseason as the starter.
Crystal ball: Johnson will likely make his biggest impact on special teams in 2013 and beyond. There’s too much talent at running back, including Trey Burton, for him to get many touches. But there are worse things than being a special-teams standout, especially for a Muschamp-coached team. The Gators’ special teams are among the best in the nation and Johnson will eventually end up being a captain of the unit.
FB Hunter Joyer
UF is averaging 194.5 yards per game rushing; 2 carries for 1 yard; 4 catches for 17 yards
The good: Joyer is the prototypical fullback -- he’s 5-feet-10 and 249 pounds and he’s completely selfless. Though he was a pretty good ball carrier in high school, he has no trouble being a blocker who rarely touches the ball. He’s also the Gators’ strongest player -- he bench pressed 445 pounds in high school and now squats more than 550 pounds. That’s why he has no trouble moving linebackers out of the hole and knocking down defensive ends.
The bad: It’s not Joyer’s fault, but he could be more than just a blocker in the offense, especially in the passing game. With Gillislee and Matt Jones, he’s not going to get many carries, and he is too valuable a blocker to carry the ball on short-yardage plays. He’s got good hands, so he could be used more as a pass catcher out of the backfield. He’d be a nightmare for a defensive back to try and tackle. UF struggled to make plays in the passing game but did have success with short passes and passes in the flats.
Crystal ball: Joyer will be clearing holes for two more years, and he’ll be getting plenty of work with the infusion of talent in the backfield. Joining Jones will be recruits Kelvin Taylor (who is scheduled to enroll in January) and Adam Lane, giving the Gators three big-time backs and the opportunity to finally become the power-run team that coach Will Muschamp envisions. There’s no bigger part of that than Joyer.