Replacing Mike Gillislee: The key to Florida’s spring

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Aside from quarterback Jeff Driskel’s development this spring, there’s not another more crucial position on Will Muschamp’s mind than running back. Wide receiver, too, is concerning, but if Florida can’t produce with the ground game, the passing game won’t be effective either.

The focal point of Muschamp and Brent Pease’s offense is the smash mouth running game, headlined by a stout back who can produce between the tackles. Mike Gillislee was just that for Florida last season, toting the rock a league-leading 244 times for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns. At times, Gillislee was the only offensive weapon for the Gators, and replacing him is the key for 2013.

The Gators have three running backs on campus vying for Gillislee’s vacant position – Matt Jones, Mack Brown and Kelvin Taylor. And rising sophomore Matt Jones has been the most impressive offensive player for the Gators through two practices.

Jones notched 52 carries for 275 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in 2012, backing up Gillislee in limited time.

Jones’ maturation process was fascinating to watch. He was hesitant and timid to start the year and often delayed aggressively hitting the hole, but as the season progressed, Jones became more confident, quicker and much more attacking. The 6-2, 225-pound back registered a career-high eight carries for 81 yards against Florida State to end the regular season. It’s called development, and Muschamp hopes Jones’ maturation process continues this spring.

Behind Jones, rising junior Mack Brown and freshman early enrollee Kelvin Taylor are pushing for the backup job.

Brown entered Florida as a highly coveted blue-chip recruit under Urban Meyer, but he has yet to make a fraction of the impact Florida hoped for. Brown has carried just 37 times for 154 yards and no touchdowns in the last two years. He has a tremendous amount of potential, but three different offenses and three different blocking schemes have slowed Brown’s development. But entering his second year in Pease’s offense bodes well for much improvement as a breakout candidate.

Taylor, on the other hand, has more upside than any back on the roster. Already at 225 pounds, Taylor is ready to contribute now. He was the most polished of any running back in the 2013 class, and he’s been described as mature beyond his years, thanks in part to his dad, Fred Taylor, who expedited the learning curve.

Though Jones is the likely candidate to earn the starting position and listed as No. 1 on the spring depth chart, don’t pencil him in just yet. Taylor and Brown will continue to push all the way through fall camp. All three will be in the rotation next season, but it’s important that all three get a better grasp of the offense and more reps this spring.

Florida has options and talent at running back, but all three are unproven. But so was Gillislee entering 2012.

Photo Credit: Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

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