UF's well-suited backfield

Photo illustration by Jon McDonald

Published: Monday, August 9, 2010 at 11:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, August 9, 2010 at 11:18 p.m.

The last time Stan Drayton coached the running backs at Florida, the Gators' two leading rushers for the season were a quarterback and a wide receiver.

That's not going to happen this time, in Drayton's return season at Florida.

One of his tailbacks will lead the Gators in rushing in 2010. That's pretty much a guarantee.

Things are different now. Tim Tebow is gone. Percy Harvin is gone. So the offense is different. And so is the tailback position.

In 2007, the last time he coached the UF running backs, the Gators had little depth, little speed and virtually no break-away threat at tailback.

That's all changed.

Drayton has returned this season to find the tailback position deep, talented and very, very fast.

“It feels great,” Drayton said Monday. “To be able to take a kid out and not lose the speed of the game is a huge advantage for any team. We're just going to see how durable they are, how far they can carry that one. We've got unbelievable depth.

“I think we have the ability, if we come out clean (no injuries) from camp, to put three or four guys on the football field that are going to be extremely, extremely explosive for our offense.

“We've got four guys that can flat out fly. They can all flat out run, they can accelerate, cut at full speed. I'm talking about four guys not including Chris Rainey (who is a slot receiver now). Add him into that, there's our fifth. I'm extremely excited about that.”

The days of blue-collar Kestahn Moore lugging the football between the tackles are gone.

The Gators have a lot of flash and dash at tailback now — world-class sprinter Jeff Demps, Emmanuel Moody, Mike Gillislee and highly rated true freshman Mack Brown. With Rainey and another burner, slot receiver Andre Debose, also lining up some in the backfield, Drayton has lots of intriguing options.

Option No. 1 is Demps, the fastest player in college football and a proven playmaker

after rushing for 1,350 yards and 14 touchdowns in his first two seasons, and averaging 7.6 yards a carry.

Demps appears primed for a big year.

“He's very explosive right now,” Drayton said. “The thing I'm seeing. ... we had a little one-on-one tackling drill today, and he's making people miss. He's starting to get that lateral movement, that twitching in his run. I'm really, really excited about Demps.”

Drayton likes his other guys, too, and he knows all about Moody, who has excelled when healthy.

Moody and Drayton developed a strong bond after Moody transferred to UF from Southern

Cal before the 2007 season. Now that the two have been reunited, some are predicting Moody will have the breakout season so many have been waiting for.

“He's great,” Drayton said. “All those guys are great, including Moody. They love football. That's the beauty of that group. I love going in there and standing in front of them because I know they truly love football.

“They love the process. It seems they're starting to know and understand what it is to be a Florida football player. It's grinding, it's tough. They're starting to understand and love the grind a little bit.”

Grinding in the preseason could lead to some big moments for the tailbacks in the fall.

With John Brantley now the quarterback, quarterback runs will not be an integral part of the game plan any more. The rushing attack will be led by the tailbacks.

“John Brantley is not Tim Tebow,” Drayton said. “No disrespect. That's not saying it negatively. Brantley brings something new and interesting to our offense. You're going to see potential for our offense to be more versatile than it ever has. It's positive.

“John can flat out get under center and get rid of the football. And he can run our spread offense. You're going to see a little more versatility

added to our run game, our play-action game and our pass game.

“We're going to be able to get up into a lot of different formations, lots of personnel groups and do a lot more than we ever have.”

The tailbacks will be lining up in the I-formation

some. That's something

you never saw in 2007, when the Gators' running game was generated by a quarterback

and a wide receiver.

The running game has been handed off to the tailbacks.

“We feel very confident in the ability that group has,” Drayton said. “We still have a whole lot of camp to prove and earn our right in the offense to be able to do those things. But there's no question of ability whatsoever. These guys can definitely get it done.

“But you know how we're around here. We earn everything we get. We haven't earned anything yet.”

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