Jones ready for big year at UF
Published: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 1:34 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, August 12, 2014 at 1:34 p.m.
A year ago at this time, Florida junior running back Matt Jones was confined to a hospital bed, battling a viral infection.
“Last year was very difficult for me, just coming over my sickness, going into the season, getting hurt,” Jones said. “I just feel like I’m a step ahead of my game right now. I’m just glad I’m here in camp with my boys.”
Jones will again get to prove he’s capable of being a feature back for the Gators in 2014. He’s already put 2013 far in the rear view mirror. The viral infection kept Jones out for the entire fall camp last year and UF’s season opener against Toledo. The infection also caused Jones to lose 10 pounds, robbing him of the power that made him stand out during his freshman season.
In his first game of the 2013 season against Miami, Jones lost a fumble and finished with just 47 yards on 18 carries. Jones rushed for a career-best 176 yards against Kentucky, but two weeks later, was done for the season after suffering a torn meniscus in his knee against LSU. He finished the year with 339 yards on 4.3 yards per carry.
“Just missing a lot (of camp), I never really felt confident in my game last year,” Jones said. “It was just so much to overcome what I went through. It was a mental thing and I never got over it, but now I’m definitely over it.”
After Jones went down against LSU, Florida lost six straight games to close the season 4-8.
“Just being on the sideline watching the team just kind of break and fall apart, that was the toughest thing,” Jones said.
This camp, Jones is up to 235 pounds and is excited about new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s scheme. It will give him more opportunities to catch the ball out of the backfield, something Jones did effectively at Armwood High in Seffner. During last Thursday night’s open practice, Jones caught a screen pass and was able to rumble 15 yards before being knocked out of bounds.
“I love the offense,” Jones said. “I love what Roper is doing with the offense, giving us the chance to show people that we can really catch the ball. That can up our stock trying to go to the next level.”
But Florida coach Will Muschamp is still counting on the power element of Jones’ game to resurface. As a freshman, Jones averaged 5.3 yards per carry and scored two of his three TDs against rival Florida State and Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.
“He’s a 230-pound back that about midway through the third quarter, the fourth quarter, you get tired of hitting,” Muschamp said.
Jones is aware he will need to compete to earn carries during the season. Sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor stepped in when Jones was hurt and rushed for 508 yards and four TDs. Redshirt freshman running back Adam Lane is coming off a strong spring and fifth-year senior Mack Brown is back after rushing for a team-high 543 yards and four TDs. And then, there’s incoming speedy freshman Brandon Powell, whom Jones called “a rising star.”
“We’re definitely a deep group,” Jones said.
But Jones, who has had to sit out the past two practices with a swollen knee, is ready for the challenge to try to win the starting job.
“Every day, everyone is trying not to make a mistake,” Jones said last Thursday. “Everyone is trying to go 110 percent out there, just competing.”