Ex-Gator Demps brings rare 'home run' speed to Bucs
TAMPA -- Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen tells even his fastest players that, because of the overall speed in the SEC and in the NFL, as he says, "everyone gets caught."
A rare breakaway exception, the former Gators assistant says, is Jeff Demps, who played running back at Florida and won a relay silver medal in last year's Olympics as a sprinter and officially joined the Bucs roster on Monday.
"You don't have the home-run hitter, but he was a home-run hitter. He didn't get caught," Mullen said. "If you got him through the line of scrimmage with the ball in his hands, it was 'see you later.''
Ask Bucs coach Greg Schiano the last time he coached a player with Demps' raw speed, and he goes back before his 11 seasons at Rutgers to his time at the University of Miami, in 1999-00.
"Santana (Moss), when he was young, was really lightning," Schiano said. "But I don't think even he was as fast as Jeff. Jeff's a fast guy."
Demps has run the 100 meters in as little as 9.96 seconds, and right after the Olympics last year, he got a look with the Patriots, but within two weeks, he sprained a knee ligament, ending his season and taking him out of running for six months. His arrival with the Bucs was delayed by international commitments to running track -- he said it was "tempting, at times" to allow himself to move on and focus on track, but football still has a hold on him.
"I'm a two-sport athlete. I grew up playing football. I fell in love with track, but I'm trying to make the most of both opportunities," said Demps, listed at 5-foot-7 and 191 pounds.
Florida utilized Demps' world-class speed creatively -- as a senior in 2011, he was one of two players nationally to have a run, reception and return of 70 yards or more. The other, West Virginia's Tavon Austin, was a first-round pick in April. The easy misconception, Mullen said, is to write him off as a track star in pads.
"The really neat thing about Jeff is that everybody's initial feeling was that he was a track guy who plays football," said Mullen, who recruited him for the Gators. "It's the opposite. He's a football guy who went out for track, and all the sudden, he's in the Olympics. He always had that football mindset. He knew football and learned how to run track. That's what you love, that football attitude, that demeanor to be physical with the ball in his hands. He'll run the ball between the tackles."
The Bucs could use an offensive spark, and it's unknown how Demps can learn enough to be active on Sundays, but Mullen said he's a dream for a coach looking for man coverage that can match a linebacker -- any linebacker -- against a player with Demps' explosiveness.
"What made him electric was when you had opportunities to get him matched up on somebody one-on-one in the open field," he said. "He's just so fast. He gets you so back on your heels because of the speed. He separates in the hurry."