Make us your home page

Get the quickest, smartest news, analysis and photos from the Bucs game emailed to you shortly after the final whistle.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Florida Gators hope to boost running game this season

GAINESVILLE — The suggestion came completely out of leftfield.

When Florida football coach Will Muschamp summoned Chris Johnson to his office this year, Johnson assumed it was to talk about ways to improve his play at linebacker. Turns out, Muschamp had a suggestion that would change Johnson's fortunes with the Gators: move to running back, where there was a significant need and the staff thought he might have a more immediate impact.

"It was shocking at first," Johnson said. "But at the same time, I'm an athlete and I just want to play football and be on the field. Whatever would get me on the field quicker, I just had to go with it. I took it as a compliment that they thought I could move over and play offense. But I didn't see it coming at all."

Johnson began adjusting in the spring, and is now among a large group of players vying for significant playing time at a position that last season relied heavily on just two players.

Senior Mike Gillislee, the leading returner (328 yards), has solidified the starting job. On his heels are freshman Matt Jones (Armwood), Trey Burton, Omarius Hines (who will also play wide receiver), Mack Brown and fullback Hunter Joyer (Wesley Chapel/Tampa Catholic). In an offense with that will feature multiple shifts and motions, and require a solid running game, Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said having so many talented backs is a welcome advantage.

"We've got good running backs so we've got to use them," Pease said. "… Last year I know they were balanced, stretch-oriented, but we're going to be a downhill run game."

The Gators had hoped to be a much better running team last season, but their offensive line struggled. Florida was eighth in the SEC in run offense (143.0 yards per game).

"Just consistency, as much as anything, in being able to run the football," Muschamp said when asked what he needs most from the O-line. "We became too one-dimensional last year. Any time in this league that you've been that way, you're going to struggle. You can't survive week-in, week-out. Being able to run the ball and a little more creative in some of the things we've done in the run game."

Teammates say the offensive linemen have shown vast improvement.

"They are doing a good job, really good job," defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. "They are understanding defenses, they are understanding why they have to block a certain way and where the slide protection goes. So I think we're all a lot mentally stronger."

Whoever wins the quarterback job — Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel — also needs the line to pass protect much better. The Gators were No. 5 in the league in passing offense (185.7 yards per game), and former quarterback John Brantley was often injured or running for his life.

"That was one of the things that we struggled with last year, pass protection," junior right guard Jon Halapio said. "It was basically (not understanding) calls, and just studying the defenses. I feel like with (new line coach Tim) Davis this year, he's been stressing that a lot — looking at safety rotations and different aligning of the gaps of down linemen, and just different looks of the linebackers."

The offensive linemen say that better offseason training, the addition of Davis and a new attitude will yield better results.

"We know that what we put out last year isn't the University of Florida," center Jonotthan Harrison said. "And this season, we have to change that. So we've been working hard the whole offseason to change this season around."

Antonya English can be reached at

Florida Gators hope to boost running game this season 08/21/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 21, 2012 10:54pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Red state: Yes, Bill O'Reilly is a Bucs fan


    TAMPA -- The question was simple enough for Bucs fans: Why is former Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly wearing a red Bucs polo?

    O'Reilly was wearing the polo during a few video clips from his "No Spin News" podcast posted on his website Monday, which was exciting news for some Bucs fans and not-so-exciting …

    Former Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly was sporting a red Bucs polo during his "No Spin News" video podcast Monday. An assistant said the shirt was given to him by former Bucs tight end Dave Moore.
  2. For starters: Slumping LoMo, Dickerson not in Rays lineup tonight vs LHP


    1B Logan Morrison and LF Corey Dickerson, two of the main slumpers in the Rays lineup, are not in tonight's lineup with the Orioles throwing LHP Wade Miley.

    Logan Morrison is 0-for-12 on this homestand.
  3. Ex-Buc Booger McFarland becomes ABC college football analyst


    Former Bucs defensive lineman Booger McFarland is continuing his broadcasting rise by joining ABC's studio coverage for the upcoming college football season, ESPN announced Tuesday.

    Former Bucs lineman Booger McFarland (No. 92) will become an ABC studio analyst this college football season.
  4. Rank the top 10 Bucs players? Here's what fans said


    We mentioned this morning that is was a fun challenge, in response to Sports Illustrated's ranking of the NFL's top 400 players, to ask fans to rank their top 10 Bucs players.

    Bucs receiver Mike Evans celebrates with quarterback Jameis Winston during last year's Bucs win against the Seahawks. Evans and Winston finished 1-2 in an informal Twitter poll of fans ranking their top Bucs players.
  5. Brain study examined 111 former NFL players. Only one didn't have CTE.


    Researchers studying the link between football and chronic traumatic encephalopathy found that 99 percent of the brains donated by families of former NFL players showed signs of the neurodegenerative disease, according to a new study published Tuesday.

    This combination of photos provided by Boston University shows sections from a normal brain, top, and from the brain of former University of Texas football player Greg Ploetz, bottom, in stage IV of chronic traumatic encephalopathy. According to a report released on Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association, research on the brains of 202 former football players has confirmed what many feared in life -- evidence of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE, a devastating disease in nearly all the samples, from athletes in the NFL, college and even high school. [Dr. Ann McKee | BU via AP]