Gators confident in run game, even without Tebow

Florida’s running game was a bruising, bashing attack the last

three years. It was practical, predictable and one of the most

potent in the country.

It was, for the most part, the Tim Tebow show.

Running backs often stood around and watched the beefy

quarterback keep the ball, serving as the team’s short-yardage

specialist and its go-to guy. He ran more than 600 times the last

three seasons, gaining nearly 2,500 yards and scoring 49

touchdowns.

Without Tebow, Florida’s running game will be considerably

different this fall. But with all the talent in the backfield, it

also remains the team’s biggest strength.

”We’ve got an interesting dynamic back there to really cause

some stress,” offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said Friday.

It starts with Jeff Demps, the junior who just might be the

fastest guy in college. Demps captured track national championships

this year in the 60-meter dash and the 100 meters. He became the

first person in school history to win titles in two sports.

He’s open to the possibility of trying to make the U.S. team for

the 2012 Olympics in London, but his focus remains on the

Gators.

”At the end of the day, I’m still a football player,” Demps

said.

A good one, too.

Demps has rushed for 1,350 yards and 14 touchdowns the last two

seasons. He averages 7.6 yards a carry, putting him on pace to

shatter the school record (6.4 yards per carry) set by Eli Williams

(1994-97).

He should get more chances this fall, especially in

short-yardage and goal-line situations.

”It’s exciting just to give us a chance to get that feeling at

crunch time, putting the running backs in and see what we’re going

to do,” Demps said.

Demps certainly will share the workload.

Emmanuel Moody, a 212-pound senior who transferred from Southern

California in 2007, believes he’s healthy after having two ankle

surgeries since January. Moody has carried 58 times in each of the

last two seasons, both of them plagued by nagging injuries.

His right ankle has been the biggest issue. Moody injured his

ankle last November, returned the following month and then

developed bone spurs. He had surgery to remove them earlier this

year, returned too soon, developed more bone spurs and went back

under the knife.

”It’s getting there,” said Moody, who has missed nine games

because of ankle problems. ”I should be ready to go before the

first game starts. I’m practicing, I’m going all out. I went

through all the workouts. But I don’t how it’s going to be with

pads on.”

If Moody misses any time this fall, it could open the door for

sophomore Mike Gillislee and highly touted freshman Mack Brown.

Gillislee averaged 8.6 yards per carry in mop-up duty last

season and ended the season with a 52-yard run in the Sugar Bowl

against Cincinnati. Brown joined the mix a few weeks ago and could

make an immediate impact. He gained more than 1,700 yards in his

final two years at King High in Lithonia, Ga.

Adding to Florida’s backfield depth are speedsters Chris Rainey

and Andre Debose, two hybrid playmakers expected to be used like

coach Urban Meyer did Percy Harvin two years ago.

Rainey has 1,237 yards rushing, including several long ones, and

nine TDs. Debose was the team’s top recruit in 2009, but missed the

entire season after having surgery to repair a torn hamstring.

”You can’t win our conference if you can’t run the ball,”

Addazio said. ”You better be tough, you better be able to run it

and you better have balance. If you don’t have those three

components, you’ve got problems.”

The Gators are confident they will be able to run it, with the

biggest question being who will take on Tebow’s workload.

”It’s third-and-1, what are you going to do with the ball?”

Addazio said. ”That was really a flat Tebow-run scenario:

fourth-and-2, third-and-2, third-and-1. I think you’ll see more

opportunity for tailback runs in those scenarios. We saw more

I-formation last year, but not as much as we might have thought we

might have done. Probably will see more this year, more traditional

two-back offense.”

It’s a welcome change for Moody.

”We’re excited,” he said. ”There’s more carries to go around,

more balls to go around now.”