UF Running Back Overview
By Thomas Goldkamp
The Running Back position has been much maligned at the University of Florida since Coach Urban Meyer took over as the head ball coach for the Gators. Meyer's system doesn't use a running back in the traditional role of pounding the ball through the tackles quite as much as many other coaches', and as a result, the production levels of individual running backs have decreased since Meyer arrived. That's not to say that a running game has not been present, as the Gators have finished in the Top 3 in rushing yards in the SEC in each of the past two years.
This year could be a return to prominence for the Gator ground game, as the Gators seem to have depth and talent this year that hasn't been there the last few years. USC transfer Emmanuel Moody made headlines across the country when he picked the University of Florida and his involvement in the offense could be a very positive thing for the Gators heading into the 2008 season. However, redshirt freshman Chris Rainey stole the spotlight at the running back position during the spring with his blinding speed and cutting ability. Despite his small stature, he figures to play a very important role for the Gators this year. Brandon James is a very similar athlete to Rainey in terms of size and ability and will be used in a similar role. Mon Williams is healthy this season after suffering an ACL tear which kept him out last year, and senior Kestahn Moore returns to provide some needed leadership and experience to the position group. Another guy to keep an eye on is incoming true freshman Jeff Demps, who turned in the third fastest 100 Meter Dash in the world during a track meet this spring. He will be available during the fall should the above group fail to produce. In any case, the Running Back position appears to take the "by committee" approach and many backs should see carries throughout the 2008 season.
Moore has been much maligned throughout his UF career, courtesy of a few fumbles in key situations. However, he is still the Gator's starting running back entering the 2008 season and figures to get the majority of the carries from the start of the season. His role will largely depend both on his ability to hold onto the ball and the emergence and development of Emmanuel Moody, Chris Rainey and Mon Williams throughout the season. Moore perhaps has the best combination of speed and power of any of the Gator running backs and consistently showed the ability to break tackles and tough runs up the middle during spring practice. He lacks the breakaway speed that both Rainey and Demps possess, but makes up for it with his ability to be an every down back in the SEC and endure the wear and tear of a full SEC season.
James figures to see less carries out of the backfield this year for the Gators and will likely be used primarily on kick and punt returns during the 2008 campaign. He doesn't have the ideal size to be an every down back in the SEC and, for this reason, will likely only be used in certain situations. Meyer will look to get him the ball in space out of the backfield occasionally, where James has shown an ability to use his great vision to find open space and make plays. He won't cut it as a blocker in the SEC, despite getting much stronger over the spring and the summer and this should keep him from getting a ton of playing time out of the backfield. However, even if James can get just a few carries per game, he will be able to take pressure off of the other running backs and keep Rainey and company from taking too many hits throughout the course of the game.
Williams suffered a season ending injury during the spring of 2007 and missed the entire 2007 season with the injury. He seems to be healthy, although he still looked somewhat tentative running the ball during spring practice. He has a good blend of size and speed and looks to be one of the more balanced Florida backs, capable of withstanding a full season of SEC hits. He showed some real promise on a few carries during the spring game, where he carried defenders and showed good instinct hitting the hole. If he can fully recover from the ACL tear and get back to his pre‐injury form, he could be the star at the running back position during the fall. Williams is fully capable of getting 15‐20 carries per game should he prove to be more effective running the ball than Kestahn Moore or Emmanuel Moody. He's currently sitting at third on the depth chart, but could move up or down during fall practice depending on whether or not he has a strong showing. Junior Brandon James Junior Mon Williams
Moody has been talked about as the savior of the Gator ground game since transferring from USC early in the fall of last year, but has struggled somewhat to adjust to the playing system that Urban Meyer uses. Moody is seeing the ball much more out of the option package than he ever did at USC and he has to react and know where to go with the ball almost immediately as he catches it, something that troubled him throughout the spring. He looks great out of a pro set and I formations and will likely be the answer for the Gators in those types of packages. Whether or not he will be the answer out of the spread formation is largely dependent on whether or not he can adjust to the quicker reaction times and making his own space out of the backfield, rather than just finding and hitting the hole in the Offensive Line. In any case, he showed a lot of promise during the spring game on one drive before fumbling the ball into the end zone. Urban Meyer stated harshly after the game that Moody wouldn't see the ball during the fall if he didn't demonstrate the ability to hold onto the rock, so you have to assume that's one thing Moody will be focusing on during early fall practices and into the 2008 SEC season.
Rainey is the most explosive of the Florida running backs and has been likened to Percy Harvin, though more in the mold of a traditional running back. Rainey redshirted last year after undergoing shoulder surgery and appears to be fully recovered from the injury. He looked brilliant running the ball throughout the spring and figures to get between 5 and 10 touches a game during the 2008 season. He has gotten significantly stronger since arriving at UF and now weighs around 185 pounds. The more weight he can add before the season, the more carries he should see, which is certainly a good thing for Gator fans around the country. He also has above average hands and should see a good bit of action off of swing passes and screens. Rainey should also help to keep Percy Harvin from taking too many carries out of the backfield, which should increase Harvin's productivity as a wide receiver. Sophomore Emmanuel Moody Redshirt Freshman Chris Rainey
Demps made headlines during spring practice when he ran a 10.17 100 Meter Dash at the Percy Beard track while the UF football team was practicing on the adjacent practice fields. At the time, it was the third fastest time in the world. Demps then went on to demolish his personal best time in the 100 Meter Dash during a quarterfinal heat at the Olympic Trials, running a 10.01. That time was the fastest time ever run by a high schooler. That time also means that Demps has unofficially become “college football’s fastest player”, beating LSU speedster Trindon Holliday’s personal best time of 10.02 seconds. Demps has a rare blend of size and speed and will likely be utilized in a Chris Rainey type role should he see action this year. However, given the current depth at the running back position, the coaches will probably hope to redshirt Demps and get him a year to get stronger and accustomed to the speed of play in the SEC. That is far from a guarantee; however, as Coach Urban Meyer has indicated he wants the Florida Gators to be the fastest team in America. Allowing Demps to see the field in 2008 would definitely be a huge step in that direction. In any case, Demps provides good depth should one of the other backs go down with an injury at any point during the season.