BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Florida coach Will Muschamp said it before, but it bore repeating.
“I should have played him more last year,” Muschamp said of RB Mike Gillislee.
It was Gillislee, previously a little-used running back with no starts who was one of the team’s representatives at SEC Media Days at The Wynfrey Hotel on Wednesday.
The senior enters the season with a chance to finally be the featured back in the offense after serving as a back-up throughout his career. He finished 2011 with 56 carries and has 328 yards in each of the past two seasons.
To be sure, the speed of the players ahead of him accounted for that. Chris Rainey led the team in rushing, receiving, punt return and all-purpose yards last year and finished with nearly three times as many carries as Gillislee.
But it’s Gillislee who has been the top back since the spring.
“He told me he regretted it, but I don’t really see it as regret because that’s in the past,” Gillislee said. “Now is my opportunity and I will keep it that way by going out there every day and keeping up with the other running backs because they’re just as good as me.”
What kind of role Gillislee has this year will be determined in camp. He’s closer to the type of power back Muschamp wants in the offense, but he’ll have competition from Mack Brown, Trey Burton and Omarius Hines. Florida adds 6-foot-2 freshman back Matt Jones as well.
“He needs to perform,” said Muschamp. “No job is safe, so he needs to go out and compete. Which he will. That’s Mike.”
Gillislee said he’d like to finish this season with 1,500 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns, numbers that would rank him second and first, respectively, in those categories all-time at UF.
“That’s just my goal,” said Gillislee. “I completed all my goals in the weight room, and that’s a goal that I want to complete on the field. If not, come close.”
News and notes
For more on Florida’s appearance at SEC Media Days, you can check out the news about transfers and injuries. Here are some additional notes from the day:
– The preseason media poll hasn’t been released, but it’s no surprise that the Gators won’t be expected to win the conference. They also won’t be favored to win the division, something LB Lerentee McCray said was added motivation against Eastern Division favorites Georgia and South Carolina.
“I feel like we were neck and neck with them,” he said. “I feel like if it weren’t for a couple mistakes, we could have easily won more than half of those games that we lost. We are definitely an underdog.”
– McCray said he has no preference between playing strongside linebacker or the Buck position, which might be good since the players around him will determine how much time he spends at each position.
Ronald Powell could return to the Buck position depending on how quickly his recovery from ACL surgery goes. Muschamp said Wednesday that the junior is lifting weights and running straight ahead.
McCray will help fill in for Powell while also playing Sam linebacker. But the play of Darrin Kitchens and Neiron Ball will determine if McCray plays with his hands up or down.
Kitchens enters his junior season with 22 career appearances, including a start last year vs. Furman. Ball, meanwhile, missed all of last season after he was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation in his brain and had a procedure.
Muschamp said McCray could play full time at Buck if Kitchens and Ball can fill in at linebacker.
– Muschamp could say very little about Venice DT Dante Phillips, who signed with Florida but was denied admission earlier this month despite making it through the NCAA clearinghouse. Muschamp said Phillips has been released from his National Letter of Intent.
– Depth at tight end is not a concern although sophomore A.C. Leonard will be transferring from the program. Jordan Reed remains atop the depth chart, and Florida has Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook who have moved over from defensive end. The Gators also bring in freshmen Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor.
– Muschamp was asked about his Twitter policy, although it doesn’t seem there is one. “Number one rule is don’t embarrass the program, the university or your family,” he said. “Unfortunately we’ve got some knuckleheads here and there that will make poor decisions, put something out there.”
Muschamp said they would restrict players’ use quickly in that case, but the players are otherwise free to use it.
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