Florida's offense centers around RB Matt Jones - WFLA News Channel 8

Florida's offense centers around RB Matt Jones

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GAINESVILLE, FL (WFLA) -

Matt Jones took the opening handoff, found a hole and nearly picked up a first down.
    
Then he headed to the sideline. For good.
    
The running back was so impressive during Florida's spring practice that coach Will Muschamp decided to give him a small workload in Saturday's spring game, which resembled a routine practice because of injuries.
    
"It's the best we could do given the circumstances," Muschamp said. "Would I have liked to have lined up and had a live game and had 120 snaps? Sure, that would have been good. But with that being said, I thought it was a very productive day and you look at the situational work as far as moving the ball, coming out, red-zone work, one-minute."
    
The Gators had six 11-on-11 scrimmage periods, with everyone in the relatively spare crowd watching an offense that has mostly struggled during Muschamp's two seasons in Gainesville. Florida ranked 103rd in the nation in total offense in 2012, up two spots from the previous year.
    
Many of the Florida faithful wanted to see whether junior quarterback Jeff Driskel would make any passing improvements, whether the offense would find any big-play receivers and whether the patchwork offensive line would offer more solid protection.
    
The answers will have to wait for Florida's Aug. 31 opener against Toledo.
    
Instead, this is what the Gators know for sure before the season: Jones will be the offensive centerpiece in 2013.
    
"He's a physical runner," Muschamp said. "He understands our protection. He's got great hands in the throwing game. There's no question he is an all-around back. He can do everything for us, and he's shown it to us for 14 straight practices."
    
He pretty much got to rest during the 15th and final one.
    
Without him, the offense looked fairly pedestrian. The Gators managed two touchdowns on a perfect spring day in Gainesville.
    
Walk-on running back Mark Herndon scored on a 4-yard run, and freshman Kelvin Taylor, the son of former NFL star Fred Taylor, scampered in from 7 yards out.
    
Driskel completed 9 of 20 passes for 70 yards, with no touchdowns and no interceptions. He also ran five times for 28 yards, but those don't include negative sack yardage since he was wearing a red, non-contact jersey.
    
Driskel had reasons for the mediocre numbers.
    
The Gators played without two starters on the offensive line and had nearly as many injuries at receiver. Guards Jon Halapio (knee) and Max Garcia (back) sat out most of the drills, while receivers Latroy Pittman (undisclosed injury in practice Friday), Demarcus Robinson (ankle), Solomon Patton (arm) and Quinton Dunbar (shoulder) were limited.
    
Nonetheless, Driskel believes the unit will be considerably more advance in the second year under offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
    
"I think it will be a lot better," Driskel said. "We have more guys that can stretch the field. We have good team speed at the receiver position. Our line is blocking a lot better, and us quarterbacks knowing when we have the opportunity to launch the ball. It's kind of everything working together and running the ball well to set up those plays."
    
No doubt, the offense will run through Jones.
    
The 6-foot-2, 226-pound sophomore from Seffner ran 52 times for 275 yards and three touchdowns last season. He played sparingly behind 1,000-yard rusher Mike Gillislee, but averaged 5.3 yards a carry in an offense that was mostly one-dimensional.
    
Now, Jones is settling into his role - as starter and a potential star.
    
"I'm very comfortable," he said. "I feel like I know everything. I think I understand the concepts of the game and everything. I feel very comfortable this year. ... I still can't fall off right now. I still got to keep on going and keep on being humble."

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