Matt Jones Developing Into Three-Down Back
With the departure of Mike Gillislee, Florida is looking for a new primary running back. The man who is most likely to take the mantle is sophomore Matt Jones.
Jones is the 6-foot-2, 226-pound behemoth that smashed the ball up the middle last fall. Jones' critics pointed to his lack of speed and hands as the only factors that could keep him off the field this season.
It looks like Will Muschamp is not concerned in the slightest about Jones' hands. Jones caught bubble screens and ran vertical routes recently during spring practice. The fact that the staff lined up Jones at wide receiver for several snaps indicates that the coaching staff is comfortable with using him on third downs, but Muschamp clarified things even more. Muschamp said Jones had “very good” hands. If the coaches had Jones running verticals, they must not be worried about his speed either.
This will come as good news for Gators fans worried about the future of the offense. While Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown are still competing for the starting spot, the positive showing so far by Jones should cool off the competition. Reporters noted Jones' strong showing this week in practice, highlighted by him running over cornerback Cody Riggs in practice. Currently ahead in the position battle, Jones looks to be the focus of the Gators' offense next season.
Florida's offense should look similar to last year's with the return of coordinator Brent Pease. This means we can expect to see a focus on power running and ball control. If Jones can secure the starting spot and prove to be a viable three down back, he could have a breakout year. With such a large frame, if Jones can show that he can be productive, NFL scouts will start looking his way next year, and that is always a goal at a big program like Florida. Muschamp is looking to win championships, but his coaching pedigree and choices of offensive and defensive styles show that he is also looking to restore the NFL pipeline that runs through Gainesville. Muschamp knows from Saban that if he can get his players into the NFL, then it will only make recruiting easier.
Turning Matt Jones into a three-down back is the first step in his journey to the NFL. It is also an early indicator of the type of program that Will Muschamp is building in Florida.