SEC Media Days Gators Notebook: Gillislee sets lofty goals, McCray getting reps at Buck

By Joe Morgan

SEC Media Days Gators Notebook: Gillislee sets lofty goals, McCray getting reps at Buck

HOOVER, Ala. — While the Florida Gators’ quarterback situation may be in flux, senior Mike Gillislee gives them some certainty at the running back position. In fact, Gillislee has the 2012 season planned down to the box scores.

“My goal is to get 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns,” he said at the Southeastern Conference Media Days on Wednesday. “I haven’t set a goal for receiving yet.”

Gillislee averaged 5.9 yards per carry in 2011. Assuming he matches his yards-per-carry average from last season, Gillislee will need more than the 56 carries he accrued as a junior to reach his goal — 199 more attempts, to be exact.

As the Gators’ primary running back heading into the 2012 campaign, Gillislee will likely receive the necessary reps. Slated behind Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps on the depth chart last season, Gillislee received just 12 percent of UF’s carries in 2011.

“[Coach Muschamp told me he regretted it, but I don’t really see it as a regret because that’s in the past,” Gillislee said. “Now is my opportunity, and I will keep it that way.”

However, even with increased playing time, reaching his lofty goals will be a challenge. The numbers Gillisle is aiming to accomplish would earn him a place in Florida record books.

Rushing for 24 touchdowns in 2012 would move Gillislee ahead of Tim Tebow, who scored 23 in 2007, as the best single-season mark in UF history.

Emmitt Smith holds the record for running back with 14 touchdowns on the ground during the 1989 season. If Gillislee hits the 1,500-yard mark, he would be 99 yards short of Smith’s single-season rushing record, which the Pro Football Hall of Famer also set during his junior campaign in 1989.

“He’s ready to tote the load,” redshirt senior linebacker Lerentee McCray said. “He’s ready to be that premier back everybody wants him to be. He said he can get 1,500 yards. I think he will get it if he wants it bad enough.”

McCray at Buck, Powell recovering: Junior Ronald Powell has been cleared to lift weights again after suffering an ACL tear in his left knee during the Orange and Blue Debut on April 7. Powell led the Gators with six sacks during the 2011 season.

“He’s squatting, doing everything, been cleared for straight‑ahead running,” coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s not changing direction or taking on blocks right now. As many of you know with an ACL situation, that always takes time. … He’ll play for us this year.  When that will be, I don’t know yet.”

Until Powell returns to the lineup, McCray will regularly play the Buck position as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end. McCray recorded 24 tackles (7.5 TFL) in nine games last season.

McCray will play Buck in the subpackage, and Powell’s injury will lead to increased reps in the regular package.

“Lerentee was a guy that was banged up a little bit last year,” Muschamp said. “I held him, he probably could have gone. (He) can play both outside linebacker positions, can give us some edge rush in our four‑down package.”

Linebacker Jon Bostic believes McCray and Powell have similar playing styles. However, he admits McCray may have an advantage on the former top-ranked recruit.

“Lerentee’s a little bit faster than [Powell],” Bostic said. “But really, they bring kind of the same thing to the table. They’re both physical.

Muschamp expressed comfort with McCray filling in for Powell at the Buck position. Increased depth and experience are a luxury the Gators did not enjoy in 2011, he said.

“On defense, we return 15 of our 16 top tacklers, so that’s exciting,” Muschamp said.

“We had a lot of first‑year starters last year. Defensively, going into last season, we had less starters than anyone else in the SEC. That attributed a lot to our inconsistent play across the board.”

Quarterback Battle: Will Muschamp is no longer one of the new guys at this year’s SEC Media Days; that distinction belongs to interim Arkansas coach John L. Smith and everybody from Texas A&M and Missouri.

As Muschamp reflected on his first season at Florida, he talked about last year’s depth issues at quarterback. Both Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett took reps as true freshmen.

“Going into the first year, the issues I knew we had was a situation where we inherited a roster with two quarterbacks on scholarship — Tyler Murphy and John Brantley,” Muschamp said.

“I said this a thousand times last year, if we can keep John Brantley healthy, we’ll be fine. We were unable to do that. … That posed a lot of issues.  We lost a lot of confidence offensively. We struggled to move the ball consistently throughout the rest of the season.”

Even though he has yet to name a starting quarterback, Muschamp feels more comfortable about his options behind center this season. Driskel and Brissett are “even” going into fall camp, he said.

“Both guys are talented, qualified for the position,” Muschamp said. “They’ll get equal reps. I would like to name a starter before the season, but I’m not going to put a timetable on that. If we need to play both of them, that’s what we’re going to do.”

Etc.: Muschamp said Andre Debose will be the Gators’ No. 1 kick returner followed by Mike Gillislee and Solomon Patton. The second-year coach has yet to decide amongst Debose, Marcus Roberson, Loucheiz Purifoy, Quinton Dunbar and Trey Burton as the punt returner. … Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown underwent surgery Wednesday for a broken wrist. Muschamp said he will be cleared for “full contact” Sep. 1. … Muschamp reacted to redshirt senior placekicker Caleb Sturgis’s selection as the only Gator on the Coaches’ All-SEC First Team by sending the rest of his players a text that read: “Congratulations to Caleb Sturgis. The SEC coaches must not think much of the rest of you guys.”

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