Spread out for Gators

Spread out for Gators

August 31st, 2011 by David Paschall in Sports - College

After a turbulent 2010 season that included a five-game suspension, Chris Rainey is one of several Florida seniors seeking a big improvement.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Will anything be similar on Florida's offense this season compared to a year ago?

The Gators have scrapped the spread for a pro-style attack under new coordinator Charlie Weis, and some of the more familiar players may be difficult to spot during the first few weeks. Top tailbacks Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey have opted for new numbers as seniors, with Demps switching from No. 2 to No. 28 and Rainey from No. 3 to No. 1, and they are expected to be in the game together more under Weis.

"We really like that," Demps said. "It takes some pressure off of me and him. Instead of having to worry about one person, other teams have to worry about two."

Florida is expected to open the Will Muschamp era with a waxing of Florida Atlantic and coach Howard Schnellenberger this Saturday night in Gainesville, but that seems almost secondary to how the Gators will look offensively under Weis. The unit is filled with skilled seniors seeking to rebound from disappointing 2010 seasons, with quarterback John Brantley and receiver Deonte Thompson displaying motivation similar to Demps and Rainey.

Muschamp admits he's eager to get the fresh start going.

"Unfortunately it's at 7 o'clock," Muschamp said. "I wish we were playing at 1."

Demps and Rainey have eye-popping career averages of 7.1 yards per carry, but the two combined last season for fewer than 900 yards.

The 5-foot-8, 188-pound Demps was bothered by a sprained left foot that forced him to sit out three games, and he got a dozen or more carries in only one game. The 5-9, 180-pound Rainey missed five games as the result of an arrest for aggravated stalking, and he also got a dozen or more carries once.

Florida was held under 100 rushing yards four times last year, when the Gators slipped from consecutive 13-win seasons to 8-5.

"I've definitely seen improvement," said Demps, the two-time NCAA indoor champ in the 60-meter dash. "The line is firing off the ball and giving us holes to run through. I think we'll be able to run the ball well against any opponent this year."

How much Demps and Rainey are used between the tackles only adds to the offensive intrigue. Mack Brown and Mike Gillislee are better suited up the middle but are competing to simply contribute.

And what about Trey Burton, who played some at quarterback, fullback, tight end and receiver last year as a freshman? Muschamp said he could do all that again, and maybe add some tailback.

"You better track him," Muschamp said. "We're going to use him in a lot of ways. He's a very valuable member of our football team."

The Gators have stayed healthy up front this month and have developed a potentially formidable tackle trio with Matt Patchan, Xavier Nixon and Chaz Green. Quinton Dunbar has emerged to provide more punch at receiver, but how effective Florida's offense performs ultimately comes down to Brantley.

The 6-3, 220-pounder had 10 touchdowns and one interception during his two seasons of mop-up duty for Tim Tebow but had nine scores and 10 pickoffs last year. He was part of a three-quarterback rotation down the stretch last season with Burton and Jordan Reed, now the starting tight end.

Brantley now is an unquestioned starter and true freshman Jeff Driskel is the top backup for Weis, who will call the plays from the field.

"When you have some change, you've got to grow with that change," Muschamp said. "I think John feels more comfortable in the things he's doing, and I feel good about his progress."

Said Brantley: "Our fans are going to like this offense. We're ready to show everybody what we've got."