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March 15, 2006
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Florida coach Urban Meyer threatened Tuesday to play without a running back if someone doesn't step up at the position.
Meyer said a strong running game is critical to the success of his spread-option offense, and inconsistent play from tailbacks DeShawn Wynn, Markus Manson, Kestahn Moore and Skyler Thornton was one reason the Gators struggled to score last season.
Meyer vowed to not let it happen again.
''I get very upset thinking about that position,'' he said Tuesday, two weeks before the start of spring practice. ''That's not what is expected. If that continues, we'll play without a tailback. I'm not going to sit and watch that trash I watched last year. That's not going to happen.''
The Gators averaged 3.9 yards a carry and 146.8 yards a game in 2005 - well shy of the 236 yards a game Meyer's ground game produced in his final year at Utah.
Meyer also pointed out that Florida's rushing numbers were well below expectations established by former players like Neal Anderson, Emmitt Smith, Errict Rhett and Fred Taylor.
''Fred Taylor and Emmitt Smith played tailback here before. I keep checking that. That did happen, right?'' Meyer quipped. ''I want to see that. We have to recruit that, we have to develop that. There's got to be a standard set. Right now, we don't have a standard. You're not watching film, saying that's how it's supposed to be done. We don't have that. That has to happen or we will not play with a tailback.''
Wynn - who was suspended for the opener, then in and out of the starting lineup - led the team with 621 yards rushing and seven touchdowns last season. Manson had 365 yards on the ground, and Moore was third with 277.
Thornton, meanwhile, had 96 yards rushing and transferred following the season.
Together, they barely matched Ciatrick Fason's rushing yardage (1,267) from 2004 and needed 57 more attempts.
''That's maybe the most disappointing position on our team,'' Meyer said. ''Florida has a nice tradition of great running backs here. We are not fulfilling our obligation of upholding that great tradition. We're very poor at the tailback position. I've been around football for 21 years and we've always had a back you could count on. We didn't have one (last season).
''We're starting from scratch at that position.''
Meyer said Moore, a sophomore, will begin spring practice March 29 as the starter. But if nothing changes from last year, Meyer said he will find a way to play without a tailback.
''I don't have any idea what's going to happen at that position,'' he said. ''It was very disappointing. I wanted to see someone step up and become a good football player.''
Notes: WR Andre Caldwell (knee) will skip contact drills during spring practice. DE Ray McDonald (knees) is on pace to return in June, while S Reggie Nelson (knee) and LB Jon Demps (knee) should return soon. ... Meyer said highly touted freshman QB Tim Tebow will play this fall: ''Tim Tebow's going to play. Not because he's Tim Tebow, but because you have to have your backup ready to play. Playing time for him will be earned. Nothing's given, but he will play.'' ... Meyer also said Tebow has struggled with his weight, ballooning to 242 pounds before shedding nearly 15 pounds. ... Two reserve senior defensive linemen, MacKenzie Pierre and Todd Bunce, have left the team.For more coverage of the Florida Gators, check out GatorBait.net.