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Mike Davis Decommits: Florida's Need For Depth At Running Back Is Ever Present

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On Sunday, we were disappointed, but not necessarily surprised to learn that running back Mike Davis was no longer committed to the Gators. Davis’s story had become one with twists and turns over the past few weeks, all broadcast openly on Twitter. Here’s a quick rundown of what we’ve heard (I didn’t say "these are the facts" because as with much of recruiting, "facts" are built from hearsay and rumors):

  • When Davis was originally recruited, he was told by Florida coaches that the Gators would only take two running backs. The story goes that he was told he and Matt Jones were the only backs Florida wanted. This is part of what led to his commitment to the Gators.
  • Throughout the 2012 recruiting cycle, Florida also pursued Keith Marshall. Marshall was thought to be a longshot because Davis and Jones were already on board. Despite that, he has still been recruited heavily.
  • Recently, Davis began to express concern over the recruitment of Marshall. There could be many reasons for this, but it seems to have to do with what Davis was originally told about the Gators being done at the position.
  • Due to comments by Davis’s older brother – NFL running back James Davis – and his quick decision to visit Tennessee, it was believed he had been pushed over the edge and his decommitment would come soon.
  • Davis announced he was no longer committed to the Gators on Sunday.

None of this is meant to disparage Davis or anyone involved in his recruitment. There are two sides to every story and this story definitely has two compelling poles. I'm simply giving a brief timeline of what led up to Sunday’s announcement. Regardless of why he chose to decommit, though, Davis is no longer a part of the Gators’ 2012 recruiting class. That could change, but at this exact moment it seems unlikely that it will.

Now what?

There are two ways to look at the loss of Davis and how it may impact the Florida football team: 1) the loss of Davis himself, or 2) the loss of a running back.

Many members of the Alligator Army community have given their thoughts regarding the loss of Davis, and many are correct in their assessments. Jones and Davis seemed like the perfect complementary pair of runners: thunder and lightning if you will. Davis also comes from a program putting a good number of talented players into the college pool in 2012 and it never hurts to have one or two (JaFar Mann is still committed to Florida) onboard early in the process.

Losing Davis stings, to be sure. But the bigger issue is losing a running back.

The Gators enter the 2012 season with the following at the position:

  • Mike Gillislee, SR – 2011: 51 carries, 313 yards, 6.1 yards per carry, 2 TDs
  • Trey Burton, JR – 2011: 33 carries, 102 yards, 3.1 yards per carry, 3 TDs, 19 catches, 149 yards, 7.8 yards per catch, 1 TD
  • Mack Brown, RSO – 2011: 12 carries, 42 yards, 3.5 yards per carry
  • Ben Sams, JR

And of course the fullbacks:

  • Hunter Joyer, SO – 2011 Stats: 17 carries, 82 yards, 4.8 yards per carry, 2 TDs
  • Jesse Schmitt, JR

Yes, I listed the fullbacks separately. And yes, Joyer is among them. Some have suggested moving Joyer to running back to be the power runner the Gators desperately need. I have absolutely no issue with Joyer getting carries and think he can be a valuable part of the offense running the ball, but I also believe he can be a great lead blocker. He has potential doing both and shouldn’t be limited to either.

With no offense to Sams meant, Florida enters next season with three viable options at running back. Gillislee has shown flashes and become a fan favorite; take one look around this site and you’ll find enough of us to start the Official Mike Gillislee Fan Club. After averaging 8.6 yards per carry in limited time during his true freshman season, we all wanted to see more.

What we got was a total of 109 carries over the next two seasons. It’s safe to assume Gillislee will top that in 2012, maybe even in the first half of the season, but for some reason in 2011 he wasn’t given the ball consistently even when mentioned specifically by Charlie Weis. In 2012, he’ll have to be used. There's still a lot of faith that he can be great and he will finally have every chance to prove it.

Burton is the wild card, because no one is entirely sure what his true position is. He’s listed as a running back, but has been used as more of a utility player. Weis’ offense will likely evolve with a second season in Gainesville, though, and with more of the offense should come more of Burton carrying the ball. 2011 saw his carries cut from 75 to 33, but 2012 is a new season and we’ve heard whispers that Burton may be used more in a ball-carrying capacity. We’re all intrigued by what Burton can do, but we’re also talking about someone who has only had more than nine carries in a game once (17 against Georgia in 2010).

Finally, there’s Brown, who had 10 carries against UAB, two against Kentucky and nothing more this season. Like Gillislee, there have been bumps and bruises here and there. Like Gillislee, the Gators aren’t entirely sure what they have in Brown, but in the case of the enigma from Georgia, you can multiply that uncertainty by 10. Brown will get a chance in 2012, but rumors of a transfer have been out there for a while. Brown is still on the roster for now, though, so let’s assume they’re nothing more than rumors that won’t see the light of day.

There you have it: a senior, a junior and a redshirt sophomore. The most carries in a single season by any of them was Burton’s 75 in 2010, and most of those came with the utility back technically lined up at quarterback. Experience could be an issue, but so is depth. Remember, Florida is about to close the door on a season during which every back not named Trey Burton had dings and bruises. If that happens again in 2012, it will be problem whether we choose to ignore it now or not. That’s where this upcoming recruiting class comes in.

We don’t know what Davis would have done in a Gators uniform in 2012. He could have been asked to carry the ball early and often; he could have watched and learned from the sidelines. Either way, he would have provided depth, and depth is what Florida needs. Call it the just-in-case clause, but three running backs are only enough if everything goes exactly as planned, or, better yet, as dreamed. If Davis was a positive in the Gators’ climb to a full roster, Davis and Jones had us dancing in the streets.

For now, it’s just Jones. It’s not a panic situation, but that’s also because it’s December 6. In two months, one won’t be enough. Four for next season sounds acceptable, but the Gators are also building for beyond 2012, and that’s part of why more are needed. If four is acceptable, five is joyous and six ... well, my birthday isn’t until March, but I’ll take the early present.

The coaches aren’t putting all of their eggs in Marshall’s basket, but they are putting a lot of them there, especially if they knew his recruitment could have led to Davis’s decommitment. If Marshall commits, some of that sting may subside, but he’s also a different sort of back. If Davis and Jones were a near perfect combination, adding Marshall could have completed the trifecta as an all-purpose type; while some might believe he doesn’t fit in the new offense, Marshall’s talent fits in most offenses.

On Tuesday, Marshall will make his decision known. It might be a Gators cap he puts on. It might not be. Like Davis, he can be a great part of Florida’s future. Like all of those at the position, he’ll be welcome for many reasons.

The ups and downs of recruiting never stop. A prospect commits, and it’s a celebration; a prospect decommits, and suddenly the sky is falling, with everyone asking why and what next. For Florida, Marshall appears to be the immediate next, and beyond him, adding depth at running back will be it through signing day.

We could look ahead to 2013 and the pursuit of a star by the name of Kelvin Taylor, but you don’t put together a class based on what a future class might bring. Taylor, Derrick Henry and others will be in play in 2013, but 2012 is the immediate focus. Florida needs another running back, and it needs that guy now.