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Friday August 9, 2013Mack Brown hitting the hole at tailback, so far

Updated: 12:43pm, August 9

Mack BrownGAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Starting running back Matt Jones is slowly progressing in his recovery from a viral infection that has sidelined him from the first week of Florida preseason practice.

In the interim, fourth-year junior Mack Brown has stepped into the No. 1 tailback spot.

Not that Brown sees his role as that of a placeholder.

“You need three backs in the SEC,” Brown said Thursday.

Just when Jones will be cleared to practice is uncertain -- Coach Will Muschamp said Friday that Jones has started to run a little bit -- which means Brown and a handful of other running backs (such as freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane, along with sophomore Mark Herndon) will get some close looks Saturday when the Gators hold their first closed scrimmage of the season.

Brown, who’s totaled 40 carries for 167 yards his first three collegiate seasons, said the first week of camp has been a positive mental boost. 

“At running back, you need a certain amount of reps to stay in the groove,” said Brown, a one-cut, downhill kind of guy (along the lines of last year’s 1,200-yard rusher Mike Gillislee) that Muschamp prefers back there. “Not getting that many reps the last couple years, you lose a little confidence.”

The 5-foot-11, 215-pounder was a workhorse tailback at Lithonia (Ga.) King High, where he rushed for more than 1,700 yards and 20 touchdowns on his way to being a decorated, highly sought recruit.

But a hamstring injury in 2010, a broken leg in 2011 and an ankle sprain in the 2012 impeded whatever progress Brown could make on the depth chart.

Now he’s healthy and making the best of his situation.

“He’s staying focused, being in his playbook and knowing exactly what to do on every play,” junior fullback Hunter Joyer said. “He’s been here a while, so he’s taking advantage of that and also trying to lead the younger guys.”

Truth be told, he’s also trying to put some distance between them.

“I’m getting my groove back with the 1s and they’re seeing what I can do,” Brown said of working with the first-team offense. “I know my protections. I know the offense inside and out, so I’ll just keep doing what I have to do. And I’m healthy now, that’s the main thing.”

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