Spring practice for the Florida Gators football program begins on Wednesday, March 13 and lasts for 15 practices concluding with the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut spring game on Saturday, April 6 at 1 p.m. Below is the first of OGGOA‘s new two-part series that takes a look at the team on a position-by-position basis.
PART TWO: Defense & Special Teams
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt junior Chaz Green
Fresh faces: Redshirt sophomore Tyler Moore
Out goes Xavier Nixon, in comes sophomore D.J. Humphries. After starting three games as a true freshman, Humphries – a former five-star prospect – appears to be all but a shoe-in for the left tackle job. However, both he and Green (who started 10 games at right tackle) have plenty of competition ahead of them. Moore started as a true freshman at Nebraska, sat out the 2012 season while attending a community college and is therefore eligible to play right away. He will be pushing Humphries and Green all spring is certainly talented enough to win either or both starting jobs. Chances are he will wind up either winning the right tackle role while Green continues to recover from ankle surgery or play well enough where he spells both players throughout games.
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt senior Jon Halapio
Fresh faces: Redshirt junior Max Garcia
With James Wilson finally graduating, the starting left guard job is wide open and offensive line coach Tim Davis has a number of ways in which he can fill the position. Redshirt junior Ian Silberman is the only player on the roster who actually started at guard in 2012 but versatile redshirt senior Kyle Koehne (three starts at right tackle) is also quite experienced in SEC play. Garcia, who started 12 games at tackle for Maryland, has been moved inside and was even listed as the first-string left guard on the initial spring practice depth chart. Redshirt freshman Jessamen Dunker (if reinstated to the team) is a possibility at left guard as well. Halapio (28-straight starts) has a stranglehold on the right guard job.
Returning starters (1/1): Redshirt senior Jonotthan Harrison
Fresh faces: None
Harrison has not missed a start in two seasons (26-straight) and has his job as locked up as anyone on the team. The coaching staff will certainly be looking for a player aside from Koehne capable of backing up Harrison on a regular basis.
Returning starters (1/1): Junior Jeff Driskel
Fresh faces: None
Fans may remain torn about Driskel’s ability but there is absolutely no doubt that he will be returning as the starting quarterback after being the primary signal caller in 12 of 13 games in 2012 (11 starts). Driskel completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,646 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions and also took 118 carries for 408 yards and four rushing scores. Redshirt junior Tyler Murphy has the early lead on redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg for the No. 2 job behind Driskel but must prove to coaches that he finally deserves the opportunity for playing time should the starter go down at some point during the season. Murphy has stuck with Florida despite hearing from everyone who could catch his ear that he should transfer; now he has the opportunity to prove to himself that he made the smart decision by staying put.
Returning starters (1/1): Junior Hunter Joyer
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Rhaheim Ledbetter, redshirt junior Gideon Ajagbe
The Gators do not always start a fullback and Joyer is certainly not in on every play, but he continues to be the go-to guy at the position. Ledbetter (who did not play in 2012) and Ajagbe (who is far back on the depth chart at linebacker) have both been moved to fullback for the first seven days of spring practice. Ledbetter played running back in high school, while Ajagbe is just looking to find a way to contribute to the team. Senior Trey Burton, junior Clay Burton, running backs and wide receivers also see time at the flex position.
Returning starters (0/1): None
Fresh faces: Freshman Kelvin Taylor
Florida finally found a rusher it could count on but did so a few years too late and only got to enjoy the ride that was Mike Gillislee for a single season. Sophomore Matt Jones showed plenty of promise during his freshman campaign, averaging 5.3 yards per rush (52 carries for 275 yards) and scoring three touchdowns. Over his final three games, Jones took 19 touches for 162 yards and two scores and showed the consistent improvement that the coaching staff hoped to see from him earlier in the season.
While Jones may have the inside track for the starting job, he has plenty of competition coming his way. It looks to be put up or shut up time for redshirt junior Mack Brown, who has only received 40 carries in his career including 25 last season. Then there’s Taylor, whose sights are set on following in his father’s footsteps and have been for years. Taylor is talented enough to earn back-up carries out of the gate, meaning Brown is going to have to step up in a big way to keep the youngster at bay.
Returning starters (0/1): None
Fresh faces: None
The Gators did not just lose a starting tight end when Jordan Reed declared early for the 2013 NFL Draft; Florida also lost its top pass catcher (45 receptions for 559 yards with three touchdowns). Attempting to replace Reed’s offense will be sophomore Kent Taylor, who had just two receptions on the season including one for a five-yard score in the 2013 Sugar Bowl. Redshirt freshman Colin Thompson missed the 2012 campaign with a foot injury but spent the entire season soaking up the playbook and being as attentive as possible during team meetings. Clay Burton and junior Tevin Westbrook are simply not talented enough to produce as starting tight ends at UF though Burton may retain the blocking tight end job (five flex starts in 2012).
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar
Fresh faces: Freshman Demarcus Robinson
Reed departing early was just the tip of the iceberg as far as the Gators’ receiving casualties were concerned considering Florida also lost Frankie Hammond, Jr. and Omarius Hines (third and fourth in both receptions and yards) to graduation. On the bright side, neither Hammond nor Hines possessed the playmaking ability that the Gators desperately need, so replacing them with young, hungry players may actually be a boon for Florida’s receiving corps.
Dunbar is likely to hold on to one of the starting jobs, but he will certainly have plenty of competition. Redshirt senior Andre Debose’s career is on life support so it is do or die time as far as he is concerned. Sophomores Raphael Andrades and Latroy Pittman showed flashes during their freshman seasons but neither made an impact in the passing game. Then comes Robinson who has the talent and ability to compete right away in the SEC. If the coaching staff determines that Robinson’s maturity and football IQ are on par with his position mates, a starting job may very well be in his future. Junior Loucheiz Purifoy will also be spending the first half of spring practice with the wide receiver as he looks for ways to add playmaking talent to a unit sorely in need of upgrades.
On Tuesday, OGGOA concludes its two-part Gators Spring Football Preview with a look at Florida’s defense and special teams.