Spring practice for the Florida Gators football program begins on Wednesday, March 19 and lasts for 15 practices concluding with the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut spring game on Saturday, April 12. Below is the first of OnlyGators.com‘s two-part series that takes a look at the team on a position-by-position basis.
Due to extensive team injuries, more players started for Florida at times in 2013 than normal. In this case, the term “starter” is being used as applicable per position.
Returning starters (2/2): Junior D.J. Humphries, redshirt senior Chaz Green
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson
By the time the 2013 campaign came to an end, the Gators lost three starting tackles for the season. The first of those absentees was Green, who had locked up the starting right tackle job over the summer but tore his labrum in practice and missed the entire season. Then came Humphries, who started the first six games at left tackle but missed the final five after an injured MCL kept him hobbled for the remainder of the year. Florida’s offense struggled mightily, in large part due to a weak offensive line, but Green and Humphries will almost assuredly start for UF as long as they can remain healthy. Johnson did not play in 2013 after suffering a physical setback early in camp but impressed the coaching staff with his athleticism when he was able to practice as a part of the scout team. He is a candidate to see a good number of snaps this year.
Returning starters (0/2): None
Fresh faces: Junior transfer Drew Sarvary, freshman Kavaris Harkless
With Jon Halapio and Kyle Koehne graduating – and Florida’s starting left guard changing positions (more on that below) – new offensive line coach Mike Summers will have the opportunity to hand-pick some players to help solidify the unit. Sarvary – a First Team All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference selection last season – and redshirt junior Trip Thurman will compete for the jobs, as will senior Trenton Brown and redshirt junior Tyler Moore, both of whom started games at tackle for the Gators in 2013. Florida’s guards are a work in progress, no two ways about it. Harkless could get in the mix as well though it is tough to know what UF can get from a freshman offensive lineman in the spring.
Returning starters (0/1): None
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Cameron Dillard
Expected to be the heir apparent to three-year starter Jonotthan Harrison despite having never seen the field, Dillard suddenly finds himself in a major battle for the starting job after head coach Will Muschamp announced last week that redshirt senior Max Garcia would be moving to center. Garcia started 12 games on the left side of the offensive line (mostly at guard) during his first season at Florida after transferring in from Maryland. With Dillard also spending time working at guard, Thurman will have an opportunity to compete at center as well.
Returning starters (1/1): Redshirt junior Jeff Driskel
Fresh faces: Freshman Will Grier
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 for 12 of 13 games in 2012 (11 starts) and all three contest for which he was healthy in 2013. Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s system is expected to use plenty of spread elements that should allow Driskel to feel even more comfortable in his role as the Gators’ starter. Considering UF moved back he start of spring practice one week to accommodate Driskel – ensuring he fully healed from his season-ending broken fibula and could lead the team onto the field from day one – he is in much less danger of losing his job than some would like to believe.
Putting his two interceptions against Miami to the side for a second, Driskel completed 3-9-of-55 passes for 444 yards and two touchdowns in his two full games. Simply put, there are no more excuses for Driskel this year. He’s in a system more conducive to his abilities and has a better set of playmakers around him than ever before. Grier, the incredibly-hyped Maxwell Football Player of the Year who originally hoped to take a redshirt for his true freshman season, may not have that luxury this year as Florida lost its primary backup in Tyler Murphy as well as its expected third-stringer in Max Staver.
Returning starters (1/1): Senior Hunter Joyer
Fresh faces: None
The Gators did not always start a fullback under Brent Pease. With Roper’s offense expected to be much more spread out – taking advantage of the physical attributes of offensive playmakers by putting them in space – Joyer’s role as a traditional fullback will be greatly reduced in 2014. He will likely continue to see action as a short-yardage back and occasional extra pass blocker.
Returning starters (2/2): Junior Matt Jones, sophomore Kelvin Taylor
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Adam Lane, freshman Brandon Powell
All of a sudden, Florida has a lot of talented running backs. Though Taylor will likely wind up being the best of the bunch, the Gators have plenty of playmaking ability behind the line of scrimmage for Roper to utilize this season. Jones missed 2013 fall camp with a serious viral infection and suffered a torn meniscus in his fifth game, ceding rushing duties temporarily to redshirt senior Mack Brown before Taylor took over for good over the season’s final eight games. Brown toted the rock 148 times for 543 yards and four scores, while Taylor finished with 508 yards and four touchdowns on 111 carries. Jones himself averaged 4.3 yards per carry when he was on the field, but he will miss all of spring as he recovers from numerous offseason surgeries. UF will also inject some playmaking ability this year with Lane, a bowling ball-type back who took a redshirt as a true freshman last year, and Powell, a late 2014 commit who will inject some speed and versatility into the backfield but is limited with a foot injury.
Returning starters (1/1): Senior Clay Burton
Fresh faces: Freshman DeAndre Goolsby
Florida basically played without a pass-catching tight end in 2013. Burton started at the position as a blocker with his brother Trey Burton serving as a bigger-bodied slot receiver who took the snaps that Jordan Reed did in a pass-catching role two seasons ago. Kent Taylor transferred at the conclusion of the season, and redshirt sophomore Colin Thompson remains out indefinitely for the third-straight season with a recurring foot issue. Goolsby is one of three tight ends the Gators got to commit as part of their 2014 class. The only one of the three enrolled and able to participate in spring practice, he will have the opportunity to get a step up on the competition before fall camp.
Returning starters (2/3): Redshirt seniors Andre Debose and Quinton Dunbar
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshmen wide receivers Alvin Bailey and Marqui Hawkins
Florida’s first- and third-leading receivers – Solomon Patton and Trey Burton, respectively – graduated. Dunbar returns for his final year and is coming off the best pass-catching season in his career, one in which he hauled in 40 passes for 548 yards but did not haul in a touchdown after grabbing four in 2012. The Gators’ other veteran receiver, redshirt senior Andre Debose, will not compete in spring practice as he is still recovering from a torn ACL that kept him out the entirety of 2013.
Second-year wideouts Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson saw action in 2013; Fulwood impressed in limited field time while Robinson was wholly underwhelming, missing games due to suspension and lack of offensive pick-up. Classmate Chris Thompson played at the end of the year but is still a raw speedster, and neither Bailey nor Hawkins saw the field at all, receiving redshrits after the season. In other words, there is a lot of young, unrefined talent for wide receivers coach Joker Phillips to work with and help mold into athletic, productive game-changers.
On Wednesday morning, OnlyGators.com concludes its two-part Gators Spring Football Preview with a look at Florida’s defense and special teams.