Florida Gators 2010 Fall Practice Preview

By Adam Silverstein
August 5, 2010

Thursday begins fall practice for the Florida Gators, and the team will be going into the 2010-11 season with more questions than answers for the first time in recent memory. From reserves taking over as starters to freshmen trying to make an impact right away, head coach Urban Meyer and his revamped coaching staff will be taking a close look at each and every player stepping on the field over the next few weeks

OGGOA is here to provide you with a preview of exactly what you should watch for and pay attention to, even though practice is closed to both the media and public.

Check out players who are stepping up, fighting for their jobs and trying to break out, as well as notable freshman who hope to make an impact…after the break!

THE NEXT EPISODE

While some positions are sure to be contested until the final whistle blows, others have already been solidified whether because of experience or pure talent. These Gators are being counted on to take over where their highly-touted predecessors left off.

Redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley
Most of the concerns surrounding Brantley are not about his talent or ability to handle the offense but rather whether or not he can cope with taking over for a legend in Tim Tebow. Forget for a moment the fact that Brantley was one of the top three quarterback recruits in the country in 2007; instead, realize that he has been honing his craft for the last few years. Think of him as the Aaron Rodgers to Tebow’s Brett Favre. In limited action in 2009, Brantley posted a 194.88 passer rating and completed 36 of 48 passes (75 percent) for 410 yards and seven touchdowns. Sure, the opponents and time of entry need to be taken into consideration, but the ability is there and the offense is being tailored to fit his talents, meaning concerns about Brantley are sure to vanish in no time.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Chris Rainey
His official position may have changed, but that does not mean Rainey will get the ball in his hands any less. In fact, now that it will be arriving in a different manner, expect to see him with a significantly increased role. Moving from running back to slot receiver, Rainey will take on a Percy Harvin-like role in 2010 without fully playing the “Percy Position.” The goal is for him to get the ball in space so he can utilize his speed, quick first step and small frame to find cracks in the defense and explode towards the endzone.

Junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins
With Joe Haden gone to the NFL, Jenkins rolls nicely into the top cornerback position – one which he will likely take on without a hiccup. The responsibilities are different and his charge is now to cover the opposition’s top pass catcher while simultaneously ensuring that his replacement is capable of filling in for him on the other side.

Redshirt junior defensive tackle Jaye Howard
The defense’s most consistent performer in the 2009 Southeastern Conference Championship, Howard proved what he is capable of last year. After an impressive offseason on the field and in the weight room, Howard is out to prove that his career-high 10 tackles against Alabama were not a fluke. Unlike others in this category, Howard is still fighting redshirt senior Terron Sanders for his job; however, one can certainly expect him to be the cog in the middle when all is said and done.

POSITION BATTLES

Meyer made it his goal a few years ago to build depth throughout the roster and, with such a high turnover due to graduating seniors and players leaving early for the NFL Draft, there are plenty of positions up for the taking this offseason. Here are a few:

Middle linebacker: sophomore Jon Bostic vs. redshirt freshman Jelani Jenkins
If this was purely about upside, Je. Jenkins would have already run this battle – especially after impressing coaches with his speed and agility during spring practice. However, Bostic has the talent, experience and maturity to be effective in the middle no matter what formation the Gators play. The truth is that, like the team did last year with its three outstanding safeties, Florida will likely ensure that the duo are often in the game at the same time by utilizing four linebackers. Nevertheless, one will have to win the position outright, and the growing sentiment is that Je. Jenkins may be able to do just that.

Starting cornerback: redshirt sophomore Jeremy Brown vs. senior Moses Jenkins vs. freshman Joshua Shaw vs. freshman Jaylen Watkins
The fatal four-way for the right to start opposite Ja. Jenkins is underway, and while the job is truly anyone’s to win, Brown is holding the belt going into practice due to straight-up beating out M. Jenkins in the spring. A back injury has kept Brown out for two years; now that he is finally healthy, expect him to claim the position early on…unless Shaw or Watkins shine bright right out of the gates.

No. 4 wide receiver: redshirt freshman Andre Debose vs. redshirt sophomore Omarius Hines vs. redshirt sophomore Frankie Hammond, Jr.
Hammond is the long shot here – for obvious reasons – but completely discounting him from showing the gumption, dedication and pure talent necessary to win the job is simply ridiculous. The fact is that he will have a long way to go and some formidable hurdles to jump in order to earn the trust of the coaching staff and his teammates, but it is important to remember that this was going to be his role before the arrest. Hines certainly showed what he is made of in limited action last season, but there is no doubting what Debose brings to the table. Quite possibly the team’s most dynamic and dangerous playmaker since Harvin, Debose is recovered from a hamstring injury that earned him a redshirt in 2009. Now fully healed, he impressed everyone in the spring and is ready to go at full speed. In all likelihood, Debose will be the No. 4 receiver in title alone – his impact on a game-to-game basis offensively could end up being second to only that of Brantley.

Kick returner: wide open
Rainey and junior running back Jeff Demps could both take over return duties in 2010, but with the number of touches each will get on offense, it may be wise to find someone else to hold down the job. The fastest an most elusive wide receivers and defensive backs will all be considered for the position, but we have a sneaking suspicion that WR Robert Clark – a 5’8”, 175 lbs. freshman – could be a breakthrough candidate here.

STEP YOUR GAME UP

In many ways, the 2009 season was a disappointment. Not only because Florida failed to bring home a SEC or National Championship, but also due to the fact that a number of players did not live up to their lofty expectations. For this, we channel our inner Floyd “Money” Mayweather and hope some players step their respective games up.

Wide receivers: rs junior Deonte Thompson and rs senior Carl Moore
Thompson and Tebow never got on the same page last year, and it all started at the very beginning when Thompson simply could not haul in some elementary passes in the first few games. As the season went on, Tebow failed to look his way – even when wide open – and preferred to hit receivers he trusted like Riley Cooper and David Nelson. The same cannot be said for Thompson this year as he has made it a point to develop a rapport with Brantley in the spring – both in practice and out. Moore was counted on to be a big target for Tebow in 2009, but due to a back injury flaring up, he was forced to redshirt and is now expected to start opposite Thompson in 2010. There were also murmurs that Moore was not stepping up the way he should have been in practice, something else that will have to be corrected from the outset.

Offensive line: redshirt sophomore Matt Patchan
Spurning Miami (where his father starred) for Florida, Patchan came in as a highly-touted freshman with a question mark after randomly being shot while out with some friends. He moved to the defensive line in 2008 to assist a depleted unit but missed the final three games of the season with a leg injury. Last year, he came up big in the Gators’ first four games but tore up his knee and sat the remainder of the season (receiving a medial redshirt for his troubles). While it may seem a bit unfair to get on someone with such bad luck, the fact is that a lot is expected of Patchan and it is time for him to deliver.

Coordinators: Steve Addazio (offensive), Teryl Austin (defensive)
Addazio received plenty of flack for his play calling last year, and Austin is stepping into the first coordinator job of his career. The former is being charged with molding and refining the offense to accommodate his talent, while the latter must ensure that he spruces up the defensive unit without ruining the chemistry and passion established by former coordinator Charlie Strong. This may mean a hybrid 4-3 / 3-4 defense or simply finding what front seven combination works best for the team long-term.

FRESHMEN OF NOTE

Five-star defensive end Ronald Powell
Look, this is simple: Powell, DT Dominique Easley and DT Sharrif Floyd are arguably the Gators’ top three incoming recruits, and all three are expected to contribute early and often. However, with Powell, the expectations have reached another level. There are rumors that he may start at defensive end from day one, but seniors captain Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens will probably be holding down the jobs – at least in the beginning. Easley and Floyd will have more work to do in order to win early playing time, but Powell has the best chance out of the three to land a starting role.

Five-star safety Matt Elam
The only other recruit who can be mentioned in the same class as Powell, Easley and Floyd, Elam has already won over Meyer and is a shoe-in to be playing from the get-go. “Matt Elam is going to play. It’s done,” Meyer said emphatically in June. “He had a heck of a spring, he’s a heck of a kid, comes from a great family, we’ve known about him forever.” Expect him to begin the season as the team’s third safety.

Four-star tight end Gerald Christian
Christian is in a unique position to make some noise right out of the gate as Florida has yet to solidify its tight end position. While former QB and redshirt freshman Jordan Reed is making Cornelius Ingram-like strides in his transition, Christian brings the body type, hands and skills to the table that may overwhelm coaches in their decision making. This will be a fight all camp and should probably be listed as one of our position battles two categories above. An impressive spring and summer have boosted Christian.

Four-star wide receiver Chris Dunkley
Florida is searching for playmakers, and Dunkley is the incoming recruit with the ability to be one right away. He has a lot of guys to pass in order to earn some early playing time, but the talent and explosive capability are certainly there.

Four-star cornerback Joshua Shaw
Though Brown has the edge and M. Jenkins has the experience, Shaw will almost certainly be in the mix to start opposite Ja. Jenkins as the team’s second cover man. As an early enrollee, he got a head start on his fellow freshmen and has the opportunity to make a Haden-like impact right away if given the opportunity.

Photo Credit: University of Florida

25 Comments

  1. Daniel M. says:

    I’m surprised to not see an entry about the running backs. I definitely don’t want to see Demps returning kicks. I looked for big things from Moody last year and, aside from some flashes, we never saw them. He did talk about injuries from the previous year being behind him and then was injured. Gillislee looked stout in mop up duty. Mack Brown?

    I think the reliance on Tebow hindered the running backs. It will be a nice change to see a more conventional running attack even if it is some hybrid spread/prostyle attack. Most of all I think we can all agree that we’d like to see a more balanced attack.

  2. Couldn’t cover it all. Demps and Moody are pretty well entrenched in the No. 1 and No. 2 RB roles. Gillislee has the chance to see the field; Mack Brown not so much. Didn’t really fit any of the four categories above.

  3. cline says:

    I am so hype after reading that. the potential in this roster is unreal. Welcome to the RE-LOAD!

  4. tank says:

    Gillislee will emerge as the thunder to Demps’ lightning. Moody will be #3 by mid season, if he even makes it there without injury.

  5. Quite possibly, tank.

  6. tank says:

    Also, expect more short dumps in the middle to the running backs out of the split backfield. Both Demps and Gillislee can catch (not sure about Moody, I don’t remember him getting any passes) and Rainey, Demps and Gillislee will be lining up all over the place. Barring injury, the offense should be more productive than last year.

  7. STEVEN says:

    Who do you think gets the backup QB spot i rewatched the spring game highlights and i say Burton but Reed comes in on 3 and 1 what say you?

  8. Steven- I agree with that assessment, but Reed coming in on 3rd and 1 would depend whether or not he ends up being the starting tight end. If he is, they may want him on the field as a pass catcher rather than the trigger man. Or they could always throw Christian out there.

    Burton will be the legitimate backup.

    tank- Offense definitley has a chance to be more productive than 2009, but those dump passes can only happen if the receivers draw the outside linebackers out of the interior. We’ll see how that works.

  9. tank says:

    “receivers draw the outside linebackers out of the interior”

    That’s what Rainey’s for

  10. Any well-coached defensive unit will not put an OLB on Rainey. Rainey is the one who would benefit from other receivers doing what I mentioned. Nevertheless, I agree with you that the offense will be about getting guys open in space – just like i wrote above.

  11. npgator says:

    All three Dwyer guys will play early and often.

  12. STEVEN says:

    I haven’t heard anything on Stephen Alli how is he progressing I know he came in raw but a guy 6’6″ that runs a 4.4 has got to be hard to keep off the field ?

  13. tank says:

    Thank you coach Silverstein

  14. npgator- Probably. A solid group.

    Steven- Simply haven’t heard much about him…yet. Tough to evaluate anyone at this point without being able to see them play. He was always a work in progress but has definitley made some strides since starting out.

    tank- Sarcasm was quite unnecessary. Just trying to converse with you.

  15. rich says:

    great preview, I’m officially pumped for the season

  16. STEVEN says:

    Thanks for the input Adam love the site its the first 1 i check every morning for up to min Gator news. Keep up the good work and GO GATORS!!!!!

  17. tank says:

    Relax my friend, there was no malice intended. Keep up the good work.

  18. Rich- Thanks

    Steven – Thanks.

    tank – Misunderstood the intention. Thanks.

  19. GatorDynasty says:

    I am so relived to see that there are so many fights for starting roles!! I have heard a lot of comments about ‘Oh, the gators are gonna suck without Tim Tebow’
    i just tell them….

    ‘He was a great human being, and player but remember in 2007 when he won the heisman and pretty much did it all by himself? Well we lost 4 games that year, marking the worst year under Coach Meyer. Then in 2008 he had a lot of playmakers and a great defense.. We went on to win a National Championship.’

    So, let’s hope we have a great defense to back up our EXPLOSIVE offense.

  20. GatorFa says:

    I am intrigued by debose…I feel the kid has been pushed aside because of all the incoming talent…debose was labled “the next percy harvin last year”…if he’s 100%…im thinking 12-15 TDS.

  21. The REAL Harvin only had five touchdowns combined his first season and 10 the next year. 12-15 for Debose may be pushing it just a bit…

  22. Joey says:

    Great Point GATORDYNASTY!!!!!!!!!!!

    we did ok with the Chris Leak Version as well.

    Adam
    i like shaw to win the corner job… with that how do we get watkins involved. aslo in the 3-4 look you think powell moves back to linebacker? alot of people have us losing 2-3 games… i just dont see a weakness on either side, maybe lack of experence at the WR but that is it. i will take rainey, debose, thompson, and moore with the other anyday. Am i blind to something??

  23. npgator says:

    Adam, what is the deal with Okine? I see him in some of the first day photos walking back from practice and the guy is mamouth! Is there any word on why isn’t getting much love?

  24. I think Shaw can do it too…but didn’t hear much about him today, which is concerning, especially when people are boasting about Riggs. I saw Riggs play two games in person last year and he was torched. Not sure how I feel about him.

    As far as the upcoming season… While there are certainly reasons to be hopeful that this team can be dominant right out the gates, it is still a brand new team with a ton of first-time starters and different leaders on both sides of the ball. On top of that, you have a new coaching staff with a first-time coordinator and an almost entirely different set of position coaches. Things take time to gel and, while the Gators may put it all together early and run through their schedule, hiccups may be there. The reason people are predicting 2-3 losses is because Florida has more mysteries than known quantities at this point as far as the public can see.

    Okine’s biggest issue is consistency. You’re right – he’s a best – but as has been proven over and over again, the physical characteristics in football do not necessarily make the player. He will have as good of a shot as any to win a job this year. Whether or not he will do it is another story.

  25. GatorDynasty says:

    The only team i can even see us loosing too is Alabama. And just take this to mind. We couldn’t repeat and we lost 2-3 starters. What makes everyone think Alabama will be so good after loosing 12 starters on both sides? I mean it just doesn’t add up. I belive the Gators will have a great season with a top 5 offense in the country and a plus par defense.

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