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July 29, 2011
OVERVIEW: Gone is the spread option favored by coach Urban Meyer, who "retired" at the end of the 2010 season. The spread helped Meyer win two national titles in his six seasons at the school. New coach Will Muschamp hired Charlie Weis, who had been offensive coordinator with the Kansas City Chiefs, to oversee Florida's offense, and Weis has installed a pro-style attack. There will be a variety of looks in Weis' offense. A big difference is that the quarterback - who lined up almost exclusively in the shotgun under Meyer - will line up under center. Weis will use sets involving a fullback, ones with two tight ends and numerous ones with three and even four receivers. Florida has a lot of speed, but there really is no established skill-position players other than ultra-fast TB Jeff Demps, whose size (5 feet 8, 181 pounds) precludes him from being an every-down back.
BACKFIELD: Weis has had great success with quarterbacks during his coaching career, and he has a big test this season in making senior John Brantley into a competent college quarterback. Brantley was prolific as a high school passer, winning Gatorade national player of the year honors at Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic. But he bombed last season, his first as Florida's starter. He is not a good runner, which made him ill-suited for the spread. But he also struggled as a passer and seemed uncomfortable in the pocket. He completed 60.8 percent of his passes, but for just 2,061 yards, nine TDs and 10 interceptions. No other quarterback on the roster has taken a college snap, though H-Back Trey Burton and TE Jordan Reed also saw time at quarterback last season. Redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy and highly touted true freshmen Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are vying for the backup job. Driskel, last season's top high school quarterback, enrolled in time for spring ball. Brissett, the No. 5 prep quarterback last season, also could play basketball for Florida. Demps and fellow senior Chris Rainey, another speedster, will share carries at tailback; they have combined for 3,504 yards and 28 TDs in their career. Redshirt freshman Mack Brown and junior Mike Gillislee also should get carries; they are bulkier and give UF a more "traditional" tailback. Burton, who played five positions for the Gators as a true freshman last season and led the team in TDs, will play a lot of fullback this season. True freshman Hunter Joyer was the nation's No. 1 prep fullback last season, and his blocking ability could mean he gets time this fall.
RECEIVERS: There is a lot of untapped potential at this spot. Weis and new receivers coach Aubrey Hill - a UF alum who had been receivers coach at Miami - need to find some playmakers. Hopes are high for sophomore Quinton Dunbar, a big guy with good speed. Juniors Frankie Hammond Jr. and Omarius Hines and senior Deonte Thompson are returning starters, and Thompson would be a starter in three-receiver sets. Hines is physical and Hammond has good speed. Thompson has all the physical tools but lacks consistency. Sophomore Andre Debose never seemed to grasp the offense under the former staff; he is a blazer but was inconsistent during the spring. Sophomores Stephen Alli, Robert Clark and Solomon Patton also will be seeking playing time in three-receiver sets. Reed is the starting tight end; he has good hands and the speed to get deep. His backup could be touted true freshman A.C. Leonard. How well the tight ends can block is a concern in the new offense.
LINE: Florida has questions everywhere on offense, including with this unit. It would help immeasurably if junior Matt Patchan - a former five-star prospect - is healthy; he has been a walking X-ray since arriving on campus as an early enrollee in 2008. He has suffered wrist, knee and leg injuries, has been shot and has been involved in two scooter accidents since his arrival in Gainesville. If he's healthy, he will start at right tackle. The left tackle should be junior Xavier Nixon, who has all-league potential. Redshirt freshman Chaz Green is the third tackle and should see time. The interior is even more of a mess. Former Notre Dame C Dan Wenger transferred to Florida for his final season, but his status remains in doubt. He has had concussion issues and doctors at Notre Dame wouldn't clear him to play. At the least, he is well-versed in line coach Frank Verducci's blocking schemes because he played for Verducci for a time at Notre Dame. Jonotthan Harrison, who started the Outback Bowl victory over Penn State at guard, will head into fall camp as the starter at center. Sophomore Jon Halapio looks to have one starting guard spot nailed down, with fifth-year senior James Wilson and redshirt freshman Ian Silberman battling for the other job. Wilson is another former five-star prospect who never has been healthy. If everyone is healthy, depth should be fine. But if Patchan and/or Wilson can't go, the Gators are in trouble.
OVERVIEW: Muschamp made his bones as a defensive coordinator, and his defenses have been aggressive and fundamentally sound. His coordinator is Dan Quinn, who had been defensive line coach with the Seattle Seahawks. Florida dabbled some with the 3-4 last season, but there will be more than dabbling this season. Florida is extremely deep at tackle, but depth issues could be problematic elsewhere.
LINE: The Gators expect sophomore E Ronald Powell to emerge as a star this season. Powell, another former five-star prospect, played end and linebacker last season; this season, he will play what Muschamp calls the "Buck" end, where pass rushing is a high priority. Expect to see Powell as an outside 'backer when the Gators use a 3-4. The other starting end should be senior William Green, who has been disappointing thus far in his career. He has some pass-rush ability but never really has flashed it. Depth at end is a huge problem. There should be an excellent tackle rotation with senior Jaye Howard, junior Omar Hunter and sophomores Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd. All but Howard were five-star recruits. Floyd, especially, has a high ceiling. Howard would have no problem shifting to end in the 3-4. These are big-bodied guys, and all but Hunter also have some pass-rush ability.
LINEBACKERS: Sophomore Jelani Jenkins garnered some freshman All-America mention last season, and he has big-time speed for a 'backer. He moves well laterally and could be an effective blitzer. Junior Jon Bostic was a part-time starter in the middle last season, and he and Jenkins give the Gators a solid duo at the position. The other spot is a question. The starter heading into fall drills will be junior Lerentee McCray, who has played some end in his career. He should have no problem against the run but his coverage skills are questionable. The lack of experience among the backups has to worry Muschamp.
SECONDARY: CB Janoris Jenkins would've been the Gators' best player and a likely preseason All-America selection, but he was booted from the team in the offseason after his second arrest on marijuana charges in two months. His departure obviously leaves a void. Junior Jeremy Brown and sophomore Cody Riggs are the starter at corner, and sixth-year senior Moses Jenkins should be a solid reserve. But no other corner on the roster has taken a college snap. The Gators look to be in good shape at safety. Junior Josh Evans and sophomore Matt Elam are the new starters at free and strong safety, respectively, but both played a lot last season. Elam should contend for all-league honors this fall. He runs well and packs a wallop. Once again, though, depth is a concern; both backups were cornerbacks last season.
K Caleb Sturgis returns after a back injury limited him to four games last season. He has a strong leg - he nailed a 56-yarder in 2009 - but is erratic and is 24-of-34 in his career; he also has missed five extra points in 70 attempts. Florida is going to have a drop-off at punter; gone is All-American Chas Henry and in is true freshman Kyle Christy, who enrolled early and went through spring ball. Debose was one of the league's best kick returners last season, and Rainey has the ability to be a dangerous punt returner. The coverage teams were solid and should be so again.
There are six true freshman defensive backs, and a good bet is that at least three will play this fall. True or redshirt freshmen also could play big roles at fullback, tight end and linebacker. But we're picking Christy. He's not going to be as effective as Henry, but he needs to punt well for a team that is going to be inconsistent on offense. Florida can't afford for its defense to be put in two or three bad situations per game, so Christy is going to have to be consistent right away.
You can be sure that this is not the schedule Muschamp wants as a first-time head coach. It starts off with what should be two home wins (Florida Atlantic and UAB), there's a homecoming visit from woeful Vanderbilt on Nov. 5 and there's a game against FCS member Furman on Nov. 19. But the rest is tough, especially an October that could be hellish (Alabama, LSU, Auburn and Georgia, with only Alabama at home). The Gators play at South Carolina and finish the regular season with a home game against ACC favorite Florida State.
Florida has just 71 scholarship players, which obviously isn't ideal when there's a new coaching staff and new schemes on both sides of the ball. If everyone is healthy, the starting 22 could be quite good. But depth is a major concern, and the new staff is counting on a lot of players who haven't done much (anything?) yet. There is some time early in the season for the units to jell and four of the first five games are at home. And even with all the questions, the SEC East appears wide open. Still, this team has too many questions to be picked to win the division. A nine-win season would make everyone happy, but eight wins seem more likely. But if things go bad, a 6-6 record is a possibility.
Mike Huguenin is the college sports editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.