UF spring progress report

Florida head coach Urban Meyer, center, talks with his players during practice on Monday.

Aaron Daye/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Monday, April 7, 2008 at 9:10 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 at 9:10 p.m.

Before the start of Florida's spring practice, UF football beat writer Robbie Andreu took an in-depth look at five critical battles that would be taking place on the practice field.

Now that there are only two practices remaining before the Orange and Blue Debut, we address five key questions stemming from those spring battles:

1. Has a feature back emerged at tailback?

Answer: Finding the guy this spring was a priority, but it hasn't happened. Senior Kestahn Moore has provided his usual workmanlike effort and done a solid job holding onto the football, which means he'll probably be sitting on top of the depth chart at the start of two-a-days. Southern Cal transfer Emmanuel Moody was considered by many to be the favorite to emerge as the feature back, but he has struggled with the offense and is still behind. Brandon James and Chris Rainey have shown real flashes, and have had an opportunity to work with the No. 1 offense. Mon Williams is coming on strong down the stretch and is solidly in the mix now.

What's next: The search for a marquee tailback will continue in August, with all five tailbacks competing for the starting role.

Prediction: Moore isn't flashy, but he's going to be a tough guy to beat out. He'll probably be the No. 1 guy, but the way it looks now, the Gators are going to have a tailback by committee. James and Rainey are playmakers and potential game-breakers and have earned touches next season.

2. Who will be the No. 2 quarterback?

Answer: The competition that was supposed to happen here didn't because John Brantley's sore non-throwing shoulder has prevented him from getting equal reps in scrimmages with sophomore Cameron Newton. Newton has worked with the No. 2 offense all spring, but the true No. 2 guy will not be decided until Brantley has gotten enough work in for the coaches to compare the two.

What's next: This is a tight competition that will resume in August. Newton has a slight edge in experience and is considered a better runner than Brantley. Brantley's strength is a strong, accurate arm.

Prediction: Whoever has the better spring game will have the early edge going into two-a-days. This one is tough to call, but Brantley's ability to put the ball into the hands of the playmakers with his passing skills will earn him the backup role in August.

3. Who will take Andre Caldwell's place at wide receiver?

Answer: Given his All-America credentials coming out of the junior college ranks, Carl Moore seemed the most likely candidate to replace Caldwell's production in the offense. Instead, redshirt freshman Deonte Thompson is the one who has emerged as Caldwell's likely successor. He's fast, smooth and has shown to be a playmaker. With starters Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy sitting out last Saturday's scrimmage, Thompson became Tim Tebow's go-to guy and he responded with two long touchdown receptions.

What's next: Thompson's next step in the process is to gain consistency. He dropped a sure touchdown pass in Saturday's scrimmage, and that's the kind of thing he needs to avoid if he wants to be one of the go-to guys in the fall.

Prediction: One of UF's fastest players, Thompson will be the next playmaker to emerge in the offense.

4. Have the Gators tightened up their coverage in the secondary?

Answer: After a shaky first few days under new coach Vance Bedford, the cornerbacks settled down and started playing with confidence and covering receivers. UF coach Urban Meyer said after Saturday's scrimmage that the secondary is one of the most improved areas on the team. The corners and safeties have covered well most of the spring, and have done a much better job reacting to the ball in the air and breaking on the ball.

What's next: The Gators have more capable players and more speed in the secondary than last season. Now, it's a matter of developing consistency and chemistry in August.

Prediction: With improved cornerback play (and more depth at those two positions), the Gators will play more man-to-man coverage, which will free up the front seven to be more aggressive with stunts and blitzes.

5. Have starters emerged at defensive tackle?

Answer: Troy Epps, Torrey Davis, John Brown, Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders have all performed like starters at times this spring, but a lack of consistency has prevented anyone from nailing down a starting job. The positions are like they were heading into the spring wide open.

What's next: Two potential starters Javier Estopinan and Brandon Antwine are expected to join the competition in August after missing the spring with injuries. New defensive line coach Dan McCarney is planning on having at least four tackles ready to go by the start of the season so he can rotate players and keep the tackles fresh.

Prediction: The troubled Davis will get his stuff together this summer and win one of the starting roles in August. Estopinan, UF's most experienced defensive lineman, will be the other starter.

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