Breaking down Florida football's spring practice


Safety Josh Evans (24) tackles running back Chris Rainey (3) during the Orange and Blue Spring Game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday, April 9, 2011. The Blue defeated the Orange 13-10.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, April 11, 2011 at 12:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 11, 2011 at 12:13 p.m.

As spring surrenders to summer, and the Florida football team heads into what should be a demanding offseason under strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti, it's time to take one last look back at what happened on the practice field (and in The Swamp) the past month.

And, a time to glance ahead at what the Gators might look like when the 2011 season opens on Sept. 3 against Florida Atlantic.

Here is a position-by-position breakdown:

Quarterback

By all accounts, John Brantley had a very consistent spring and was a comfortable fit in Charlie Weis' pro-style offense. But Brantley's Orange and Blue performance has created a little anxiety among the Gator faithful.




He seemed to revert to 2010 form, struggling to complete passes and move the offense, especially early in the game. Granted, the injury-depleted offensive line did not protect him and some of UF's best skill players were missing, but Brantley seemed out of sync from the beginning.

UF coach Will Muschamp said several times this spring that he does not believe in gamers — players who don't look all that good in practice but shine in games. Some are starting to wonder if Brantley might be the opposite of a gamer — a guy who shines in practice but can't transfer it to games.

Brantley has yet to make that transfer in his UF career.

Obviously, Brantley has been good in practice. That's why he was the clear No. 1 quarterback throughout the spring, and will enter two-a-days in that position.

Mushchamp doesn't seem concerned, citing that Brantley completed close to 70 percent of his passes in the spring.

Looking ahead, the line should be back to full strength in August, the missing skill players, including Jeff Demps, will return — and Brantley's growth under the mentoring of Weis should continue.

Another positive is the fact the young players — redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy and true freshman Jeff Driskel — played well in the spring game, and both appear to have a tremendous upside.

Overall, it was a good spring for Brantley and the quarterbacks. But his performance in the spring game has raised some concerns heading into the offseason.

Running backs

Chris Rainey was perhaps the offensive star of the spring, but he was the only healthy scholarship tailback available for the final two weeks. Rainey clearly is back in his element lining up in the I-formation, where he can take advantage of his quickness, vision and cutting ability.

Rainey will have plenty of help toting the load in the fall. This position will be stocked with speed and potential with the return of Demps, who concentrated on outdoor track this spring, and injured tailbacks Mike Gillislee, Mack Brown and Mike Blakely.

At fullback, Trey Burton should be one of the Gators' most versatile weapons, and a guy who could have the ball in his hands often. He missed the spring game with a sprained ankle, but he had an outstanding spring.

Establishing a consistent running game is a priority in the fall, because without it, the play-action passing game will not be effective — and it's a big part of Weis' offense.

When healthy, the running backs should be a team strength.

Receivers

Redshirt freshman Quinton Dunbar was the most productive wide receiver of the spring, establishing himself as a consistent down-field threat in the passing game. According to the coaching staff, Dunbar, Frankie Hammond Jr. and Omarius Hines were the most consistent wide receivers.

Senior Deonte Thompson did some good things, but did not emerge as an elite receiver like many were hoping.

Although Dunbar showed real flashes, the Gators come out of the spring without a dynamic, game-changing wide receiver. Look down the list. Are there any wideouts that would really scare a defense at the moment?

There's a very good chance that tight end Jordan Reed will be the Gators' leading receiver in 2011.

Signing wide receivers will be a priority with the 2012 recruiting class.

Offensive line

The Gators only had seven healthy offensive linemen at the end of the spring, and that included walk-ons.

This group should be much more productive when it returns to full strength in August. One of the keys is getting tackle Matt Patchan healthy, and keeping him that way. His return could solidify the tackle positions.

The No. 1 line could not handle the No. 1 defensive line in the spring game, but the offensive line will look much different in the fall, and should be sound enough for Weis to do the things he wants to do offensively.

Depth, however, will be a concern throughout the season.

Defensive line

Depth is a potential problem, but the line showed it has a chance to be a dominant one, especially inside, where true sophomores Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley were disruptive throughout the spring.

Floyd and Easley could give the Gators the strongest inside pass run they've had in quite some time, which should create opportunities for the relatively unproven defensive ends, including spring standout Ronald Powell, who thrived in his hybrid role as end/outside linebacker.

Perhaps the surprise of the spring was the emergence of Lerentee McCray, who was also at the Buck position manned by Powell.

Tackle Omar Hunter has a solid spring and Jaye Howard and Earl Okine will be healthy for the start of two-a-days, so the tackle positions should be in good shape in terms of depth.

At end, the Gators are going to need some young players come through in the fall, including redshirt freshmen Chris Martin and Lynden Trail.

Overall, the defensive line is fairly young, but it appears to have a very high ceiling if it stays healthy and continues to develop.

Linebacker

Jelani Jenkins and Jon Bostic seemed to elevate their games this spring. Both seemed to play faster and with more confidence than they did last season. As a result, they made a whole bunch of plays.

When Powell joins Jenkins and Bostic at linebacker, this is potentially one of the strongest groups in the SEC.

The problem is depth. There is so little that tight end Gerald Christian moved to outside linebacker. Christian played LB in high school and is an excellent athlete, but ended up splitting practice time between offense and defense and did not get to concentrate on developing at linebacker.

Former safety Dee Finley continues to improve at outside linebacker and should provide some depth.

Gideon Ajagbe, Darrin Kitchens and Michael Taylor had solid springs, but they've yet to play a down at UF, and it's uncertain how much relief they will be able to give the starters in the fall.

Secondary

Even with injured All-SEC cornerback Janoris Jenkins sitting out, the secondary developed into a team strength in the spring.

Strong safety Matt Elam emerged as one of UF's best playmakers on defense, cornerback Jeremy Brown had an excellent spring and young players Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins and Joshua Shaw showed versatility and playmaking ability.

Riggs and Watkins played both cornerback and safety. Shaw, a former cornerback, is capable of playing both safety positions, and cornerback if the need arises.

Sixth-year senior cornerback Moses Jenkins lacked consistency at times, but had a pretty solid spring.

Perhaps the surprise of the spring was true freshman De'Ante Saunders. Although playing cornerback for the first time, Saunders drew praise from Muschamp several times. His missed the spring game, but the coaches think he has a chance to contribute this season.

With the return of Jenkins this summer, the Gators have a chance to be very strong, and fairly deep, in the secondary.

Special teams

Even though he is not quite fully recovered from an injured back, place-kicker Caleb Sturgis was true on all three of his field goal attempts in the spring game. True freshman punter Kyle Christy had a 55-yard punt and appears to have a very strong leg.

The Gators have some potential game-breakers in the return game, including Andre Debose, Solomon Patton and Robert Clark.

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