ANALYSIS

Observations on UF spring football


Florida freshman receiver Latroy Pittman eyes a overthrown ball during the second half of the Orange and Blue Debut at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, April 7, 2012.

Doug Finger/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 5:28 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 at 5:28 p.m.

The Florida Gators went into spring football practice with plenty of critical questions and came out with positive answers to many of them.

Now that it's over, here's the most important question of all: Did the Gators come out of spring practice better than when they started it back in the middle of March?

Will Muschamp seemed to answer that question with the big smile he was wearing after Saturday's Orange and Blue Debut.

“I really like our locker room right now,” Muschamp said. “I like where we're headed. We're not perfect, but we've got guys who understand what it takes to be successful.

“I'm really pleased with where we are at this point. I feel much better standing here today than I did a year ago as far as where we are as a football team, our physicality as a team and our togetherness as a team as this moves forward. We've got the right kind of guys. We just have to get better.”

The Gators made obvious improvement in some key areas this spring.

The quarterbacks showed they can manage and move the offense. The offensive line appeared more physical and aggressive. A playmaker emerged at wide receiver. The tailback position seems to have been solidified. The Gators found some additional playmakers on a defense that has a chance to be dominant in the fall.

Here are some final spring observations:

*Muschamp said he feels UF can win with both quarterbacks. After watching Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett perform in the spring game, it's easy to see why he feels that way. Both QBs seem comfortable and poised in coordinator Brent Pease's offense. They're intelligent, seem to make sound decisions and appear to have big-time arms. They don't even look like the same guys who struggled so much as true freshmen last season. They seem composed and confident in what they're doing.

*The offensive players seem to really like Pease's offense — and its potential. Pease spreads the ball around to the skill players and has a system that seems to generate opportunities in the downfield passing game. The players also seem to relate better to Pease than they did to former coordinator Charlie Weis. Quinton Dunbar's quote after the spring game makes it pretty obvious: “Coach Pease understands us more. He's more of a teacher instead of just yelling at us all the time."

*The Gators have to feel better about the situation at tailback. Mike Gillislee stayed healthy and established himself as the starter, junior Mack Brown had a strong spring and a productive spring game, and the two new players at the position — Omarius Hines and Chris Johnson — showed they can produce at the position. Johnson, a former outside linebacker, looks like a natural runner.

*UF also has to feel better about the wide receivers. True freshman Latroy Pittman emerged as a playmaker and some veteran receivers (Quinton Dunbar, Frankie Hammond, Andre Debose and Solomon Patton) had productive springs. Another plus is the way Pease involves other skill players in the passing game, most notably Hines and fullback Trey Burton, who looked like a wide receiver in the second half of Saturday's game.

*Fullback Hunter Joyer has a chance to be a big-time short-yardage back. He also exhibits some tailback skills when he's the single back.

*Tight end Jordan Reed had a so-so spring game, but it's obvious the tight ends will have a significant role in Pease's offense.

*The offensive line that Muschamp called soft last fall may be the most improved group on the team. The big guys looked stronger, more aggressive and more physical this spring. They opened some holes in short-yardage situations and helped the offense have success in the downhill running game in Saturday's game.

*Based on Saturday, the offense is going to be far more entertaining than it was last year. Pease showed off some of those gadget plays that Boise State runs, and with all the motion and shifting, the offense seems to keep the defense guessing and off balance at times.

*James Wilson gaining a sixth year of eligibility could be huge. He's the starter at left guard and had a great spring. If he can stay healthy (and it's a big if), the Gators will be significantly stronger on the interior offensive line.

*Sharrif Floyd spent most of the spring at defensive end, where he showed great improvement, especially in his pass rush. But here's something to expect in the fall: Floyd moving back inside to tackle and nose guard Dominique Easley (who missed the spring following knee surgery) moving out to end, where he could be a devastating outside pass rusher with his quickness.

*Defensive tackles Damien Jacobs and Leon Orr still lack some consistency, but both showed they'll be in the playing rotation in the fall.

*The Gators appear stronger at linebacker than they did at the start of spring. Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins had excellent springs and true freshman Antonio Morrison showed he's going to be an instant contributor (and possible future star) with his speed, instincts and explosive hitting ability.

*Even with starting cornerback Marcus Roberson held out of contact work throughout the spring, the Gators are looking pretty loaded in the secondary. Cornerback Jaylen Watkins has added strength and weight and appears to be playing with great confidence. Loucheiz Purifoy has the look of a potential shutdown corner. Cornerback Cody Riggs seems to have improved his overall game. True sophomore Jabari Gorman and redshirt freshmen Valdez Showers give the Gators great depth at the safety positions. One could argue Gorman was the best defensive player on the field in Saturday's game the way he was running around making plays.

*UF's 2012 recruiting class looks stronger than it did in February. That's because of the performance of the early enrollees this spring. Tackle D.J. Humphries and guard Jessamen Dunker have worked their way into the playing rotation on the O-line for the fall. Pittman looked like UF's best playmaker at wide receiver in Saturday's game. Jacobs ran with the No. 1 defense at tackle in the spring game. Morrison has a chance to have a huge impact at outside linebacker (now and in the future). Willie Bailey showed instincts and impressive speed at cornerback.

*Based on the improved overall play of the offensive line (especially in the running game) and the improved production on offense, offensive line coach Tim Davis and Pease are positive additions (and upgrades) to the coaching staff.

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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