Positions of strength for UF


The defensive line improved this spring despite injuries and lack of depth.

Erica Brough/Staff photographer
Published: Monday, April 16, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, April 16, 2012 at 12:04 a.m.

Along with making strides on the field in the spring, the Florida Gators also seemed to start establishing chemistry and gaining an identity in Will Muschamp's second year.

At the conclusion of last week's Orange and Blue Debut, Muschamp said he feels good about where his team is at and the direction it's headed.

Perhaps one of the main reasons he feels so positive is that he knows more about this team now than he did at the start of spring drills.

He has a better idea about the strengths, the weaknesses, the leadership and the potential of the 2012 Gators as they head into the offseason.

Now that there's been time to digest all that has happened over the past month or so, The Sun has decided to rank UF's position groups in order of strength coming out of the spring. The rankings are based on viewing two practices and the spring game, along with numerous interviews with Muschamp and players.

The rankings:

1. Secondary — Even with two starters out for the spring game (safety Matt Elam and cornerback Marcus Roberson), the Gators looked strong and deep on the defensive back end. Loucheiz Purifoy, who played well at the end of last season, established himself as a starter at cornerback. Jaylen Watkins, who has gained size and strength, and Cody Riggs both had good springs at cornerback and have experience. At safety, senior Josh Evans is playing with a lot of confidence and displaying leadership qualities, Valdez Showers showed he can play and true sophomore Jabari Gorman looked like one of the best players on the field in the spring game.

2. Linebackers — Veteran starters Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins look like they're primed to raise their games to possible elite status in the SEC. They're very comfortable in their second year in coordinator Dan Quinn's defense and playing their positions more instinctively now. Physically, they're both bigger and stronger. Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of the spring was the emergence of true freshman Antonio Morrison at outside linebacker. He caught everyone's eye with his fast and physical performance in the spring game. Michael Taylor continues to impress with his physical play and Darrin Kitchens had a strong spring running with the No. 1 defense. Depth is the biggest concern.

3. Offensive line — Without a doubt, this is the most improved position group on the team. They really got after it with a more physical and aggressive approach — and a nasty attitude that was missing on last year's line. This group also has experience playing together now, and that helps with the all-important element of chemistry.

4. Defensive line — Even though the Gators were hit hard by injuries up front, enough players played at a high level to make the coaches feel this will be a team strength in 2012. Buck end/linebacker Ronald Powell had a breakout spring. Unfortunately, he tore an ACL in the spring game and could miss multiple games in the fall. On the bright side, Lerentee McCray, Powell's likely replacement, returns after missing the spring with a shoulder injury, and starting tackle Dominique Easley (ACL surgery) is expected to be back to 100 percent this summer. Also, junior college transfer Damien Jacobs impressed the coaches with his physical play at tackle. Junior Sharrif Floyd had a strong spring and significantly improved his outside pass rush playing almost exclusively at end. Chances are good he'll move back inside to tackle and Easley will switch to end in preseason camp.

5. Fullback — This position is one of the most solid on the team. Hunter Joyer showed he is an excellent power runner in short-yardage situations, and also has some tailback skills that will allow him to be the back in some one-back sets. He's also a devastating blocker. Trey Burton brings great versatility to the position. He can run, catch, play quarterback in the wildcat and make plays at wide receiver.

6. Quarterback — The Gators have to feel very good about where they're at here. Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel seemed to quickly adapt to coordinator Brent Pease and, in a lot of ways, a new offense and appeared comfortable and capable leading a balanced attack. Both have impressive talent — and considerable upsides. If they continue to progress, and get some help from the skill players around them, this position could zoom up to No. 1 at some point in the fall.

7. Wide receiver — Quinton Dunbar had an impressive spring, but we've seen this before. After being the go-to receiver last spring, he practically vanished in the fall. This time, Dunbar and the coaches feel his strong play will carry over to the fall. A big plus here was the emergence of true freshman Latroy Pittman as a playmaker. Frankie Hammond had a productive spring and has become the leader of the group. Everyone knows what kind of upside Andre Debose has. They also know his pattern of inconsistency. Pittman has a chance to be a dynamic offensive player, but at this stage the Gators don't have one at wide receiver.

8. Tight end — Based on the spring game, it's obvious Pease is going to feature the tight end in the offense. But depth is a huge issue. The Gators have a playmaker in Jordan Reed. Behind him, though, lots of uncertainty. Clay Burton is a former defensive end and true sophomore A.C. Leonard, who looked like a potential rising star at the end of the 2011 season, is in limbo following his legal problems. Muschamp has said Leonard will be suspended for some games, but nobody knows for how many.

9. Tailback — Mike Gillislee had a great spring and established himself as the starter. He's a strong downhill runner who also displayed good hands catching the ball out of the backfield. He's had injury issues in the past and needs to stay healthy. Mack Brown finally had a chance to show off his skills and he impressed with a strong spring game. Omarius Hines and Chris Johnson both did some nice things in the spring and bring much-needed depth (and versatility) to the position. But, the Gators still lack a dynamic, dominant player at the position.

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