Get up and go time for Gators
Published: Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 12:02 a.m.
Camp life begins today for the Florida Gators, followed by the start of preseason practice on Friday, less than a month before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.
With what seems like so little time, this promises to be a busy and important three-week training camp for the Gators, who are hoping to rebound from a disappointing 7-6 first season under coach Will Muschamp.
Here are five UF priorities heading into camp:
1. Settle on a starting QB
Will Muschamp has been saying throughout the summer that Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are dead-even, that he feels the Gators can win with either one or with both, leaving open the option of playing two QBs this season. But he's also made it clear he prefers his team know who its starting quarterback (singular) is heading into the season. This will be the most critical and anticipated competition in camp. The feeling is that if the Gators get consistently sound play and production at quarterback, this team has a chance to emerge as a serious contender in the SEC East. The quarterback is the leader of the offense. It's hard to lead if you're sharing playing time.
2. Identify playmakers on offense
The Gators came out of the spring with no obvious dynamic playmakers on offense, although some guys, including Trey Burton, Jordan Reed, Mike Gillislee, Quinton Dunbar and Latroy Pittman, flashed positive signs. Coordinator Brent Pease and the offensive staff will use training camp to find out who can (and can't) make plays, then design the offense to put the ball in the hands of the players who can make plays. Burton is one player who definitely will get numerous touches. He showed in the spring he can make things happen at three positions — fullback, wide receiver and wildcat quarterback.
3. Don't take get-tough theme too far
Ever since Muschamp called his team soft after the loss to FSU at the end of last season, the goal has been to get bigger, stronger, tougher. By all accounts that has happened (to some degree) thanks to Jeff Dillman and the new strength and conditioning staff. The theme will carry over into camp, but the coaches have to be careful how far they push the toughness angle. Muschamp said at the end of 2011 that one regret he had was not having a more physical training camp. But the reason he didn't still applies to some extent. The Gators aren't real deep at some positions, and can't afford a bunch of injuries practicing against each other. With the tough early schedule (Texas A&M and Tennessee on the road in weeks two and three), the Gators need to be at full health to open the season.
4. The Buck starts here
With starting Buck end/linebacker Ronald Powell missing the first part of the season still recovering from ACL surgery in the spring, the Gators need to find a replacement with a similar playmaking skill set (big and strong enough to rush the QB and stop the run, fast and athletic enough to drop into pass coverage). The most likely candidate is senior Lerentee McCray, a starter at outside linebacker last season. McCray has the size, speed and striking ability to be a potential standout at the position. But how much he plays there may depend what happens at his old outside linebacker position. If Darrin Kitchens and Neiron Ball (and a combination of others) show they can be productive and sound at the position, McCray will have a chance to be the full-time Buck. If they struggle, McCray may find himself playing more outside linebacker than Buck. This, of course, could bring someone like true freshman Dante Fowler into the picture at Buck.
5. Inside or out for Floyd, Easley
The coaches admitted last spring that Sharrif Floyd's more natural position is defensive tackle instead of end, where he spent most of last season due to a lack of players on the outside. Although Floyd again spent some time at end in the spring, the coaches are hoping some young players emerge at defensive end and allow Floyd to move inside on a more permanent basis. One move under consideration is playing Dominique Easley at end (instead of nose guard), where his explosive first step might produce an outside pass rush that was missing much of last season.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
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