UF football spring storylines
Published: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 11:26 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 11, 2013 at 5:04 p.m.
Florida begins its spring football practices Wednesday. They are open to the public from 4:35-6:35 p.m. Friday and from 1:05 to 3 p.m. Saturday. The spring game is April 6.
Five questions facing the team this spring:
What happens if Jeff Driskel gets hurt?
Driskel, of course, is the starting quarterback and many will be watching to see if he begins to take his game to the next level in terms of decision making, managing the offense and developing into a more consistent downfield passer. But perhaps drawing even more attention will be what's going on behind Driskel. The players competing to be the backup — Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg — have virtually zero experience. Murphy spent most of the 2012 season on the scout team, helping the UF defense prepare for games. Mornhinweg, a three-star prospect who originally committed to Penn State, also has taken limited reps in UF's offense. How well they perform this spring may determine how Driskel is used in the fall. Running is a huge aspect of his game (and of the offense), but if the Gators aren't comfortable with their No. 2 (or No. 3) QB, the coaches may try to protect Driskel by running him less.
How much will Loucheiz Purifoy really play at receiver?
With his explosive speed and excellent ball skills, Purifoy may have the most potential of anyone on the team to emerge as the kind of dynamic wide receiver that's been missing in the offense. But he's also probably UF's best cornerback, with an NFL future at that position. Just to see how it goes, Purifoy is expected to see reps at wide receiver this spring. But how many, the coaches aren't saying. No matter what he shows on offense, it's doubtful Purifoy would be moved to offense full time. But it's obvious the coaches are going to try and determine if Purifoy is capable of making plays on both sides of the ball in the fall and perhaps be a two-way player.
What kind of an impact will the early enrollees have?
The coaches think it will be considerable. There certainly are plenty of possibilities. The Gators need help at linebacker, and the top-rated LB in UF's class, Alex Anzalone, will get an early look at all three linebacker positions, as will another top prospect already on campus, Daniel McMillian. Kelvin Taylor, the state's all-time leading rusher in high school, is expected to share reps with Matt Jones and Mack Brown at tailback, a position that is wide open. Demarcus Robinson is another true freshman who should challenge for significant playing time. He's a big, fast, athletic wide receiver who could impact the Gators' downfield passing game. Defensive tackle Darious Cummings and offensive lineman Tyler Moore are expected to challenge for starting roles in areas of need.
How does UF replace Mike Gillislee's production at tailback?
Gillislee was the Gators' most dynamic (and most consistent) offensive player last season, rushing for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns. While he's preparing for the NFL this spring, Matt Jones, Mack Brown and Kelvin Taylor will be competing for his old job. Jones came on strong in the second half of his true freshman season and ended up gaining 275 yards and averaging 5.3 yards a carry, while scoring three touchdowns. Brown showed some flashes, but got only 25 carries and rushed for 102 yards last season. Even with the early addition of Taylor, the Gators have only three scholarship tailbacks on the roster this spring. If one does not emerge as the clear starter, the three very likely could end up trying to match Gillislee's production by committee in the fall.
Can the defense overcome the many losses on the front seven?
There is a lot of work to be done here — and some uncertainty to go with it. Five of the starting seven from a year ago (Sharrif Floyd, Omar Hunter, Lerentee McCray, Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins) must be replaced. The good news is UF has some impressive young players ready to step in, most notably defensive ends Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard and linebackers Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor. All four played at a high level at times last season. The biggest concern is the lack of proven depth at defensive tackle and all three linebacker positions.