Driskel's health a key for UF
Published: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 2:52 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, April 9, 2013 at 2:52 p.m.
Before the start of Florida's spring football practice in March, we came up with five pertinent questions about the Gators. Now that spring drills have concluded, it's time to see what the answers are to those questions:
1. What happens if Jeff Driskel gets hurt?
If that happens, the UF offense could find itself right back in 2011, when John Brantley went down with a high ankle sprain in the Alabama game. With Brantley sidelined, the passing game disappeared and the Gators struggled to string together two or three first downs during the middle part of the season. Behind Brantley that year was pretty much what's behind Driskel — total inexperience. Junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg gained some comfort in the offense this spring, but neither have thrown a pass in a college game, so the element of the unknown is a little bit scary. The reality is the Gators need to keep Driskel healthy for UF to even think about reaching its goal of Atlanta. That may mean fewer quarterback runs and Driskel being smarter about getting out of bounds and avoiding as much contact as possible when he does run.
2. How much wide receiver will Loucheiz Purifoy actually play?
The coaching staff stuck to its pre-spring game plan and made Purifoy a full-time wide receiver for the first seven practices. Purifoy returned to cornerback for the second half of the spring, but he also continued getting some reps on offense. It's clear the coaches are determined to get Purifoy involved on offense, where they think he has the potential to be a dynamic playmaker with his speed, athletic ability and ball skills. Purifoy did not have an opportunity to show much in Saturday's final practice, but he did enough positive things over the course of the spring that he'll be given a package of plays on offense in the fall. If he starts making things happen on offense, who knows, maybe he'll evolve into a full-time wide receiver in 2013.
3. What kind of an impact will the early enrollees have?
There were plenty of options, with eight on the spring roster, but three seemed to stand out — true freshman tailback Kelvin Taylor, true freshman linebacker Daniel McMillian and offensive lineman Tyler Moore, a transfer from Nebraska. Even though Taylor has only scratched the surface in terms of knowing the offense, he showed great natural running ability and, based on Saturday's final practice, appears to be the No. 2 tailback heading into fall camp. He has excellent balance, vision and lower-body strength and showed quick cutting ability in the hole. He's in line to get significant carries in the fall. McMillian, like Taylor, is still learning a new system, but showed he has a chance to be a playmaker at linebacker. He is a hard worker who has a passion for the game, and he's got the size and athletic ability to have an impact in the fall. Moore, who saw playing time as a true freshman at Nebraska, stepped right into the starting role at right tackle. He's a strong, aggressive lineman who also can play guard. Another early enrollee who impressed the coaches was wide receiver Demarcus Robinson. Despite missing significant time with a high ankle sprain, he did enough to show he's going to be a likely contributor in the fall.
4. How do the Gators replace Mike Gillislee's production at tailback?
The Gators were hoping a dominant tailback would emerge this spring, and one did — true sophomore Matt Jones. He's a big (6-foot-2, 226 pounds), strong runner who breaks a lot of tackles and also has the speed and moves to go the distance. He steadily pulled away from his competition at tailback (Taylor and junior Mack Brown) and is the clear No. 1 heading into camp this summer. Jones probably has a bigger upside than Gillislee and should have a chance to match or surpass the numbers Gillislee put up last season. With Taylor and Brown also expected to get carries, there is enough depth to keep Jones fresh.
5. Can the defense overcome the many losses on the front seven?
The coaches certainly feel better about UF's chances now than they did at the start of the spring. Dante Fowler Jr. had an excellent spring and appears ready to take his game to another level, especially as a pass rusher, in his true sophomore season. The coaches also feel good about another true sophomore at the other defensive end — Jonathan Bullard, who saw significant playing time as a freshman last season. Plus, Ronald Powell is expected to be 100 percent for the start of fall camp. At defensive tackle, the Gators now appear to have at least four who are SEC ready — Dominique Easley, Damien Jacobs, Leon Orr and junior college transfer Darious Cummings. Jacobs is one of UF's most improved defensive players. Easley also will play some end. At linebacker, Antonio Morrison moved to the middle from the outside and had an excellent spring. He's a big-time hitter with big-time potential. Michael Taylor, Neiron Ball and Darrin Kitchens are all experienced linebackers. Two young and inexperienced players — McMillian and redshirt freshman Jeremi Powell — showed they are capable of providing quality depth. Although the Gators have lost a lot, the defensive front has a chance to be a team strength again in 2013.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.