Five fall focuses for Florida football
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 4:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, July 31, 2013 at 2:32 p.m.
While the rest of campus continues to slumber through the final weeks of summer, it's back to the practice field for the Florida football team, which opens preseason camp Friday.
As is usual with any preseason camp, questions and themes abound for UF with the start of the season now just a month away.
Here are five things the Gators need to get done on the practice field between now and the Aug. 31 opener against Toledo:
1. Groom the No. 2 QB
Before Jeff Driskel ended up on the operating table earlier this week for appendectomy surgery, the No. 1 camp goal at QB probably was to get the No. 2 quarterback (probably junior Tyler Murphy) ready to play just in case he's needed at some point in the season. Now, the goal may be to get the No. 2 guy not just ready to play, but ready to start. Driskel's unexpected surgery could sideline him for the first two weeks of camp, and further illustrates just how fragile (and scary) the situation is at quarterback. Murphy has not thrown a pass in a college game. The other two scholarship players on the roster are a redshirt freshman (Skyler Mornhinweg) and a true freshman (Max Staver). This is going to be a crucial camp at the quarterback position, especially in the first two weeks, when the coaches must get Murphy (or someone else) not just ready to step in, but lead the offense.
2. Settle the situation at linebacker
With starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison suspended for the first two games of the season, the Gators are going to have to do a little scrambling (and maybe experimenting) at the linebacker positions. The most logical scenario is for Mike Taylor to move from weakside linebacker to the middle, but that could leave a true freshman (Daniel McMillian) to start at the weakside. Another possibility is moving Taylor to the middle, switching Darrin Kitchens from the strongside to the weakside and making Neiron Ball or Ronald Powell the starter on the strongside. The coaches have planned all along to play Powell at the Buck position and outside linebacker. This may be the opportunity to establish Powell as a starter at outside linebacker, which would give the Gators a chance to have Powell and Dante Fowler Jr. on the field at the same time. The bottom line is the coaches are going to have to determine the best combination in camp and go with it.
3. Find a second safety
One of the biggest question marks on defense is at the safety positions, where the Gators must replace last year's starters, Matt Elam and Josh Evans. Cody Riggs, a former starter at cornerback, appears a lock to nail down one of the starting roles. The other appears to be very much up in the air heading into camp. The competition for the other starting job should be fierce between Jabari Gorman, Valdez Showers, Marcus Maye (and maybe even highly rated true freshman Marcell Harris). The leading candidate may be Maye, a redshirt freshman who was a scout-team standout last fall who has received an endorsement from Elam. Maye appears to have some of the same playmaking potential that made Elam a valuable player on defense last season.
4. Define Purifoy's role on “O”
The coaches clearly want starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy to have an impact on offense. That's why Purifoy spent the first half of spring practice working exclusively at wide receiver. Now that they have a pretty good idea what he's capable of doing on offense, Will Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease need to determine how (and how much) they're going to use Purifoy on offense. He's an explosive athlete who could make plays down the field, but that's not going to change the fact he will remain a starting cornerback, something Muschamp has been adamant about. How much time Purifoy spends on offense may be determined by the growth of UF's young wide receivers. If a few of the young guys show they can consistently make plays, Purifoy's role on offense might be limited. If the Gators come out of camp still searching for playmakers at receiver, Purifoy could play a major role on offense.
5. Name the replacement for Sturgis
It's going to be close to impossible to adequately replace Caleb Sturgis, one of the all-time great place-kickers at UF, but someone is going to have to try and fill the role. It's either going to be senior walk-on Brad Phillips or redshirt freshman Austin Hardin. Phillips has limited experience (he made two-of-three field goal attempts in 2011, including a 43-yarder against Georgia), while Hardin has none. The two were basically dead-even at the end of spring practice and will continue their competition in camp. Muschamp has expressed confidence in both kickers. Phillips may have an edge in consistency, but Hardin has a stronger leg and probably a bigger upside. ESPN rated Hardin the No. 1 kicker in the nation coming out of high school in 2011.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.