The Florida coaches did not announce any spring awards this year for some reason. But that isn’t going to stop us. After watching 14 practices and Saturday’s Orange and Blue Debut, we have come up with out own spring awards.
Offensive player of the spring: Redshirt freshman Chris Rainey didn’t just shine in Saturday’s game, he also consistently made plays over the course of the spring and brings another playmaker to the offense. Urban Meyer said Saturday that Rainey has earned a starting role, either at tailback or receiver.
Defensive player of the spring: Day in, day out, junior middle linebacker Brandon Spikes was the best defensive player on the field. He dominated in scrimmages, and he’s obviously become a leader of this defense, this team.
Most improved running back: Rainey was too small (and not strong enough) to play tailback in the SEC last season. He’s now close to 180 pounds and has shown he’s more than just an outside threat, he can run between the tackles as well.
Most improved receiver: Redshirt freshman Deonte Thompson is more than just a fast guy now. He’s a wide receiver. He’s improved his route running and hands, and has a chance to be a big-timer in 2008.
Most improved offensive lineman: Carl Johnson is starting to become the player the coaches thought he would be when he signed with UF. He performed with more consistency and did not take plays off like he tended to do in the past. He answered questions about his toughness when he practiced the last week and played in the spring game after dislocating his finger in a scrimmage.
Most improved defensive lineman: Sophomore end Carlos Dunlap has gone from raw recruit to potential big-time player in less than a year. He had four sacks in the spring game and showed he can be effective lining up at end and tackle.
Most improved linebacker: Sophomore Brandon Hicks earned a battlefield promotion to the No. 1 defense at outside linebacker, vaulting over A.J. Jones, last year’s starter. Hicks is very fast and seems to have excellent instincts. His good work on special teams last season definitely helped in his development.
Most improved defensive back: Urban Meyer told the offensive coaches to try and pick on junior cornerback Wondy Pierre-Louis in the spring game. That’s what opposing offenses did last year, with great success. But Pierre-Louis met the challenge Saturday, culminating a strong spring with an excellent spring game. He is playing with a lot more confidence and doing a much better job reacting to the ball in the air.
Most impressive walk-on: With the injuries at linebacker, Chris Pintado, a sophomore from Miami Sunset, got lots of reps with the second-team defense and made some plays.
Biggest surprise of the spring: It has to be true freshman Matt Patchan. The five-star offensive tackle prospect weighed less than 240 pounds after undergoing shoulder surgery in January. The coaches moved him to the defensive line, where he was an instant hit with his tenacious, all-out style of play. The coaches say there’s a chance he could open the season as a starter at defensive tackle or end. Amazing.
Biggest disappointment: The coaches were hoping junior college All-America Carl Moore would have an instant impact at wide receiver, but it didn’t happen. The speed and explosiveness he exhibited in junior college were not present this spring. The coaches are hoping those qualities will show up in August when he becomes more comfortable in the offense.