With the four preseason Florida football practices that are open to the public, here are some of the things I’m going to be checking out:
* John Brantley’s ankle: The No. 2 quarterback underwent surgery in the spring and still was not 100 percent in the middle of July. He said at the time that he was on schedule to be full-go for the start of drills. Brantley had an excellent spring and needs to keep that going in camp because he’s only a heartbeat away from being the quarterback, and the only player behind him is true freshman Jordan Reed. Speaking of Reed, I’m looking forward to watching him throw the ball in camp. Brantley said earlier this summer that Reed has a great arm.
* Matt Patchan’s size: He’s supposedly close to 290 pounds after a summer of heavy lifting and eating. If he can put on a few more pounds and keep it on through camp, there’s a good chance he’s going to be the starting offensive left tackle. He tore it up in the final week of the spring and the coaches love the way he gets after it. He’s intense — and very physical. If Patchan nails down the job at left tackle, it will allow Carl Johnson to go back to left guard, where he played so well last season.
* Andre Debose’s wheels: He’s the one everyone wants to watch with the ball in his hands. He has some Percy Harvin-type stuff about him from all we’ve heard (and seen on his high school tape). He could play a major role in the offense if he catches on to everything in the next two weeks. The other five-star recruit in the freshman class is defensive tackle Gary Brown. He’s going to be getting a lot of attention from the coaches (and everyone else). He’s physically ready to play. He could provide instant depth on the defensive interior if he picks up the defense and plays with great effort.
* The young receivers: Redshirt freshmen Frankie Hammond Jr. and T.J. Lawrence did some nice things in the spring. Hammond put up some impressive numbers in scrimmages and had an excellent spring game. He reminds me of Reidel Anthony because he’s so smooth and runs well after the catch. Another redshirt freshman receiver, Omarius Hines, comes in as somewhat of a mystery. He’s a big, fast, physical athlete. But he missed the entire spring due to issues with his legs. He’s good to go now. It will be interesting to see what he brings to the table. These young receivers will have an opportunity to gain serious playing time if they perform well in camp.
* The return of Coop: Senior wide receiver Riley Cooper’s decision to return to the team after signing a pro baseball contract with the Texas Rangers is huge for the offense. He is the next in line to be Tim Tebow’s go-to wide receiver. He has a chance to fill the role of Louis Murphy as the deep threat in the passing game. But he might be a little rusty. He really hasn’t done much football stuff since the national championship game in January. It will be interesting to see how quickly he gets back into the flow.
* Young guy watch: Along with Debose and Brown, the true freshmen I’m most eager to see are safety Josh Evans, linebacker Jelani Jenkins, tailback Mike Gillislee and offensive tackle Xavier Nixon. From what I’ve been hearing, Gillislee could be the sleeper of the class. By all accounts, he’s had a great summer and has a chance to provide some depth at tailback, where Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody have had injury issues in the past. Evans and Jenkins will have a chance to play immediately on special teams. Nixon, who is already up to almost 300 pounds, will have a chance to be a backup at one of the tackle positions.
* Real young guy watch: One of the most intriguing aspects of camp is the early arrival of wide receiver Stephen Alli, a commitment for the recruiting class of 2010 who has enrolled a year early and will be competing on the practice field. He’s 6-foot-5, close to 220 pounds, and can really fly. He’s very raw at this early stage, but the coaches love his upside. Getting an early start can only enhance his development from prospect to player.