The media being the media, a conspiracy theory has spawned from the fact Will Muschamp chose to open practice when he did. The cynics have theorized that he opened Friday and Saturday’s practices knowing many media members would be out of town covering the Florida basketball team in the NCAA Tournament.
Well, here’s a news flash for all the news hounds who really believe the conspiracy theory: Muschamp did not open these two practices for the media, he did it for the fans.
Now that we’ve set that straight, time to move on to the open practices. Some are still complaining (fans and media) that two isn’t enough. Believe me, having covered hundreds of spring practices over the years, two is more than enough. Two will give us plenty of time to figure out who’s who and what’s what. Then we’ll see the Gators again at the spring game.
Here are a few things I’m going to be checking out during these two open practices:
* Senior offensive tackle Xavier Nixon is listed at 309 pounds on the spring depth chart. This is a guy who was barely pushing 250 last spring. It will be interesting to see if he actually is more than 300, and what kind of extra weight is he carrying (muscle or some mush). If he’s a strong and legitimate 309 pounds, he has a chance to reach his immense potential in his senior season.
* Redshirt freshman Ja’Juan Story is not among the six wide receivers listed on the depth chart, which is interesting (or maybe troubling). Last fall many were speculating that Story had the size, speed and athletic ability to bring some play-making ability to the passing game that was missing in 2011. He’s a former high school quarterback, so maybe his transition to wide receiver is coming along more slowly than anticipated. It will be interesting to see just where he’s at in his development.
* Omarius Hines seeing time at tailback is intriguing. He’s big, he’s fast, he’s explosive, and, maybe, he can help the Gators achieve the downhill rushing attack they are seeking this spring. It’s an experiment that bears watching.
* True freshman offensive tackle D.J. Humphries is not listed on the depth chart, but he and fellow early enrollee Jessamen Dunker (listed as the No. 2 right guard on the depth chart) are expected to add instant depth to the offensive line. Humphries is going to need to gain weight and strength between now and next fall, but he’s a very athletic OT who apparently is a great technician. It will be interesting to see how he matches up against a strong UF defensive line this spring.
* The Gators have not had much success with junior college transfers in the past, but the coaches seem very high on defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, who could have an immediate impact on the defensive front. He’ll work at both tackle positions this spring and should get plenty of reps with Dominique Easley still out while recovering from knee surgery. Jacobs’ development is crucial for establishing much-needed depth on the D-line.
* Loucheiz Purifoy really came on strong at the end of last season as a true freshman and now is listed as a starter at one of the cornerback positions. He’s a big kid (6-1, 186 pounds) who can really run and seems to have a knack for making plays. He has a chance to emerge as one of UF’s best defensive players this spring.
* Like everyone else, I’m going to spend a lot of time watching the two sophomore quarterbacks — Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel. They were so young and inexperienced last season that they weren’t allowed to do much when they were forced to play when John Brantley was injured (twice). We’ll have a chance to see them run the entire offense this spring — and throw the ball down the field. The competition between the two will be the most watched battle of the spring — and perhaps the most crucial.
* I’m really looking forward to watching junior outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who seems primed to emerge as an elite SEC defensive player. I saw him at Pro Day and he’s really cut, weighing a muscular 233 pounds. He looks more like an SEC linebacker now — and he runs like a safety. Some are speculating he could be a first-round NFL Draft pick a year from now.
* Speaking of linebackers, true freshman Antonio Morrison has been an absolute beast in the weight room and in workouts, from what we’ve been told. If he can play like the coaches think he can, he’ll give the Gators some much-needed depth at linebacker.