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August 31, 2012
FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING: Bowling Green Breakdown | Weekend Visitor Preview - top tackle on campus | Leak is familiar with quarterback battles | ITG Round Table: Fall Football Edition | Five Keys to Victory | UF-BGSU - 10 Questions | This weekend to set the tone on defense | SEC Teleconference: Ole Ball Coach on QBs | Freshmen Report: Predicting who plays
With Florida's season kicking off today at 3:30 p.m. (ESPN), these five Gators are On the Spot against Bowling Green in UF's home opener.
* Left guard James Wilson - For the first time in Wilson's lengthy career, the sixth-year senior successfully made it through spring and fall camp completely healthy. The former five-star prospect struggled to see regular playing time in 2011, but this off-season he fended off Kyle Koehne and Ian Silberman to earn the right to start in his final season at Florida. His body looks much improved, and he has said his knees and feet feel great. In an astounding statistic, the left guard actually has as many career starts (6) as years in Gainesville, so today's game will be a big deal for the senior. Although the Falcons' front-seven is far from scary, Wilson will consistently square off against their best pass rusher. Defensive tackle Chris Jones led the MAC in sacks (8.5) last season and will pose an immediate challenge. Wilson needs to play well and prove he can become a mainstay on UF's starting line in 2012.
* Cornerback Marcus Roberson - The concern here isn't about how Roberson performs as a cornerback, but how he looks as Florida's No. 1 punt returner. The sophomore defensive back will undoubtedly be juiced returning to the field for the first time since his chilling neck injury against South Carolina. Roberson is Florida's best all-around corner and will be immediately tested by Bowling Green's heavy aerial attack. Throughout the spring and (single) fall open practice, Roberson displayed last year's swagger and athleticism, but how will that translate into returning punts? Considering the severity of his injury -- and especially with Will Muschamp's multiple anecdotes about how bad it was -- it was a surprising decision to see Roberson listed as the top guy at such a dangerous position. Despite Chris Rainey's electric ability, Florida was actually a below average punt returning team in 2011. Roberson should get plenty of opportunities today to demonstrate his open-field skills, but as a rookie-returner the sophomore's decision-making will be on high alert.
* Wide receiver Latroy Pittman - With beleaguered wide out Andre Debose currently in the doghouse, today is a big chance for Florida's spring star to really emerge as a viable outside option. After opening eyes in March, the early enrollee hit a wall during fall camp as the offense became more complicated. It was predictable, as coordinator Brent Pease admitted. But nonetheless, Pittman is still listed as the Gators' second-string flanker and will see plenty of opportunities early. During the Orange & Blue Debut, the freshman displayed a nice rapport with quarterback Jacoby Brissett and a knack getting behind the defense. Florida desperately needs that to score points this year.
* Linebacker Darrin Kitchens - Simply put, the junior strong-side linebacker must prove he belongs on the field. The Gators are likely to play mostly nickel and odd sets anyways -- meaning Jonathan Bostic and Jelani Jenkins will be only two linebackers on the field -- but in heavy packages or traditional 4-3 sets, Kitchens must exhibit an ability to rush the passer, maintain gap control and not blow assignments. He is a valuable special teams contributor, but at this point, that's all Kitchens has proven to be. He won the spot with Neiron Ball breathing down his neck, but Kitchens needs to make some plays today -- even in potentially limited snaps.
* Defensive end Dominique Easley - Florida's pass rush in 2011 was average at best. Flip-flopping Easley and Sharrif Floyd -- now a tackle -- should alleviate some of UF's issues. But Easley is just nine months removed from tearing his ACL versus Florida State. The junior has made a hearty and swift recovery, but the coaching staff has still taken precautions by limiting his snaps in practice. In the open session this fall, Easley took just a few reps before being shuttled off into the locker room. The Falcons are going to throw a bunch today -- junior quarterback Matt Schilz tossed for over 3,000 yards and 28 touchdowns last season -- so Easley and Co. should have plenty of chances to pin their ears back. ACL comebacks are different for every player, so Easley needs to answer several questions early. Most importantly, is his power affected, and what sort of lateral limitations (if any) does he have?