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August 5, 2010

Fall Practice Breakdown



  • Preseason Superlatives
  • 10 Fall Camp Predictions
  • Time to Shine

    Curiosity should be at an all-time high when Florida begins practice this morning. The Tim Tebow era is over, and John Brantley's time has begun.

    The questions are endless. What will the Gators look like without one of the best players in college football history? Will the spread option still be a vital part of coach Urban Meyer's offense? Will the Gators operate out of a pro-style offense built around Brantley's strengths? Can the offense do anything it wants and be successful behind possibly the nation's best offensive line? And on the other side of the ball, will an inexperienced but fast, talented defense remain among the nation's best?

    Unfortunately, you won't get a hint at any of the answers until the opener against Miami Ohio on Sept. 4 because all practices are closed. What's left are speculation and guesswork based on spring drills and history.

    We might as well start that speculation and guesswork here with some lists for you to peruse while you remember what it was like to look at practice.

    If you haven't already, now would be the time to try out our 7 day FREE trial.

    TIME TO SHINE: If the Gators are to successfully compete for a National Championship, these five players will need to bring their 'A' game.
    1. John Brantley, Jr., QB: At least one wacky analyst (OK, this one) expects Brantley to surpass Tebow's single-season high of 32 touchdown passes even though he never has started a game. Obviously, there is no way to know for sure how he will perform, but all the signs are all positive. He's the real deal. His arm is the answer. He has good feel in the pocket. In mop-up duty last year, he went 36 of 48 for 410 yards and seven touchdowns with zero interceptions. Those are promising numbers under any circumstances.
    2. Janoris Jenkins, Jr., CB: One wacky analyst (OK, this one again) wrote around this time last year that Jenkins was better than Joe Haden. It didn't work out that way as Jenkins slipped from his brilliant true freshman debut, but look for him to return to peak form as a junior now that he is back at boundary corner, the position he played in 2008. He is an aggressive hitter with good coverage skills.
    3. Mike Pouncey, Sr., C: He probably will feel strange without his twin brother Maurkice, who headed to the NFL, but the best lineman on what may be the best line in the country is ready for a dominant year. Pouncey was a second-team All-America guard a year ago. He will have a first-team All-America-caliber season at center, his natural position and the spot he inherited from his brother. He is a smart player who does everything well.
    4. Ahmad Black, Sr., SS: Like Jenkins, Black was less impressive in 2009 than 2008, but he still finished second on the team with 70 tackles, including an 11-tackle, one-interception performance against Tennessee. He has excellent instincts, so look for him to come closer to his 2008 total of seven interceptions, tied for the best in the nation, than his 2009 total of one. He probably is not big enough (5-9, 189) to play in the NFL, but he is good enough to close his college career in style.
    5. Jeff Demps, Jr., RB: After becoming the first Meyer running back to surpass 700 yards at UF, Demps should put up even better numbers now that Tebow is gone simply because he will get more touches. He averaged 7.5 yards as a sophomore and 7.8 yards as a freshman, rushing for seven scores both years with a long run of 62 yards. That's consistency. He may be too small (58, 183) to reach 1,000 yards, but he is a threat to go all the way every time he gets the ball.

    IT'S THEIR TIME: Though these five players have performed to a certain extent over the years when called upon, none of them have been considered top notch performers thus far. This fall these Gators will all get an opportunity to make their mark.
    1. Will Hill, Jr., FS: For all of his athletic ability, Hill did not deserve to start over Black last year, and he lost that job after one week. It was not quite his time yet. This season, he should fulfill his potential at free safety after being a special teams demon (35 tackles) in his first two years. He can do it all, but he needed a full season at defensive back to mature.
    2. Jon Bostic, So., LB: Bostic is not guaranteed to start at Florida's most talent-rich position on defense, but here's betting he will. He is a fundamentally sound play-maker who should be the perfect replacement for the departed Brandon Spikes at middle linebacker. After enrolling in the spring semester of 2009, he emerged as Spikes' top backup. The natural progression has him making a huge impact in his sophomore year.
    3. Deonte Thompson, Jr., WR: Thompson had 24 catches for 343 yards and four touchdowns last year, but his drops were just as memorable as his big plays. He figures to be Brantley's go-to receiver after catching a 47-yard pass on the first play of the Orange and Blue Game and can rack up some tremendous totals if he improves his consistency. His skill set is more complete than any of UF's other wide outs.
    4. Carl Johnson, Sr., LG: For the second consecutive year, Johnson cracks this list a little unfairly. After starting for most of 2008, he started all of 2009, but he never has earned the All-SEC honors that were considered a given the day he signed as a primo recruit. Although he started nine games at tackle a year ago, guard is his best spot. A road grader at 6-5, 360 pounds, he should be a force lining up next to Pouncey.
    5. Justin Trattou, Sr., DE: This guy is underrated. Although he is a sure starter, no one looks at him as more than a plugger who will make routine plays. Maybe you should review his fantastic interception return that helped Florida pull away from South Carolina last year before you buy that notion. Trattou won't put up big sack totals, but look for him to have a much better senior year than his career numbers (64 tackles in three seasons) indicate.

    IMPACT FRESHMEN: With the stellar recruiting of Meyer and his staff year after year, there aren't many spots open on the depth chart for members of the past signing class. Still, these five could push for significant playing time.
    1. Ronald Powell, Defensive end: This five-star stud will be thrown in the mix to see if he can live up to his lofty reputation he cemented with an awesome performance at the U.S. Army All-American Game. He had five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, a 27-yard TD reception and a 97-yard return for a 2-point conversion off a blocked extra point. The Gators need an impact player at end after losing Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap. If Powell can rush the passer well, he will have an instant role.
    2. Matt Elam, Safety: He already made an impact as an early enrollee, earning the nickel back role with a tremendous spring. Rated the No. 2 safety prospect by Rivals.com, he won't supplant Black or Hill but is a virtual lock for consistent playing time.
    3. Jaylen Watkins, Cornerback: He is the best bet to start as a freshman because the position opposite Jenkins is wide open. Watkins showed good ball skills in the spring before missing the Orange and Blue Game with a minor injury. At the very least, he will be a special teams contributor.
    4. Sharrif Floyd, Defensive tackle: The Gators have good depth on the interior line but no surefire star. Floyd has all the credentials to be that guy, but it is hard for tackles to excel right away, particularly when they don't enroll in the spring. In high school, Floyd was an overpowering player who got low leverage and played with a mean streak.
    5. Chris Dunkley, Wide receiver: This is a reach, but we didn't want to go all defense here. Dunkley (5-10, 169) might not be strong enough as a true freshman to handle the blocking UF requires of its receivers, but he has sick moves, and the Gators have little proven depth at his spot. Still, his best bet for an impact is as a kick-returner.

    FALL SUPRISES: While these five may not have done much so far, if there are going to be some pleasant surprises this fall, it wouldn't be at all shocking if they came from this group.
    1. Carl Moore, Sr., WR: It's now or never, and Moore's dazzling spring-game performance indicated he would end his career on a high note after doing next to nothing in two years as a junior college transfer. He led all receivers with eight catches for 150 yards and a touchdown in the Orange and Blue Game. A big (6-3, 222), smooth receiver, Moore needs to produce at a position bereft of proven stars.
    2. Duke Lemmens, Sr., DE: He's a projected starter, so Lemmens automatically makes this list. Defensive line coach Dan McCarney raved about his improvement in the spring, putting him on an equal footing with Trattou. To this point, Lemmens has made nothing but the all-quote team at UF, and those quotes usually were about someone else because he had not done much worth mentioning.
    3. Maurice Hurt, Sr., RG: Hurt has come full circle. He was a pleasant surprise in the first practices of his career back in 2007, outplaying the more highly touted Johnson. Back problems have stalled his development, and he lost his starting job midway through last season. If he holds off James Wilson this time, he can end his career as a starter for one of the best lines in the country.
    4. Omarius Hines, So., WR: We're taking a flier on Hines, who will try to build on a solid but not spectacular spring game (four catches, 69 yards, one TD). He is a possession receiver at a position with a lot of fast guys who are not polished. There could be a role for someone like that in this offense.
    5. Mike Gillislee, So., RB: The statute of limitations has expired on the potential of Emmanuel Moody, who just can't avoid minor injuries. Gillislee came on strong in the spring, rushing for 47 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in the Orange and Blue Game. The Gators need a tough inside runner, and he may fit the bill.

    BATTLE ROYAL: 3 Position Battles to Watch
    1. Starting Cornerback: Every scholarship player at the position is a viable candidate opposite Jenkins. That means sophomore Jeremy Brown, senior Moses Jenkins, Watkins and fellow freshmen Joshua Shaw and Cody Riggs. None of them have appreciable experience.

    The winner is... Watkins. Haden started as a true freshman. Jenkins started as a true freshman. This position lends itself to first-year starters, and Watkins is in the best position of the three freshmen. He appears more mentally ready than Shaw, who also participated in spring drills, while Riggs will practice for the first time today.

    2. Starting Linebackers: With A.J. Jones a lock at outside 'backer, three players with tremendous potential are competing for the other two spots - Bostic, redshirt freshman Jelani Jenkins and senior Brandon Hicks.

    The winner is... The team. This is no copout. All three will play regularly, forcing each other to improve as they go along. Hicks had 32 tackles and four sacks as a backup a year ago. Jenkins had a fabulous spring. Bostic was the heir-apparent to Spikes the second he stepped on campus.

    3. Receiver: With the departure of tight end Aaron Hernandez and wide receivers Riley Cooper and David Nelson, every receiver spot is open in an offense that should throw more often than in the past with Brantley replacing Tebow. Thompson appears certain to get one spot, but Moore, Andre Debose, Chris Rainey, Hines, Frankie Hammond Jr., Stephen Alli, T.J. Lawrence and Solomon Patton are in the running for the other wideout spots.

    The winners are... Thompson, Moore, Debose, Rainey, Hines and Jordan Reed. Thompson, Moore and Hines have already been addressed. Debose, who was billed unfairly as the next Percy Harvin when he arrived last year, will be a playmaker if he is fully recovered from hamstring problems. Rainey is too mercurial to be consistent, but he is dangerous wherever he lines up.

    THE TERRIFIC TEN: Top 5 players on Offense/Defense
    1. Mike Pouncey
    2. Jeff Demps
    3. Marcus Gilbert
    4. John Brantley
    5. Xavier Nixon
    1. A.J. Jones
    2. Janoris Jenkins
    3. Ahmad Black
    4. Jon Bostic
    5. Brandon Hicks

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