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August 2, 2013

Fall Practice Breakdown

MEDIA DAY: Driskel doing well | TE a concern | Notes: Injuries, Debose & Morrison | Job opening
UF'S TOP 20/13 OF 2013: I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII | VIII | IX | X

Football on fresh-cut grass: fall camp is here for the Florida Gators. Around 5 this evening, the Gators officially start fall football practice with a workout at the Donald R. Dizney Lacrosse Stadium. Inside the Gators will be your go-to source all season as Florida looks to build off an 11-2 campaign. Before the pads go on, we issue some lists to make this year's training camp as easy as possible to digest.

To start things off, here are some lists to focus on while we await the first post-practice media opportunity to take place later on Friday evening.

TIME TO SHINE: If the Gators are to going to be successful this season, these players will have to step up in a big way.
1. Matt Jones, Soph., RB: Before he gets to show off why he is Florida's feature back, Jones will have to fight through a serious viral infection that is expected to keep him out of camp for - at minimum - another week. If he's anything like he was at the end of his freshman year, when he averaged 8.5 yards per carry in his final three games, Florida will be just fine once he hits the field.
2. Jeff Driskel, Jr., QB: Driskel should be back to camp within two weeks after a Tuesday appendectomy. The sooner, the better for his timing with young wide receivers and tight ends. The Gators appear destined for at least a minimal drop-off on defense and that means Driskel has to take control of the nation's worst non-option passing offense from 2012 and score points. His offensive line should be improved, and the talent at wide receiver is young but upgraded. Excuses are dwindling.
3. Dominique Easley, Sr., DT: Back to his more natural position after spending 2012 fighting through ACL recovery and playing defensive end. Easley has to be better against the run than he was in his previous stint as a tackle, but his pass-rush ability in the middle will only enhance a defensive line that looks to be much-improved in that area.
4. Antonio Morrison, Soph., LB: He'll start the year suspended, but Morrison will immediately be the centerpiece of a position lacking identity after the departures of Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins. He's Florida's most talented and well-rounded linebacker, but Bostic's contributions against the run and in coverage will not be easy to replace. He won't start camp with the team, but Will Muschamp has clarified he will not miss all of camp.
5. Loucheiz Purifoy, Jr., CB: He's being billed as one of the best defenders in the country and the best cornerback in the Southeastern Conference as the 2013 season nears. That's a big description for a player who was a blue-collar special teams member two years ago. He must prove he's just as effective without the elite safety help he had last season.


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. Quinton Dunbar, R-Jr., WR: This is the position the Gators continue to hurt at the most, and for the second spring in a row, Dunbar was pegged as the guy who is going to change that by the coaching staff. Muschamp feels Dunbar came on nicely as the 2012 season progressed, but the idea of him as a No. 1 receiver still doesn't sit well with everyone.
2. Damien Jacobs, Sr., NT: Florida had the No. 4 run defense in the country last season and an underrated piece of that success was Omar Hunter. At least to start the season, Jacobs will be looked at as his replacement. Jacobs recently posted he is up to a fit 300 pounds and is excited for this season to get underway. If he doesn't get the job done, there are multiple players in his rotation who could push for the starting role.
3. Michael Taylor, R-Jr., LB: Maybe it's his size or a notion that he struggles moving laterally, but Taylor has consistently been shuffled back in the pecking order every time it looks like he might vie for a starting role. He'll battle Darrin Kitchens - who was recently moved from the strong side - for a starting role at weakside linebacker this fall.
4. Jon Halapio, R-Sr., OG: He has the full respect of his teammates and has NFL types buzzing about his physicality, but there are holes in Halapio's game - particularly in pass protection - that needs to be stitched up this season. Halapio has the potential to be a truly dominant interior lineman, but he has not scraped that potential yet. How long he will be limited with a partially torn pectoral muscle is still an unknown.
5. Kent Taylor, Soph., TE: Coaches have questioned his toughness and his ability to put on the weight they would like to see him carry. He's the closest thing Florida has to Jordan Reed as a receiving tight end, but he has to show a willingness to be a capable blocker to get a Reed kind of opportunity. The Gators aren't asking him to do much outside of catching the ball, but they're asking for at least something as a blocker.


IMPACT FRESHMEN: Just because the Gators went 11-2 last season doesn't mean they're selling an opportunity for immediate playing time any less than they were after a 7-6 season. These five players could and should create an immediate impact in their first fall on campus.
1. Demarcus Robinson, WR: With the state of Florida's wide receiver position and the accolades Robinson piled up in high school, it's almost impossible squash the hype regardless of how hard the coaching staff might have to try. Robinson is the most talented wide receiver on Florida's roster. Is he the best? There's a lot more that goes into that than skills.
2. Kelvin Taylor, RB: Muschamp has used pass protection as reasoning for listing Taylor behind Mack Brown on the running back depth chart. There's a Robin Thicke-esque blurred line on whether that's legitimate criticism or public motivation for a freshman who has been told how great he is since he was 13. We'll lean on the latter.
3. Marcell Harris, DE: We'll get to exactly why he makes the list later, but Harris is more of a Muschamp-dreamed-to-life wonderboy safety than he is a signee. He's got the size and nature that makes people confuse him for a linebacker. In a Muschamp-imagined world, all safeties look more like Ray Lewis than Cody Riggs.
4. Vernon Hargreaves III, CB: He's Florida's prized signee from a 2013 class full of top-notch talent. He has people talking like it is a foregone conclusion he will contribute as a freshman at cornerback, which is saying something in a loaded UF secondary. The thing is, the people saying that are right. Hargreaves is too good to keep off the field and will at least see time in a nickel or dime role.
5. Daniel McMillian, LB: The wild card at the weakside linebacker position, McMillian is an outside candidate as a starter but a sure-fire member of Florida's ever-rotating shuffle in the front seven. He'll play a smaller role to start the season with an understanding that remarkable play will earn him bigger things as the year progresses.


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. Neiron Ball, R-Jr., LB: Ball's incredible comeback story in 2012 overshadowed the fact he is a pretty damn good linebacker. That won't be the case in 2013. While the extent of his role might depend on how the Gators elect to use Ronald Powell, Muschamp and D.J. Durkin should feel comfortable running three-linebacker sets if Ball is part of the equation.
2. Colin Thompson, R-Fr., TE: Thompson was the more college-ready of Florida's two tight end signees in 2012 but never got going as a freshman because of complications from a previous foot surgery. He'll receive praise and playing time because of his blocking ability but don't overlook his capabilities as a receiver.
3. Darious Cummings, Jr., DT: There might have not been a harder worker this spring and summer than Cummings, who worked out with an MMA fighter on the weekends in addition to UF training. Despite being a junior college transfer, he has seen this level of football before when he previously played for Florida State. He'll force himself into being a regular in the interior rotation.
4. Brian Poole, Soph., CB: Don't let the talk surrounding Hargreaves make you forget Poole has a similar skillset and is currently ahead of him in the pecking order of UF's secondary. Poole bonded with Matt Elam during his time in Gainesville and has developed similar tendencies because of it both in his versatility and his motor.
5. Marqui Hawkins, Fr., WR: He's not coming in with the flair of Alvin Bailey or Ahmad Fulwood, and he certainly isn't being mentioned in the same breath as Robinson. But don't be surprised if Hawkins, who already has a prototypical wideout build, is the second best freshman wide receiver Florida has this year.


BATTLE ROYAL: 3 Position Battles to Watch
1. Safety: Both starting jobs were kept open at safety after spring camp ended. Part of that was because a lack of satisfaction among the coaching staff - mostly in the lack of a vocal leader - but part was also the summer arrival of two talented freshmen. Replacing Elam and Josh Evans certainly has its share of difficulties, but capable players isn't the issue. The trouble will be getting those selected acclimated to their roles in game speed.

The winner is Riggs seems like an obvious choice to have one side locked down. The other will go to Harris, who can benefit by playing alongside a veteran while also offering legitimate help to the back of the defense and stepping up to make the necessary hits. Muschamp has said he would be perfectly fine with starting a freshman at safety, noting he did the same thing with LaRon Landry when LSU won the national championship in 2003.

2. Right Tackle: Nebraska transfer Tyler Moore got all the attention during spring while Chaz Green sat out with an injury. At first, that didn't look like trouble for Green as Moore struggled to start camp. But by the Orange and Blue Debut, Moore's improvements were receiving praise from coaches and Green's job didn't look too safe. Green will have to earn the spot if he wants to keep it this fall.

The winner is Moore is something new and that's exactly what the Gators need to go with to put distance between themselves and a 2012 of putrid tackle play. Brent Pease could opt to go with a two-tackle rotation, but for now, Moore has to be looked at as the favorite. However, how much time Moore spends practicing at guard in Halapio's absence might play a part in who wins the job coming out of camp.

3. Kicker: With Florida's conservative offense and defensive game strategies, a reliable kicker is important. Coaches couldn't find one during spring camp, carrying the battle between redshirt freshman Austin Hardin and walk-on Brad Phillips into training camp. Hardin has the powerful but not always accurate leg, while Phillips is the less powerful but possibly more reliable option.

The winner is DHardin wins the job. Barring a major fall camp collapse, coaches don't give kickers scholarships to sit them on the bench or be relegated to kickoff duties. He'll have to earn the job, but Hardin should have the ability to do so.

THE TERRIFIC TEN: Top 5 players on Offense/Defense
1. Matt Jones
2. Demarcus Robinson
3. Jeff Driskel
4. Hunter Joyer
5. Jonotthan Harrison
1. Loucheiz Purifoy
2. Marcus Roberson
3. Dante Fowler Jr.
4. Dominique Easley
5. Antonio Morrison

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