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Florida will spend its spring looking for go-to players on both sides of the ball
Florida lived on the edge like few teams last season. No matter the opponent -- from Bowling Green and Louisiana-Lafayette to Texas A&M and LSU, the Gators made Saturdays interesting. In Will Muschamp’s third season, the coach will take the record (11-2) but maybe not the stress of games that shouldn’t be as close as they were.
Spring opens with plenty of questions, though. Jeff Driskel was a liability at times at quarterback last season, but he’s the focal point this season. On defense, many of the top playmakers are gone, opening doors for talented youth to make a move.
Florida Gators 2013 Spring Preview
2012 Record: 11-2 (7-1)
Spring practice dates: March 13-April 6
Returning Starters: Offense – 5, Defense – 4
Passing: Jeff Driskel, 156 of 245, 1,646, 12 TDs, 5 INTs
Rushing: Driskel, 118 car., 413 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Quinton Dunbar, 36 rec., 383 yds., 4 TDs
Tackles: Loucheiz Purifoy, 51
Sacks: Dominique Easley, 4
Interceptions: Jaylen Watkins, 3
Redshirts to watch: S Marcus Maye, QB Skyler Mornhinweg, TE Colin Thompson, DT Quinteze Williams
Early Enrollees to watch: LB Alex Anzalone, DL Joe Ivie, LB Daniel McMillian, OL Tyler Moore, WR Demarcus Robinson
JUCO Transfer to Watch: DT Darious Cummings
Aug. 31: Toledo
Sept. 7: at Miami
Sept. 21: Tennessee
Sept. 28: at Kentucky
Oct. 5: Arkansas
Oct. 12: at LSU
Oct. 19: at Missouri
Nov. 2: Georgia (Jacksonville)
Nov. 9: Vanderbilt
Nov. 16: at South Carolina
Nov. 23: Georgia Southern
Nov. 30: Florida State
Offensive Strength: The offense as a whole is in transition with new faces on the offensive line and questions at running back and wide receiver. That leaves quarterback, or at least Jeff Driskel’s returning experience, as a strength. Driskel threw all but 43 of the Gators’ pass attempts last season.
Offensive Weakness: The Gators averaged an un-Florida-like 5.3 yards per play last season. Only Missouri and Kentucky averaged fewer in the SEC last season. The Gators will focus on a power run game under Will Muschamp and coordinator Brent Pease, but Florida will need to find playmakers with running back and Mike Gillislee and tight end Jordan Reed gone.
Defensive Strength: Florida is overflowing with numbers at cornerback, which is allowing Muschamp to tinker with moving players around. Loucheiz Purifoy will see time on offense while Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins may play safety.
Defensive Weakness: As usual, the Gators have plenty of talented players on defense, but there’s a question of who will become the big-play leader. Matt Elam led the team in interceptions (four) and was second in tackles for a loss (11), but he’s gone. Empty spots in the front seven mean Florida is also looking for a pass rusher to emerge.
Spring Storylines Facing the Gators
1. Can Jeff Driskel emerge? Driskel won’t be competing for his job after starting all but two games last season. Now, it’s time to see what he can do with a full spring as the No. 1 quarterback. He has a strong arm and he can scramble, but he needs to be able to make more plays downfield and avoid sacks. Two huge safety nets in Gillislee and Reed are gone, so Driskel needs to emerge as a playmaker in his own right.
2. Finding offensive playmakers. Where would Florida have been without the steady, grinding run game of Gillislee? That’s not a question the Gators hope to answer. The Gators used to have a steady stream of offensive playmakers, but there’s been a drought of reliable big play receivers. This spring, cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy is working out at the position, and early-enrolling freshman Demarcus Robinson could make an impact. At running back, the race is on to replace Gillislee. Matt Jones came on late last season, including eight carries for 81 yards and a touchdown against Florida State. He’s one of three scholarship tailbacks in spring camp.
3. A new offensive line look. Three starters are back on the offensive line, including center Jon Harrison, right guard Jon Halapio and right tackle Chaz Green. Sophomore D.J. Humphries could take over at left tackle and may have a bright future there. Maryland transfer Max Garcia is a projected starter at left guard while Nebraska transfer Tyler Moore could press Green for playing time.
4. Changing of the guard in the front seven. The Gators will have a ton of turnover in the front seven with linemen Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter and all three starting linebackers gone. Linemen Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard are looking to build on positive freshman seasons. Ronald Powell, a former No. 1 prospect, is looking to make a return from a torn ACL. With defensive tackle Darious Cummings arriving from junior college, Florida will have candidates at line. The Gators will need help at linebacker, though.
5. Filling both safety spots. Where Florida is stocked at cornerback, the Gators have questions at safety. Matt Elam was Florida’s top defensive player last season. He left big shoes to fill. Josh Evans, who started the last two seasons, are also gone. Hopes are high for Marcus Maye to take over for Elam, but he’s a redshirt freshman.
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