Florida Gators: Chaz Green
Impact: In hindsight, maybe we should have known something was a bit off when players started falling before preseason camp. The injury parade started with Driskel and Jones missing reps at a time when they were supposed to be two of the primary focal points in the UF offense. Days into camp, another offensive weapon was lost when Debose tore his ACL in a noncontact situation. "He just planted his foot and there was a tear," coach Will Muschamp said. Florida' O-line got its first big jolt later in camp when Green, the starting right tackle, was lost for the season. With 19 career starts, Green was expected to anchor the right side of the line. The OL already was without senior guard Jon Halapio, who missed all of camp with a partially torn pectoral muscle suffered in late July and missed the first two games of the season.
Injuries: Freshman S Nick Washington (shoulder), Driskel (broken fibula), senior DT Dominique Easley (torn ACL)
Impact: Coming off a shaky three-turnover performance in Week 2's loss at Miami, Driskel was hurt in the first quarter against Tennessee the following week. Because junior backup QB Tyler Murphy rallied the Gators and engineered wins in the next two games, it appeared Florida wouldn't be impaired by the transition from one mobile quarterback to another. Eventually, however, Murphy's limitations in the passing offense showed against tougher competition. The two biggest things Florida lost with Driskel were the read-option element of the offense and the ability to diagnose defenses and check out of bad plays. Losing your best quarterback can cripple any team's offensive season. Losing your best player overall? That hurts in many more ways. Easley's injury changed the course of Florida's season. On the field, the senior was Florida's most disruptive defender, an agitator an identity-maker. He provided the crucial push up the middle that many teams desire but few have. Off the field Easley was a vocal leader, a motivator and someone who could keep the team loose. "You don't replace Dominique Easley," Muschamp said later. "It's not just from a play-making standpoint, it's from a leadership standpoint. It's the heart of your team."
Impact: Florida's loss to LSU on Oct. 12 split the season in two. The Gators came into the game with a 4-1 record and ranked No. 17 in the nation. They left with the first of seven straight losses and two more injuries that would plague them the rest of the way. Jones, the starting tailback, saw just six plays against LSU. Florida lost its top blocker and biggest home-run threat at tailback and would have to break in a true freshman replacement. Murphy sprained the AC joint in his throwing shoulder against the Tigers and struggled with accuracy until his season ultimately ended a few weeks later. The following week in a crushing loss at Missouri, the Gators lost their eighth player for the season in special teams standout Jeremi Powell. But the month wasn't quite over, and UF lost Humphries, its starting left tackle, when he hurt his knee in practice. The offensive line was in disarray heading into the Georgia game.
Injuries: Sophomore OT Tyler Moore (broken elbow), sophomore LB Antonio Morrison (torn meniscus), junior LB Michael Taylor (sprained MCL), freshman LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder), freshman DL Joey Ivie (heel), senior WR Trey Burton (shoulder)
Impact: At this point in a season marred by injuries, it started to get ridiculous. Just when the offensive line had found itself against Georgia, Moore fell off his scooter when it slipped on a wet sidewalk and was lost for the rest of the year. Just before it faced Georgia Southern's dangerous triple-option offense, Muschamp announced that Morrison, the team's middle linebacker and top tackler, was out for the season. Casualties No. 9 and 10. To further drive home the point, Florida lost Morrison's replacement (Taylor) and then lost his replacement (Anzalone), as well as another linebacker (Kitchens) in the GSU game. At one point, the Gators turned to David Campbell, a senior walk-on who wasn't even on the game-day roster. Before the final game of the season, Florida suffered another scooter injury when Ivie sliced his heel and needed 25 stitches. The season ended, as you might imagine, with an injury ruining the Gators' game plan against Florida State. Burton was to run the wildcat for about 50 percent of the offensive plays and had early success with a 50-yard run. He hurt his shoulder and was knocked out of the game two plays later.
It would be hard for any offense to be effective without its top two QBs, starting tailback and three best offensive tackles. The running game that keyed an 11-win season in 2012 could not be relied upon in 2013. Similarly, the Gators' run defense fell apart by the end of the season. Florida's defense showed signs of being dominant with Easley, giving up just 55.3 yards a game on the ground, but then sprang leaks without their big man in the middle.
The upside? None of the injuries is believed to be career-threatening, and Florida developed some depth when it was forced to turn to younger players.
"There were a bunch of [important players] that didn't play for us," Muschamp said after the season's final game. "They were all on the sidelines in street clothes. We have good football players, and we have a good staff. We just got to get back healthy and continue to move forward. I'm not using excuses, it's real."
It was another rough outing for the Gator O-line, which gave up five sacks and a total of nine tackles for loss for a whopping 67 yards. Losing at home to the Commodores was just the latest insult upon a season of injury.
"I've never seen or heard of anything like this, but this is the game we play," Halapio said of the injury bug that Florida just can't shake. "We've just got to move forward."
The senior guard, who tore his left pectoral muscle just before training camp and missed two games, has embodied the season-long struggles of his offensive line, as injuries and ineffectiveness have eroded any cohesion and consistency the UF offense has been able to muster.
Just when Florida made some personnel adjustments that seemed to click in the Nov. 2 loss to Georgia, another devastating injury struck.
That was sophomore tackle Tyler Moore, who is out for the season after falling off his scooter and suffering a compound fracture of his elbow last week. Offensive tackle was already a particularly sore spot. The Gators lost junior starter Chaz Green (torn labrum) for the season in fall camp, and sophomore starter D.J. Humphries (sprained knee) missed his second consecutive game on Saturday.
Against Vanderbilt, the Gators used their sixth different offensive line alignment of the season. Senior center Jonotthan Harrison is the only offensive lineman to start every game at the same position.
Despite how often they have to talk about injuries, Halapio, his teammates and their coaches bristle at the thought of using them as an excuse.
"[Moore's injury] shook things up, but we practiced [last] week," Halapio said. "We prepared for Vanderbilt like they prepared for us. There's no excuses about the injuries."
But losing three starting tackles clearly has had a musical-chairs effect on the line. Against the Bulldogs, Moore replaced Humphries by moving from right tackle to left. Trenton Brown, a juco transfer, got his first start, and the line had its best game in the last month.
“Well, we felt very good about a combination of Tyler Moore and Trenton Brown at tackles. We lost Tyler on Tuesday night. It hurt us in the [Vanderbilt] game," head coach Will Muschamp said on Saturday. "So you move Max [Garcia] from left guard, where he's been playing all year, to left tackle. Then you have a new left guard coming in in Ian [Silberman], who was really -- going in the Georgia game, until he had another injury -- was going to play tight end for us. It's hard.”
Hard to keep up with, too.
The results this season are about what one might expect of such a banged-up unit. Florida has allowed 26 sacks, tied for 105th among 123 FBS schools. The tackles for loss statistics are even worse, as the Gators have given up 67 in nine games, which ranks 110th.
And there are few answers on a roster so depleted. It's no wonder Halapio feels the answers can only come from within.
"We've just got to look ourselves in the mirror individually, especially through this time," he said. "I've never been through this really like this, adversity like this. So we've just got to correct this and move forward with the guys that want to win."
At least the ones who are still standing.
1. Florida: Not exactly what the Gators want to be ranked first in, but Florida runs away with this one. The 4-3 Gators lost starting right tackle Chaz Green (shoulder) and wide receiver Andre Debose (knee) for the season during fall camp and have seen six more season-ending injuries since, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, running back Matt Jones and defensive tackle Dominique Easley. They dressed only 13 healthy defenders in the loss to Missouri. Quarterback Tyler Murphy is still dealing with a lingering shoulder injury.
2. Georgia: The 4-3 Bulldogs lost top receiver Malcolm Mitchell for the year to a freak ACL injury in the season opener and then lost running back Keith Marshall and Justin-Scott Wesley to ACL injuries against Tennessee. Starting running back Todd Gurley (ankle) has been out since the LSU game (Sept. 28) and receiver Michael Bennett hasn't played since the Tennessee game (Oct. 5) due to a knee injury. Receiver Chris Conley (ankle) and safeties Josh Harvey-Clemons (foot) and Tray Matthews are questionable for next week's Florida game.
3. Arkansas: The Razorbacks, who have lost five straight, felt the injury bug before the season when top receiver Demetrius Wilson was lost for the year with a preseason ACL injury while linebacker Otha Peters has played in only five games after breaking his arm during fall camp. Coach Bret Bielema estimated that 10-12 players went down with injuries during fall camp. Quarterback Brandon Allen suffered a shoulder injury early this season and starting defensive tackle Robert Thomas is out for the season with a broken leg.
As the No. 10 Gators are set to host Toledo, however, some of that excitement has been tempered by a slew of suspensions that will cost UF two defensive starters and a handful of depth players.
The Gators lost seven starters from a 2012 defense that ranked among the top five in the nation in total defense. Add the suspensions of starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison (after two offseason arrests) and starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy (for an undisclosed violation of team rules), and Florida will have nine new starters on defense against an up-tempo, senior-laden Rockets offense.
The other suspensions are to defensive tackle Darious Cummings, wide receiver Latroy Pittman, and offensive lineman Quinteze Williams.
Another damper? The weather.
One of the iconic signs painted on the corners of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium says "This is The Swamp". Today that could be taken literally. It's very hot, very humid, and the forecast calls for scattered showers.
While the weather could dash Florida's hopes of showing off an improved passing game, a bigger issue is the running game, where in the Gators will be without starting tailback Matt Jones (viral infection) and two starting offensive linemen -- Jon Halapio (out for the first two games with a partially torn pectoral muscle) and Chaz Green (out for the season with a torn labrum).
Depth will key if the Gators are to add to their streak of 23 straight wins in season openers, the second-longest run in the country.
The Gators are looking to prove that last year's 11-win season wasn't a fluke, but they'll start the year with a beat-up offense, as key players like running back Matt Jones and offensive linemen Chaz Green and Jon Halapio are out.
The defense will be down top linebacker Antonio Morrison, who is out due to suspension, and will have some younger blood on the field Saturday.
Here are five things to watch in the Gators season opener against the Rockets:
2. Return of the Mack: Coming out of high school, Mack Brown was considered one of the South's top running backs. But the redshirt junior has just 167 career yards and no touchdown on 40 carries. Brown has a chance to get half as many as his career carries on Saturday when he makes his first start at running back. With Jones out, Brown is now the center of Florida's running back stable. He's had an issue with fumbles in the past, but appeared to clean that up this fall. He's a tough runner, who has the ability to break a few. Last year, the Rockets ranked 82nd nationally in run defense (182.3).
3. Stopping the uptempo offense: This will be Toledo's first game ever against an SEC opponent. That means the Rockets will get a taste of what it's like to play what should yet again be one of the nation's top defensive units. But Toledo will have that exhausting uptempo offense on its side. The Gators did well against the uptempo last year, but right out of the gate, it's bothersome. Just look at how tired South Carolina's defense looked Thursday night against North Carolina. The Gators are working in some new parts on defense, and we all know how jacked up players get for openers. Toledo's trio of quarterback Terrence Owens, running back David Fluellen and receiver Bernard Reedy return a combined 6,033 offensive yards and 38 touchdowns from 2012 and will try to wear this defense down. One way to stop the uptempo is to disrupt things up front, where the Gators have harped on generating more pressure this year.
4. Safety zone: The Gators are replacing two starters -- Matt Elam and Josh Evans -- at safety. Heading into preseason camp, coach Will Muschamp wasn't exactly thrilled with the play at the position. But that changed with the emergence of veteran Cody Riggs, who moved to safety after spending most of his football career at cornerback. Riggs has really embraced his new role and will play both safety spots on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Marcus Maye will start alongside Riggs. Maye flew around the field during fall camp to earn his starting spot, but this will be the first action Maye sees in a Gators uniform. Riggs has tons of experience and started playing safety before his season-ending foot injury early last year. Maye will have some wide eyes Saturday, so expect Toledo to try and test him early.
5. Place-kicker: With record-setting kicker Caleb Strugis gone, the Gators have major questions at place-kicker. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin beat out senior Brad Phillips this fall and will see his first collegiate action Saturday. This is the first of many tests for Hardin. With the offense still a relative unknown, Hardin's foot could be called upon a lot this year. That's a lot of pressure to put on a young kicker. Getting some of those nerves out of the way on Saturday will go a long way.
I mean, it's no big deal or anything, but I completely dominated the picks last year. The ATL Kid showed no mercy. Chris just didn't have the focus that you'd expect from a veteran. He started covering this league when I still had training wheels on my bike and chocolate stains on my shirts. (OK, those are still there.)
I spent the entire offseason gloating over how my beautiful 107-15 (.877) record looked down at Chris' 100-22 (.820) record and scoffed. But I also did some homework. I studied film. I might have had the championship belt around my waist, but today is a new day -- a new season.
Last year's picks mean nothing (except in the realm of blogger pride), so I have to start over. I'll starting lifting and running more in the mornings in order to get my mind and body right for the days ahead.
One championship was nice, but I'm looking for more rings and more bragging rights, and that all starts with a strong Week 1.
Let's get onto the picks:
NORTH CAROLINA AT SOUTH CAROLINA
Chris Low: It’s the Battle of the Carolinas, or as the Head Ball Coach would say, South Carolina vs. “Dabo’s Carolina.” Not sure Dabo’s Carolina will be able to block Mr. Clowney. Then again, can anybody? ... South Carolina 30, North Carolina 17
Edward Aschoff: This could be the team that gets Steve Spurrier back to the SEC championship game. Jadeveon Clowney and that talented defensive line will make things miserable for UNC's offense all night. ... South Carolina 31, North Carolina 17
OLE MISS AT VANDERBILT
Chris Low: There’s no getting around the rape case and how it will impact the Commodores, especially with junior receiver Chris Boyd being suspended. The Rebels are for real and will finally figure out a way to beat the Commodores after losing five of the last six in this series. ... Ole Miss 24, Vanderbilt 20
Edward Aschoff: Both of these teams are on the rise in the SEC and have higher expectations than usual entering the season. While the Rebels have struggled recently with the Commodores, there's more pressure on Vandy, and Ole Miss will claim its redemption. ... Ole Miss 27, Vanderbilt 24
WESTERN KENTUCKY VS KENTUCKY (in Nashville, Tenn.)
Chris Low: OK, no jokes about Bobby Petrino riding his motorcycle to the game. He gets his first of two straight chances to take down SEC teams, but the Wildcats will stand their ground in Mark Stoops’ debut. ... Kentucky 28, Western Kentucky 21
Edward Aschoff: Mark Stoops doesn't get a cupcake for his first game as Kentucky's new coach. I think it actually benefits him because he'll have a better idea of what he really has. And what he'll have is an opening-day winner. ... Kentucky 24, Western Kentucky 20
LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE AT ARKANSAS
Chris Low: Louisiana-Monroe sent the Hogs reeling last season. Now, it’s Louisiana (the Ragin’ Cajuns) who’d like to get a little slice of Pig Sooie. Arkansas is too strong up front defensively to stumble in this one. ... Arkansas 27, Louisiana 17
Edward Aschoff: Bret Bielema and his Hogs are dealing with a lot of injuries, but he'll still have more talent on the field Saturday. We won't know a ton about this team, but starting off 1-0 ain't bad. ... Arkansas 27, Louisiana-Lafayette 17
AUSTIN PEAY AT TENNESSEE
Chris Low: There won’t be many breathers for Butch Jones in his first season at Tennessee, but the only drama in this one will be whether or not the Pride of the Southland Band has enough stamina to still be playing “Rocky Top” in the fourth quarter. ... Tennessee 45, Austin Peay 7
Edward Aschoff: Another new coach makes his debut with a team shrouded in mystery. Jones has a lot of inexperience to work with on offense and it'll be interesting to see how that up-tempo offense looks. ... Tennessee 31, Austin Peay 14
MURRAY STATE AT MISSOURI
Chris Low: It sounds like Henry Josey is healthy again, and all those SEC fans who didn’t get a chance to see him last season while he was sidelined are in for a treat. It won’t be a lot of fun for Murray State trying to tackle him. ... Missouri 38, Murray State 14
Edward Aschoff: The Tigers are healthier and carrying a big chip on their shoulders this season. A more complete Missouri team should take the field this weekend. ... Missouri 41, Murray State 13
WASHINGTON STATE at AUBURN
Chris Low: We know that Mike Leach thinks the bottom half of the Pac-12 is better than the bottom half of the SEC. Here’s his chance to prove it, although the Tigers should be greatly improved this season. ... Auburn 34, Washington State 21
Edward Aschoff: The Tigers have no choice but to get better with Gus Malzahn back on the Plains and Ellis Johnson taking over the defense. You should see lots of points in Malzahn's debut as the head coach. ... Auburn 38, Washington State 20
TOLEDO AT FLORIDA
Chris Low: The latest blow to the Gators was offensive tackle Chaz Green going down for the season, joining already injured running back Matt Jones and guard Jon Halapio. But when you don’t give up any touchdowns, it’s hard to lose. ... Florida 24, Toledo 6
Edward Aschoff: The Gators enter with a banged-up offense that already had a lot of questions. Toledo is far from a pushover, but Florida has the muscle to get by a tricky opening opponent. ... Florida 27, Toledo 10
RICE AT TEXAS A&M
Chris Low: By order of Texas A&M athletic director Eric Hyman, I will not make any comments concerning a certain Aggies’ quarterback. What I will say is that the Aggies will roll despite No. 2 being on the bench for a half. ... Texas A&M 48, Rice 10
Edward Aschoff: Johnny Football might be sitting out a half, but it wouldn't matter if he were sitting out the entire game. It's finally time for A&M to get back on the playing field. ... Texas A&M 48, Rice 17
MISSISSIPPI STATE VS OKLAHOMA STATE (Houston, Texas)
Chris Low: The Bulldogs want to bring more pressure on defense this season. They’re going to need to in this one, but they will have a hard time scoring with the Cowboys. ... Oklahoma State 37, Mississippi State 24
Edward Aschoff: A lot of questions remain for the Bulldogs, and it won't be easy for this defense to slow down Oklahoma State's high-powered passing game. ... Oklahoma State 34, Mississippi State 21
LSU VS TCU (in Arlington, Texas)
Chris Low: Les Miles isn’t saying whether Jeremy Hill will play in the opener. He’s “withholding” that information. Something else that will be withheld is TCU touchdowns. This LSU defense might be young, but it’s not lacking talent. ... LSU 28, TCU 16
Edward Aschoff: The Tigers might be the must undervalued team in the SEC. Miles always has his teams prepared for these out-of-conference games, and you'll see a more explosive offense that's fast and athletic and will overpower the Horned Frogs. ... LSU 31, TCU 17
ALABAMA VS VIRGINIA TECH (in Atlanta)
Chris Low: This is not your father’s Virginia Tech team. The Hokies simply don’t have enough firepower to keep it close against the two-time defending national champions. ... Alabama 35, Virginia Tech 10
Edward Aschoff: Alabama likes these big openers. The process is strong with Crimson Tide players and Virginia Tech is hurting. Alabama comes in more talented, and the Hokies just don't have the horses to keep up in Atlanta. ... Alabama 38, Virginia Tech 13
GEORGIA AT CLEMSON
Chris Low: It’s the most compelling opener of the season and should also be the most entertaining. If you like points, sit back and enjoy. The Dawgs will hold up a little better in the secondary and sneak out with a win. ... Georgia 35, Clemson 31
Edward Aschoff: This is the main event. Both teams have high-octane offenses and both have defenses littered with questions. Georgia has a lot of talent on defense, but it's young. This game is going to come down to which defense makes a play late -- and home-field advantage. ... Clemson 34, Georgia 31
It’s the reason Tyler Moore and Max Garcia left their respective schools a year ago and transferred to Florida. The addition of those two versatile players gives the Gators their toughest, most physical and best offensive line in coach Will Muschamp’s three seasons.
Now everybody’s happy.
"Oh, man, it’s the greatest decision of my life," Garcia said.
Garcia was one of several Maryland players who transferred after the 2011 season, which was coach Randy Edsall’s first in College Park. Though he started all 12 games at left tackle as a sophomore, Garcia said he had personal, academic and athletic issues during his freshman season.
When it was over, he decided he needed a change.
"I think you come to college just to be happy personally and athletically and academically, just find the right fit for you," Garcia said. "It’s all about being happy. As a player you don’t really get much more than being happy."
"I met Coach Muschamp and [offensive line] Coach [Tim] Davis and I met the offensive line here and I just felt at home coming down here to Florida," said Garcia, who is a 6-foot-4, 307-pound redshirt junior. "Aside from football, this is where I found Christ. He came into my life here so since I’ve been here last August my life has just changed forever and it’s for the better."
Moore’s situation was a bit different. He started the first four games and played in nine as a freshman tackle at Nebraska in 2011, but he was unhappy with the amount of playing time he got and he also believed he wasn’t being treated fairly.
He was so disgruntled that when he left school just before practice began in August 2012 he thought he was done with football.
"Little things that I had to deal with at Nebraska made me slowly hate the game after so much time being there," said Moore, whose father, great uncle and cousin played at Nebraska. "Of course everyone wants more playing time, but I believe I should have gotten more playing time throughout the year. I was busting my butt all year practicing and trying to get some playing time and still only got a few plays here and there. It’s just what the coaches want to do."
The 6-5, 315-pound Moore returned to St. Petersburg, Fla., and spent the 2012 academic year at St. Petersburg College. But as time passed, he realized he missed playing football and he considered Florida State before choosing UF.
They took different paths, but Moore and Garcia have one thing in common: Both can play multiple spots on the line. That makes them among the Gators’ most valued players.
Moore, a redshirt sophomore, was expected to battle with redshirt senior Chaz Green for the starting right tackle spot but instead has spent the entire camp working at right guard in place of injured starter Jon Halapio (torn pec). He can play all five positions, although he hasn’t snapped at UF yet.
"He’s very intelligent. He gets it," Muschamp said. "We’ve been able to plug him in across the board. He could play center if he had to. You can’t ever not emphasize enough the intelligence, and [he’s] a guy that can go in and play different spots, different angles, different assignments and different techniques from playing inside as opposed to playing outside.
"He can do a lot of things for us. He’s going to be a huge member of our football team."
Garcia is the starter at left guard and pairs with left tackle D.J. Humphries to instantly upgrade the left side. The staff moved him to left tackle for a practice and Muschamp said he performed well despite not having taken a snap there since he arrived in Gainesville.
"We got rave reviews from some of the assistant coaches there at Maryland about the type young man he was," Muschamp said. "So he was highly endorsed as a football player but more than anything as a person."
Moore and Garcia aren’t the only offensive linemen who can play multiple spots on the roster. Redshirt senior Kyle Koehne, Green and redshirt sophomore Trip Thurman can as well, and Muschamp said that will be a staple of his linemen going forward.
"We always try to recruit guys who can play multiple positions," Muschamp said. "That means they’re smart and they can do some different things for us. You’d like to be two-deep at every position and two guys that can rotate other than that. You better have a bunch [of versatile offensive linemen] and you’ve got to prepare for injuries."
He did find it weird, though, that the coaches brought him over to meet Brown’s father.
Then he realized that was Trenton Brown -- all 6-foot-8 and 363 pounds of him.
"Tallest dude I’ve ever seen in person. I was looking up at him the whole time I was talking to him."
Halapio isn’t exactly tiny, either, but he’s 5 inches shorter and 48 pounds lighter than Brown. But then again, Brown dwarfs everybody else on the roster, too. The Gators’ second-biggest player is freshman offensive lineman Rod Johnson, who is nearly as tall at 6-6 -- but he’s 47 pounds lighter.
Brown, who played the past two seasons at Georgia Military College, might be the biggest player in UF history. He’s certainly the biggest since Max Starks, a 6-8, 345-pound offensive lineman from 2000-03. And everybody, it seems, has a "whoa, this dude is big" moment to share.
"It took us all back," said Tyler Moore, a 6-6, 312-pound offensive tackle. "We all felt like we were in third grade again looking up at a high schooler.
"I’m not used to looking up at guys. I’m used to looking at guys or looking down. I haven’t looked up at somebody in a while."
Said 6-3, 263-pound sophomore buck Dante Fowler: "Trenton Brown is the biggest person I ever saw in my life."
Fowler has spent a lot of time lining up against Brown during practice. He said he has been able to get past Brown with a speed rush – although he said Brown is quicker than most people would think -- but hasn’t had any success with a bull rush.
"Since he’s so big, people kind of [think he’ll have bad] footwork," Fowler said. "He can get off the ball as quick as we can get off the ball. When you see that big body around you, you don’t know what to do. Next thing you know you run into him, and that’s not a good thing to do."
That could lead to one of the worst things Fowler could imagine on the football field.
"I never want Trenton to fall on me," Fowler said. "If he does, I’m pretty sure my body will be imprinted in the grass. I don’t want that to happen."
Brown -- whom a school spokesman said is not allowed to talk to the media until after he plays in a game -- is working exclusively at right tackle. Moore or Chaz Green will be the starter at right tackle, and whichever one doesn’t start will back up D.J. Humphries at left tackle.
Brown is behind the other linemen in terms of fundamentals because he has only been playing football for four years. UF coach Will Muschamp said Brown was a basketball player at Albany (Georgia) Westover and didn’t play football until his junior season.
"He thought he was going to be a basketball player until he started weighing 360 pounds," Muschamp said. "He found out very quickly he might be an offensive lineman."
Muschamp said Brown will play in the Gators’ jumbo package, which uses extra offensive linemen as tight ends, and possibly on the field goal and field goal block teams. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Brown will be a formidable blocker once he has an understanding of the offense.
"He’s got a lot of ability," Pease said. "He’s done a good job. The whole thing’s not thrown at him yet. The recognition of repetition of the same things over and over and over is not totally there. He’s kind of in that same sense a lot of the kids were last year [in the first year of the offense]: ‘Oh, gosh, there’s a new call. This one’s a new call.’
"But he’s getting it, you know, within the lineman’s world. He’s understanding it. When he’s in a one-on-one situation, he’s very talented. He’s big, he’s strong and he can move, so he’s going to be a real good football player."
Maybe even a big-time one.
The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Patton doesn’t really fit into coach Will Muschamp’s philosophy that bigger is better. Not just on the line of scrimmage, either. Big receivers. Big defensive backs. Big linebackers.
"This is a big man’s league," he said. "When you go pay to watch a boxing match, you don’t go watch the featherweights fight. You go watch heavyweights fight. This is a heavyweight league.
"So we need have a big, physical team. You can still be really fast, but you better be big and physical if you want to win in this league right now."
Muschamp is in his third season and working on his fourth signing class, and he has certainly made the Gators a bigger, more physical team in that short period of time. To see the difference, look at UF’s roster from 2009. The Gators had five starters or key contributors who were 5-9 or shorter: Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Ahmad Black, Markihe Anderson and Brandon James.
This year’s team has only one starter that small: 5-9 safety Cody Riggs. Patton is a role player (he’s the jet sweep guy) and the shortest player on scholarship is 5-7 freshman running back Adam Lane -- who weighs 222 pounds.
Muschamp’s philosophy goes further than just the size of the players. He wants the bulk of his 85-man roster to be comprised of what he calls big-skill positions: offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends. He wants 50. Right now he has 42 (see breakdown below).
Muschamp wants 15-17 offensive linemen, and the Gators are close to that number. They have five scholarship tight ends, too. The defensive line is where the problem is. The Gators are short on ends, especially speed rushers. There are eight scholarship defensive tackles, but only three have played in a game (Dominique Easley, Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs), and just two bucks (hybrid defensive end/linebacker).
It’ll take at least a couple more signing classes for the Gators to be as stocked along the defensive line as Muschamp would like. Muschamp believes long-term success at Florida -- and therefore the SEC -- depends on beefing up those defensive numbers.
And not just to compete with Alabama and Nick Saban, either.
"When big guys run out of gas, they’re done," Muschamp said. "We don’t ever want our big guys up front to play more than six or eight snaps in a row and have the intensity you’ve got to play with to be successful in this league. So you can’t ever have enough defensive linemen or pass rushers, especially the way the game’s going.
"You look in our league at Missouri and Kentucky and Tennessee, a lot of schools are going to a little bit of a Big 12 model, like Texas A&M, where they’re spreading the field, and you can’t ever have enough guys that can play in space and rush the passer. The most exerting thing in football is rushing the passer. Those guys are battling against a 315-pound guy and trying to push the pocket, so you can’t ever have enough of those guys."
Here’s the breakdown of what Muschamp calls the big-skill players:
Ideal number: 15-17
Number on the roster: 14. Tyler Moore, Quinteze Williams, Rod Johnson, Octavius Jackson, Cameron Dillard, Trip Thurman, Jon Halapio, D.J. Humphries, Jonotthan Harrison, Chaz Green, Max Garcia, Trenton Brown, Ian Silberman, Kyle Koehne.
Comment: The Gators will lose four players to graduation but have four offensive line commits for 2014, three of whom weigh more than 300 pounds. The line has gotten bigger, stronger and more physical since Muschamp called them soft at the end of his first season.
Ideal number: 8-10
Number on the roster: 8. Damien Jacobs, Joey Ivie, Leon Orr, Darious Cummings, Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley, Antonio Riles, Dominique Easley.
Comment: Not a lot of experience here, but the four freshmen (Ivie, Bostwick, Brantley and Riles) will gain valuable experience as part of the rotation this season.
Ideal number: 6-8
Number on roster: 4. Alex McCalister, Jonathan Bullard, Jordan Sherit, Bryan Cox.
Comment: Easley also can play end. This is perhaps the most flexible position, with several players having the ability to play inside on passing downs to get the best pass rushers on the field.
Ideal number: 4-6
Number on roster: 2. Dante Fowler, Ronald Powell.
Comment: This position also needs to be beefed up quickly, with Powell likely leaving after this year if he has a good season. Some flexibility here, too, because Cox and McCalister could spend time here.
Ideal number: 9-12
Number on roster: 9. Michael Taylor, Matt Rolin, Jeremi Powell, Jarrad Davis, Neiron Ball, Darrin Kitchens, Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone, Antonio Morrison.
Comment: UF has one bona fide stud (Morrison) and a mix of veteran role players and freshmen. McMillian is a player to watch. He could become a starter by midseason. This is an important position group because it produces a lot of special teams players.
Ideal number: 3-5
Number on roster: 5. Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Kent Taylor, Colin Thompson, Trevon Young.
Comment: A lot of players, but little production so far. Burton, Westbrook and Thompson are mainly blockers, but there’s optimism that Thompson can develop into someone who can work the middle of the field.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida begins August camp on Friday. Here’s a primer to get you ready:
Three questions the Gators must answer in camp
Can the receivers contribute? It must sound like a broken record, but the development of the receivers is the key to the season. They haven’t been very good for the past three seasons, and that really hurt the Gators in 2012 because of quarterback Jeff Driskel’s inexperience. H-back/wildcat QB Trey Burton, with 69 career catches, will line up at receiver. That will help, but he’s not a downfield threat or someone that scares a secondary. Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar and sophomores Raphael Andrades and Latroy Pittman must become consistent with their routes, adjustments and blitz reads. At least two of the five freshmen -- including early enrollee Demarcus Robinson -- have to become significant parts of the rotation, too. New receivers coach Joker Phillips, who has 18 years of experience and two former pupils in the NFL (Randall Cobb and Steve Johnson), should make a difference. But remember, a chef is only as good as his ingredients.
Can the linebackers hold up their end? The Gators are loaded in the secondary and with pass rushers, and the defensive line should be fine. The question mark on defense is at linebacker, especially with starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison suspended for the first two games. There’s little doubt that Morrison is going to be a big-time player, but there are questions at every other spot. Buck/strongside linebacker Ronald Powell is coming back from a torn ACL and the top two candidates at weakside linebacker (Darrin Kitchens and Michael Taylor) have been role players throughout their careers. Taylor will likely start in the middle while Morrison is out. That’s a steep drop-off from Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins, and the Gators need to find playmakers. Don’t be surprised if freshman Daniel McMillian takes over as the starter on the weak side by the middle of the season.
Will either kicker turn out to be reliable? It’s unfair to expect Austin Hardin or Brad Phillips to have the same kind of impact as Caleb Sturgis. He was the best kicker in school history and was accurate from long range. But it isn’t unreasonable to ask either of those guys to be consistent in the 40-yard range, and neither was during spring practice. It’s a battle that will continue throughout camp -- and possibly into the season. Sturgis consistently bailed out the offense in 2012, and the Gators won’t have that luxury if the offense struggles again (see receivers above).
Three position battles to watch
Tight end: Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor are competing for playing time. The group struggled during the spring and Burton has a slim lead. Thompson was more of a blocker in high school, but his size makes him an intriguing option in the middle of the field and the red zone. He’s a better blocker than any of the other tight ends and could win the job if he can show some consistency and prove he’s a reliable receiver. Westbrook is more of a blocker and Taylor is a flex tight end with potential, but the coaching staff isn’t happy with his toughness. There’s not a lot of experience here -- they’ve combined for four catches for 17 yards in their careers -- and it’s unlikely any can be the weapon in the passing game that Jordan Reed was the past two seasons (73 catches, 866 yards, 5 TDs).
Safety: If the season started today, cornerbacks Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs would be the starters. That’s not a bad thing because both are solid players who understand the defense and won’t give up big plays. But what is a concern is that none of the other safeties showed enough consistency in the spring to earn one of the spots. Marcus Maye, Jabari Gorman and Valdez Showers have four weeks to prove they can get the job done.
Three players you might not have thought to watch in camp, but really should
Bryan Cox: A redshirt freshman defensive end, he showed flashes of potential in the spring and made a few plays during the final scrimmage. He’s playing behind Jonathan Bullard, so he gets overlooked, but he’s got good size (6-foot-3, 260 pounds) and athleticism and could be a breakout player on defense.
Gideon Ajagbe: Hunter Joyer was the only fullback on the roster until the staff moved Ajagbe and redshirt freshman safety Rhaheim Ledbetter there in the spring because the staff was worried about overworking Joyer during the season. Ajagbe adjusted well and should give Joyer some valuable rest and therefore reduce his risk of injury.
Chris Wilkes: It was obvious that the staff wasn’t happy with backup quarterbacks Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg, which was one of the reasons UF added Wilkes. He was an Ole Miss signee in 2008 but instead chose to sign a baseball contract with the San Diego Padres. Wilkes enrolled in May and missed spring practice and hasn’t played football in five years, but he’s a former pro athlete and should at least push Mornhinweg and Murphy a bit.
No. 79 Quinteze Williams
Redshirt freshman offensive lineman
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No. 75 Chaz Green
Redshirt junior offensive tackle
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And vice versa, too.
So what if trades could happen in college football? What if UF coach Will Muschamp and FSU coach Jimbo Fisher, because of their long-standing friendship, could work something out? You know, during an afternoon at their shared beach house in the Florida panhandle they hammered out a couple of deals to exchange players.
Here are two we think they could work out, and the ramifications for each team:
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No. 67 Jon Halapio
Redshirt senior offensive lineman
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Ranking UF’s needs for 2014
1. Offensive line
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