Florida Gators: Gideon Ajagbe

Florida's two-deep: B-position

June, 12, 2014
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Editor’s note: We’re breaking down the Gators’ two-deep depth chart every day for the next two weeks. We’ll cover every position as well as offer a glimpse into the future. You can read the whole series here.

B-POSITION

The starter: Senior tight end Jake McGee

The backup: Senior tight end Tevin Westbrook

The rest: Senior tight end Clay Burton, senior fullback Hunter Joyer, senior fullback Gideon Ajagbe, true freshmen tight ends DeAndre Goolsby and C'yontai Lewis, and true freshman h-back Moral Stephens

[+] EnlargeJake McGee
Lee Coleman/Icon SMITransfer Jake McGee led Virginia last season with 43 receptions for 395 yards.
The lowdown: First, an explanation that in Kurt Roper's spread offense the B-position is a combination of the tight end, h-back and fullback positions. You'll see them on the line, in the backfield, in the slot, split out wide and often in motion. Considering the definite lack of involvement in the passing game from those positions in the previous offense, the Gators were expecting a rough transition for the B-position in 2014. That was until they found a perfect fit in transfer Jake McGee, a 6-foot-6, 255-pound tight end who led Virginia in receiving last season. McGee, now on campus and rooming with Jeff Driskel, looks to be the quarterback's best friend. Driskel hasn't had one of those since 2012, when tight end Jordan Reed led Florida in receiving. If he can adapt quickly, McGee could be a major x-factor in reviving Florida's offense this fall. He hasn't played in Roper's scheme before, but the offensive coordinator recruited him in high school so there is familiarity. With McGee, the Gators won't have to force the ball to any of their other seniors who were rarely asked to do more than block in years past. Florida fullbacks Joyer and Ajagbe, however, showed in spring that they have some potential to contribute in the passing game.

The future: The Gators have had some bad luck in recruiting tight ends. Will Muschamp's second class in 2012 featured two of the nation's top four TE prospects in Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor. But Thompson's career appears over due to a foot injury, and Taylor did little before transferring to Kansas. Muschamp began to restock in the last recruiting cycle with Goolsby, Lewis and Stephens, and Roper believes they are good fits for his scheme. Goolsby is the most advanced after enrolling in January. He has had more time to add bulk and strength to his 6-4, 230-pound frame and got the benefit of a lot of reps in spring practice. Thanks to the presence of McGee, Florida likely will have the luxury of redshirting Lewis and Stephens to allow them time to learn and grow. Roper has said his offense affords a lot of opportunities for tweeners, which is why UF doesn't necessarily have to sign a prototypical tight end moving forward. The 2015 class already has a commit from Camrin Knight, a 6-4, 213-pound prospect with loads of athletic ability, potential to grow and willingness to learn.

Replacing the Gators: Offense

May, 14, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The NFL draft is over, so it's time to talk about the next wave of Gators.

Florida had four players selected last weekend with just one from the offensive side of the ball.

On Tuesday we looked at the defensive replacements. Here's a look at who will replace the Gators on offense who were drafted or signed as undrafted free agents.

OG Jon Halapio
Sixth-round pick, New England Patriots
A three-year starter, Halapio battled through some injuries and was a rock at right guard. He was better as a run blocker than in pass protection, but the same could be said for most of Florida's offensive linemen. By the end of spring practice, Florida's starting guards were junior Tyler Moore and senior Trenton Brown, each of whom spent time last season at tackle. Brown is a behemoth at 6-foot-8 and 348 pounds who forced his way into the starting lineup by improving his footwork, pad level and consistency throughout the spring. Moore, no slouch at 6-5, 320, is still dealing with the linger effects of a broken elbow but seems better suited as an interior lineman. Both guards have the potential to upgrade Florida's line in run and pass blocking.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Robinson
AP Photo/Phil SandlinDemarcus Robinson, who caught five passes as a freshman in 2013, will be one of the Gators' playmakers next season.
WR Solomon Patton
Undrafted free agent, Tampa Bay Buccaneers
After a quiet first three years at UF, Patton became an indispensable contributor as a slot receiver, deep threat and kick returner. Patton's elite speed is something the Gators will be sorely lacking, but there are some emerging players on the horizon. Sophomore Demarcus Robinson was the Gators' best playmaker in the passing game throughout spring practice. He's not nearly as fast at Patton, but he's got some magic after the catch. Another sophomore, Chris Thompson, has the speed to be a deep threat and will be counted on to stretch the field. In the slot, the Gators' expectations are a bit lower as they look to juniors Latroy Pittman and Valdez Showers to be solid route-runners and reliable targets.

H-back Trey Burton
Undrafted free agent, Philadelphia Eagles
In his unique career at Florida, Burton played every offensive skill position and finished his senior season as a wide receiver. In the pros he'll get a shot to be an H-back, which is where the Gators would have loved to have had him back. Under new coordinator Kurt Roper, UF's offense is perfectly suited for tight ends, tweeners and oversized wide receivers to play in the slot or release off the line. Florida's returning tight ends -- seniors Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton (Trey's brother) -- combined for four catches in 2013. While Westbrook, Burton and senior fullbacks Hunter Joyer and Gideon Ajagbe showed flashes of pass-catching ability in spring ball, the Gators won't have to rely on any of the four veterans to do more than he is capable of. That's because former Virginia tight end Jake McGee transferred to Florida after graduating from UVA last month. His experience as the Cavaliers' leading receiver in 2013 could be a game-changer for Florida's offense, which was severely lacking in proven playmakers.

C Jonotthan Harrison
Undrafted free agent, Indianapolis Colts
Another three-year starter, Harrison anchored Florida's O-line and was a respected leader on and off the field. His replacement is a very similar player in senior Max Garcia, who was Florida's best and most consistent lineman last season. Garcia played much of 2013 at left guard but also has on his résumé a full season as a starter at left tackle for Maryland in 2011. Just like Harrison once did, Garcia is having some issues learning how to master the shotgun snap, but his coaches aren't worried and routinely praised him in spring practice despite some errant snaps. If he can fix that and also get comfortable calling out protections for his teammates on the line, Garcia could upgrade the position by being a little stronger as a run blocker.

OL Kyle Koehne
Tryout contract, Atlanta Falcons
Koehne became a key reserve on UF's line, as he backed up several positions and was able to step in as a starter for half the season with little drop-off. The Gators' starting O-line is set with all five players having starting experience. Where things get dicey is on the second unit. Florida's OL coach, Mike Summers, has his hands full trying to develop the next Koehne. His top reserve after spring practice was Trip Thurman, a junior who got a long look on the first unit and has played just about every position. Thurman will likely be Florida's top backup at all three interior spots. At guard, the Gators also have junior college transfer Drew Sarvary, who started 10 of 11 games as a freshman at Florida A&M in 2012 and has the requisite size at 6-6, 318. Options are even more limited with reserve tackles, where Florida has freshman early enrollee Kavaris Harkless, injured redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson, and soon-to-enroll freshman David Sharpe.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Progress. It's what Florida fans expect to see this fall. It's what they hope to see in Saturday's spring game.

Everyone is under much more scrutiny after the Gators' 4-8 record last season, but mostly the microscope will be on a brand-new offense that has been installed in just 14 spring practices. It's just one of several aspects of the scrimmage that fans and the media will be analyzing.

[+] EnlargeRoper
Jeff Barlis/ESPNAll eyes on Saturday at Florida's spring game will be on new coordinator Kurt Roper's offense.
The game, at 1:30 p.m ET at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, will be divided into four, 12-minute quarters with a running clock. Teams were drafted by honorary alumni captains on Thursday night, but fans will get to see a lot of first-team offense against first-team defense in the mix.

Here's what to watch for:

New and improved quarterback: All eyes will be on Jeff Driskel, the junior who hasn't exactly lived up to his status as the top QB prospect in 2011. He's coming off surgery and six months of rehab for a broken bone in his lower right leg. The injury, which cost him most of the 2013 season, ensures that he'll be a non-contact participant (as will all of the QBs). Driskel has had an excellent spring. He's clearly the starter and is a respected leader. His teammates have been raving about how good and comfortable he looks in an offense that is much closer to what made him a star in high school. Driskel said he just wants to show the fans that he is confident and having fun. But nothing pleases a crowd like putting points on the board. He can create a lot of goodwill if he finds receivers in stride and generally commands a smooth-looking offense.

Mr. Roper's offense: Some success by Driskel and backup quarterbacks Will Grier and Skyler Mornhinweg would go a long way in showing off the new scheme that offensive coordinator Kurt Roper brought from Duke. The No. 1 thing that fans want to see is a very different-looking offense. Roper has the potential to deliver with his no-huddle, shotgun spread attack. At the very least, the tempo will be much faster than in any of Florida's last three seasons of taking a clock-chewing, run-heavy, pro-style approach.

Young secondary: The Gators have Vernon Hargreaves III at cornerback, Jabari Gorman at safety and little certainty throughout the rest of the defensive backfield. Yes, there is a ton of talent, but it's young and inexperienced. There are three starting jobs open because UF operates so often in a nickel formation. Early enrollee freshmen Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson have had their expected ups and downs in competing with junior Brian Poole for the starting spot opposite Hargreaves. Poole is also in the mix at nickel corner, along with Marcus Maye. Keanu Neal might have the edge for the other starting safety spot, but keep an eye on Nick Washington and Marcell Harris. Don't be surprised if the DBs struggle on Saturday as Florida's offense looks to win fans and influence coaches.

O-line vs. D-line: This one is a toss-up. The Gators' offensive line has not been good in pass protection, but the defensive line isn't exactly loaded with pass-rushing demons. The uptempo offense should help Florida's O-line, as there is a new emphasis on getting the ball out of the quarterback's hand in three seconds. The marquee matchup to watch is defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. against left tackle D.J. Humphries. They're two of the Gators' most talented players, and they've been going at each other throughout spring practice. The rest of Florida's starters are veterans, but fans might want to cover their eyes when the second units come on. Coach Will Muschamp has not been pleased with the development of his young linemen on either side of the ball.

The B-position: Tight ends and fullbacks have been largely overlooked in recent years, as blocking has been the top priority. That's changed under Roper, who said on Thursday: "It's going to be an important position and it's going to be a playmaking position for us, so we're counting on them." Roper said he's seen growth out of veterans such as Tevin Westbrook, Clay Burton and Hunter Joyer. He also said early enrollee freshman DeAndre Goolsby is more comfortable in a pass-catching role based on his experience in high school.

Playmakers at WR: It bears repeating that this spring has been all about the new offense. Fans were screaming for dramatic changes by the end of last season, and no position needs it more than wide receiver, where the Gators haven't had anyone crack the 600-yard mark in a season since 2009. As the spring wore on, playmakers began to emerge. Senior Quinton Dunbar is the unquestioned leader of the group and a certain starter. Sophomores Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson appear to be developing as reliable targets. Slot receivers Valdez Showers and Latroy Pittman have had solid spring camps as well. If the offense clicks, it will be a treat for fans to finally see these athletes make catches in space and show what they can do with the ball in their hands.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Thanks to a new offense, the Florida Gators are expecting some serious improvement this fall. Every player has hopes and dreams of better statistics.

The most realistic chances to double or even triple their production? That's easy.

Tight ends and fullbacks were an afterthought in 2013, used almost exclusively as blockers in UF's pro-style offense. Two tight ends combined for four catches. Two fullbacks had a total of six receptions and three carries.

[+] EnlargeTevin Westbrook
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsTevin Westbrook hopes to be a bigger part of Florida's offense this season.
But rather than file a class-action lawsuit for neglect, the four rising seniors are thrilled to learn an offense that promises much more involvement.

"It's really exciting," tight end Tevin Westbrook said. "It's more of a competition. Every day when you go out you know that you've to play to be able to catch the ball and block, to move from off the ball to a bigger role. It's exciting. We're catching balls and blocking from the backfield, blocking for the quarterback."

With so little to see of the tight ends and fullbacks on last year's game tape, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has had to use the first part of spring practice to evaluate what he's got.

"The thing we're trying to figure out first and foremost is the tight end/H-back in our offense, who we call the 'B,' is who is that?" he said. "Who's the guy that's going to be the best in that situation? So it's a fun battle to watch between all those guys that we're repping at that position.

"I think that that B position, because it's so different from what they were doing in the past is probably the thing that we've got to watch the closest."

The change has been apparent.

Those four returning players -- Westbrook, tight end Clay Burton and fullbacks Hunter Joyer and Gideon Ajagbe -- have probably seen more targets this spring than all of their previous years combined. And true freshman tight end DeAndre Goolsby has seen as much action as any of the seniors.

Joyer, who has even gotten to show off his hands on intermediate routes, can't hide his smile when talking about the new opportunities available.

"Yeah, everybody's being used and used a lot," he said. "Everyone has a role in it and everyone determines our own roles. So as long as you're doing well, you'll have one."

It's all by design, says Roper. Last year at the reins of a Duke offense that averaged more than 409 yards a game, Roper gave significant roles to two quarterbacks, four running backs and six receivers.

"I think the biggest thing when you put together an offense is you want a defense to have to defend the field and defend all your skill players," Roper said. "Those guys [at the B position] are a big part of our offense. I think they're going to be put in position to make some plays.

"It's been fun to evaluate and we've had some big plays made by those guys. [Last Wednesday], we had two great catches by Gideon and Goolsby. So I think they're starting to get a feel for what we're asking them to do, and I think they're going to be capable of making some of those plays."

That's a huge development for an offense that got almost nothing there last year. Now there's potential and the promise of more to come.

Goolsby, a three-star prospect out of Derby, Kan., committed last November as Florida was in the midst of a seven-game losing streak. He chose the Gators over Ohio State, Oklahoma Arkansas and Kansas State and is now seeing the benefits of UF's new offense.

At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, Goolsby still needs work in the weight room, but the education he is getting in spring practice should work wonders in getting on the field this fall.

"He's a really good athlete," head coach Will Muschamp said. "He's a guy that can do some things as far as what we're looking for at that position. He fits it extremely well. … I think he's done a really good job. I'm very pleased where he is. I think it's a little early right now to tell where he will contribute."

Florida also signed two more players in its 2014 class who profile as part of the 'B' team -- tight ends C'yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens, who arrive this summer.

It should make for a robust competition that carries over from spring practice into the fall and maybe even turns into some long-awaited offense.

For the previously invisible tight ends and fullbacks, the new offense means they can dare to dream.

"If we make plays and we come out and block and we catch the ball, they’re going to have to put the tight end into the plays," Westbrook said. "As a unit, it's a chip on our shoulder. We need to step up and make more plays in practice and then there will be more action from the tight end."

Reviewing Florida's Class of 2010

January, 29, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Every year on signing day, Florida coach Will Muschamp takes a moment to throw a jab at the media.

The circus surrounding college football recruiting has grown to epic proportions, and he clearly bristles at the thought of ranking classes or players before they don cleats.

"You judge a recruiting class after it’s been on your campus for two or three years," he's said. "Everybody wants to judge it in February and rank them and say this class is great. That’s ridiculous to be able to rank a class in February when these guys haven’t even stepped on campus yet and been through a spring practice and been in fall camp.

"I’ve been around a lot of guys who were two-stars who ended up playing in the NFL for a really long time. They were really good players. And I’ve been around some five-stars who couldn’t play."

With that sentiment and the passage of four years, we review Florida's 2010 class.

It ranked No. 1 in the nation with four five-star players, 15 four-star recruits and 17 players from the ESPN 150 (including 11 of the top 50). ESPN called it "simply one of the best classes ever."

The stars

[+] EnlargeSharrif Floyd
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSharrif Floyd became everything the Gators hoped he would when they signed him in 2010 and was Minnesota's first-round pick in 2013.
Sharrif Floyd (No. 3 DT prospect in the nation): He just about embodied the blueprint for how you'd like a top prospect to go through school. Floyd grew into a dominant force in the middle for Florida, was a leader and became a first-round NFL draft pick after his third season.

Matt Elam (No. 2 ATH): Like Floyd, Elam played right away and became a team leader at safety for the Gators, starting every game of his final two seasons. And like Floyd, Elam was a first-round pick after three years in college.

Dominique Easley (No. 1 DT): Easley's flame burned bright on and off the field. His magnetic personality made him a team focal point right away, and his ability to torment offensive linemen made him a standout on the field. If it weren't for two surgeries on torn ACLs in each knee, Easley would be a lock for the first round of the NFL draft this May.

The contributors

Ronald Powell (No. 1 ATH): The No. 1 overall player in the country, Powell was the headliner for Florida's vaunted class. But he never truly lived up to the hype, compiling modest stats and suffering two torn ACLs in the same knee. After a healthy season as a fourth-year junior, Powell hopes to be picked in the middle rounds of the upcoming NFL draft.

Mack Brown (No. 4 RB): He was supposed to be the first premier running back then-coach Urban Meyer had ever recruited, but it took Brown time to adjust to the college game. He finally contributed as a junior and will be a key reserve in 2014.

Chaz Green (No. 4 OT): Started nine games as a redshirt freshman and 10 games as a sophomore before missing last season to injury. He's expected to be a key member of UF's O-line in 2014.

Jaylen Watkins (No. 5 CB): He never got the hype of some teammates, but Watkins quietly had a solid career at UF. He started 28 of 48 games played in four seasons at cornerback and safety.

Cody Riggs (No. 7 CB): Like Watkins, Riggs has proven to be a versatile member of the Gators secondary. After redshirting the 2012 season due to injury, he'll be back as a senior this fall.

Leon Orr (No. 8 DT): Returns for his senior season after finally breaking through as a starter last season.

Michael Taylor (No. 12 OLB): Became a starter in 2013 after two seasons as a backup. He'll return for his final year.

[+] EnlargeSolomon Patton
AP Photo/John RaouxIt took time for him to develop but WR Solomon Patton made an impact in his senior season.
Solomon Patton (No. 17 WR): Had a standout senior season after toiling in anonymity the previous three.

Gideon Ajagbe (No. 23 OLB): Never a factor at linebacker, he finally saw action last season after switching to fullback.

Neiron Ball (No. 28 OLB): A quiet contributor, he made seven of his nine career starts in 2013 and will be counted on this fall.

Trey Burton (No. 30 ATH): Played every skill position on offense during his four seasons and was a consummate leader.

Quinton Dunbar (No. 42 WR): Has been a solid starter for most of the last two seasons and looks to do the same as a senior.

Darrin Kitchens (unranked LB): Was a valuable reserve for the last four years.

The transfers

Jonathan Dowling (No. 1 S): Was kicked off the team and transferred to Western Kentucky, where he became a two-time first-team All-Sun Belt selection. He's skipping his senior year to enter the NFL draft.

Josh Shaw (No. 3 CB): Played in 10 games with one start as a redshirt freshman before transferring to USC. He emerged last season, finishing third on the Trojans with 67 tackles and four interceptions.

Gerald Christian (No. 2 TE): Played eight games for UF after redshirting, then transferred to Louisville and caught 26 passes for 401 yards and four TDs last fall.

Chris Dunkley (No. 7 WR): Redshirted, then transferred to USF. He finally got playing time in four games last fall after being plagued by suspensions.

Ian Silberman (No. 3 OT): Never rose above the level of reserve in three seasons at UF. He graduated in four years and transferred to Boston College.

Chris Martin (No. 10 DE): After an arrest for marijuana possession, he transferred to two junior colleges, then transferred to Kansas and was dismissed after an arrest for an alleged robbery.

Jordan Haden (No. 44 S): Enrolled early but transferred before his first season. Haden has played the last two seasons for Toledo.

Robert Clark (No. 48 CB): Played two seasons before transferring to Louisville, where he caught 23 passes for 209 yards and one touchdown in 2013.

Tyler Murphy (No. 54 ATH): Started six games at QB as a junior in 2013, graduated, then transferred to Boston College for his final season.

Lynden Trail (No. 63 DE): Redshirted and saw no action in 2011 before transferring to Norfolk State.

Michael McFarland (unranked TE): Redshirted, then transferred to USF, where he's worked his way up the depth chart. Was second on the team with 23 catches for 288 yards and two TDs in 2013.


GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Throughout the offseason, Florida knew its program depth would be tested.

The Gators lost seven starters from last year's defense and knew Week 1 would mean a match up against a veteran Toledo offense that averaged more than 445 yards of total offense in 2012.

In fall camp Florida lost three starters on offense to injury. And Saturday saw five players suspended, including two starters on defense.

Throw in a head coach who believes in playing his best freshmen, and there were so many new faces on Florida Field it's a wonder there were any game programs left unsold.

"We're taught by our coaches, especially [head coach Will] Muschamp, when there's a man down to man up," linebacker Neiron Ball said. "If there's a man down, the next player's got to be ready."

Muschamp, who expects this year's defense to be just as good as last year despite all the new starters, is standing by the motto. He expects injuries and he doles out discipline knowing he can weather a suspension to an important player.

"We're not going to make excuses at Florida, regardless of injury, sickness, whatever the situation may be," he said. "We're just going to move forward. That's why you have a deep roster and that's why you recruit guys who don't ask you about the depth chart 400 times. You recruit guys who want to come in here and compete.

"A lot of young guys, they were a little big-eyed walking out of the locker room. But [it was good] for them to get that experience. I think we played 15 freshmen, eight or nine true and then seven redshirt guys. So that's good to get those young guys playing. The way it is in college football now, you've got a bunch of guys coming out early, you might as well play the [young] guys."

Leading the way, however, was running back Mack Brown. Not a new face, but maybe an anonymous one. Brown has toiled in orange and blue for more than three years, amassing just 40 career carries, despite once having four-star recruiting status. Still, Muschamp said he wasn't at all surprised at Brown's performance.

The redshirt junior was Florida's workhorse on Saturday, rushing for 25 times for 112 mostly tough yards and two first-half touchdowns. He drew the starting assignment because sophomore Matt Jones is still recovering from a viral infection.

Brown's reaction to possibly losing the starting nod next week against the in-state rival Miami Hurricanes?

"You know what, we need [Jones] back, man," Brown said. "We've got about four to five backs. You need a lot of backs in a season. Can't wait to see Matt Jones back. Really can't wait to see him."

Sharing the starting backfield duties with Brown on Saturday was fullback Gideon Ajagbe, another forgotten redshirt junior who credits an offseason switch from linebacker with providing his first chance at playing time. He cashed in with his first career touchdown, a wide-open 4-yard pass from Jeff Driskel.

To hear Ajagbe tell it, he was simply the next man up, as Florida limited the playing time of incumbent starter Hunter Joyer, who is dealing with a pulled hamstring.

"It was fun. It was cool," Ajagbe said of the pregame locker-room scene where so many new players were slated for more prominent roles. "I know everybody was jacked up for it."

When the players line up to come out of the tunnel during Florida's pregame introductions, the starters get to lead the way. Of all the new faces at the front of the line, Brown might have been the most emotional.

"You lose a lot of confidence over the years, not playing," he said. "The last time I started was my senior year of high school.

"I had tears in my eyes. I felt like I was useless the last couple of years."

Not Saturday. With a man down, Jones and other Gators manned up.

Gators fall camp preview

July, 31, 2013
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Ronald PowellJoe Robbins/Getty ImagesAfter missing all of the 2012 season with a torn ACL, Ronald Powell is ready to return to the Gators. He was the No. 1 overall recruit in the 2010 ESPN 150.

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

[+] EnlargeTyler Moore
Brad Barr/US PresswireTyler Moore made four starts on the offensive line at Nebraska as a true freshman. He is battling Chaz Green to be the Gators' right tackle.
Right tackle: Chaz Green, who has started 18 games in his career and 10 last season, sat out spring practice after undergoing offseason ankle surgery. Tyler Moore, a Nebraska transfer, took all the first-team reps and heads into camp with a slight lead. The 6-foot-5, 315-pound Moore has 10 pounds on Green, which isn’t a big deal. What is, however, is the fact that Green has missed six games over the past two seasons because of injuries. The loser of the battle will still get a lot of playing time in the Gators’ jumbo package.

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.
During the summer, GatorNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Florida roster -- excluding the Gators’ 2013 recruiting class -- in our Gator Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Quinton Dunbar, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 97 Brad Phillips.

No. 41 Hunter Joyer
Junior fullback

During the summer, GatorNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Florida roster -- excluding the Gators’ 2013 recruiting class -- in our Gator Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Quinton Dunbar, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 97 Brad Phillips.

No. 29 Rhaheim Ledbetter
Redshirt freshman fullback

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During the summer, GatorNation will analyze each of the scholarship players on the Florida roster -- excluding the Gators’ 2013 recruiting class -- in our Gator Breakdown series. Starting with No. 1 Quinton Dunbar, we will go through the roster numerically, finishing with No. 97 Brad Phillips.

No. 25 Gideon Ajagbe
Redshirt junior fullback


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Not everybody can get on the field right away. Some players take longer than others to develop.

Florida signed 23 players in 2012 and several made an immediate impact: offensive tackle D.J. Humphries, defensive linemen Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr., and linebacker Antonio Morrison were Freshmen All-SEC. Others, however, didn’t get a single snap of playing time.

Here’s how we see the rest of the class shaping up:

Top of the class


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida released a post-spring depth chart on Wednesday. There were no big surprises, although seeing running back Mack Brown behind Matt Jones and ahead of Kelvin Taylor did earn a raised eyebrow.

Here’s the breakdown:

Offense

LT: D.J. Humphries (6-5, 285, So.)/Trenton Brown (6-8, 363, Jr.)

LG: Max Garcia (6-4, 307, RJr.)/Ian Silberman (6-5, 290, RJr.)

C: Jonotthan Harrison (6-3, 303, RSr.) /Kyle Koehne (6-5, 314, RSr.)

RG: Jon Halapio (6-3, 317, RSr.)/Trip Thurman (6-5, 313, RSo.)

RT: Tyler Moore (6-5, 315, RSo.) OR Chaz Green (6-5, 305, RJr.)

TE: Clay Burton (6-4, 247, Jr.)/Tevin Westbrook (6-5, 258, Jr.) OR Colin Thompson (6-4, 250, RFr.) OR Kent Taylor (6-5, 223, So.)

RB: Matt Jones (6-2, 228, So.)/Mack Brown (5-11, 215, RJr.)

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Spring football may be over, but there's still plenty going on at GatorNation.

Miss anything from the past week? Here's your chance to catch up:

Some position battles got a little clearer (running back) while some got murkier (safety) during Florida's 15 spring practices. Here's where things stand heading into August practices in terms of the depth chart on offense and defense.

One of the positions that is settled is fullback, where Hunter Joyer remains the starter. But he has some help behind him in Gideon Ajagbe and Rhaheim Ledbetter, both of whom were moved over from defense. Finding fullback recruits in the future isn't going to be easy for UF coach Will Muschamp, so he may have to do more moving around.

Florida also has a new special teams coordinator with the hiring of Jeff Choate.

SEC blogger Edward Aschoff spent some time on campus this week. He wrote about buck Ronald Powell's humility after his knee surgeries and shot video interviews with Powell, Jonotthan Harrison, Matt Jones and Jeff Driskel.

On the recruiting trail ...

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel is searching for a new safety net.
With tight end Jordan Reed, the Gators’ leading receiver last season, headed for the NFL, Driskel has to find someone else upon whom he can rely for a sure completion and positive yardage.

Offensive coordinator Brent Pease wants him to start looking at the guys lined up beside and behind him.

Pease said the Gators’ running backs were not used enough in the passing game last season. Not counting Trey Burton and Omarius Hines -- who were utility players who lined up in the backfield as well as at tight end and receiver -- UF’s backs last season combined to catch just 26 passes for 186 yards and one touchdown.

(Read full post)

Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 13, 2013
3/13/13
5:12
PM ET
Schedule: The Gators open spring practice today at 4:30 p.m. ET and will conclude the spring with their annual Orange & Blue Debut on April 6 at 1 p.m. ET inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

What's new: Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn left to become the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. Will Muschamp then promoted D.J. Durkin from linebackers/special teams coach to defensive coordinator. Brad Lawing was hired away from South Carolina to help coach Florida's defensive line and was given the title of assistant head coach. Interim wide receivers coach Bush Hamdan was replaced by former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips.

On the mend: Redshirt junior offensive lineman Chaz Green will miss all of spring after undergoing ankle surgery following Florida's bowl game. Redshirt junior defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell will also miss the spring while he continues to rehab his ACL injury that he suffered last spring. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Ian Silberman is out for the spring, as he recovers from shoulder surgery that he had before the bowl game. Freshman linebacker Matt Rolin is also out, recovering from ACL surgery. Senior offensive lineman Jon Halapio (knee scope), senior wide receiver Solomon Patton (broken arm), redshirt junior linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) and punter Kyle Christy (shoulder) will all be limited this spring.

On the move: Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy will start the first seven practices at the "Z" receiver spot. Redshirt freshman Quinteze Williams moved from defensive tackle to offensive tackle. Sophomore Antonio Morrison moved from Will to Mike linebacker, while redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor has moved from Mike to Will. Redshirt freshman Rhaheim Ledbetter moved from safety to fullback. Redshirt junior Gideon Ajagbe also moved from linebacker to fullback. Redshirt junior Cody Riggs has moved from cornerback to safety, where he's listed as a starter.

Question marks: Heading into the spring, the biggest questions remain on offense, where the Gators were incredibly inconsistent last year. Workhorse running back Mike Gillislee is gone, and while the Gators should feature a stable of running backs this fall, throwing the ball has to improve or this offense will go in reverse. Quarterback Jeff Driskel says he's more confident and offensive coordinator Brent Pease expects to open things up more in the passing game, but the Gators also have to get better protection up front and develop some more reliable receivers and replace top target, tight end Jordan Reed. Florida's defense has a lot of experienced youngsters, but it won't be easy to replace the production that guys like Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam and Jon Bostic had last year. Florida is also looking for someone to replace kicker Caleb Sturgis. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin and senior Brad Phillips will compete for that spot.

New faces: Rolin, running back Kelvin Taylor, linebackers Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian, defensive lineman Joey Ivie, and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson all enrolled early as true freshmen. Florida also welcomed Nebraska offensive lineman transfer Tyler Moore (sophomore) and junior college transfer Darius Cummings (DT). Offensive lineman Max Garica also transferred from Maryland and sat out last season.

Key battle: Florida has to find a reliable receiving target at either tight end or receiver. The athletic Kent Taylor figures to be the favorite at tight end, but he'll have to compete with Colin Thompson, Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook. At receiver, it's a free-for-all, and there isn't a ton of experience. Purifoy will certainly get his shot, but vets Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose have to make significant strides. So does rising sophomore Latroy Pittman, who fell off last year after a successful spring. Sophomore Raphael Andrades will be back and forth between football and baseball, while Patton will be limited. Keep an eye on Robinson, who was the top receiver in the Gators' 2013 class and is a downfield threat and someone who can be elusive through the middle of the field.

Breaking out: Florida needs to replace Gillislee, and sophomore Matt Jones has already had a solid offseason, according to coaches. He progressed as last season went on and has both speed and strength to work with. The plan is for him to be a 20-plus-carry player this fall. Morrison's role now expands, and after having a very solid freshman year, even more is expected from him now that he's at the Mike. If he improves his coverage ability, he could be a big-time player for the Gators. Also, keep an eye on junior safety Jabari Gorman. He covers a lot of ground and isn't afraid to play in the box.

Don't forget about: Ball and Riggs have dealt with injuries in the past, but as they get healthy, Florida's coaches are excited about what they could do in 2013. Ball will play some Buck and provides Florida with another solid third-down pass-rusher and should help the Gators put more pressure on opposing backfields this fall. Riggs played in just two games last year before fracturing his foot, but he's a very physical defensive back. With his speed, moving to safety should provide him a chance to make more plays in Florida's secondary. He was also the starter at safety when Elam went to nickel last year.

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