- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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Schedule: Florida opens spring practice Wednesday afternoon and concludes on April 7 with the Orange & Blue Debut, presented by Sunniland, at 1 p.m. ET in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. In conjunction with Florida Football's Annual Coaches Clinic, practice will open to the public twice -- March 16 and March 17.
What's new: Florida welcomes in new offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who left Boise State, as its new offensive coordinator after Charlie Weis left to become the head coach at Kansas. Florida also hired former Utah offensive line coach Tim Davis to replace Frank Verducci, while Jeff Dillman replaces Mickey Marrotti as the Gators' strength and conditioning coach.
On the mend: Florida will be down a few players this spring. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley is out while he recovers from an ACL injury he suffered at the end of the regular season. Cornerback Jeremy Brown is out with a knee injury that kept him out all of the 2011 season. Offensive linemen Ian Silberman, Tommy Jordan, Kyle Koehne and Cole Gilliam, along with linebacker Lerentee McCray and defensive end Kedric Johnson, are all out with shoulder injuries. Cornerback Marcus Roberson (neck) was cleared for non-contact drills. Linebacker Neiron Ball, who was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation after a blood vessel burst in his head before the 2011 season, has been cleared to resume physical activity, but not for practice.
On the move: Redshirt senior Omarius Hines is moving from wide receiver to cross train at running back and tight end. Hines has always been some sort of a hybrid player, recording 41 career receptions for 559 yards and two touchdowns and carrying the ball 13 times for 164 rushing yards and two more scores. Nick Alajajian is moving from offensive tackle to defensive tackle to provide depth with Easley out.
Questions: The major question on the minds of fans in Gainesville is what will happen at the quarterback spot. Now that John Brantley is gone, Florida will be working with rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy this spring. One of those three will be Florida's starter this fall, and after what people saw last year from Brissett and Driskel, there's a bit of an uneasy feeling in Gainesville. Florida is also looking to replace running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Senior-to-be Mike Gillislee enters the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, with Mack Brown behind him. Gillislee has played some in the past, while Brown has barely seen the field as a running back. Wide receiver and the offense line also have their own issues. Florida returns four starters up front, but this group struggled significantly last season. Keep an eye on early enrollees D.J. Humphries and Jessamen Dunker. Florida has a handful of receivers, but none are proven and none return with more than 16 catches from last season.
Key battle: If Florida's offense wants to take any steps forward, the Gators have to figure out their quarterback situation. Brissett enters spring with the most experience of the trio, but people around Florida believe he and Driskel are pretty even when it comes to physical ability. The difference right now seems to be that Brissett has more of an edge to him and more confidence. And he did pass Driskel on the depth chart last year. Murphy is pretty athletic, but in his two years on campus he has yet to take a collegiate snap, so he is clearly behind the other two. Pease is a quarterbacks coach, so one of his biggest jobs will be improving the play of all three of these players. One needs to step up and separate himself as both a player and a leader heading into summer workouts.
Don't forget about: Safety Matt Elam might be Florida's best defensive player and he's talented enough to put himself in the conversation as one of the top defensive backs in the SEC. In his first year as a starter at strong safety, Elam was second on the team with 78 tackles and was first with 11 tackles for loss. He also had two sacks, broke up seven passes and recorded two interceptions. Elam plays both the run and the deep ball well. He's turning into a true leader of Florida's defense and is primed for a real breakout season in 2012.
Breaking out: Tight end Jordan Reed was supposed to be one of Florida's top offensive weapons last season, but injuries and poor offensive execution hurt him in 2011. Now that he's healthy and he has young quarterbacks lining up, Reed could get a lot of attention this spring. Don't expect these quarterbacks to go deep much, so they'll have to rely on Reed underneath. Gillislee has shown flashes here and there, but has yet to put everything together. One moment he's running over players, the next he's yanked for poor blocking. Now, he enters spring as the guy at running back and with a bulk of the reps coming his way, Gillislee should be able to do a little more this time around.
All eyes on: Pease has a lot to do in such a short amount of time this spring. He'll be adding a few of his own wrinkles to Florida's offense, but don't expect him to change too much of the offensive terminology. Making things easy will be crucial as he attempts to fix Florida's offensive issues, starting with the quarterback position. The good news is that younger players tend to take to coaching a little better than vets. This is a chance for some reinvention on offense for the Gators, but it will start with Pease's coaching. Weis seemed to struggle a lot last season with communicating his messages to Florida's offensive players. Pease can't have that issue this spring. Everything has to clear and concise for Florida's offense.
7hDavid Ching and Edward Aschoff