Friday, April 8, 2011
Exiting the spring: Florida
By Edward Aschoff
Spring game: 12 p.m. ET Saturday on Sun Sports
QB John Brantley has taken to Florida's new pro-style attack.
Questions answered: One of the biggest questions for the Gators wasn’t how they’d perform on the field this spring; it was how they would gel with a new coaching staff. After losing Urban Meyer, who won two national championships during his six-year tenure, Florida welcomed in former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp. The hard-nosed coach, with deep ties to the Southeast, and his band of assistants with mounds of NFL coaching experience have made a positive impression on the Gators. Most of the attitude issues that plagued the 2010 season seem to have been washed away with the new staff in charge. Florida also found its quarterback this spring. John Brantley, who enters his final season in Gainesville, never really adapted to the spread offense and was near the bottom of the barrel in statistics in the SEC last season. With Charlie Weis running Florida’s new pro-style offense, Brantley has shined this spring. Not only is he more comfortable on the field but he’s becoming more of a vocal leader.
Questions unanswered: With injuries, the young offensive line is still a mystery. At one point, the Gators were working with seven total bodies on the line, including walk-ons. There have been a few position changes, so these players will need more time to work together before really getting comfortable playing alongside each other. Injuries also decimated Florida’s running game. Florida lacked a true big back for most of Meyer’s time with the Gators, so this spring was key to finding a back who could sustain the pounding that comes in a pro-style offense. The small, yet extremely shifty Chris Rainey enters the spring game as the only healthy scholarship running back. However, both of Florida’s bigger running backs have been hobbled. True freshman Mack Brown broke his fibula and will be out for three months, while Mike Gillislee was bothered by a stress facture. Also, early enrollee Mike Blakely missed all of spring after having shoulder surgery before practice even started. Florida also leaves spring wondering who will step up at receiver this season. There are plenty of options, but none have consistently shown the ability to be All-SEC material.
Spring stars: Defensive end Ronald Powell was the top prospect in the 2010 class, but he didn’t adjust to college life fast enough. Now, Powell insists he’s a changed man and is buying more into Florida’s program. He’s excelled at the new “Buck” position, where he’ll play with his hand in the dirt off the edge or stand up and rush or drop back into coverage. Also making a major jump from his freshman season is defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Another freshman who had a troublesome first year, Easley has become one of Florida’s most dominant defensive linemen this spring. Offensively, Rainey has been a stud. Muschamp has constantly praised Rainey’s work ethic and practice performances, while linebackers Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins both agreed Rainey has been the toughest player to get a hold of this spring. Tight end Jordan Reed, who was a part of Florida’s three-headed quarterback disaster, has been the most consistent guy catching passes. While he was arguably the most successful at quarterback, he’s moved back to tight end and has been one of Brantley’s favorite targets, prompting Brantley to call him one of Florida’s biggest offensive weapons.
Of note: Running back Jeff Demps has participated in both the indoor and outdoor track season, causing him to miss all of Florida’s spring football practice. Muschamp wasn’t upset and seems excited to work with Demps and his national championship time of 6.53 in the 60-meter dash. … Offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison, whose only career start came at left tackle, moved from left guard to center this spring. … Center Nick Alajajian will need three months to recover from a knee injury he suffered this spring. … Starting cornerback Janoris Jenkins missed all of spring after having shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum he played with through most of last season. Moses Jenkins, Jeremy Brown and Cody Riggs have all shared time at the starting cornerback spots this spring. … Freshman Ian Silberman moved from right tackle to left guard this spring and will remain there permanently. … Other freshmen on the move include 6-foot-5, 315-pound Leon Orr moving from offensive tackle to defensive tackle and former corner Josh Shaw is now working out at safety.