SEC: Brian Poole

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Before Saturday's Alabama-Florida game, Amari Cooper and Vernon Hargreaves III acted no different. Both players kept to themselves, showing no emotion despite the magnitude of the game. There was no trash talking when they lined up across from each other on that first play. There was a sense of respect.

[+] EnlargeAmari Cooper
AP Photo/Brynn AndersonAlabama's Amari Cooper got the best of the personal matchup with Florida's Vernon Hargreaves III, but both played well.
It was no different after the game. Cooper finished with 10 catches for 201 yards and three touchdowns, clearly winning the individual matchup, but there to congratulate him afterward was Hargreaves. It didn't matter that Hargreaves was banged up and missed the final eight minutes. He knew he was facing one of the nation's best.

"He just said, 'Good game. You played great," Cooper told reporters after the game. "He's a very humble player. You can tell he comes from a good family.”

Looking back, both played well. Cooper is obviously on another level and showed why he's the better of the two, but Hargreaves didn't have a bad game despite what the stats might indicate.

Alabama found ways to move its top receiver around before the snap and match him up against somebody other than Hargreaves. On two separate plays in the first half, Cooper lined up in the slot with Hargreaves playing outside. The first play went for 37 yards, the second for 79 yards and a touchdown.

When the two were matched up in clear one-on-one situations, Cooper had five catches for 51 yards and one of his three touchdowns. His last score came with Florida's top cornerback on the sideline.

After the game, Alabama coach Nick Saban was complimentary of both.

“Coop did a great job in the game,” Saban said. “We have a lot of respect for their No. 1 guy [Hargreaves]. He is a very good player. But when you have matchups like that with two good players and you analyze the whole thing, both guys will end up making some plays.”

VH3 draws first blood: On its first play from scrimmage, Alabama used Cooper as a decoy and threw a long touchdown to Kenyan Drake on the other side. The next time the Tide got the ball, they ran to Hargreaves' side, and he was ready. Both he and safety Marcus Maye helped strip the ball from Drake, and Hargreaves was the one to recover it before going out of bounds. For the most part, Hargreaves played well against the run and finished with six tackles including one for a loss.

Cooper gets behind defense: How do you leave the SEC's best wide receiver wide open for a 79-yard touchdown pass? It came down to simple miscommunication. Cooper lined up in the slot with Hargreaves on the outside and Florida running zone coverage. The Alabama wide receiver took off on a go route, and because of a mix-up between defensive backs Brian Poole and Keanu Neal, the entire Gators defense had to watch as Cooper caught what might have been the easiest touchdown of his college career. It was simple pitch and catch.

The touchdown that wasn't: Cooper might have had four touchdowns Saturday if not for an offensive pass interference called against him in the third quarter. It was Cooper against Hargreaves, one-on-one, and the Alabama wide receiver gave a little shove before turning around and catching the ball. Once he caught it, he showed off his moves and maneuvered his way through traffic to find the end zone, but it all went for naught. Cooper caught another long pass with Hargreaves draped on him that was called back due to illegal formation.

Cooper shows why he's elite: If there was one play the NFL scouts will turn to when evaluating Cooper, it was his touchdown grab late in the third quarter. Backup quarterback Jake Coker had checked into the game, and it was once again one-on-one with Hargreaves, the matchup everybody wanted to see. Cooper ran a fade to the back of the end zone, and with the ball at its highest point, he went up and simply took it away from Hargreaves, who had good position on the play. It didn't matter who was throwing it. It didn't matter who was covering him. Cooper was catching that ball.

Advantage: Cooper

Plays that changed OT: Kentucky-Florida

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
2:57
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida came into Saturday night's game a heavy favorite against a Kentucky program that hadn't won in Gainesville since 1979. The Gators exited with a win by slimmest of margins.

Don't let 36-30 score fool you. Kentucky took Florida to the brink time after time.

Here were the three biggest plays in overtime:

1. Buzzer beater

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In the first overtime it was do or die for the Gators after Kentucky's Stanley Williams got the Wildcats a seven-point lead with his brilliant reverse-the-field TD. Facing a fourth-and-7 at the UK 9-yard line and without a timeout, Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel frantically got the offense lined up as the play clock dwindled to single digits. Did Florida get the ball off before the clock struck zero? UK coach Mark Stoops didn't think so, but the officials allowed the play, which saw Driskel float a perfect pass over Demarcus Robinson's left shoulder for the touchdown that gave new life to the Gators.

Driskel: "First of all, I wanted to make sure we were aligned, not aligned properly but aligned legally. We've been though situations like that where there's not enough time to really get organized. You've got to call it at the line and make sure everybody's on the same page. I think we did a good job of getting legal, and obviously D-Rob making a play. I think the offensive line did a good job when they heard me really clapping and saying, 'Let's go. Let's go.' And Max [Garcia] did a good job of getting the ball to me quick. ... It was exciting. That's the kind of plays that you live for, especially when you make them. Obviously easy to say that now. But you can't let the situation be too big. You've got to just go out and play football, and we were lucky enough to get the ball off and execute."

UF coach Will Muschamp: "I certainly know that our officials would have blown that dead on us if it had not gotten it off in time. Jeff took the ball to the right spot and Demarcus went up and made a nice play."

Robinson: "Aw man, I was kind of expecting the ball but I just wanted Driskel to give me a chance to make a play. ... I definitely was nervous."

2. Missed opportunity

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Florida started the second overtime period on offense and called the right play on third-and-goal from the UK 3. Driskel had Robinson wide open on a drag route but pulled the trigger too late. A touchdown might have been the game-winner, but instead Florida settled for a field goal. The Gators defense had to hold the Wildcats to three points to force a third overtime.

Driskel: "I just thought that we were getting a different coverage than we did. I should have taken the flat early. I got my eyes back inside, and when I got back out to Demarcus it was a little too late. I gave him a shot. You know, I missed that one. But we lived to play the next play."

Robinson: "I did get a little frustrated because I saw I got open. He looked at me, so I thought he was going to throw it to me off the bat. But he hesitated a little bit."

Muschamp: "He should have hit him earlier in the down. There's no question. Absolutely. A lot of times on that sort of route combination, sometimes the picker comes free. I don't know, I haven't talked to Jeff specifically about the play other than I just told him, 'Hey, we had the guy open earlier, let's go put the ball in.' and we should have."

3. Defense saves the day

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Kentucky started the third overtime on offense and had to pass on third-and-9 from the Florida 24. Cats quarterback Patrick Towles lofted a pass into the end zone for 6-foot-3 Dorian Baker, who was being blanketed by Florida corner Brian Poole, who stands 5-10. Poole and Baker went up and got their hands on the ball at the same time. Baker stayed with it and the ball fell to his left shoulder pad but slipped away as he fell to the turf. Kentucky missed a 41-yard field goal, which set up the Gators' game-winning touchdown.

Muschamp: "Brian made a huge play on the third down in the third overtime to knock the ball off the guy. I mean, that's a 50-50 ball. I know from the stands that looks easy. That's a really hard thing."

Poole: "I feel like I had an opportunity to make a play and I just made the play. It was just do or die. I just had to make a play for my team. I was calm the whole time. We practice those situations every day in practice, so when the game comes it's easy."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- For every Florida player who lived through that miserable 4-8 season in 2013 there is a personal tale of turbulence. None was more bumpy than that of Matt Jones.

Then a sophomore running back, Jones was expected to excel in the Gators' pro-style offense. Privately, coaches and teammates expressed optimism that Jones might be one of the SEC's best backs.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel, Matt Jones
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesFlorida running back Matt Jones has learned to embrace last season's setbacks and is hitting the field with renewed vigor.
Then a viral infection cost him all of preseason camp. Not long after he came back, he was out again -- this time for the season -- with torn cartilage in his knee.

"It was just like a roller coaster ride," Jones said. "You go up, you go down and you just never come back up. It was like one of those type of rides. Definitely not a good one.

"I got sick. I was in the hospital for eight days. I played three games. Going out in the LSU game and getting hurt in the first couple of plays. I mean, it was all just bad news last year."

Everyone -- coach Will Muschamp, his assistants and the players -- saw the dismay in Jones after the knee injury. A normally ebullient kid was "way down."

"He really struggled early on with it when it first happened," Muschamp said.

After the knee injury, the first three games that Jones was out -- against Missouri, Georgia and Vanderbilt -- were particularly hard.

With roommate Brian Poole, a junior defensive back, on the road with the team, Jones was alone in their off-campus apartment. He couldn't put pressure on his leg for six weeks, which made it difficult to take care of himself and do the simplest things.

Just getting around the apartment was a grueling ordeal, so Jones crutched over to the kitchen to get all the meals, drinks and snacks he needed to watch the entire football game. Then he had to sit through something just as painful -- loss after loss after loss.

"It was definitely hard just seeing my team play, knowing I couldn't be out there contributing to the team," he said. "I couldn't do anything about it. Absolutely nothing.

"It was hard for me just sitting back on my bed, having to watch the game on TV because I can't crutch out there. It was just bad, man."

It was a dark time for the Gators and a dark time for Jones, who most often chose to deal with the pain, the losses and the helplessness on his own.

"You don't want to call someone out of their way to help you," Jones said, "so I just dealt with it myself."

He did a lot of thinking, a lot of praying, a lot of reflecting on life. He got humble. When he got back on the field, Jones' new attitude was one of appreciation.

"I just learned to go every play hard," He said. "I know that one play could knock your whole career off."

Jones now says he's glad he went through it all, and he knows exactly how his problems in 2013 went from bad to worse. He didn't have his strength back after the infection and gave in to his eagerness to play.

"It happened for a reason, and I look back at it now as motivation," he said. "I definitely learned from it. I learned the hard way that you've got to wait until you're 100 percent to get on the field.

"You've got to come back when you're 110 percent sometimes."

After missing the spring, Jones attacked Florida's preseason camp with renewed vigor. He relished every run, every broken tackle, every hit. Especially the hits. Those made him smile and reflect on how far he's come.

"I feel good right now," he said. "I'm up to 235 [pounds]. I feel fast. I feel stronger.

"I feel 110 percent."

Time to for a comeback.
Today, we continue our break down of each position group in the SEC by looking at an area of defense that has a lot to prove after last season.

We’re talking, of course, about the secondaries.

Maybe it was that they were young and inexperienced. Maybe it was a case of so many quarterbacks being the opposite. But whatever it was, the league’s defensive backs should have a chip on their shoulder after the beating they took in 2013.

With that said, let’s dig into which programs are poised to rebound and sport the best secondaries in the league.

Secondary position rankings

[+] EnlargeCody Prewitt
Michael Chang/Getty ImagesOle Miss safety Cody Prewitt is the leader of an experienced, talented Rebels secondary.
1. Ole Miss: Talent and experience. Both are worth their weight in gold, and Ole Miss has loads of each. We’re probably not giving anything away when we say that both Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner will make the list of the league’s top 10 safeties later today. Prewitt led the league in interceptions last season, and Conner, a former four-star recruit, has barely scratched the surface on what he can do. Trae Elston and Senquez Golson, meanwhile, are potential impact players, along with Mike Hilton and Derrick Jones. If C.J. Hampton lives up to the hype, he could be a true freshman to keep an eye on.

2. Florida: The Gators have plenty of issues. Defensive back is not one of them, however. Despite losing Cody Riggs to transfer and Loucheiz Purifoy, Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson to the NFL, Florida has plenty of talent remaining in the secondary. Only a sophomore, Vernon Hargreaves III is arguably the best corner in the SEC. If either Jalen Tabor or Duke Dawson emerges opposite him, you’re talking about a good one-two punch. And with three experienced safeties to lean on -- Jabari Gorman, Marcus Maye and Brian Poole -- coach Will Muschamp should like what he sees from the secondary as a whole.

3. LSU: Getting Jalen Mills to safety would have been huge. But with his status up in the air, LSU must move on. It's still DBU -- Defensive Back University -- and thankfully for coach Les Miles, he’s got plenty more to work with. Ronald Martin has experience at safety, along with Corey Thompson, who missed the spring with an injury. At corner, LSU is in good shape with Tre'Davious White and Rashard Robinson in position to start, not to mention Jalen Collins, a former Freshman All-SEC choice in 2012. And since this is LSU and someone always emerges from nowhere, be sure to keep an eye on Jamal Adams. The former No. 2-rated safety in the ESPN 300 didn't enroll early but should have every chance to play as a true freshman. If Mills is able to return and some the young talent on LSU's roster develops as expected, the Tigers could have an argument for the top secondary in the league.

4. Alabama: Talent and experience. Alabama has one but not the other, and you can probably guess which. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Vinnie Sunseri and Deion Belue are all gone. That fourth spot in the secondary? It was never settled to begin with. Getting Landon Collins back at safety, however, is huge, as the former five-star prospect has All-SEC potential. But who starts opposite him is up in the air with Nick Perry coming off an injury, Jarrick Williams entrenched at nickel corner/star and Laurence "Hootie" Jones early in his development. At corner, Alabama’s hopes are pinned to two freshmen -- Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey -- along with a slew of unproven prospects such as Maurice Smith, Jonathan Cook and Bradley Sylve.

5. Mississippi State: Dan Mullen loves his defense heading into this season, and considering what he has at defensive back it’s easy to see why. The Bulldogs are in the enviable position of having five legitimate SEC-caliber players at both safety and cornerback. Jamerson Love and Taveze Calhoun are two rock-solid corners, and Will Redmond is a good third off the bench. Kendrick Market and Deontay Evans might start at safety today, but Jay Hughes is back from injury and Justin Cox could very well be the most talented of the bunch after transitioning from corner this spring.

6. Auburn: The Tigers secondary was atrocious for most of last season, surrendering 260.2 passing yards per game through Jan. 1 (No. 104 nationally). Really, it wasn’t until the BCS title game that we saw some fight out of them. So was that first half against Florida State a mirage or a glimpse of the future? Defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson has to hope it’s the latter. With Jonathon Mincy at corner, Jermaine Whitehead at safety and Robenson Therezie playing the star, he’s got some experienced parts to build around. Meanwhile, juco transfer Derrick Moncrief has the look of an impact player at safety. If Joshua Holsey is back to 100 percent, Johnson will have a better deck of cards to play with than last season.

7. Georgia: The good news is that the two main culprits from last season’s heartbreaking loss to Auburn -- Tray Matthews and Josh Harvey-Clemons -- are gone. The bad news is that those same players were expected to start this season. Throw in the loss of Shaq Wiggins and you’re looking at Georgia, under new defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt, essentially starting over in the secondary. It’s not all bad, though. There might not be much depth at cornerback, but veteran Damian Swann is a good place to start. And the same can be said of safety, where Corey Moore and Quincy Mauger have some experience.

8. Tennessee: The Volunteers have one of the deeper secondaries in the SEC, returning all four starters, but it’s a group that received its fair share of criticism last season after giving up 283 yards per game. There’s still talent back there, though, with safety Brian Randolph and cornerback Cameron Sutton. In particular, Randolph led the team in interceptions (4) and finished second in tackles (75), and though he missed the majority of spring due to injury, he’s expected back for fall camp. At cornerback, freshman Emmanuel Moseley arrived in January and could make a push for playing time after a strong spring.

9. South Carolina: You have to fear the unknown if you’re a Gamecocks fan. Brison Williams is a solid safety, but both of your starting corners from last season -- Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree -- are gone, and the senior you expected to be starting by now, Kadetrix Marcus, is trailing sophomore Chaz Elder on the depth chart. Rico McWilliams, the corner with the most returning experience, isn’t even a sure thing to start. A redshirt freshman, Ali Groves, is in line to start at the second cornerback spot, but keep an eye on two talented true freshmen who could play early: Wesley Green and Chris Lammons.

[+] EnlargeDeshazor Everett
AP Photo/Bob LeveyDeshazor Everett has all-conference potential, but the Texas A&M secondary is filled with question marks.
10. Texas A&M: The Aggies return plenty of experience in the secondary this season. That's good in the sense that they have a defensive backfield with a lot of SEC football under its belt but make no mistake, this unit has a lot of room for improvement. Cornerback Deshazor Everett is the best player of the group and could be headed for an all-conference season, while junior corner De'Vante Harris continues to grow as a player. The safeties -- Howard Matthews, Floyd Raven and Clay Honeycutt -- must show improvement this season after last year's performance. The nickel position is open and a number of candidates could step in, including sophomore Noel Ellis or junior Devonta Burns.

11. Missouri: Much of the attention has been paid to reloading on the defensive line after the departures of Kony Ealy and Michael Sam, but Missouri should be fine there. The real concern, however, is the secondary, as three of last year’s starters (E.J. Gaines, Randy Ponder and Matt White) are gone. Getting Braylon Webb back at safety is huge, but he’ll need help. Ian Simon and Duron Singleton should vie for the second safety spot, and John Gibson and Aarion Penton are two of the more experienced options at corner. The wild card in all of this, though, is an incoming class that featured seven defensive backs.

12. Kentucky: With two of the better pass rushers in the league, one would think that Kentucky could force the opposing quarterback into throwing some interceptions. That didn’t happen last season. The Wildcats were dead last in the SEC with just three interceptions. Mark Stoops and his staff are hoping to turn that around this season, and they have plenty of capable bodies to work with on the back end. All four starters are back, five if you include nickel back Blake McClain -- who was third on the team in tackles as a freshman -- and junior college transfer A.J. Stamps might be the most talented defensive back on the roster.

13. Arkansas: Depth is going to be a concern for new secondary coach Clay Jennings, who is stressing turnovers this spring after the Razorbacks came in dead last in that category in the SEC in 2013. But in terms of front-line starters, he’s got some experience to work with, as every projected starter at safety and corner is a junior or senior. The most reliable of the bunch is safety Alan Turner, who led the team in tackles last season and should continue to play a pivotal role on defense. Another one to watch is cornerback Tevin Mitchell. It wasn’t that long ago that the 6-foot senior was an SEC All-Freshman selection. For Arkansas to take the next step, he’ll need to fulfill the early promise of his career.

14. Vanderbilt: The Commodores were spoiled last season with four seniors starting in the secondary. You don’t replace the talent and experience of an Andre Hal and a Kenny Ladler overnight. And you certainly will have a hard time doing so when the entire coaching staff has changed. But such is new head coach Derek Mason’s task. The good news for him is that the cupboard wasn’t left entirely bare as the entire second string of the secondary -- Paris Head, Jahmel McIntosh, Andrew Williamson and Torren McGaster -- returns after having played in a combined 50 games last season.

Stock watch: Florida Gators

May, 2, 2014
May 2
2:00
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With spring practice fully digested, let's take a look at which Florida Gators' stock is up and who's on the way down.

RISING

[+] EnlargeDante Fowler Jr.
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsDante Fowler Jr. looks ready to terrorize SEC quarterbacks after a strong spring.
Dante Fowler Jr.: The hybrid defensive end/linebacker altered his diet and dropped some body fat before spring. He quickly proved to be Florida's most consistent pass-rushing threat and showed flashes of dominating offensive linemen. While Fowler became an obvious team leader off the field, it appeared that many of his teammates were in awe of his talents on the field.

Starting O-line: Junior left tackle D.J. Humphries shook off last season's struggles and looked more like the prospect who arrived at UF with elite status. Junior Tyler Moore looked comfortable at left guard and was largely recovered from a broken elbow. Senior Max Garcia consistently earned praise despite struggling with shotgun snaps in his transition to a new position. Senior Trenton Brown played well enough to force the coaches to find a starting spot for him at right guard. Senior right tackle Chaz Green held off Brown's challenge and showed that he's finally healthy after missing last season with a torn labrum.

Demarcus Robinson: The sophomore receiver was in the doghouse and suspended twice last year but came back with more maturity and focus this spring. His talent was so obvious in practice one teammate called him "a freak." A physical presence at 6-foot-2 with speed and vision, Robinson looks like UF's best chance for a breakout star in the passing game.

Bryan Cox Jr.: Going into spring, Florida didn't have much at the defensive end position beyond Fowler and junior Jonathan Bullard. Cox opened his coaches' eyes with a non-stop motor that always showed up in film review and allowed them to experiment with Bullard at tackle. Cox might not be a starter in the fall, but the sophomore assured himself a lot of playing time with his spring performance.

Adam Lane: The redshirt freshman isn't high up on the running back depth chart, but he excited coaches and teammates with his running style. At 5-7 and 222 pounds, Lane is built like a bowling ball. He doesn't have breakaway speed, but always seems to bounce off defenders and fall forward.

FALLING

Brian Poole: As one of the few upperclassmen in UF's secondary, Poole had an opportunity to grab the coveted starting job opposite Vernon Hargreaves III. Instead of standing out, however, he blended in with two true freshman competitors and could wind up back at the nickel cornerback position where he played last fall.

Caleb Brantley: Much is expected of the redshirt freshman who was one of the nation's top Class of 2013 prospects. Florida is urgently trying to develop some difference-makers on the D-line, but Brantley doesn't always respond well to coaching and his motor runs hot and cold.

Valdez Showers: It has been an adventurous few months for Showers, who converted from safety to running back last August and spent all of spring as a slot receiver. He showed he still needs to work on his hands and fell behind Latroy Pittman, but Showers can expect more chances and playing time this fall.

Antonio Riles: Position changes are rarely a good sign in college football, but it's still early for the redshirt freshman who moved from defensive tackle/end to offensive guard. Coaches and teammates say he's got natural ability to play the O-line, but this move might have more to do with Florida's incoming D-line talent.

Raphael Andrades: Already a junior despite hardly playing in 2013, the wide receiver surprised many by playing as a true freshman and even starting three games. But he has just two career receptions and is now buried deep on an expanding depth chart.

REBOUNDING

Austin Hardin: The sophomore kicker showed that he's not giving up his job without a fight. After working on his mechanics throughout the offseason, he was consistent in practice and hit all four of his field goals in the spring game. Hardin will have to fend off more competition in fall camp.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Nobody does optimism quite like a football team in springtime. Especially one with a lot to prove.

As Florida made its way through spring practice, a majority of players who spoke to the media predicted that 2014 will be a whole lot better than 2013. Even coach Will Muschamp got into the prognostication business.

"We’re going to have a good team next year," he said. "We just need to continue to progress."

Now that the Gators' spring practice is in the rear-view mirror, it's time to re-evaluate our spring predictions with the benefit of hindsight.

Prediction No. 1: Florida will have a whole new attitude

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsFlorida coach Will Muschamp was satisfied with the progress the Gators made in spring practice.
OK, so we started off with a softball. It wasn't much of a reach to say the Gators would change the "woe-is-me" tune that permeated through an awful 2013 season. Nevertheless, a new attitude was extremely important in setting the tone of spring practice, building team chemistry and creating an environment for learning and development.

Leaders who were projected to step forward, such as quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., actually did more than was expected. Fowler became an authority, at one point taking two teammates to task over academics. Driskel was a focal point, gathering his teammates before the spring game to spur them into action.

The biggest thing that Muschamp needed to see this spring was belief in the concept of the new offense. He got that and a more.

Prediction No. 2: Kurt Roper will lead an improved offense

This seemed to be another easy one to fulfill, as the Gators' offense really had nowhere to go but up.

The biggest surprise of the spring might have been how the offense looked on the first day of practice. It was fast-paced, generally well-executed and coherent in its design.

In Roper, Florida fans were promised a fresh offensive mind. Four weeks later, he might have been the biggest new star to emerge.

The best move Roper made was to simplify everything and make his offense easy to learn. Aside from designing and implementing a scheme that best suited the players, Roper also did well in coaching his new pupils. He was equal parts patient and assertive and quickly established himself as a respected authority figure.

Prediction No. 3: New leaders will emerge on defense

This kind of thing happens every year at Florida, where the defense produces NFL players like a factory assembly line.

[+] EnlargeTaylor
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLinebacker Michael Taylor aims to lead by example for the Florida defense.
The names might have been slightly off, but the final outcome was as expected. Fowler, Vernon Hargreaves III, Jabari Gorman, Michael Taylor and Jarrad Davis are the players to whom teammates look for tone-setting and guidance.

Taylor, a senior linebacker and a respected veteran, pointed out that UF had too much of the wrong kind of leadership in 2013. He and his defensive teammates did very little talking this spring and made few predictions. The emphasis is now on leading by example, so it's no surprise to see that all of Florida's aforementioned leaders are reliable performers.

There is an obvious air of confidence on this defense, despite a heavy dose of youth. Some of these guys are going into their fourth year in Muschamp's system, which has made players like Taylor practically into coaches on the field.

Prediction No. 4: Roper's offense will showcase the QBs

This one didn't fully bloom to fruition, as Florida focused on basic installation for most of the spring and then added more complexity late.

Driskel, a junior coming back from a broken leg, showed that he was both healthy and clearly ahead of his competition. Sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and freshman Will Grier split second-team reps. All three wore noncontact jerseys and were limited in the running game, which is likely to be the foundation of the offense.

It should also be noted that Muschamp is extremely cautious about revealing details of any new schemes to the public. The overall result was a pretty vanilla version of a no-huddle spread offense. In the spring game, however, each of the three QBs had their moments.

"I really have looked at Practice 1 to Practice 15," Muschamp said after Saturday's game. "Have those guys improved every day? Yes. I think the answer is yes. Those guys have made subtle and sometimes huge leaps of improvement."

Prediction No. 5: Spring standouts will emerge

Ugh. This happens every year. Some poor player lights it up and is crowned the star of spring practice ... only to never be heard from during the regular season.

There were a lot of names -- some hits and misses -- mentioned in our final prediction blog.

Running backs Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane were excellent in camp, but Florida might very well use four tailbacks this fall, which would greatly diminish the possibility of a star rising.

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Alvin Bailey was solid but unspectacular and did not climb the depth chart as predicted. He's behind at least six other wideouts.

Junior cornerback Brian Poole did not capitalize on his experience to pull away from his competition this spring. Young defensive backs Jalen Tabor, Nick Washington and Marcus Maye performed well, but the secondary remains unsettled heading into the summer.

Offensive linemen D.J. Humphries and Trenton Brown had very strong showings, and Brown did indeed move to guard, where he started the spring game.

The other side of the line was up and down. Fowler met everyone's expectations, but young reserve defensive tackles Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick were regularly pushed and prodded by coaches and teammates to improve their focus and stamina.

There was no singular star player this spring, and that could be a good thing.
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. -- There's a short list of true freshmen cornerbacks who have made instant impacts at Florida in recent years. And the success that Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins have had in the NFL has become a source of tremendous pride for the Gators.

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNFive-star cornerback Jalen Tabor has an opportunity to play immediately for the Gators.
Last season, Vernon Hargreaves III topped all of their accomplishments when he was named first-team All-SEC as a freshman.

Could another star be around the corner (pardon the pun) in 2014?

Coach Will Muschamp set the stage when he recruited two talented cornerbacks in the Gators' 2014 class and got them on campus as early enrollees. Now that spring practice is in full swing, they're already competing for the starting cornerback job opposite Hargreaves.

Jalen Tabor made a late switch to Florida from Arizona just before he arrived in January. Ranked the No. 11 overall prospect in the nation, Tabor came to the Gators with the same kind of elite pedigree as Hargreaves.

Duke Dawson had been committed to the Gators for a year when he showed up. And while he was ranked lower than Tabor in the ESPN 300 (No. 207), Dawson is no less a prime prospect in the eyes of his college coaches.

"[Tabor] and Duke Dawson both have been a quick study as far as the corner position is concerned," Muschamp said on Tuesday. "Both of them are going to be really good players. They've got to just continue.

"The willingness is there and the coachability is there with both guys. They're willing to be in the film room extra. They're willing to come up here after hours and meet with our coaches and go over things and go over schemes and watch film and learn from it. The one thing that I would say [is] that they both have a very similar ability as Vernon -- when you tell them once they get it. They don't make that mistake again."

After five practices, neither of the freshmen has looked out of place. They've won their share of battles and have been singled out for praise as well as criticism.

"Jalen's got really good length on the line of scrimmage," Muschamp said. "[He] needs to do a better job in his press technique staying on the line of scrimmage, getting his hands on people -- that's his strength. And Duke's a guy that's playing corner and nickel and right now is battling Brian Poole for the starting job at nickel."

Florida employs a lot of nickel defense using three cornerbacks. It's how Hargreaves and Poole were able to combine for 16 starts last season despite the presence of veteran cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. With those two skipping their senior seasons for the NFL draft, there are spots to fill.

Naturally Poole wants to take the next step in his career.

"Of course I want to start," said Poole, a junior who came to Florida with four-star status of his own. "I don't want to just say it's mine, but I'm working for it. It's pretty important to me because I just want to play every snap. I don't want to come on and off, on and off."

After missing just two of 25 games in his career, Poole says he's more comfortable than ever: "I don't have to learn what to do. I know what to do. Now it's just executing."

He expects his experience will give him the edge in the competition with Tabor and Dawson, but Poole still can't help being impressed with the newcomers.

"They're going to be really good," he said. "They're really learning the defense and starting to execute it well."

Well enough to start? Well enough to follow in the footsteps of Haden, Jenkins and Hargreaves?

Those are questions that will take several more months to answer.
It's not every day that a program can lose two future early-round draft picks at a position and still be in good shape. But that's exactly where Florida sits when it looks at the cornerback position.

Before the Gators could even start thinking about spring practice, they lost starters Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson to the NFL draft. Both had solid careers at Florida and have been viewed as a either first- or second-round draft picks in this year's NFL draft.

But coach Will Muschamp and his staff can breathe a collective sigh of relief when they take a look at their depth chart at the corner spot this spring and beyond. For starters, third-team All-American, freshman All-American and All-SEC stud Vernon Hargreaves III is back and could be viewed as the SEC's best returning cornerback in 2014.

[+] EnlargeJalen Tabor
Miller Safrit/ESPNFive-star CB Jalen Tabor, an early enrollee, is one reason that Florida shouldn't miss a beat in its secondary despite losing two starters to the NFL draft.
During his first year on campus, Hargreaves looked like the Gators' best corner more than a few times this season. He started the final 10 games of the season and finished the year with three interceptions and defended 14 passes, which ranked third in the league. His 11 pass breakups equaled the most by a true freshman in school history.

Hargreaves is a special talent who has the potential to be one of the nation's best cover corners this fall. So one side of the field is secured, but the Gators' corner talent goes far deeper than just Hargreaves. This is certainly not an empty cupboard in Gainesville.

Youngsters such as Brian Poole and Nick Washington give the Gators a good place to start, but veteran Cody Riggs, who played safety last season, could slide back down to corner again if needed. But it really doesn't end there for the Gators, either. ESPN 300 corners Jalen Tabor (five-star and No. 4-rated corner) and Duke Dawson (No. 16 corner) are already on campus and the early impressions are that both are doing well during offseason workouts.

Dawson had been committed to the Gators for a while before enrolling early, but getting Tabor was a major recruiting surprise. He originally committed to Arizona over Alabama at the Under Armour All-America Game earlier this month before flipping to Florida shortly after. At 6-1, 188 pounds, Tabor already has good size and bulk for the position. Tabor has all the talent to play immediately for the Gators this fall. He'll likely add a little more weight, but he's already a very physical cornerback and will definitely benefit from spring practice. As will Dawson, who is a quick-twitch guy and pretty rangy at the corner position.

Florida also has a commitment from ESPN 300 athlete J.C. Jackson, who could play either corner or receiver for the Gators. The thing Florida has to do is make sure he stays committed, as Miami is making a major run at him late.

Then, there's uncommitted five-star Adoree' Jackson, who is rated as the No. 9 player nationally. Florida is one of his finalists and he's another player who could play either side of the ball. Florida's coaches would likely let him play wherever he wants with his skill set. The Gators are near the top of his list, but it doesn't look like he'll take an official visit to Gainesville, making things pretty wide open until national signing day.

Losing two of their top defensive players in 2014 isn't ideal for the Gators, but they'll be able to start rebuilding once spring practice starts. And it could only get better when summer workouts start and fall practice rolls around.

For all the trouble the Gators had in 2013 and all the questions surrounding this team in 2014, it looks like cornerback won't be something Florida frets over this fall.
Every time the members of Florida's vaunted secondary take the field, they're in a constant competition with each other.

Whether it's counting interceptions, tackles, tipped passes or trash talk, Florida's secondary seems to always be playing its own game. Sure, they understand that every move could affect a play -- both positively or negatively -- but their never-ending competition makes them closer. And it makes them that much more dangerous to test.

"At the end of the day, that helps us get better," senior cornerback/safety Jaylen Watkins said.

[+] EnlargeVernon Hargreaves III
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCB Vernon Hargreaves III is coming off am All-SEC freshman season, and coaches say he can be even better this year.
Whether it's practice or a game, they are always looking to show the other one up. It's all in fun and it drives each one to play better because they know their spots aren't permanent. There's too much depth and talent, which Watkins said makes everything that much more fun.

With possible first-rounders for next year's NFL draft in cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson, the Gators own the SEC's top corner duo, but it doesn't stop there. Add freshman Vernon Hargreaves III, who might be the most talented pure corner on the team, and cross-training fourth-year safeties in Watkins and Cody Riggs, and this is quite a formidable starting defensive backfield. Florida can rotate eight quality guys in the secondary in each game.

Just check out some of these numbers for Florida's secondary:

  • Florida ranks first in the SEC in pass defense, allowing 157 yards a game;
  • Through three games, the Gators have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete just 44.3 percent of their passes and QBs average only 4.9 yards per attempt. Quarterbacks have a passer rating of 82.95, lowest in the nation, when facing Florida;
  • Florida has had an interception in six consecutive games, dating to last season;
  • Florida had seven pass breakups in last week's 31-17 victory over Tennessee, which matched the team’s total for the year entering the game and the most in a game since recording seven against South Carolina last year.

"We feel we are the best secondary in the country," Watkins said.

Five of Florida's six interceptions this season have come from the secondary, with Hargreaves leading the team with two picks. Watkins, who is second on the team with 12 tackles and has defended three passes this year, said he knew from the first day Hargreaves stepped on the practice field that he would be special. Watkins said his vertical jump blew everyone away, but it was the way he picked up the technique that had his veteran teammates turning their heads.

It took guys like Watkins weeks to get the positioning and technique down. Watkins said it only took Hargreaves "a few days."

"Once he got it, he looked like me, Marcus and Loucheiz at corner. There was no drop-off," Watkins said. "With Vernon coming in, that's just amazing because he allows me to go to safety and do a lot of different things. He's come in and stepped in and done everything the coaches have asked him. He's going to be a great player."

Now, this secondary isn't perfect. There was the 52-yard touchdown pass in the loss to Miami, and a thin secondary surrendered a late, 79-yard touchdown drive to Tennessee that ended with an 18-yard touchdown pass because of a blown assignment.

But as Watkins points out, with how aggressively this unit plays, those things can happen. It isn't always positioning or picking up men that hurts this secondary, Watkins said, it's eye control. And when you're aggressive, that can hurt you.

Watkins said coach Will Muschamp, who was a defensive back at Georgia, harps on eye control and the little things. He calls out minute details that his defensive backs miss. He'll even stop guys in the hall to tell him the exact mistake he made on the exact play.

It sounds like it could get annoying, but Watkins said Muschamp's hands-on approach with the secondary is a good learning tool.

"He takes pride in coaching the little things with us," Watkins said. "It's the really small things that can lead to something big. Eye control might not catch us one time, but it can also lead to a big play."

So far, the secondary has bounced back from big plays and each week brings more development. Playing at such a high level is made easier when the guys running the show are comfortable with all the working parts.

"We all trust each other at a higher level," Watkins said. "We all have good chemistry, no matter who's on the field."
Every year, players come and go in college football. With that teams can either grow or take steps back because of turnover.

It's time to check out Florida's strongest position and weakest position heading into the 2013 season:

Strongest position: Cornerback

The Gators are stacked at corner. Starters Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson have the potential to be All-SEC players and maybe even All-Americans. Both are already projected to be first-round picks in next year's NFL draft, with Purifoy being considered one of the top overall corners in the country. Purifoy is still a bit raw, but he's extremely athletic and physical, which helps him against bigger receivers. He also plays some receiver and returns kicks, but he should spend the majority of his time at corner this fall. Roberson has lockdown ability (14 defended passes last year) and while he might not be as athletic as Purifoy, he covers a ton of ground and has tremendous technique. Florida should enter the 2013 with the SEC's top corner duo. Sophomore Brian Poole will also help out a lot after having a solid first year and he should start at nickel corner. Veteran Jeremy Brown has had an injury-plagued career, but he returns for a final season, while many feel incoming freshman Vernon Hargreaves III could step on the field and play right now.

Weakest position: Pass-catchers

This position hasn't been a strength for the Gators in quite some time. With a lot of recruiting misses and not enough development, the Gators are stuck with a group that doesn't have a consistently reliable go-to threat. Quinton Dunbar has had his ups and downs, but appears to be more focused now. However, a lot will be on his plate if no one else steps up. Freshman Demarcus Robinson, who enrolled early this spring, has the makings to be a true big-play receiver for the Gators, but he has no college experience. Andre Debose might be a dangerous return man, but he's been wildly inconsistent and unfocused at receiver during his career. After that you have speedy, multi-purpose player Solomon Patton, who is returning from injury, and sophomores Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades, who combined for four catches for 11 yards last year. Four more freshmen receivers will be on campus this fall to help with depth. As for tight end, Jordan Reed is gone, meaning the relatively inexperienced Kent Taylor, Colin Thompson and Clay Burton will have to grow up even more this fall.

Florida Gators spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
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FLORIDA GATORS
2012 overall record: 11-2

2012 overall record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (2nd Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Jeff Driskel, C Jonotthan Harrison, RG Jon Halapio, RB/WR Trey Burton, DE/DT Dominique Easley, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Marcus Roberson, S Jaylen Watkins, P Kyle Christy

Key losses

RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed, DT Sharrif Floyd, S Matt Elam, S Josh Evans, LB Jon Bostic, LB Jelani Jenkins

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Mike Gillislee (1,152 yards)
Passing: Jeff Driskel* (1,646 yards)
Receiving: Jordan Reed (559 yards)
Tackles: Josh Evans (83)
Sacks: Dominique Easley* (4.0)
Interceptions: Matt Elam (4)

Spring answers

1. Back in business: Sophomore Matt Jones running back had a fantastic spring and the coaching staff is convinced he’ll be a more than capable replacement for Gillislee. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Jones is a perfect fit for Will Muschamp’s power-run offense. He’s a straight-ahead, downhill runner, who runs through contact and gets tough yards. The offense will be built around him, especially with the questions surrounding the passing game. Redshirt junior Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor, the son of former UF standout running back Fred Taylor, give the Gators solid depth at the position.

2. Lined up: UF’s offensive line made strides in 2012 and it will be even better in 2013. The addition of transfers -- Max Garcia (Maryland) and Tyler Moore (Nebraska) -- gives the Gators a pair of former starters to add to an already solid base with Harrison and Halapio. Plus, sophomore D.J. Humphries is an immediate upgrade from Xavier Nixon at left tackle. Garcia will start at left guard and pair with Humphries to give Driskel better blind-side protection than he had a year ago.

3. The middle is settled: With the loss of Bostic and Jenkins, the Gators needed a middle linebacker. The staff moved sophomore Antonio Morrison from weakside linebacker, and Morrison showed pretty quickly he was up to the task. He’s not the biggest middle linebacker the Gators have had (6-foot-1, 230 pounds), but he is certainly one of the most physical. Morrison hits like he weighs 260 pounds -- just ask 245-pound former FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, whom Morrison leveled last season. Morrison proved he could handle making the defensive calls and he should easily step into the role Bostic held for the past two seasons.

Fall questions

1. Receiver issues ... again: The Gators have problems at wide receiver and must get better at the position or the offense will again struggle. That’s been the case since the 2009 season ended. The latest attempted solution is former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips. He has coached receivers for 18 seasons at Kentucky (1991-96 and 2003-2009), Cincinnati (1997), Minnesota (1999-2000), Notre Dame (2001) and South Carolina (2002). NFL players Steve Johnson (Buffalo) and Randall Cobb (Green Bay) are among the receivers Phillips worked with during his tenure at Kentucky. He also coached Craig Yeast, Keenan Burton, Dicky Lyons Jr. and Derek Abney, all of whom rank in the top five in school history in career receptions or career receiving yardage. Can Phillips get consistent production out of Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose, Raphael Andrades, Latroy Pittman, Burton or Solomon Patton? Can he turn one of the five freshmen -- notably Demarcus Robinson or Ahmad Fulwood -- into the big-time playmaker the Gators have lacked since Riley Cooper? Zach Azzani, Aubrey Hill and Bush Hamdan have tried and failed.

2. Safety dance: There’s some concern about the Gators’ safeties because some of the younger and less experienced players haven’t developed as the staff had hoped. Cody Riggs and Watkins, who started at corner early last season, will begin August practices as UF’s two starting safeties. They have both played there during their UF careers and there are no concerns about those two players, but there are some about Valdez Showers, Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman. Realistically, the Gators are better off with Riggs and Watkins starting because that gives UF the chance to get its top four defensive backs on the field at the same time instead of working Watkins, Riggs, Roberson, Purifoy and Brian Poole in a rotation at cornerback. Still, those other three need to earn more trust from the coaching staff.

3. Just for kicks: Kickers Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips struggled throughout the spring. Neither is as reliable or as good from long range as Caleb Sturgis was, but it’s the first part that’s more important. The offense, especially if the receivers don’t get any better, will continue to have a hard time consistently moving the ball. Sturgis was able to bail the Gators out because they needed only to get to the 35-yard line to be in range for a makeable field goal. That mark may have to be the 20 in 2013. Unless Hardin or Phillips makes a major leap this summer, expect the Gators to go with the kicker who practices the best each week.

Opening preseason camp: Florida

August, 3, 2012
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Schedule: The Gators' first practice is on Friday, and their first day in pads is on Aug. 8. They open the season at home against Bowling Green on Sept. 1. The game will air on ESPN at 3:30 p.m. ET.

Returning starters: Seven on offense, 10 on defense, and the place-kicker and punter on special teams.

Star power: Junior safety Matt Elam was one of Florida's most heralded recruits in the 2010 recruiting class, and now could compete to be one of the top safeties in the SEC. He's the heart of the Gators' defense and can make plays all over the field, as he led Florida with 11 tackles for loss and totaled 78 tackles last fall.

New faces: Will Muschamp isn't afraid to play freshmen, and he has a handful who could see time early. Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. is on campus and could get looks at the hybrid linebacker/defensive end Buck position. Fellow end Jonathan Bullard could also compete for time outside. Also, keep an eye on tight ends Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor, who should get more reps this fall with A.C. Leonard's departure this summer. And cornerback Brian Poole could get quality reps on defense during camp.

Don’t forget about: Defensive lineman Dominique Easley tore his ACL in the regular-season finale against Florida State, but Muschamp has said he expects the junior to be ready to go come Game 1. Easley will rotate between defensive end and tackle this fall, and his teammates expect him to be even more disruptive this season. Easley was arguably Florida's most consistent lineman when it came to generating pressure last season, and could be primed for a breakout season. Even though he didn't have monster numbers last season, pro scouts love his potential, and a big season could put him on a lot of NFL teams' radars.

Big shoes to fill: The Gators will surely miss the energy and production Jaye Howard gave them at defensive tackle last season. He was second on the team in tackles for loss (10) and sacks (5.5). His 5.5 sacks actually led all defensive tackles in the SEC last season. Look for Easley, Sharrif Floyd, Omar Hunter and Leon Orr to share reps in the middle. Also, keep an eye on junior college tackle Damien Jacobs, who had a solid spring.

Key battles: There are a few battles in Gainesville this fall, but the biggest one is at quarterback, where sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will vie for the starting spot. With how even this one has been, chances are this battle will bleed into the regular season. Every wide receiver spot is up for grabs this fall, so the coaches will be keeping two eyes on every player there. Also, free safety and one cornerback spot are wide open. Josh Evans and De'Ante Saunders will compete at safety, while Poole, Loucheiz Purifoy, Cody Riggs and Jeremy Brown will compete at corner.

Rising star: There were a lot of growing pains for Marcus Roberson in his freshman season last fall, but he showed at times that he has what it takes to be a top cover corner in this league. He has great speed and awareness, and has that real cover corner ability, but has to work on his physicality while the ball is in the air. An injury cut his first season short, but he's healthy, and the staff thinks he'll truly make a name for himself.

Bottom line: Florida returns a lot of talent on the defensive side of the ball, but the offense has plenty of questions to answer this fall. The Gators are still looking for their quarterback, and have a lot of unproven talent at receiver and running back. The coaches insist the offensive line is better, and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease has been a welcome addition. Muschamp's first year didn't go so smoothly, and this season's schedule is a bear. But fans are beginning to get restless, and anything less than eight wins could land Muschamp on the hot seat.

No. 1 CB picks Miami over Florida

February, 1, 2012
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Florida's national signing day isn't exactly starting the way the coaches would have liked.

After missing out on No. 1 outside linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons (Valdosta, Ga./Lowndes), who committed to Georgia, the Gators' coaching staff missed on top cornerback prospect Tracy Howard (Miramar, Fla.), who picked Miami.

Florida was considered the overwhelming favorite to get Howard until he took his official visit to Miami over the weekend. The chatter since then led many to believe that Howard had put the Hurricanes ahead of the Gators. Howard made that a reality when he committed live on ESPNU Wednesday morning.

While Florida does have depth at cornerback and should sign current commit Brian Poole (Bradenton, Fla./Southeast), who is the No. 7 corner prospect, losing Howard had to be a crushing blow for the staff. The Gators' coaches worked extremely hard to get Howard and spent a lot of time recruiting him, but to lose him to a rival at the last minute had to hurt.

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