SEC: Colin Thompson

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Injuries hit hard and hit often last season, and as the Gators prepare to open spring practice next week, they'll still be feeling some lingering effects.

Florida coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday announced the Gators will open spring practice March 19 with nine players out of action because of injury, including three starters.

[+] EnlargeMatt Jones
Mark Cornelison/Lexington Herald-Leader via Getty ImagesRunning back Matt Jones, who injured his knee last season, won't be cleared to play until after spring practice concludes.
Here's who is out or limited as well as the spring impact:

  • Junior running back Matt Jones is progressing after a second surgery to repair a torn meniscus. The former starter is on track to be fully cleared on May 1. The Gators will need a healthy Jones this fall, but in the meantime there will be plenty of spring reps for a talented backfield that has good depth.
  • Senior starting defensive tackle Leon Orr fractured his wrist late last season and won't be cleared until May 1, but Florida has lots of competition at defensive tackle. "He would probably have been limited reps anyway with as many young guys as we need up front to help us," Muschamp said.
  • Senior wide receiver/kick returner Andre Debose, who had been a starter before missing all of last season with a torn ACL, is expected to be medically cleared on March 28 but will wear a noncontact jersey for the last two weeks of spring practice. A healthy Debose will bring speed and experience to a deep but largely unproven group of wide receivers.
  • Three linebackers still rehabbing after surgery for injuries suffered last fall -- sophomores Alex Anzalone (shoulder) and Jeremi Powell (torn ACL) and redshirt freshman Matt Rolin (torn ACL) -- won't be medically cleared until after spring practice. All three could play reserve roles and special teams in the fall.
  • Sophomore tight end Colin Thompson has a chronic foot injury that dates back to his high school days. It appears to be threatening his career. "The last opinion we got is that he needed to shut it down completely and we'll have another opinion when spring is over, but he will not partake in spring," Muschamp said. Although Thompson was just a blocker, Florida needs every available body for its tight end competition.
  • Freshman early enrollee running back Brandon Powell has a small fracture in his foot from high school ball. Once on UF's campus, he had surgery to insert a pin and will miss most of the spring. "To that point in January, [Powell] had done an outstanding job in our conditioning drills," Muschamp said. "Great change of direction and speed. He's one of the guys we're really excited about."
  • Freshman early enrollee Nolan Kelleher, an interior lineman, came to Florida in January with a back issue and has not been cleared for practice. Muschamp said a second opinion would be sought this week. The entire offensive line will be evaluated under new coach Mike Summers, so the competition for roles should be fierce.

Fortunately for Florida, most of the injuries are at positions of depth. Muschamp said that so far this spring, it is nothing like last year, when he was forced to turn the annual Orange & Blue Debut game into a series of drills with a limited scrimmage.

"Last year I just didn't feel like it was fair with six offensive linemen healthy to put those guys through that," he said. "I want to have a spring game. ... I think it's important for those guys to get out in front of that crowd, the coaches off the field, and make them make calls and communicate and produce. There's no question. I want to have a spring game every year."

Muschamp: Bigger is better at UF

August, 16, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida fans better get a good look at senior wide receiver Solomon Patton this season because guys like him are going to be hard to find around here from now on.

Small guys.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Patton doesn’t really fit into coach Will Muschamp’s philosophy that bigger is better. Not just on the line of scrimmage, either. Big receivers. Big defensive backs. Big linebackers.

[+] EnlargeJon Halapio
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackGuard Jon Halapio, at 6 feet 3 and 321 pounds, meets Will Muschamp's size criteria to compete in the SEC.
Size does matter at Florida now. Muschamp believes it’s the best way to have success in the Southeastern Conference.

"This is a big man’s league," he said. "When you go pay to watch a boxing match, you don’t go watch the featherweights fight. You go watch heavyweights fight. This is a heavyweight league.

"So we need have a big, physical team. You can still be really fast, but you better be big and physical if you want to win in this league right now."

Muschamp is in his third season and working on his fourth signing class, and he has certainly made the Gators a bigger, more physical team in that short period of time. To see the difference, look at UF’s roster from 2009. The Gators had five starters or key contributors who were 5-9 or shorter: Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Ahmad Black, Markihe Anderson and Brandon James.

This year’s team has only one starter that small: 5-9 safety Cody Riggs. Patton is a role player (he’s the jet sweep guy) and the shortest player on scholarship is 5-7 freshman running back Adam Lane -- who weighs 222 pounds.

Muschamp’s philosophy goes further than just the size of the players. He wants the bulk of his 85-man roster to be comprised of what he calls big-skill positions: offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends. He wants 50. Right now he has 42 (see breakdown below).

Muschamp wants 15-17 offensive linemen, and the Gators are close to that number. They have five scholarship tight ends, too. The defensive line is where the problem is. The Gators are short on ends, especially speed rushers. There are eight scholarship defensive tackles, but only three have played in a game (Dominique Easley, Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs), and just two bucks (hybrid defensive end/linebacker).

It’ll take at least a couple more signing classes for the Gators to be as stocked along the defensive line as Muschamp would like. Muschamp believes long-term success at Florida -- and therefore the SEC -- depends on beefing up those defensive numbers.

And not just to compete with Alabama and Nick Saban, either.

"When big guys run out of gas, they’re done," Muschamp said. "We don’t ever want our big guys up front to play more than six or eight snaps in a row and have the intensity you’ve got to play with to be successful in this league. So you can’t ever have enough defensive linemen or pass rushers, especially the way the game’s going.

"You look in our league at Missouri and Kentucky and Tennessee, a lot of schools are going to a little bit of a Big 12 model, like Texas A&M, where they’re spreading the field, and you can’t ever have enough guys that can play in space and rush the passer. The most exerting thing in football is rushing the passer. Those guys are battling against a 315-pound guy and trying to push the pocket, so you can’t ever have enough of those guys."

Here’s the breakdown of what Muschamp calls the big-skill players:

Offensive line

Ideal number: 15-17

Number on the roster: 14. Tyler Moore, Quinteze Williams, Rod Johnson, Octavius Jackson, Cameron Dillard, Trip Thurman, Jon Halapio, D.J. Humphries, Jonotthan Harrison, Chaz Green, Max Garcia, Trenton Brown, Ian Silberman, Kyle Koehne.

Comment: The Gators will lose four players to graduation but have four offensive line commits for 2014, three of whom weigh more than 300 pounds. The line has gotten bigger, stronger and more physical since Muschamp called them soft at the end of his first season.

Defensive tackle

Ideal number: 8-10

Number on the roster: 8. Damien Jacobs, Joey Ivie, Leon Orr, Darious Cummings, Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley, Antonio Riles, Dominique Easley.

Comment: Not a lot of experience here, but the four freshmen (Ivie, Bostwick, Brantley and Riles) will gain valuable experience as part of the rotation this season.

Defensive ends

Ideal number: 6-8

Number on roster: 4. Alex McCalister, Jonathan Bullard, Jordan Sherit, Bryan Cox.

Comment: Easley also can play end. This is perhaps the most flexible position, with several players having the ability to play inside on passing downs to get the best pass rushers on the field.

Bucks

Ideal number: 4-6

Number on roster: 2. Dante Fowler, Ronald Powell.

Comment: This position also needs to be beefed up quickly, with Powell likely leaving after this year if he has a good season. Some flexibility here, too, because Cox and McCalister could spend time here.

Linebackers

Ideal number: 9-12

Number on roster: 9. Michael Taylor, Matt Rolin, Jeremi Powell, Jarrad Davis, Neiron Ball, Darrin Kitchens, Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone, Antonio Morrison.

Comment: UF has one bona fide stud (Morrison) and a mix of veteran role players and freshmen. McMillian is a player to watch. He could become a starter by midseason. This is an important position group because it produces a lot of special teams players.

Tight ends

Ideal number: 3-5

Number on roster: 5. Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Kent Taylor, Colin Thompson, Trevon Young.

Comment: A lot of players, but little production so far. Burton, Westbrook and Thompson are mainly blockers, but there’s optimism that Thompson can develop into someone who can work the middle of the field.
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.
GatorNation's Rankings Week concludes with a list of the Gators’ top needs in recruiting for the class of 2014, as well as a list of the top players the Gators are pursuing at those positions.

Ranking UF’s needs for 2014

1. Offensive line

Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 13, 2013
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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.

Opening preseason camp: Florida

August, 3, 2012
8/03/12
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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.
The SEC's dominance in college football was seen once again with the conference's sixth straight national championship back in January, but it all begins with a solid foundation.

That means teams have to go out and get a decent group of players. Well, in a recent project between ESPN The Magazine and RecruitingNation that complied recruiting classes from the last five years (2007-11), the SEC showed its muscle ... again.

The mad scientists behind the project "re-tallied the scores after signing day and ranked the schools based on total number of ESPNU 150 recruits (there have been 900) hauled in over the past six years" and came up with the top 10 recruiting programs. Four of the 10 came from the SEC.

Florida took the No. 1 spot, getting 66 ESPNU signees since 2007. Forty-two of them came from the state of Florida. Alabama ranked fourth, grabbing 51 ESPNU 150 members. Alabama has done the most with its ESPNU talent, winning two national championships (2009, 2011) since 2007, while Florida has one (2008) and has a 15-11 record in the last two seasons.

Note: ESPNU 150 prospects ATH Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz.), ATH Stefon Diggs (Olney, Md.) and OT Jordan Diamond (Chicago, Ill.) remain unsigned as of the publication of this insider story.

Here's a look at the four SEC programs that made the top 10:

1. Florida (66 ESPNU 150 signees since 2007)
"Over the past six years, Florida has been without question the No. 1 destination for elite prospects. The Gators have grabbed 66 ESPNU 150 recruits from 13 different states, none more surprising than Pennsylvania, where they signed the state's top recruit in 2010 (DT Sharrif Floyd of Philadelphia) and the nation's No. 2 TE in 2012 (Colin Thompson of Warminster). This year also marked a first for UF, when Will Muschamp ventured into North Carolina for the Gators' top two commits, No. 1 OT D.J. Humphries (Charlotte) and No. 4 DE Jonathan Bullard (Shelby)."
4. Alabama (51)
"The Tide signed the most ESPNU 150 recruits in 2012 (13), but they actually didn't gain the most ground from Year 5 to Year 6 (check the Seminoles). Still, Nick Saban's domination of the Southeast (43 of his 51 signees came from seven SEC states) is unmatched. He's also managed to expand his reach into Maryland for the nation's No. 3 (2011 OT Cyrus Kouandjio of Hyattsville) and No. 20 (2012 ATH Cyrus Jones of Baltimore) prospects. Beating out Les Miles for 2012's No. 1 S Landon Collins (Geismar, La.) was just another day at the office."
T-7. Georgia (40)
"Mark Richt doesn't have to go outside the Peach State often, but North Carolina once again proved to be fertile recruiting ground for an out-of-state program. The nation's No. 2 RB Keith Marshall (Raleigh, N.C.) joined four Georgia natives and No. 5 OT John Theus (Jacksonville, Fla.) to help form the Bulldogs' second consecutive top-10 class. As for those two recruits from Missouri (QB Logan Gray and TE Aron White, teammates from Columbia), they never quite lived up to their billing."
T-7. LSU (40)
"The Tigers' three-year run of top-10 classes ended in 2012, though they were only down one ESPN 150 recruit from 2011 to 2012. Miles saved face by convincing No. 3 OLB Kwon Alexander (Oxford, Ala.) to leave behind Auburn and Alabama. But surprisingly, LSU was shut out of Texas for the first time in the six years we've kept score."

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