QB not in question, but run game, pass rush need improvements
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida begins spring practice on Wednesday. Here's a by-the-numbers preview of what to expect in 2013:
1: There isn't any question regarding the starting quarterback. It's junior Jeff Driskel. He won't have to split reps with anyone the way he did last spring with Jacoby Brissett. Being the unquestioned starter means Driskel will get twice as much work as he did last spring, which should help him improve his pocket awareness, decision making and accuracy on downfield passes.
2: UF has just two players on the roster who had double-digit receptions in 2012: WR Quinton Dunbar (36) and FB Trey Burton (18). There are only three players on the roster who have a career reception total in the double digits: Burton (69), Dunbar (50) and WR Andre Debose (29).
3: Keeping Driskel healthy should be one of the Gators' top priorities, because there is virtually no experience behind him. Redshirt junior Tyler Murphy has appeared in only three games in his career and has never thrown a pass. The only other quarterbacks on the roster are redshirt freshmen Skyler Mornhinweg and Jacob Guy (a walk-on).
4: The Gators return four defensive players who started four or more games in 2012: DE/DT Dominique Easley (11), CB Loucheiz Purifoy (12), CB Marcus Roberson (4) and CB Jaylen Watkins (11). The only other returning defensive players who started multiple games in 2012 are LB Neiron Ball (2), DE Jonathan Bullard (2), LB Darrin Kitchens (2) and LB Antonio Morrison (2).
5: Purifoy caught one pass for 5 yards last season, but the coaching staff is so intrigued with his size (6-foot-1, 189 pounds), speed, athleticism and ability to make a play on the ball that they're going to work him at receiver during the spring. It's a move that speaks not only to Purifoy's skills, but also to how concerned the staff is about the situation at receiver.
6: The Gators return six offensive players who started four or more games in 2012: C Jonotthan Harrison (13), G Jon Halapio (13), OT Chaz Green (10), Driskel (12), Dunbar (9) and Trey Burton (4). The only other returning offensive players who started multiple games in 2012 are WR Raphael Andrades (3), TE Clay Burton (6), WR Debose (2), OT D.J. Humphries (3), FB Hunter Joyer (3), OL Kyle Koehne (3) and OL Ian Silberman (3).
7: Seven of the eight signees who enrolled in January will be eligible to participate in spring practice and have a chance to earn a starting job or get significant playing time: LB Alex Anzalone, DT Darious Cummings, DT Joey Ivie, LB Daniel McMillian, OL Tyler Moore, WR Demarcus Robinson and RB Kelvin Taylor. LB Matt Rolin is still recovering from ACL surgery and will be limited in the spring.
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8: One of the reasons the Gators were so good defensively in 2012 was their success on third down. UF held opponents to just a 31 percent conversion rate on third down, which ranked 10th nationally. However, eight of the players who accounted for more than half of the third-down stops to force a fourth down are gone: LB Jon Bostic (13 stops), S Matt Elam (9), S Josh Evans (5), DT Sharrif Floyd (7), NT Omar Hunter (4), LB Jelani Jenkins (5), buck Lerentee McCray (4) and S De'Ante Saunders (5). They accounted for 52 of the Gators' 98 stops on third down. That's a lot of production to replace.
9: The passing offense desperately needs to become more explosive. Since Tim Tebow threw for 482 yards and three touchdowns in the final game of his career (vs. Cincinnati in the 2011 Allstate Sugar Bowl), UF quarterbacks have thrown for more than 200 yards nine times but have surpassed 300 yards only once in 39 games. John Brantley accounted for seven of those 200-yard games and the only 300-yard game (329 and three touchdowns vs. Furman). Tebow had 26 200-yard passing games and five 300-yard passing games in his four years at Florida.
10: The running game needs to become more explosive, too. While Mike Gillislee was the first UF player to rush for 1,000 yards since 2004, Driskel produced just as many big plays in the ground game. He had 10 runs of more than 20 yards last season, two more than Gillislee. Gillislee, though, had five runs of 30-plus yards while Driskel had four -- but one was a 70-yarder for a touchdown against Vanderbilt. Matt Jones and Taylor need to generate more big plays.
11: A quick look at the roster tells you how young the Gators will be in 2013. UF has just 11 scholarship seniors. Six are true seniors (Kitchens, Dominique Easley, WR Solomon Patton, Trey Burton, Watkins and DT Damien Jacobs) and five are redshirt seniors (CB Jeremy Brown, Debose, Harrison, Halapio and Koehne).
12: Another reason the Gators' defense was so successful is its work in the red zone. UF allowed BCS teams to score touchdowns on only half their trips into the red zone. Those teams scored 12 TDs on 24 trips. However, UF returns only four primary defensive starters from 2012. Inexperienced defenses generally have trouble in the red zone, where a small mistake that can results in a first down in the middle of the field turns into a touchdown.
13: Florida's pass rush has to improve, and the Gators have a good base upon which to build. Returning front-seven players accounted for 13.5 sacks last season, nearly half of the team's total of 30. Easley (4.0), Jacobs (2.5) and Fowler (2.5) lead the group.
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