Florida Football: Top 7 Storylines Heading into Fall Camp
Can you see that?
Off there in the distance?
Yes! that is the light at the end of the tunnel. Friday marks the true beginning to the 2012 football season as the Gators begin fall camp.
Year one of the Will Muschamp era was a complete failure as the Gators suffered their worst season since 1979. Muschamp and the coaching staff brought in a top-ranked recruiting class and are putting their faith in new offensive coordinator, Brent Pease. Pease comes to Florida after his first season as offensive coordinator at Boise State and will be responsible for turning around the Gators' anemic offense.
Although the Gators have made strides in the offseason to correct what went wrong last year, there are still questions remaining as we head into camp. All practices will be closed to the media and public, so we will be forced to go off of "coach speak" in order to find out how practice is going.
With that being said, let's take a look at the top seven storylines and questions that need to be answered before the Gators kick off against Bowling Green on Sept. 1.
7. Battle for Backup Running Back
After waiting patiently, perhaps more patiently than the fanbase, Mike Gillislee is finally the starting running back for the University of Florida. Gillislee set some lofty goals for himself this season, goals that would approach all-time records for a running back at Florida.
Even with goals like that it's unrealistic to think that Gillislee will be the only back to get carries in 2012. If the Gators are going to become the kind of power running team that Muschamp wants, it will take more than one player.
Chris Johnson made the move over from safety and Omarius Hines switched from tight end during spring practice. Along with Mack Brown and freshman Matt Jones, the Gators will be much deeper at the position in 2012.
Brown was a highly rated running back coming out of high school but has only carried the ball 16 times in two seasons at Florida. Chris Johnson and Omarius Hines are both new to the position but showed promise during the spring.
Matt Jones is a player who is physically ready to contribute at the next level. Although he will be only a freshman, Jones is a 6'3" 225-pound bruiser who could give the Gators the kind of between the tackles running game they wanted so badly last season.
While the starting running back spot is locked up, there will be a fierce competition to see who will back up Gillislee.
6. What Will the New Offense Look Like?
After a season where Steve Addazio dialed up dive play after dive play, the hiring of Charlie Weis was thought to be a breath of fresh air.
Little did Florida fans know they would be trading the dive for the swing pass. The grass isn't always greener on the other side.
After just a season, Weis bolted to take the head coaching gig at Kansas. Gainesville didn't seem to mind.
New offensive coordinator Brent Pease is now given the task to resurrect the Gators' offense. Pease's offense uses pre-snap motion that should expose what the opposing team's defense is doing. This should make things easier on Florida's two inexperienced signal-callers.
It will be hard for the Gators offense to be any worse than it was a season ago, but then again Gator fans said that after the 2010 season and look what happened. For now put your trust in Pease until shown otherwise.
5. Replacing Ronald Powell
Losing Ronald Powell to a torn ACL in the spring game was a blow to the Gators' defense. While it doesn't completely devastate the defense, Muschamp and Dan Quinn will have to get creative in attempting to replace Powell.
The early favorite to replace him is Lerentee McCray. McCray was the starting SAM linebacker last season but could make the switch over to BUCK. Either Antonio Morrison or Michael Taylor would be able to step in and fill in for McCray. Morrison benefited from enrolling early and impressed the coaching staff in the spring. Taylor received playing time last season when McCray went down with an injury.
Other options at BUCK include Neiron Ball and Dante Fowler Jr. Fowler is a freshman and will need to really impress over the next month if he is going to earn playing time. Ball was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation, or AVM. AVM is a condition where blood vessels get tangled. In Ball's case the tangle happened in his brain and required surgery.
He was cleared right before spring to begin non-contact practice and should be 100 percent before the season starts.
It will take more than just one player to fill in the void that is left in Powell's absence, but the Gators have more than enough talent on defense to fill in until Powell is able to return.
4. Finding Offensive Playmakers
As we mentioned before, the Gators offense was embarrassing the last two season. At times it felt like the Gators' best chance to score ended when the kick or punt returner was tackled.
Simply put the Gators need to find reliable playmakers on offense. During the Gators national championship runs they had players like Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy, Riley Cooper and Tim Tebow. All of those players seemingly made big plays when they had to be made. They were reliable.
Reliability is something the Gators have lacked the past two seasons, especially at wide receiver.
Andre Debose, Quinton Dunbar, Jordan Reed, Latroy Pittman and Kent Taylor are all players the Gators would like to see step up this season and give the quarterbacks a reliable, consistent threat on offense.
Reed and Taylor are both big pass-catching tight ends who can create mismatches. Debose is a big play waiting to happen, but too often we are left waiting and wondering where he disappears to during games.
The two receivers I think will step up this season are Dunbar and Pittman. Dunbar was heralded after the 2011 spring camp but never got into a rhythm last season. Dunbar again impressed the coaching staff this past spring and will now look to show Gators fans what the coaches have been so excited about for two years.
Pittman was an early enrollee and quickly impressed the coaches with his sneaky speed, route-running and blocking ability. Will Muschamp made it clear that his receivers will need to block if they want to play for his football team, and Pittman is a player who seems to enjoy blocking for his teammates.
While he doesn't have blazing speed, Pittman consistently got behind defensed during the spring and has a great chance of making a huge impact on the offense as just a freshman.
3. Improved Offensive Line
The Gators offensive line was manhandled last season, especially during a four-game stretch against LSU, Alabama, Auburn and Georgia.
The Gators return three starters on the offensive line and added some depth in D.J. Humphries and Jessamen Dunker. The return of sixth-year senior James Wilson, who is slated to start at left guard, will also give the Gators more depth than they had a season ago.
The offensive linemen have benefited from Jeff Dillman's new strength and conditioning program and have appeared noticeably bigger this offseason.
The addition of Tim Davis as the new offensive line coordinator seems to have rejuvenated and re-energized the line.
The Gators simply cannot be successful if the offensive line plays the way it did last season. I think the line will be much improved from a season ago, but it remains to be seen if it will be good enough for the Gators to contend for an SEC championship.
2. Creating Turnovers
It didn't go unnoticed, especially with coach Muschamp. The Gators' defense simply did not create enough turnovers last season.
The Gators forced just 14 turnovers, the lowest total since the university started keeping fumbles as a statistic in 1950.
According to Muschamp, the Gators dropped 15 interceptions in 2011, a number that simply cannot happen. Jelani Jenkins was responsible for six of those drops, and the linebacker has spent more time than usual in front of a JUGS machine catching passes.
Muschamp and Quinn have put an emphasis on creating turnovers and helping out the offense. Just because the Gators are stressing creating turnovers in practice doesn't mean it will carry over to the field.
The Gators should top their total from 2011, but a really successful year would see the Gators at least double their total from last season. The defense is capable of being one of the best in the country, and if it can create turnovers, it could end up as the top defense in the nation.
1. Who Will Start at Quarterback?
What team are you on?
Team Driskel or Team Brissett?
The issue of which sophomore quarterback is best suited to lead the Gators in 2012 has been debated all offseason and has essentially split Gator Nation in half. Some want Brissett to run the offense, while the other half think Driskel is the better choice.
I'm here to tell you that the issue is not black and white.
The most likely scenario is that both quarterbacks will play significant minutes this fall. The coaching staff is reluctant to name a starter until someone takes the job. The problem is both quarterbacks are so similar it is difficult for one to stand out. Both have cannon arms and can be very accurate. Driskel is a little more advanced as a runner, while Brissett seems more comfortable in the pocket.
As it stands now, I expect both quarterbacks to split snaps against Bowling Green and Texas A&M. Muschamp is prepared to play with two quarterbacks the entire season if need be, although that is not his ideal situation.
The old saying goes "If you have two quarterbacks, you don't have any," but the Gators could get away with it this season.