Florida Football: Top 5 Position Battles for the Gators During Fall Camp
When speaking during the offseason, Will Muschamp made reference to his belief that competition will drive competitiveness (via Rick Brown of The Lakeland Ledger) and bring the best out of his team. Initially, we thought that he was only referring to the quarterbacks, but as fall camp wears on, we are finding out that there are many more position battles wearing on.
With less than three weeks until the season, the Gators have a lot of questions to answer before they kick off against Bowling Green. Fall camp will continue to be a battle ground as players compete for playing time at their positions.
Let's take a look at the top five position battles and project who we think will come out on top at each position.
5. SAM Linebacker
The battle at strong-side linebacker may come as a bit of a surprise to those who have followed the team the past season and offseason. It was thought that with the loss of Ronald Powell and McCray moving to BUCK to fill in, the job would go to either Mike Taylor or Antonio Morrison. That isn't the case. Taylor has been working strictly at MIKE linebacker, and Morrison has worked at WILL and MIKE.
With an opening at SAM linebacker, three players are now competing to fill the void. Darrin Kitchens, Neiron Ball and Gideon Ajagbe are all competing for the starting spot.
Ball missed the entire 2011 season after a medical condition required him to have surgery. Kitchens suffered a scary neck injury against FSU last season but has since recovered and was cleared for full contact. Ajagbe played strictly on special teams last season.
After being forced to sit out a season with a medical condition, Ball was cleared for full-contact practice during summer camp. Since then, Ball has been taking advantage of being healthy and being able to play. He is one of the more physical linebackers on the team and should end up with the starting job.
Projected Starter: Neiron Ball
4. Wide Receiver
The Gators have always had plenty of bodies at receiver but haven't had a receiver they could rely on since Percy Harvin, David Nelson and Riley Cooper were wearing orange and blue. The battle, this fall, might give the Gators the playmakers they are looking for.
Once again, Quinton Dunbar has impressed during camp. At 6'1'', 190 pounds, Dunbar is a big receiver with speed who is a good route-runner. All of the ingredients are there for Dunbar to have a breakout year, and Brent Pease's offense should bring the best out of him.
Of course, there's still Andre Debose. Debose showed off his big-play ability last season. Debose averaged 27 yards per catch, and each of his four scores were for 35 yards or more. Debose and Dunbar can stretch the field for the Gators this season which should open things up for the running game.
Latroy Pittman is a freshman who continues to impress. Pittman, while not as fast as Debose or Dunbar, has sneaky speed and is the most physical receiver the Gators have. Pittman is not afraid to get his nose dirty and get involved in run blocking. He's also a great route-runner and is a threat with the ball in his hands.
Other than those three, the Gators will also look for Frankie Hammond, Raphael Andrades, Solomon Patton and Stephen Alli to contribute along the way.
Starters: Quinton Dunbar, Latroy Pittman, Andre Debose
One thing is for sure, the Gators are loaded in the secondary.
With Marcus Roberson getting a clean bill of health, one would assume he would jump back into his role as one of the starting cornerbacks. To steal a line from Lee Corso, not so fast my friend. Roberson is currently in a competition with Cody Riggs, Jaylen Watkins and Loucheiz Purifoy to fill out the starting corner slots.
With four players and only two slots available, every practice will be and should be treated as a job interview.
Roberson is an early favorite to fill one of the spots, but he is not guaranteed a position. Riggs spent some time at safety in the summer, but it appears that the move was made in order to get him ready to play safety when Matt Elam moves to nickel in certain packages.
Riggs has bulked up to 190 pounds during the offseason, and it should help him against bigger receivers. Purifoy and Watkins both impressed the coaches during the season and summer camp.
Although only two of these four can be starters, expect to see all four of them on the field a lot this season.
Starters: Marcus Roberson, Loucheiz Purifoy
2. Offensive Line
The Gators hired a new offensive line coach going into 2012, and it was a much-needed move. The Gators' offensive line was battered with injuries, and their play on the field often left the quarterback battered or running for his life.
The offensive line needs to be a point of strength for the Gators if they want to have the kind of success both in the running game and passing game this season.
There is really only one player who can be considered "locked in" at a position, and that is the right guard Jon Halapio. Halapio has played in 28 games, making 20 starts, and was the only player to start every game at the same position along the offensive line.
Other than Halapio, the line is wide open. Xavier Nixon, D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green and Matt Patchan are competing for two tackle spots while James Wilson, Jessamen Dunker, Ian Silberman and Tommy Jordan are competing to start at left guard. Sam Robey and Jonotthan Harrison are competing at center but that is a battle Harrison should win.
Projected Starters (from left to right): Matt Patchan, Jessamen Dunker, Jonotthan Harrison, Jon Halapio, Chaz Green
Finally! The slide you all have been waiting for, unless you skipped through the others until you found this one—the battle for who will be the Gators starting quarterback!
I'm sorry to disappoint, but this is a battle that the coaches have been tight-lipped about. Muschamp has given little-to-no indication about which quarterback, if any, is leading the race.
While this is a two-man race we are obliged to mention the other players. Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg and preferred walk-on Jacob Guy will all be working with the two's and the scout team.
As camp wears on, it appears more certain that we will see a two-quarterback system for at least a portion of the 2012 season. Neither quarterback has distanced himself from the other, and they both will struggle to do so because their skill set is so similar.
Jeff Driskel is a better runner than Jacoby Brissett, but Brissett can run too. Brissett is a little more advanced as a passer than Driskel, but Driskel can spin it too.
Gator fans should not envy the position Coach Muschamp and Coach Pease are in this offseason. Our best guess is that both quarterbacks will play in the first week and both will continue to play until one shows a better command of the team on the field in a game situation.
Unfortunately, unlike in past season, the Gators will have just one tune-up game this year before jumping into SEC play. After Bowling Green, the Gators will travel to Kyle field to welcome the Aggies to the SEC.
It is very possible that both quarterbacks will play in this game. Whether playing two quarterbacks will be an advantage or disadvantage remains to be seen.
Our prediction is that Driskel will get the first snap of the year, but both quarterbacks will play significant roles—at least early on in the season.
Let me know in the comments below who you think should or who you would like to see win these position battles.