Florida Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

Randy ChambersAnalyst IMarch 11, 2013

Florida Football: Spring Practice Position Battles Tracker

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    It is good to be a Florida Gators fan right about now.

    Head coach Will Muschamp has proved in a short period of time that this program is quickly back on track and should soon be competing for national championships in no time. With talent on both sides of the ball and experience sprinkled throughout the roster, this year’s team should once again make a run in the SEC East.

    Before everybody gets ahead of themselves, last season’s BCS bowl loss to Louisville should remind folks that there is still work to be done. With a revamped defense and huge question marks remaining on offense, this Gators squad still has plenty of issues to address.

    Hence, spring practice, which will kick off for Florida on March 13 and the spring game will be played on April 6 at 1 p.m. ET.

    Here is your one-stop shop for the 2013 Florida Gators spring practices.

    Note: This slideshow will be updated with the latest news, position battles, injuries and more.

Latest News

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    Update: April 17

    Florida has found its replacement for former assistant coach Bryant Young. According to Jeff Choate has been hired to coach special teams and the outside linebackers.

    “We are excited to have Jeff Choate join our staff,” Muschamp said in a statement released by the school. “He is a high-energy coach, an outstanding recruiter and evaluator, and has a reputation as one of the top special teams coaches in the nation. He has coached on both sides of the ball and was most recently a defensive coordinator. He sees the big picture and will be a great addition to our staff.”

    Update: April 11

    After spending two seasons with the team, defensive line coach Bryant Young has decided to resign due to personal reasons, according to Michael DiRocco of ESPN.

    "After heavy consideration and giving over two decades to the game of football, I have made a personal decision to resign from my position at the University of Florida in order to pursue more time with my family," Young said in a statement. "I am humbled by and grateful for the opportunity I have had to positively influence the hardworking student-athletes and young men whom I will surely miss.

    Update: April 8

    The Gators ended spring practice with a scrimmage that had a few standouts, one of which is a true-freshman. According to Michael DiRocco of ESPN, running back Kelvin Taylor really shinned, rushing for 59 yards and a touchdown.

    Matt didn't do a whole lot today, and that was by design. Muschamp said. We wanted to get Kelvin and Mack [Brown] and Mark [Herndon] some touches. Matt's had a really outstanding spring. We have a good comfort level of where he is as a player.

    For more of a recap on the spring scrimmage, click here.

    Update: April 3

    There will be no spring game this year. Due to a large amount of players being dinged up, particularly on the offensive line, according to Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports, the Gators will instead hold a scrimmage.

    With four [offensive linemen] being out, really five of those guys being out right now, it’s not fair to go in a spring game situation and ask these guys to take 60, 70 snaps in a row. Coach Will Muschamp said. That’s not healthy. It’s not good. It’s not good for our football team.

    Update: March 28

    Freshman wide receiver Demarcus Robinson enrolled early so he could get a jump on the competition. According to Robbie Andreu of Gators Sports, he will be forced to sit a bit due to a high ankle sprain.

    “Probably next week (he'll be able to return), I hope. I'm not real sure,” Florida coach Muschamp said. “He's in a walking boot right now to stabilize that.”

    Update: March 26

    With receiver being a position of need for the Florida Gators, it looks like Quinton Dunbar is emerging as the best option early on, according to Zach Abolverdi of Gator Sports.

    I'm really proud of that kid. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. He has come along so far attitude-wise, accountability, his work ethic on the field, and it's really starting to show up.

    He just does things right. He can play a bunch of positions now. So I'm proud of him and I think it's going to carry over to reach the goals that he's setting for himself.

    Update: March 20

    After a few practices, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media and provided a few interesting points. Along with the injury to Anzalone, Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports reports that Loucheiz Purifoy has spent most of the time on the offensive side of the ball, but he will soon return to playing defense. Muschamp isn't sure if he will ever play offense full-time, the coaching staff would just like to make sure he is comfortable if ever needing to play receiver exclusively.

    Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports also provided some good news for Gators fans, as quarterback Jeff Driskel has been doing a lot of studying this offseason in the film room. They say hard work pays off and the Florida signal-caller says he is more prepared and confident heading into the upcoming season.

    I’m confident. Coming in very confident, and confident that I’ve done the work in the classroom to be able to be more confident. Driskel said. Not just because I’m the guy now but because I’ve put in the work. That more than anything.

    Update: March 19

    Well, so much for 2013 recruit Alex Anzalone earning a starting linebacker position. It has been confirmed by head coach Will Muschamp and the official twitter feed of the Florida Gators (h/t College Football Talk) that he will have shoulder surgery and miss the remainder of the spring. 

    Injury news - Alex Anzalone had shoulder surgery yesterday and will miss remainder of spring. Bullard and Riggs tweaked hamstrings.

    — GatorZone Football (@GatorZoneFB) March 19, 2013

    Hopefully the injury isn't serious and the promising linebacker will be back on the field in the fall.

    Update: March 14

    Things aren't looking good for offensive lineman Jessamen Dunker. Already suspended from the team for an arrest that took place during the offseason, there are now reports surfacing that he was arrested again this week after being charged with grand theft, according to Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports.

    Per the report, head coach Will Muschamp knows about the incident and doesn't seem too concerned about it at this point, according to a Florida spokesman.

    "Coach (Will) Muschamp is aware of the incident," Florida spokesman Steve McClain said. "He is on the road recruiting and will address it when he returns."

    Update: March 13

    Even though the Florida Gators had a successful season last year, there was a lot of criticism when it came to the offensive side of the ball. Ranked 12th in the SEC last year in total offense, this was a team that accomplished majority of those victories defensively.

    If you are wondering if the players know they need to improve, quarterback Jeff Driskel knows that this offense must make bigger plays next season, as he told Edward Aschoff of ESPN.

    Luckily, we do have a great defense, so we don’t have to force anything, but we know we have to make more plays. Driskel said. We have to make more vertical plays down the field because you can’t just drive the ball down and score every time, you gotta hit big plays.

    Bigger plays in the passing game would certainly help, but head coach Will Muschamp says that this offense will remain physical up front.

    “We’re going to be a physical football team. I really believe in order to win this league, you’ve got to be physical,” Muschamp said Tuesday. “You’ve got to be able to win on the line of scrimmage. You can’t get away from that.

    It is all about finding a balance.

    As for the players themselves, the Gators released a spring depth chart that should hold the fans over for a while. As for some of the major changes, Loucheiz Purifoy switches from corner to receiver, Dominique Easley moves to the outside at defensive end and Cody Riggs is listed as a safety. 

    Update: March 11

    The 2013 Orange and Blue Debut spring game will take place April 6 at 1 p.m. ET and will be televised on FOX’s Sun Sports.

Key Offensive Battles to Watch

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    It doesn't matter much talent or potential last year's starting quarterback had; when the program is ranked dead last in your conference in passing yards, a quarterback battle heading into the next seasonis inevitable.

    With that said, Jeff Driskel is a talented kid who could be special with a little more freedom and weapons around him. However, there are folks in Gator country that would say he isn't the right fit and should be pushed for the starting position.

    Somebody who would give him a run for his money is redshirt junior Tyler Murphy. He has yet to throw a pass in his Florida career, but he is an athletic quarterback much like Driskel, who could excite the fan base with a solid showing.

    There is also a sleeper in this conversation with redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg being given a shot at least for the backup role.

    Predicted Starter: Jeff Driskel

    Actual Winners: TBD

    Wide Receiver

    While quarterback was often the position that was thrown under the bus last season, wide receiver certainly didn't help matters.

    What in the world happened to all of the Gators playmakers?

    Quinton Dunbar has yet to fulfill expectations since coming out of high school, but he is the most experienced, and leading returning receiver after hauling in 36 receptions last year. Andre Debose is another player who has underachieved, as he returns for his redshirt senior season. The wildcard in this whole mess would be Loucheiz Purifoy, who spent last season playing on the defensive side of the ball.

    Early enrollee Demarcus Robinson should be given a solid look, as well as guys such as Latroy Pittman, Solomon Patton and Raphael Andrades.

    Prediction on Who Wins the Job: Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose

    Actual Winners: TBD

Key Defensive Battles to Watch

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    This entire Florida defense is going to feature plenty of new faces this upcoming season. One of the areas that were hit the hardest was at linebacker, where Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins were two key players that the coaching staff has the tall order of replacing.

    One of the more experienced players at linebacker is Antonio Morrison, who started a lousy three games last year due to injuries. I told you, experience in this group is very thin. The most experienced linebacker on this team is senior Darrin Kitchens, but you can count on one hand how many starts he has had in his career.

    There is a bunch of young blood that will entire the picture this spring with early enrollees such as Alex Anzalone, Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin, as well as redshirt freshman Jeremi Powell. Others who will be given a shot include Michael Taylor, Gideon Ajagbe and Neiron Ball, all whom have seen limited playing time throughout their careers.

    With limited experience, everybody has an equal shot of locking down a starting spot.

    Predicted Starters: Jeremi Powell, Antonio Morrison, Darrin Kitchens

    Actual Winners: TBD


    Safety was another position that was hit with the leader of the defense in Matt Elam no longer around and Josh Evans also graduating. Much like linebacker, experience is not exactly high on the list when it comes to potential candidates.

    Brian Poole is a talented 2012 recruit who was recruited as a cornerback, but began to make the transition to safety and played 12 games as a reserve. With his athleticism and physicality that he brings to the table, he should be the frontrunner to secure one of the spots. 

    As for the other safety position, the coaching staff has a ton of work to do. Anybody and everybody from Valdez Showers to Rhaheim Ledbetter to Jabari Gorman to Marcus Maye will be given a look. There is also a possibility that the coaching staff decides to move one of the cornerbacks over with Vernon Hargreaves III enrolling later in the fall.

    Predicted Starters: Brian Poole and Jabari Gorman

    Actual Winners: TBD

Early Enrollees Report Card

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    Alex Anzalone, 4-Star LB - Anzalone will have a chance to see immediate playing time with question marks at the linebacker position. He is a well-built player who plays sideline-to-sideline, and he is also solid in coverage.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: D (Anzalone ended up suffering a shoulder injury and will be out until fall camp)

    Kelvin Taylor, 5-Star RB - Arguably the favorite to end up starting in the backfield this season, Taylor runs a lot like his father Fred did back in the day. With great balance and vision of the field, he is without question one of the more polished backs in this entire 2013 class.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: A (Taylor has been a star of spring practice. He clearly made a strong case for significant touches as a true-freshman)

    Daniel McMillian, 4-Star LB - McMillian provides the Gators coaching staff with options. Capable of playing multiple spots at linebacker, he also has the athleticism and quickness to see time along the defensive line as well. He is a talented player who will see playing time on the defensive side of the ball immediately.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: B (McMillian is somebody who has improved in each and every practice. He has shown he is a tackling machine and will see the field early)

    Matt Rolin, 4-Star LB - Rolin is yet another linebacker who has decided to enroll early. You would like to see him bulk up a bit, but this kid is great at making the tackle in the open field, and he also is solid at dropping back into coverage.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: D (Rolin continues to recover from an ACL injury and wasn't a participant during spring practice)

    Demarcus Robinson, 4-Star WR - Robinson was a receiver who kind of flew under the radar during the recruiting process. At 6'1", he has the size you like to see from the position and great hands. With Florida desperate for skill position players, he should see the field rather early.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: B (Robinson had a great spring practice, and he appears to be a solid receiving threat for this struggling offense)

    Darious Cummings, 4-Star DT - Cummings is a JUCO transfer who should be able to take advantage of his college experience to earn playing time. At 6'2", 300 pounds, he does a good job of using his hands and has a decent get off for somebody his size.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: B (That JUCO experience has paid off for Cummings, as he has shown he is further along than some of the other guys. Like many of these young recruits, he will see playing time early)

    Joey Ivie, 3-Star DE - Ivie must add weight if he expects to see playing time in his first season. At 6'4", 265 pounds, he could certainly continue to add a few pounds to his upper body. As for the positives, he is a disruptive defender who plays the game with a high motor.

    Post Spring Practice Grade: C (Ivie showed flashes of brilliance and a few plays where he wasn't so great. One thing that he did show is that he has high potential and should be a player to keep an eye on heading into the fall)

Sleepers to Watch

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    Offensive Sleeper

    Loucheiz Purifoy, WR - Purifoy spent last season at cornerback but, due to the lack of big plays on the offensive side of the ball, he will be given a shot at wide receiver this spring.

    It remains to be seen just how crisp his route running is, or if he will be able to separate himself from other Gators defenders, but he does have playmaking ability. With quick feet and enough speed to help stretch a defense, the potential to become that big play threat is there.

    It will be interesting to see if this transition can actually pan out. 

    Defensive Sleeper

    Jeremi Powell, LB - Powell redshirted last year, but will be given every chance under the sun to succeed this upcoming season.

    Athletic enough to play either side of the ball, it is at outside linebacker where he will fit best on this Gators team.

    He does an incredible job of chasing down ball-carriers and is a sure tackler in the open field. As a pass-rusher, Powell does a good job of using his hands and is quick off the ball to get to the quarterback in a flash.

    This kid should quickly develop into a playmaker on this team and help many Gators fans forget about all of the talent that left defensively.