The Florida Gators kickoff spring practice on March 13, and there will be plenty of position battles taking place during the next month.
With only 11 starters returning, including only five on the defensive side of the ball, plenty of new faces will enter the lineup. Anytime you combine youth and inexperience, you are going to have several young guys pushing each other for playing time.
Even on the offensive side of the ball where the picture may be a little clearer, there aren't many spots that are so secured entering practice. Unless you are a veteran offensive lineman or one of two running backs, chances are you have your work cut out for you this spring if you are playing for head coach Will Muschamp.
So as we inch closer to spring practice taking place and the fun beginning in Gainesville, let's take a look at what the 2-deep depth chart should look like when everything comes to a close.
Candidates: Jeff Driskel, Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg
The battle for the quarterback position may be a little more heated than most think. Although Driskel is by far the most experienced and has more talent than the rest of the candidates, the bottom line is that the Gators ranked last in the SEC in throwing the football last season.
Still, Driskel probably gives this team the best chance to win at the moment. With his dual-threat ability he can become the playmaker this offense missed a year ago and with starting experience already under his belt, he should only improve with another year in the system. He should soon win Gators fans over, especially with a few more pieces in place at the skill positions to help him out.
Starter: Jeff Driskel
Backup: Tyler Murphy
Candidates: Matt Jones, Kelvin Taylor, Mack Brown
Jones really started to turn things on late in the year, as he finished two of the final three games with at least 65 rushing yards. While he didn't have a freshman season to ride home about, he still averaged more than five yards a touch, which went unnoticed due to the success Mike Gillislee had as the workhorse runner. Jones is capable of being that cow bell runner with his size, and he is productive when he spends less time dancing in the backfield.
As for Taylor, I expect him to get more than his fair share of carries, but freshmen have to prove themselves in this conference before they are just given a starting spot. Let's see what the rookie can do before he is just handed the role as the bread and butter of this offense.
Starter: Matt Jones
Backup: Kelvin Taylor
Candidates: Hunter Joyer, Trey Burton
We could talk about Mike Gillislee and the success he had all day long, but a lot of those big runs wouldn't have been possible without Joyer. The big man at 5'10", 250 pounds does all of the dirty work and helps open those running lanes by picking up the extra man and allowing the Gators backs to run untouched.
Burton will continue to be the ultimate utility guy for this Florida offense, doing a little bit of everything. He could surprise defenses by lining up at quarterback, wide receiver or tight end. Since he doesn't have a true position, he will be listed as a backup fullback, although he will be on the field quite a bit once again.
Starter: Hunter Joyer
Backup: Trey Burton
Candidates: Andre Debose, Solomon Patton, Latroy Pittman and Demarcus Robinson
Debose has had his fair share of off the field issues and has been one of the biggest busts in program history. Seriously, we are talking about one of the highest-rated receivers to come out of the 2009 class, but he only has 29 receptions throughout his career. Still, even with his downfalls, he brings experience to the table, and while he hasn't shown much of it, he is still ridiculously talented as far as speed and making plays are concerned.
Pittman showed potential as a freshman, and Robinson will be given every chance to make an impact as a true-freshman. However, this Florida offense is so desperate for guys to contribute right away. It's doubtful the first-year player cracks the depth chart just yet. With an impressive fall camp, then maybe we can talk about Robinson topping some of the more experienced receivers.
Starter: Andre Debose
Backup: Latroy Pittman
Candidates: Quinton Dunbar, Loucheiz Purifoy, Stephen Alli, Raphael Andrades
There isn't any arguing as far as Dunbar being a starting receiver yet again in this Florida offense. With tight end Jordan Reed leaving school a year early, he is the most experienced and most accomplished receiver in this Gators' offense.
As far as the backups are concerned, you can really pick a name out of a hat and have a better chance of nailing the correct selection. But with Purifoy switching from the defensive side of the ball to become a playmaker at receiver, expect him to step up in a big way and provide this offense with a game-changing player. His height at 6'1" and ability to stretch the field with his speed should fit well right about now.
Starter: Quinton Dunbar
Backup: Loucheiz Purifoy
Candidates: Clay Burton, Kent Taylor, Colin Thompson, Tevin Westbrook
Although Taylor only caught two passes as a freshman last season, one of which went for a touchdown, he is still a valuable option at the position. He is a sure-handed player who has the ability to provide this offense with a true receiving target at the position. Thompson on the other hand is more of a blocking tight end, who was going to be the starter last year, but ended up breaking his foot and putting an end to all of that.
While this is going to be a battle all offseason for more reps, both are going to receive their fair share of playing time. However, due to Florida wanting to establish an identity as a power running football team, I expect to see Thompson on the field a little bit more, as he provides that extra blocker along the offensive line.
Starter: Colin Thompson
Backup: Kent Taylor
Candidates: D.J. Humphries, Kyle Koehne, Tyler Moore
Humphries saw playing time in all 12 games last season, which should prove to be valuable as he likely enters a starting role at the most important position along the offensive line. An athletic big man, he moves well for his size and should prove to be a lot more consistent than Xavier Nixon was at the position a year ago.
As for the backup spot, Moore, a transfer from Nebraska, could fit in nicely if he isn't able to secure the starting right tackle spot this offseason.
Starter: D.J. Humphries
Backup: Tyler Moore
Candidates: Max Garcia, Kyle Koehne, Trip Thurman
The left guard position is interesting entering spring practice. I think Garcia had the advantage considering he was impressive on the scout team last season after transferring from Maryland. But guys such as Ian Silberman and Jessamen Dunker were supposed to be the top candidates to give him a run for his money at the position.
The problem is that Silberman had surgery last season and may still be a little hobbled, and the status for Dunker remains up in the air after an arrest.
Considering the circumstances, give me Garcia as the starting left guard and the versatile Koehne as the backup. Although the depth at this position isn't quite settled until some of the dust clears.
Starter: Max Garcia
Backup: Kyle Koehne
While the entire Florida offensive line looks a little shaky on paper, the most consistent player is Harrison at the center position. Having started 27 games throughout his career and playing in 39, he is the experienced and most consistent player on the line for the Gators. Unless something severe happens between now and then, seeing Harrison in the middle of the line for Florida is going to remain leading up to the regular season matchups.
As for the backup spot, Koehne will once again get the nod due to his versatility and experience he has picked up throughout his career for Florida.
Starter: Jonotthan Harrison
Backup: Kyle Koehne
Candidates: Jon Halapio, Tommy Jordan, Kyle Koehne
Jonotthan Harrison has the center spot in check, and Halapio should remain at right guard. He has started 33 games in his career and has played in 44, which includes starting every game during the last two seasons. With this type of consistency and experience, it would be somewhat surprising to see the big man on the right side lose a starting spot on the line.
Starter: Jon Halapio
Backup: Kyle Koehne
Candidates: Chaz Green, Tyler Moore
Green has started 18 games throughout his career, including 10 last season. He has been a solid player when on the field, but has missed playing time due to injury the last two seasons, which can be a concern. Moore is a transfer from Nebraska, who did start four games for the Cornhuskers and has huge upside at the position.
This is going to be the battle to watch this spring as far as the offensive line is concerned, but until Moore proves himself, you have to give the early edge to Green. After all, he has earned the right to be the favorite heading into the spring practices.
Starter: Chaz Green
Backup: Tyler Moore
Candidates: Jonathan Bullard, Dante Fowler Jr., Dominique Easley, Quinteze Williams
One of the more exciting players to watch this spring is going to be defensive end Bullard. With his combination of size, strength and get off the football, there is no reason he can't be that next great SEC pass-rusher. I expect him to take over the spring practices with a fabulous showing and earn the starting position rather early.
Backup-wise don't be surprised to see Fowler slide into that spot with Ronald Powell likely taking over as the starting Buck linebacker. However, we really can't get into that conversation until the fall with Powell still recovering from a torn ACL last season.
Starter: Jonathan Bullard
Backup: Quinteze Williams
Candidates: Dominique Easley, Damien Jacobs, Leon Orr, Darious Cummings
Easley spent last season playing the defensive end position, but wasn't nearly as productive as he was when he lined up at his more comfortable position at defensive tackle back in 2011. With the emergence on the outside and Jonathan Bullard expected to hold his own, expect to see Easley move over to defensive tackle this year. After all, you have to put him somewhere considering he could have easily left for the NFL Draft.
Cummings and Jacobs will battle likely heading into fall camp for a backup position, and give the early nod to Jacobs considering he is the more polished run defender at this point in his career.
Starter: Dominique Easley
Backup: Damien Jacobs
Candidates: Leon Orr, Darious Cummings, Damien Jacobs, Quinteze Williams
When Orr was on the field and not missing time due to an illness, he showed great potential on the defensive line. With a unique combination of size and athleticism, he has the ability to help plug up running lanes, but can also be an effective pass-rusher at the nose tackle position. Having him alongside the other linemen for Florida instantly creates one of the best defensive fronts in the entire SEC.
With Cummings bouncing around between both tackle positions, he could see time as the backup nose position and add another pass-rusher to the equation.
Starter: Leon Orr
Backup: Darious Cummings
Candidates: Dante Fowler Jr., Alex McCalister, Kedric Johnson
As mentioned in a previous slide, Ronald Powell will likely be the one suiting up at the Buck position by the time the regular season rolls around, but still recovering from an ACL injury, we can't quite put write it in ink just yet. This is why Fowler is listed as the starter right now. He had a productive freshman season last year and should only build on that with more experience under his belt heading into the spring.
Backup should really be considered the third string spot given the circumstances, but redshirt freshman McCalister is really an athletic freak who fits the mold of this position well. A long and disruptive player, he should also see some playing time this year and turn some heads when he is on the field.
Starter: Dante Fowler Jr.
Backup: Alex McCalister
Candidates: Neiron Ball, Alex Anzalone, Darrin Kitchens
Anzalone is going to push hard for playing time and with all of the hype surrounding him, he will see the field rather early as a first-year player. Still, this is going to be a battle between the two veteran players in Ball and Kitchens.
Ball was a pleasant surprise last season, making a handful of big plays despite missing all of the 2011 season. Kitchens started the last two games of the season last year and showed some of the speed and tackling ability late in the season. This is really going to be a tossup as we inch closer to August, but the slight edge goes to Kitchens based off of overall experience.
Starter: Darrin Kitchens
Backup: Neiron Ball
Candidates: Antonio Morrison, Michael Taylor, Alex Anzalone
Morrison saw a lot of playing time last season as a freshman, including earning three starts due to players getting injured. He is a lot more complete at the position due to his ability to drop back in coverage and be solid in run support. Taylor is effective against the run, but can hurt the Gators when asked to drop back into coverage.
Again, Anzalone will put pressure on some of the older guys, but he has a long way to go before being thrown into the starting rotation just yet.
Starter: Antonio Morrison
Backup: Michael Taylor
Candidates: Jeremi Powell, Daniel McMillian, Michael Taylor, Antonio Morrison
Powell may have redshirted last season, but he has proved himself to the coaching staff already. Earning Scout Team Player of the Week a ridiculous five times last season, this is somebody who should seriously be considered for the starting position. He still needs to bulk up a bit, but with his athleticism and ability to play sideline-to-sideline, he would be a nice fit at the weakside linebacker position.
With Morrison replacing Jon Bostic at middle linebacker, he should back up Powell for insurance purposes, as he is versatile enough to play in either spot.
Starter: Jeremi Powell
Backup: Antonio Morrison
Candidates: Jaylen Watkins, Brian Poole, Marcus Roberson, Cody Riggs
Roberson really began to stand out last season as a sophomore, intercepting two passes and picking up 23 tackles. With the way he improved in both pass coverage and showed the ability to make plays on the ball, expect him to continue to grow into a solid player and lockdown a spot as the physical corner.
The backup spot goes to Riggs, who missed much of last season with an injured foot, but is healthy this spring and should earn his way back into the rotation. He will be used in nickel packages and will be provide that valuable depth in the secondary for a revamped Gators defense.
Starter: Marcus Roberson
Backup: Cody Riggs
Candidates: Brain Poole, Jabari Gorman, Valdez Showers
With Loucheiz Purifoy switching to the offensive side of the ball likely full-time, the opportunity for Poole has officially opened up. Playing in 12 games last season, he did enough to get his feet wet, but the talent he provides at the position is good enough to lockdown a starting spot his sophomore year. Physical at the line of scrimmage and tough in run support, Poole has the ability to become that Matt Elam-type player in the secondary.
While Poole provides the physicality on the defense that Purifoy did last season, Showers continues to play the role as the reserve and somebody who can step in and help out the younger guys.
Starter: Brian Poole
Candidates: Jabari Gorman, Marcus Maye, Rhaheim Ledbetter
Gorman has spent two seasons paying his dues as a backup safety and special team’s player, but due to the lack of depth at the position, he is really the more talented player left to choose from. An athletic player who could play either safety spot, Gorman has terrific ball skills and covers a lot of range in the defensive backfield. He is player who could become a difference maker in the secondary for the Gators.
Maye redshirted last season and will be given every chance to succeed, but the playmaking ability of Gorman gives him the slight advantage early on.
Starter: Jabari Gorman
Backup: Marcus Maye
Candidates: Jaylen Watkins, Jeremy Brown, Cody Riggs, Loucheiz Purifoy
Does it really matter who earns the other starting cornerback spot this spring?
Sure, it will give that player confidence heading into the fall and will likely earn them more reps in the regular season, but unless something bizarre happens, Vernon Hargreaves III will be holding down the other side of the field at cornerback.
With that said you have to like Watkins considering he really emerged as one of the playmakers in the backfield last year, intercepting three passes and getting his hands on everything.
Starter: Jaylen Watkins
Backup: Loucheiz Purifoy
Candidates: Kyle Christy, Todd Fennell
Florida was second in the SEC last season in punting average, with Christy as the starter. Averaging nearly 46 yards a kick, he proved to be one of the best in the country at his position. He will be limited throughout the spring, but there is no question he will remain the starter and will continue to be a valuable piece to this Gators team.
Starter: Kyle Christy
Backup: Todd Fennell
Candidates: Austin Hardin, Brad Phillips
One of the more underrated positions Florida will have to fill this season is at kicker. Often an overlooked area of the game, last year’s kicker Caleb Sturgis really helped this team out in more ways than one. Hardin was one of the top kickers of the 2012 recruiting class, who redshirted last season, while Phillips does have experience having been on the team since 2010.
Still, the stronger leg has a leg up on the competition.
Starter: Austin Hardin
Backup: Brad Phillips
Florida returns both of last season’s leading punt returners, including Andre Debose, who led the team with 10 returns and 93 return yards. This is an area that the coaching staff would love to improve in, but the speed and playmaking ability Debose brings to the table, he will likely continue to receive the bulk of the touches back there.
Starter: Andre Debose
Backup: Marcus Roberson
Same thing as far as kick return is concerned. This is an area where Florida uses its speedy guys who can go the distance. It is now just a question if the players are going to step up to the plate and provide more big plays on special teams.
Starter: Andre Debose
Backup: Loucheiz Purifoy
QB - Jeff Driskel, Tyler Murphy
RB - Matt Jones, Kelvin Taylor
FB - Hunter Joyer, Trey Burton
WR - Andre Debose, Latroy Pittman
WR - Quinton Dunbar, Loucheiz Purifoy
TE - Colin Thompson, Kent Taylor
LT - D.J. Humphries, Tyler Moore
LG - Max Garcia, Kyle Koehne
C - Jonotthan Harrison, Kyle Koehne
RG - Jon Halapio, Kyle Koehne
RT - Chaz Green, Tyler Moore
DE - Jonathan Bullard, Quinteze Williams
DT - Dominique Easley, Damien Jacobs
NT - Leon Orr, Darious Cummings
Buck - Dante Fowler Jr., Alex McCalister
LB - Darrin Kitchens, Neiron Ball
LB - Antonio Morrison, Michael Taylor
LB - Jeremi Powell, Antonio Morrison
CB - Marcus Roberson, Cody Riggs
FS - Brain Poole, Valdez Showers
SS - Jabari Gorman, Marcus Maye
CB - Jaylen Watkins, Loucheiz Purifoy
K - Kyle Christy, Todd Fennell
P - Austin Hardin, Brad Phillips