This is part one of a two part series on the Florida Gators' projected starters heading into spring ball. This means that this information probably will be totally outdated by April.
I can't say for sure when the defensive preview will be up, mostly because I'd have to write three at the moment. Nobody knows what scheme the 2010 Gators will be running so I'd have to account for the 4-3, the 3-4, and the 3-3-5.
When Austin announces his defense, I'll write the preview.
Today, we focus on the offense where the Gators replace five starters, and six total players, all of whom were major contributors.
First and foremost, the Gators must replace 3,805 of the 6,410 offensive yards thanks to the loss of Tim Tebow alone.
He constituted nearly all of the passing production, and 30 percent of the team's rushing production. He also accounted for 35 of the Gators' 58 offensive Touchdowns.
On the pass catching end, 54 percent of the yards receiving were through Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez, and the Gators lose an additional 15 percent of their production with the graduation of David Nelson and Brandon James.
Those four also caught 17 of the Gators' 28 passing Touchdowns.
The Gators lose their only 2009 offensive All-American in Maurkice Pouncey, too.
Yes, the Gators are returning seven starters, but it feels like they are returning four. This is actually a bigger loss than the 2006–2007 transition, even though that team changed an entire offense.
Luckily, the Gators have answers at many of the positions, and the positions with question marks at least have ideas. Urban Meyer's machine will keep chugging along, even if there are a few hiccups while trying to fit in new parts.
The QB position is the most stable of all of the replacements. Brantley doesn't have any real competition going into spring. It's also the most important position in an Urban Meyer system.
Nick Saban can get by with guys like John Parker Wilson or Greg McElroy, but Meyer needs a stud to run his offense.
Meyer had a pretty decent thrower in Chris Leak (a little too interception-y for my taste), and he had an absolute monster in Tebow. Brantley will likely slot somewhere in between the two.
He's been in the system since 2007, and has played in games in both 2008 and 2009. In fact, his garbage duty performance has driven some Gator fans to wild speculation about him being better than Tebow.
If you are one of those crazies, you might want to dial the hype back a notch or two. He's a more polished passer than Tebow, but you're not going to see all-time records fall with Brantley.
Also, he doesn't run the ball. Well, I shouldn't say "doesn't"; every Meyer QB runs the ball. He doesn't run it like Tebow though.
Brantley will bring things to the table, but he'll also be taking some off. He'll bring a stronger arm with a better release and more accuracy.
He'll take off the ability to freeze safeties with his legs and the ability to make something out of nothing every time.
I'd predict we see an overall increase in passing production, but a decrease in efficiency as Brantley won't scare defenders to the point that they can't cover receivers. Expect him to have more yards and TDs, but a worse TD:INT ratio.
Backups: I wrote an article on Brantley's backup needing to play the third down QB or Tebow position (read it here: http://bleacherreport.com/articles/343210-the-florida-gators-must-replace-the-tebow-position).
I feel like there's a good chance of Meyer using a two–QB system in 2010 if the running backs continue to be small and not manly. Look for Trey Burton or Jordan Reed to fill the third QB position.
The committee gets a little bit larger in 2010. Demps, Rainey, and Moody remain the three rotational starters. Look for Gillislee and/or Mack Brown to break in earlier as well.
With the loss of Tebow, the RB position becomes important again. Before, the hand–off was treated as a home–run. If the Gators needed a short play, Tebow ran it himself. If they were looking for a possible end zone trip, then give it to one of the fast guys.
This year, the Gators will settle back into a more normal rushing scheme. Even with Burton or Reed playing the Tebow position, the Gators will use the actual RBs more often.
This means it's make or break time for Emmanuel Moody. His lack of explosiveness made him redundant next to Tebow, which may have accounted for his lower usage rate.
The Gators can't rely on the constant threat of Tebow smash this year. Brantley will play the most downs at QB and he'll need a tough yards option while he's in.
That means it's either Moody or he's going to see an even further reduced role.
Demps and Rainey will likely see more touches this year, too. Brantley will keep the ball on fewer options, meaning more chances for the explosive guys to be explosive.
Sidenote: Demps is the fastest player in college football. He's also the fastest person in college track (he ran a 6.59 in the 60m, besting his previous college best of 6.61). That means he's the fastest person in college (he's also the 15th fastest in the world).
Backups and other persons of interest: Gillislee showed promise last year, which will probably translate into an early proving period in spring practice. He's the closest to being in the committee.
Brown is the highest rated RB that Urban Meyer has recruited. He'll also likely be the second biggest back on the team after the summer. He's small right now, but his frame is large enough to put him over the 200 lb. mark, territory that he'll share with Emmanuel Moody.
Andre Debose may debut at the "Percy Position" as well. If he works well out of the backfield, he may get significant touches too. He and Percy were built roughly the same for their freshman years, and the redshirt gave him a year to bulk up.
Once he gets to the size that Percy played his junior season at (roughly 190-195 lbs), he'll be scary.
This is Deonte's year to prove his worth. So far, he has not lived up to expectations. His Freshman year showed promise, but 2009's move up to the No. 2 receiver position did not come with an increase in production.
It's true that Tebow didn't trust Thompson very much and that could have stymied his growth. Brantley hasn't shown any favoritism during his limited game action though. This year, it's all on Deonte.
Thompson has to at least double his total receiving output to date to be considered successful. He's caught 42 passes for 612 yards over the last two years. If he can't even match that as Brantley's first target, then he doesn't need to play.
Backups: I hesitate to put either of the potential Percy Position guys here, mostly because I don't trust that position as a No. 1 receiving option. If Deonte fails to produce/gets injured, then Omarius Hines will likely become Brantley's go–to guy.
Carl Moore is the second most obvious backup. He's coming off of an injury though and there's no guarantee that he'll be effective.
T.J. Lawrence is another possibility. He is completely unproven, having never played at UF, but he's got enough size to be a primary receiving option.
There's also Stephen "The Giant" Alli. I believe he was redshirted last year, so hopefully he spent every minute in the weight room. At 6'6", 205 lbs., he's built like Kobe Bryant.
That's not good for a No. 1 receiver. Neither is his rawness. Still, the team needs some size at WR, so he warrants a mention.
The Gators' most dynamic position will leap back into prominence in 2010. Last year, the Percy Position disappeared; this year, it will go back to being the second receiving option.
Debose is the most obvious choice for the starting job as he is a Percy copy. However, his injury was bad enough to warrant a redshirt that Meyer absolutely did not want to use, so questions of his effectiveness will have to be answered.
Backups: Chris Rainey moved to the Percy Position late last year and ran deep routes correctly. Tebow was never able to find him with the ball so I don't know how good his hands are, but suffice to say he's a better WR/RB than Jeff Demps is.
Meyer wants Rainey and Demps on the field at the same time. It's a nightmare scenario for a defense as both players are faster than anyone on the other side of the ball. If Rainey is able to line up at slot effectively, it makes the duo even harder to cover.
Chris Dunkley is the most Percy–like of the rest of the Gators' WR corps. He'll likely rotate with Debose at the position and would be the most likely replacement.
Frankie Hammond Jr. is less explosive than the other Percy positioners, but he could take over the spot if something were to happen to Debose. It would probably change the way the position is approached, but he's a good WR who could fill in if needed.
The Gators run a lot of three-wide sets, so the offense must be at least that deep with starting potential. The Gators have plenty of unproven potential at WR; it's just a question of who steps up first.
Carl Moore would be the safest bet here. He's the best blocker of the group, and he had some success in 2008. However, his injury is a major red flag.
Moore was forced to redshirt after a slow recovery from surgery to repair a ruptured disc in his back. He's not athletic enough to play at 85 percent or less effectively. He must come back 100 percent to remain effective.
Omarius Hines is the furthest along in his development of the newer receivers. He's athletic, biggish, and had a productive 2009 season as a backup.
He's also one of Brantley's favorite targets.
T.J Lawrence is another guy who could rotate in at the three spot.
Obviously, the Gators don't have a Larry Fitzgerald type WR who needs to be on the field at all times. That means that any of the non–redshirted receivers could be on the field together at any time.
The label "Starter", at this position, just means a certain package of guys. Meyer's spread rotates receivers in and out as the situation dictates. This is more of a type than a depth chart at this position.
I filed this under the expectation of a possession receiver, an explosive Percy Position, and a third–best option during most situations. That doesn't mean Meyer will open with it, just that it's been his most successful formation.
I fully expect early enrollee Gerald Christian to get the nod going into spring practice. He's the closest thing, physically, to Aaron Hernandez.
Starting a freshman is always a chore because the learning curve for such a high level of football is steep. However, Christian is playing a position that relies more on athletic mismatches than perfect technique.
Meyer rarely uses his TE as a true blocker, preferring to use the position as a big WR who happens to be covered by a linebacker.
Backups: All of this hinges on my belief that Jordan Reed won't develop quickly as a TE. He could be the next Cornelius Ingram, though. Physically, he's a monster. If he looks 80 percent ready in spring, expect this to flip. If he's a natural, then Urban's running the double TE sets next year.
Desmond Parks is another good TE prospect. For the first time, there's real depth at this position. Bonus points for them all being highly rated freshmen, too (Parks and Reed redshirted last year).
If the Gators have any trouble at WR, look for the TEs to step up and for Meyer to use double TE sets.
Two returners from last year will anchor the tackle positions. Nixon did a fine job once he began starting, and he could be up for first team All–SEC honors this year.
Hopefully, the prospect of the NFL will motivate Gilbert to excellence. He's been a little underwhelming so far. He really should be threatening to be a top lineman, but he's stalled at good enough to be a solid starter.
There's no real challenger to his position right now, so he's safe heading into spring ball, but a lackluster performance could mean the 2010 guys don't redshirt and start moving toward taking over Gilbert's spot.
Backups: Nobody knows how Patchan's knee is going to recover. He could still be an OT, or he could move to some other position (back to defense?).
Unheralded 2008 recruit David Young saw action in nearly every game last year. He is probably the first backup at the moment.
I don't expect both of the 2010 OTs to play. If possible, both should redshirt to add eligibility down the road.
The 2009 class was full of linemen and they'll all be fighting for playing time. Right now, it seems clear cut for the starting positions though.
Carl Johnson is a no brainer, and will be an All–SEC threat. James Wilson is the most experienced lineman left as I believe Mike Pouncey will move over to center.
Backups: Again, the 2009 recruiting class was stacked with linemen. Most were recruited as OGs, too. Don't be surprised if you start recognizing names like Alajajian, Harrison, or Koehne.
Even with the All–American center Maurkice Pouncey leaving for the NFL, I suspect the center position to be fine. Don't be surprised if Mike's 2010 is as good as Maurkice's 2009.
Mike is a monster at center. 6'5", 315 lb. guys play tackle or guard, but the Gators have had back–to–back giants playing center. I'm sure he'll be on all the preseason All–America and awards watch lists.
Backups: Sam Robey was Maurkice's backup, and he'll likely be Mike's. If Robey develops into a top-five lineman, then Mike will probably move back to guard.