Florida Football: 10 Things to Watch for in the Gators' Spring Game

John PattonContributor IApril 7, 2011

Florida Football: 10 Things to Watch for in the Gators' Spring Game

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    A new era in Florida football began just after the Gators' 37-24 victory against Penn State in January's Outback Bowl.

    That game was Urban Meyer's last as UF's head coach, and afterward, the program belonged completely to former Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp.

    Florida will hold its Orange & Blue Game on Saturday, the first with Muschamp in charge.

    Here are 10 things to watch for.

Looking for Lockdowns

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    Senior-to-be Janoris Jenkins is one of the nation's top returning cornerbacks, but he has been held out of contact in spring practice with the same torn labrum that kept him out of the Outback Bowl.

    His absence, as well as the injury suffered by sophomore Jaylen Watkins, will allow for players like sixth-year senior Moses Jenkins, redshirt junior Jeremy Brown and sophomore Cody Riggs to get more up-close looks from the coaching staff at cornerback.

John Brantley's Second Spring as Starter

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    After throwing for nine touchdowns and 10 interceptions in his first year as Florida's starting quarterback, senior-to-be John Brantley no doubt is looking to have a strong 2011 season.

    Gone this spring is Urban Meyer's spread option offense, and in are new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis's pro style packages.

    Not the most fleet of athletes, the new offense is expected to play to Brantley's strengths (i.e. his right arm will be called upon much more than his legs).

Who Is Tyler Murphy?

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    Quarterback Tyler Murphy spent his first year in Gainesville learning Urban Meyer's spread offense and was redshirted.

    An athletic player with a strong arm, the 6'2", 192-pound redshirt freshman from Wethersfield, Conn. is a mystery to Gator fans, who so far, have only seen him wearing a headset and not a helmet.

    John Brantley is the leader to become Florida's 2011 quarterback, but Murphy will have the chance to impress Muschamp, Weis and Co. (as well as the UF faithful expected to visit the Swamp) on Saturday afternoon.

Rainey Time

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    The 2010 season was forgettable for Chris Rainey, who became better known as a punchline for his "Time to Die, (expletive deleted)" text to an ex-girlfriend that led to his arrest and four-game suspension than anything he did on the field.

    Still, in eight games, the Lakeland, Fla. native did enough to finish second on the team in rushing (51 carries for 366 yards) and fourth in receiving (25 receptions for 216 yards).

    Now a senior running back/wide receiver, Rainey has one last chance to impress NFL scouts. And that begins Saturday.

Blockers: Apply Here.

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    Saturday's game won't be traditional with two teams in great part because the Gators got down to just six healthy scholarship offensive linemen in spring practice.

    Following a recent practice, Muschamp told the assembled media Saturday's scrimmage most likely will have only one primary offense and one primary defense because there weren't enough able blockers and running backs to play with an Orange and a Blue team.

Sophomore Stoppers

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    When Philadelphia's Sharrif Floyd and Staten Island's Dominique Easley signed national letters of intent as part of Florida's 2010 recruiting class, the Gators believed they could have two potential All-American defensive tackles on their roster.

    Neither player dominated as freshmen, but then again, who does at that age in the Southeastern Conference?

    Of the two, the 6'3", 303-pound Floyd played the most, accruing 23 tackles (including eight for a loss) and a quarterback hurry while seeing action in all 13 games. Easley (6'2", 278) recorded four tackles in six games.

    Projected starters Omar Hunter and Jaye Howard have had to deal with injuries all spring, so look for Floyd and Easley to get the opportunity to impress the new coaching staff, which includes Muschamp, coordinator Dan Quinn and line coach Bryant Young, each of whom has a defensive background.

From the Tackled to the Tackler

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    Gerald Christian played in eight games at tight end and fullback as a freshman, even grading out as a "Champion" following Florida's 55-14 victory at Vanderbilt on Nov. 6.

    Due to depth issues created by the graduations of A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks, as well as injuries to other players, the 6'3", 232-pound athlete from national high school power Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer was moved to linebacker by Muschamp.

    So far, so good for the sophomore, who has been impressive this spring. Due to his versatility, Christian could be one of the most intriguing players on UF's roster come two-a-days in August, not to mention Saturday's Orange & Blue Game.

Caleb's Big Comeback

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    Gator kicker Caleb Sturgis played in just four games last year before a back injury ended his junior season. That forced now-departed punter (and holder) Chas Henry to kick field goals.

    An All-American punter, Henry didn't do badly at his second position, connecting on 7-of-11 field goals (including the game-winner in overtime against archrival Georgia) and 28-of-29 extra points. However, Sturgis was missed not just when points were on the line, but also on kickoffs, which weren't as deep without his right leg available.

    Now a senior, Sturgis has looked good in Spring drills and has said he is fully healthy and ready to go.

The Freshman Foot

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    One of the Gators' first commitments in the class of 2011, Brownsburg (Ind.)  Kyle Christy already is on campus and is competing with walk-on David Lerner, a Gainesville native, for the punting job.

    The task won't be an easy one, as Florida's four most consistent players in 2010 were strong safety Ahmad Black, senior center Mike Pouncey, junior cornerback Janoris Jenkins and All-American senior punter Chas Henry.

    Henry averaged 45.1 yards on 50 punts with good hangtime last year and also filled in as UF's placekicker.

Will Andre Become a Giant?

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    When Andre Debose signed a national letter of intent with Florida in 2009, the expectations were as high as they can get when discussing Gator receivers.

    He was called "the next Percy Harvin" by many observers, who compared the skillset of the former prep All American from Sanford Seminole to that of the former Gator/current Minnesota Vikings' standout.

    Speedy and elusive with the ball in his hands, it was believed the 5'1"1, 180-pound Debose would thrive in the hybrid tailback/receiver role Harvin played so well in Gainesville.

    Debose had to sit out his first year on campus after undergoing a knee biceps femoris graft to fix a lingering high school track injury.

    He saw action in 10 games last year, catching 10 passes for 96 yards and also carrying 10 times for nine yards. But Debose's biggest accomplishments occurred on special teams, where he averaged 28 yards on 21 kickoff returns and had two touchdowns (including one for 99 yards against South Carolina).

    Debose's role should expand a great deal his redshirt sophomore year, and he could see even more work than previously expected in the Orange & Blue Game, as fellow receiver Chris Dunkley has been suspended from the team indefinitely for academic reasons.