Leonard really impressed me during the spring game with his new 250+ pound physique and the way he was able to block and move defenders from the line of scrimmage in running situations. Blessed with a deft ability to catch the ball, Leonard was going to be a weapon in the offense and had four catches in the spring game. This time will be sorely missed as he was the best blocking tight end the Gators had in an offense that is really going to lean on the running game, especially in early season big games.
Number two on our list is a few position changes. The Leonard injury caused the shift of defensive end Clay Burton to tight end. There are two trains of thought here. One is we now have a guy that wasn't ever on offense the entire spring he was here, yet moved out of necessity with an injury. The other is a position like defensive end that was thought to be thin may not be all that thin with players ready to go. Either way, Burton is going to be [pressed into duty as a blocker with his 252 pound body.
Continuing on with the position change we can point to Chris Johnson and Valdez Showers. It is no accident that three true freshmen are the ones that made a position change and Showers and Johnson are two athletic guys that really can make a difference if put into the right place on the football field.
Muschamp told us Saturday night that Johnson was going to start getting some reps at linebacker, a position that hasn't exactly lit it up behind the starters. Johnson has a physique much like Matt Elam and his passion in the sport is hitting someone. It seems like a natural fit.
Showers moved from cornerback to safety in the first two days of practice. A bigger thicker player at corner, Showers is also an excellent athlete and it would not be a shock to this writer if he was moved to offense where he was a big time stud in high school as a multi-year 1,000 yard receiver.
With an offensive line that is very thin in numbers, it comes as a great and positive surprise that guard James Wilson is really getting a lot of playing time and looks to be doing well. Wilson has always had the talent to play at the highest level and it seems he is pushing freshman Ian Silberman for the starting left guard spot. What a wonderful thing this would be for the offense if this continues as Wilson really has the tools to be a great one.
For number four, we will stay on the line. I think it is big news that Chaz Green is holding off Matt Patchan for the starting right tackle spot. Coaches often side with experience and so Green must really be playing well to hold off the talented Patchan who I had penciled in as a starter on the right side. We knew Green was going to be good after the spring, but I think this just adds to his resume, even without playing a football game.
The fifth thing caught the media off guard on Saturday. Muschamp surprised a lot of folks last night when he informed everyone that Jordan Reed will get a chance to return punts for the Gators. With his skill set it makes sense for Reed to try the position and Muschamp pointed out that his assistants were the ones that really pushed for Reed to try it. Muschamp made it a point for folks to understand that his size and explosion make him a real threat, especially one on one with gunners that are usually about half his size.
We can't have this segment without talking about our sixth news worthy happening this spring. Freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson has been a camp wunderkind so far and although hasn't made a dent in the starting lineup he gets my vote as the most likely true freshman to do so sometime early in the season. Roberson stands about 5-11 and weighs a solid 190+ and plays the game much like Janoris Jenkins did. Could he be the quick replacement for Jenkins, this writer thins so.
It may have been passed off as minor, but don't sleep on the little praise that Muschamp threw on freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel early in the week. The mental part of the game is going to be tough for any true freshman and that hasn't been different for Driskel. However, Muschamp has been cautious about praising the true freshmen quarterbacks and the recent trend seems to be on the upswing. We have gone from redshirt Tyler Murphy being the unwritten backup to start the fall to it being wide open and Driskel slowly getting more of the praise. It is never going to be written in stone, but I think there is a significant move going on.
The eighth significant thing we are learning about this team is where the strength is at linebacker. As mentioned above, Chris Johnson will start seeing some reps at linebacker and it probably means he is playing well enough to move ahead of some others. That said, Muschamp has had praise for Michael Taylor every time someone asks about the position. Taylor is a hardnosed big time tackler that brings the heat and a nasty attitude when he meets the ball. Another one he is starting to mention significantly is true freshman linebacker Graham Stewart. Stewart is the only linebacker in Muschamp's only recruiting class and it appears he just may well be ready to avoid the redshirt.
On to the schematic things most of us didn't know about this team. It appears that Muschamp and the defense are going to use a lot less of the 3-4 defense than everyone has been talking about since he signed on as the head coach back in December. Personnel is a big part of it, but as he explained on Saturday, he doesn't want things to get too complicated as to take away from the things that his guys can do well. As I have continued to say, Muschamp is a base 4-3 defensive coach, but he likes to use the 3-4 especially in short down and distance situations and definite running situations. It allows for bigger personnel to get on the field and more gap coverage across the line of scrimmage. However, there is no true nose tackle on the roster and I don't see that changing in the near future.
One other thing I learned Friday was that there will not really be a free safety and a strong safety in this defense. Instead, they call them the left and right safety. It wasn't made clear to me which one is which, but basically both safeties are going to have to learn to play in the box and in the deep post in the defense. It was made clear that the position that Matt Elam plays will play most of the time in the box in a Cover-1, and Josh Evans in the post, but there will be times when they play a split Cover-2 and when the switch completely and Evans is in the box while Elam is in the post.
If you have watched the practice film, Elam has played in the box most of the time and Evans and Watkins in the post. That tells me we are going to see a lot of Cover-1 which is a high pressure defense.
So far, so good. Nothing drastic has happened in terms of injuries and there are certainly some positive things happening with guys recovering and young guys stepping up. The things we have learned about the schemes being used point to a staff that is ready to let the athletes play and put them in the best positions to do so. Hopefully we will learn more from Monday's scrimmage.