The Most Important Spring Battles

Spring practice starts today (Wednesday) for the Gators. After a surprising 11-1 regular season a year ago, the mindset of most Florida fans about the current state of their program has changed a bit… to the positive. Florida looks to be returning another talented team with quite a few fresh faces. However, there are plenty of questions to be answered and battles to be fought this spring.

There are some positions on the roster that won't have a battle barring injury. We know Jeff Driskel will be the starting quarterback. We know Jonotthan Harrison will start at center. The cornerbacks will revolve around three mainstays in Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson, and Jaylen Watkins.

Below you will find my six most important battles of the spring. The new depth chart came out Tuesday and that certainly is flexible, I will flex it a bit myself below, but to me, the more answers the Gators can find to the seven questions below, the better this season will be. I place importance on the positions listed first.

Defensive Tackle / Nose

Florida head coach Will Muschamp wouldn't come out and say it, but senior Dominique Easley is likely going to spend most of his time inside in 2013. I think he owns one of the defensive tackle spots. I don't think it matters which spot the two play, these guys with their size and quickness can play either spot inside. That leaves the battle for the other spot inside up to three guys.

The Contenders: DT Damien Jacobs (SR, 6-3, 286) vs. Leon Orr (JR, 6-5, 310) vs. Darious Cummings (JR, 6-2, 305)

The Good: Orr has progressively gotten better including as the season went along in 2012. We didn't see a lot from Jacobs until very late in the year, but it was his first year on campus, so maybe that late run was a good sign. Cummings came in with the most star power and they are expecting things from him early in his time on campus.

Athletically this is a very solid group and they each have size and pretty good quickness. I like these three as a group that may not have a main guy or starter per se.

The Bad: None of these three have substantial time on the field at Florida yet. The best thing going may very well be the competition between the three that will force to the other ones to get better. The question is who is going to stand out?

Regardless of the depth chart Orr will play a lot.

Prediction: My guess is that Cummings plays the best of the three and eventually becomes the starter next to Easley on the inside. He seems to have the better tools, from what was said of him coming into Florida. Still I think all three play a good deal and the rotation should be a decent one, with a Jarran Reed and Jay-nard Bostwick thrown in as the season moves along.

Second String Running Back

I know a lot of people will wonder why I would put a backup spot near the top of the list. My thought process is that while it is likely that Matt Jones hangs on to the number one spot, the Gators have to have a second guy ready to go and Jones isn't the most experienced guy in the world for the Gators either. With that said, we know Muschamp wants a bull dozing ground game, so finding multiple backs to bruise defenses is a necessity.

The Contenders: Mack Brown (JR, 5-11, 213) vs. Kelvin Taylor (FR, 5-10, 205)

The Good: Both guys have physical talent to run the ball and do it effectively. We don't know that as much with Taylor, but his high school resume and work habits in the off-season certainly point to him likely having a successful career. Both guys are great fits for the downhill running style that Muschamp wants to incorporate, they are big and they run with power.

The Bad: There are just so many question marks still, lots of the unknown. Is Brown still having issues picking up blocking schemes. He certainly didn't touch the ball very much a year ago and that is likely the reason why. Can Taylor handle all of the stuff that comes along with being a college player compared to a superior high school talent. This, we have to find out.

Brown needs to step it up now.

Prediction: I think Taylor is too talented and likely able to catch on pretty quick with a dad that has been teaching him since he was a young pup. It should be early in the season when he trots out there in the third series or so as the backup to Jones.

Both Safety Spots

I had this one written up all differently before they threw the curve ball of Riggs at safety. The way you have to look at the two safety positions now is that both are wide open and any of the four guys listed could legitimately have a shot at either spot. So, who are they?

The Contenders: Cody Riggs (JR, 5-9, 184) vs. Jabari Gorman (JR, 5-10, 186) vs. Valdez Showers (SO, 5-11, 190) vs. Marcus Maye (R-FR, 6-0, 200)

The Good: Riggs has a tremendous amount of experience playing ball for the Gators. His move to safety is all about getting the best players on the field as much as possible and they have always thought highly of Riggs and his work ethic and athletic ability.

Gorman seemed to make plays when he was on the field. I had him slotted to start at free safety before the Riggs move, but now we will see. He is athletic and instinctual, a pretty good all-around player that also plays a lot of special teams.

Showers is a great athlete and has some size to him. You could say the same thing about Maye, and not slighting Showers at all (because I don't know), but Maye is a very intelligent and should have a great future at Florida.

The Bad: Riggs and Gorman might be the front runners right now and that would be a pretty small pair of starting safeties. Not that small is that bad (see Ahmad Black), but they certainly aren't prototypes. Showers and Maye have the issue of little to none experience, a scary thing for coaches to live with when they are talking about their last line of defense.

Gorman seems to have the inside track to one safety spot.

Prediction: This is a really tough one and I am all over the place with it. I think to start the season we see Riggs and Gorman start. I really like Maye thought and think he will have to fit in the depth chart pretty quick. This thing gets really interesting when freshmen Marcell Harris, Keanu Neal, and Nick Washington arrive in June.

Tight End

There aren't many spots on the field where the Gators lose so much production due to graduation. Still, this position is more about catching the ball and making a play with the ball. The Gators need guys at tight end that can stretch a defense, but also block at the line of scrimmage like an extra lineman, the latter was something they seldom got from Jordan Reed last year.

The Contenders: TE Clay Burton (JR, 6-4, 253) vs. Tevin Westbrook (JR, 6-5, 262) vs. Kent Taylor (SO, 6-5, 224) vs. Colin Thompson (R-FR, 6-3, 252)

The Good: Burton, Westbrook, and even Taylor were inserted into games during pressure times last year and asked to make big plays. Taylor scored a touchdown, but it took the bowl game at the end of last season for that to happen.

Burton and Westbrook have shown to be pretty good blockers and have ideal size to continue to progress at that part of the game. Taylor showed that he can stretch the field and can run pretty well. He is also a good leaper and a goal line threat to catch the ball.

Thompson came to Florida heralded as a blocker and a pretty good pass catching tight end to earn his #2 ranking nationally at the position as a high school senior.

The Bad: Four catches total among the group and they are going to have to try and replace the leading pass catcher for the Gators last year in Reed. Westbrook and Burton have been at the position for a year now after playing on the opposite side of the ball before that. Taylor needs to gain some strength and weight. Thompson is just back from injury and has no idea about playing against SEC talent yet.

Tight end coach Derek Lewis (here with Burton) has his hands full this spring

This may surprise most, but I am going with the new guy on this one. I just think Colin Thompson brings more of the total package to the table with his blocking ability and the chance to make a play on the ball out in space as well. He may start the first game or two, but I think his long time play at the position and his overall traits make him the best candidate as the most prominent starter at the position in 2013.

WILL Linebacker This is another one that was a curve ball after the depth charts were handed out, but I thought these two contenders would battle at the MIKE instead of the WILL. Still, the two positions are very similar, so not that bog of a deal.

The Contenders: Michael Taylor (JR, 6-0, 231) vs. Daniel McMillian (FR, 6-1, 227)

The Good: Taylor is a thumper, he loves to hit and he has had a few in his time on the field already as a Gator. You can say the same thing for McMillian even though he is fresh out of high school after enrolling early on campus in January. McMillian is a terrific athlete and can run like a deer and hit you as well.

The Bad: Taylor has speed issues and is one reason I am surprised he will be asked to cover backs out of the backfield sometimes as the WILL linebacker. For McMillian his issues only stem from zero experience at the college level. He will have to learn on the run.

Taylor (above) should get a lot of heat from McMillian.

Prediction: College coaches have a hard time not playing experienced players above guys that ‘may' be more talented. Notice I didn't say McMillian IS more talented. However, last year Florida was clearly not afraid to throw the young guys out there and in tough situations, to make some plays. Still, I think Taylor starts at the beginning of the season and McMillian's superior athletic ability gets him into that starting spot before the year is half way done. Backup Quarterback

The Contenders: Troy Murphy (JR, 6-2, 206) vs. Skyler Mornhinweg (R-FR, 6-2, 208)

The Good: Murphy is a terrific athlete that could play wide out with his speed and athleticism. We have only seen him in a spring game and he played well in the one shot he got, and even has a pretty good arm. Mornhinweg has the pedigree with his dad and the NFL offensive mind. He also has some athletic ability, but the thought is he has a little better arm than murphy.

The Bad: Murphy has been passed over twice already by starting quarterback Jeff Driskel and the departed Jacoby Brissett. He doesn't ever seem to get even a sniff of the field, so something is holding them back. No experience for Mornhinweg and it is doubtful he has the tools right now to be a starter type in the SEC. We should see one or both of them this season regardless.

The hope is Murphy (10) and Mornhinweg (17) can play mop up duty only for Driskel.

Prediction: I think Murphy gets the backup spot, but not by much. I just don't know enough about Mornhinweg and the fact that Murphy is two years older is big at this position in my opinion.

One Last Note… I was all set to talk about the BUCK position and then a couple of things surprised me. First Dante Fowler (SO, 6-3, 263) was listed as the starter at BUCK. Now, we knew that Ronald Powell would miss because of the spring, and it makes since having the more experienced Fowler play the position and he played very well when he was in the game a year ago. Still, everything I heard in the last few months was how Fowler was still growing out of the position and that he was well into the 280's. Then, they release the roster with the above listed 263 pounds. That tells me he is serious about playing the BUCK.

My guy was going to be Alex McCalister (R-FR, 6-5, 238) as the staff has praised his effort on the scout team, in the weight room, and on the training table after gaining 30 pounds since his arrival.

Fowler's weight is great news actually because he is now a competent size to play the BUCK and DE positions and he opposite Bullard is an all-star tandem waiting to happen. So, I am not complaining.

A Fowler with his weight under control could mean for the best pass rush in a while at Florida.

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