What four freshmen do you expect to get the most playing time on offense this year?
Cody: Ahmad Fulwood, Demarcus Robinson, Kelvin Taylor and Colin Thompson. The obvious positions that need instant impacts are the skill positions. If Matt Jones misses time at the beginning of the season, expect Taylor to get time in the backfield. Will Mushamp said on Monday that he was fourth on the depth chart because of ball security and pass protection, but without Jones, Taylor is too talented to keep off the field for other running backs.
The passing game will need freshmen, too. Robinson has already shown what he can do in spring practice and in open practices. Fulwood earned praise from Muschamp and his teammates, citing his size and speed combination for making plays in practice. Thompson is on this list because the Gators desperately need help at tight end. He's a big body that can block and has shown the ability to get open on intermediate routes. He'll join with Clay Burton and Kent Taylor to take reps.
Bob: Demarcus Robinson, Kelvin Taylor, Colin Thompson, and Ahmad Fulwood. This is the same four, but in order of use as long as they are healthy. I will start elsewhere and say that the guy that could shoot to the top of the list as far as usage could be Thompson. He has all the intangibles and the background to be the dual threat tight end they are looking for and do it at a high level. No knock on the older guys that have improved, I just think Thompson is a more natural at the position.
The two receivers Robinson and Fulwood are starting out at different levels of effectiveness right now, but both should see good time on the field. Robinson is pushing to start in game one and if he knows the playbook inside and out, I don't see a reason that can't happen. Fulwood is extremely intelligent which means he catches on fast and on a legitimate 6-4 frame, he is an ideal fit for the offense.
Taylor has to quit coughing up the ball. Talk from inside camp is that the light went on for Taylor in the offseason as far as pass protections and he is likely the best runner right now anyway, but if he doesn't hold on to the ball, he won't get a lot of touches when it means something.
Which three offensive players have shown the most improvement from last season?
Cody: Quinton Dunbar, D.J. Humphries, Jeff Driskel. It's easy to see how far Dunbar has come in the three open practices. We've heard the hype since his first year on campus. It looks like he's prepared to carry it into the games this fall and give the Gators a trusted receiver. He has made tough catches in traffic against Florida's cornerbacks, who will be some of the toughest he'll face this year.
Humphries played well as a freshman, but playing between 285-290 pounds, he'll have a better frame to block SEC defensive ends. The technique and speed is already there for him to be an All-SEC left tackle, and after going up against Dante Fowler and Ronald Powell every day in practice, he's ready for game action. Jeff Driskel is the obvious key here. If he can get more comfortable in the offense, the Gators will be much improved on that side of the ball.
Bob: Jeff Driskel, Solomon Patton, and Tevin Westbrook. Driskel without a doubt looks more comfortable out there. I don't think we have seen a bit of what they are actually going to let him do with his feet, but we have seen him sit in the pocket and dissect the defense a few times, which might be few more times than we have seen on practice in the last two years.
Patton has become more of a pass catching threat than just a runner on end-arounds. He can go deep and took a few short to medium passes over the middle. This could be more reflective of Driskel running through his routes, but Patton looks to be more of a weapon heading into 2013.
I really liked several things I saw from tight end Westbrook. The junior has massive size (6-5, 262) and he can run. He was a tremendous high school basketball player and so he is pretty athletic for his size. I also saw him do some nasty work in blocking drills which I know the staff likes.
How much progress do you expect from starting quarterback Jeff Driskel?
Cody: Everything is set up for Driskel to take a big step forward this year. His offensive line is much improved, he has more weapons at wide receiver, and it's his second year under offensive coordinator Brent Pease. It's tough to make a confident judgment on Driskel based only on three open practices, but the junior looked poised, in command and showed comfort in what the Gators are trying to do on the offensive side of the ball.
The difference is his progressions and reads. When his first read was covered, Driskel looked over the field and found an open receiver. He also showed a better understanding of the routes, getting the ball out of his hand before the receiver breaks on his route. This will allow the receivers to catch the ball and create yards after the catch, something that was basically non-existent last year.
Bob: I think the big thing for Driskel will be is that they open up the game for him a little more and let him run it. With the early season issues at running back (Jones out and not much depth), Driskel will be allowed to use more than just his arm and that could really open up some passing lanes for him when he does throw.
The receiver position also looks to be better except for tight end, but they have some flex guys there that can take up some slack in the passing game. More targets to throw to means he needs to go through his progressions more and he showed that in the few open practices we watched.
Also look for them to utilize his strengths of running and throwing by throwing the ball on the move, yet another wrinkle in this offense that will keep defenses on their toes.
Which position group will show the most improvement in 2013?
Cody: There are a few ways to go with this question, but I'll take the offensive line. The freshman-to-sophomore jump and the added weight will help Humphries at left tackle. There are rumblings out of Florida camp that left guard Max Garcia is the best offensive lineman on the team. Center Jonotthan Harrison is heading into his senior year stronger and more aware of his pre-snap calls. Right guard Jon Halapio (pec) is expected to be cleared on Friday, and he's the most veteran presence. Chaz Green is a year older and has more depth to back him up if needed.
The depth is the difference this fall. If one lineman struggles, the Gators have options. Kyle Koehne, Tyler Moore and Trip Thurman bring versatility to play all positions. The Gators also have 6-8, 363-pound junior college transfer Trenton Brown. The numbers are the big difference between Muschamp's first year and 2013.
Bob: I'm going to go in a different direction. Give me the receivers. Joker Phillips came to town and he had a lot of work to do. The receivers weren't bad last year, there was just really nothing that stood out about them. That looks to have changed and they have shown improvement against the best defensive backs they will face this year.
Which offensive position group will take the biggest step back in 2013?
Cody: This has to be the tight end position. The Gators have spent the offseason desperately searching for Jordan Reed's replacement, but it hasn't been easy. Even with the top two tight ends from the 2012 class -- Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson -- the Gators are still searching. Clay Burton looks ready to start at the position and take most of the reps. Tevin Westbrook will also be involved.
It'll be interesting to see how Pease manages this. Burton and Thompson are the best blockers of the group while Taylor seems to be the best receiver. The Gators could play them depending on the situation and try to put each of the three in the best position to succeed this fall.
Bob: Without matt Jones it will be tough at running back, but when he returns I agree that the tight end position will take a step back, but only in terms of catching the ball and moving it down the field.
None of Westbrook, starting junior Clay Burton, sophomore Kent Taylor, or Colin Thompson can do what Reed did in terms of receiving, Taylor being the one closest to that mold. So the position will lose it's luster a bit this season in terms of stats. However, the other side of the coin is that the blocking will improve with most of those named being on the field. Also, other players / positions will be asked to pick up the slack for the offensive production from Reed.
What five freshmen do you expect to get the most playing time on defense this year?
Cody: Jarrad Davis, Vernon Hargreaves, Marcus Maye, Daniel McMillian, Keanu Neal. There isn't as much of a need on the defensive line, but the Gators will depend on multiple freshmen at linebacker and in the secondary. Davis and McMillian have drawn consistent praise from the coaches throughout the fall, and McMillian being on campus for the spring gives him a leg up on playing time.
Maye is going to be a star this fall. He'll be used plenty in the box, almost as an extra linebacker as Matt Elam was used at times in 2012. He's physical but has the range to play as a deep safety, too. Neal has made his presence felt with big hits during the fall, and the coaches know he's ready to get on the field. Despite his size, he can move well enough to cover at safety. Hargreaves is dealing with a shoulder sprain but is expected to return soon. He'll get time at the nickel and at cornerback.
Bob: I can see Cody's list, but will change it up a bit. I will go with Marcus Maye, Hargreaves (given his recent injury isn't too severe), Jarrad Davis, Bryan Cox, and Alex Anzalone. Maye is the lone starter in the group, at least for now. He has intelligence, size, speed, and athleticism. That is absolutely everything you need in a safety outside of instincts, and he has showed that as well in the three open practices. Will he play at a Matt Elam level in his first year, doubtful, but he looks to be able to play at a very high level.
Hargreaves has a shoulder injury that kept him out of camp in the open practices, but all we heard was high accolades for the true freshman that came to Florida as the number one high school cornerback in America. My guess is he will get some time at corner in meaningful situations, and be the top guy at nickel when small, shifty receivers are playing in the slot. The sky seems the limit for him, so he could add to that playing time even at the Gators best position on the roster.
We love Davis and his size and his relentlessness in practice. He is the most intimidating looking linebacker the Gators have not named Ronald Powell. I would have gone with McMillian but Anzalone seemed to get a lot more playing time during practice and that says something. He will definitely play and has significant size, he also plays pretty well in space making a few pass break ups in the time I was watching him.
Cox was one of the guys I was most interested to see. When you watch him consistently, you see that he just plays hard core on every snap. While still learning technique as a freshman, he often times gets handled. But, the fact is the kid makes a ton of plays because he is quick, has really good size (6-3, 260), and that motor I am referring to.
Who will replace Omar Hunter at nose?
Cody: This is the biggest question on the defensive line. The Gators have experienced options in Damien Jacobs and Leon Orr, while junior college transfer Darious Cummings is going to get involved at the position. Freshmen Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley and Antonio Riles could also factor into the job. D.J. Durkin has even said Jonathan Bullard will slide inside at times.
My guess is that Jacobs wins the job if healthy. He has missed a majority of camp with a patella injury but is expected back on Monday. The coaches have talked about the importance of getting him back. The ideal scenario is that Orr takes a leap and puts it all together with his freakish size and athleticism, but it hasn't happened yet.
Bob: I am glad Cody took Jacobs and that is a safe bet. One issue we have is we didn't see Jacobs play at all in the three open practices and I think he will miss some significant playing time.
I am going to take Cummings. He was the best inside lineman not named Easley over the three open days. He doesn't have great height, which they do like at the position, but he has great strength, a quick punch, and is really quick for his size (6-1, 309). He impressed me every day I watched him.
Who will be the two guys you believe will be the most prominent players at safety?
Cody: It'll be Marcus Maye and Cody Riggs. The hype around Maye is real after seeing three open practices. He was all over the field while helping against the run, but he has the speed to cover in the secondary. The meniscus injury that forced him to redshirt last year might've been a blessing in disguise, as he was able to learn from Matt Elam.
Riggs doesn't have ideal size, but his leadership in the secondary is important. Muschamp also said the Gators played 75-80 percent nickel or dime coverage last year, so they'll play it a lot this year, too. That means guys like Jaylen Watkins, Brian Poole and Vernon Hargreaves will still get plenty of time in the secondary. The defensive scheme doesn't always call for two pure safeties, but Maye and Riggs will be the two on the field most.
Bob: I will take Maye for all the above reasons, but I am going to go with Jaylen Watkins at the other spot when all is said and done. Compliments to Riggs who had a great three days of camp while we were watching, but I think Watkins has more of the tools they need at the position and is a guy with a lot more experience on the field.
What returning player on defense is the most improved?
Cody: This fall could turn into the Dante Fowler show. Last year, veteran defensive linemen on the team spoke about his freakish athleticism, but he needed to learn the scheme and technique. That happened this offseason. In open practices, even against some of Florida's best offensive linemen, Fowler did whatever he wanted most of the time. His size and speed combination will make him a terror this fall.
Bob: I am going to go with Neiron Ball and that is simply from what we saw on the field for three days. He must have had double digit pass breakups in three practices and seemed to be all over the place. At 6-3, 235 he is pretty good size and he can rush the passer which makes him another valuable part of the multiple defense that Will Muschamp wants to create.
What is the weakest position group on defense (DE, DT, LB, Saf, CB)?
Cody: I'll take the linebackers simply because they haven't shown it yet. The position has been dominated by Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins over the last three years, and while the Gators have players who seem capable of holding their own, they haven't been able to show it on the field because of the depth. The Antonio Morrison suspension also hurts the position for the early part of the season. The hype around Neiron Ball's move to WILL linebacker continues to grow, and the Gators need a big year from him at the position.
Bob: I am going to say the defensive tackle. Compliments to Dominique Easley, but I don't see how he will play as well as Sharrif Floyd did a year ago. The other spot is still a ways behind starter Omar Hunter from a year ago. Jacobs could be a changing factor here but he really only showed up for the last two games of the year in 2012.
Florida added Joker Phillips (receivers and recruiting coordinator), Brad Lawing (defensive line), and Jeff Choate (linebackers and special teams) to the staff. They also reassigned D.J. Durkin to be the defensive coordinator. Which of these moves will be the most significant?
Cody: Brad Lawing has made a career for himself by making something out of nothing. South Carolina didn't always get elite defensive line recruits -- before Jadeveon Clowney, that is. Lawing had to take lesser recruited players and turn them into functional linemen. He did it with Melvin Ingram at South Carolina, making him a first round pick. Eric Norwood showed up as a three-star recruit and was a star from the beginning.
Think about what Lawing can do with the players on Florida's defensive line. He's working with a sophomore duo of Bullard and Fowler, on top of Dominique Easley inside at defensive tackle. South Carolina media members I've talked to always praise his creativity in the pass rush. If there's one thing Lawing knows how to do, it's get his linemen to the quarterback.
Bob: Kudos to Cody for taking Lawing. Not a bad pick, but that defensive line has a lot to live up to from 2012 with all the defensive stats they help accumulate. I am going to take an easier way out and take Joker Phillips and the job he is doing and will do with the wide receivers.
During the first two days of open practice I had the task of following the linemen around so I really tried to keep my eyes peeled on the interior. During that time I heard the crowds cheer after certain plays more and more than I have heard in recent years. On day three, we switched to covering offense and defense, and although I had the defense, I was pleasantly surprised at just how well these main receivers fought for the ball, got themselves open, and actually came down with the ball.
I heard Phillips was a little worried about the receivers following spring ball, but since fall camp began and he was allowed to coach them again, I have been hearing he is really excited. They still need some young guys to step up but two freshmen in Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson have basically established themselves among the group that will see action. Trey Burton playing more of a receiver role may very well see a significant increase in action as well, playing in the slot where Jordan Reed played. Burton has really praised Phillips' coaching so far.
When will the following return to action? Matt Jones (illness) and Antonio Morrison (suspension)?
Cody: I think the best case scenario for Jones is to get some carries in the Toledo game and be full-go for Miami. Whether or not that happens is still up in the air until he's cleared, but the Gators need him against the Hurricanes.
The more Muschamp is asked about Morrison's suspension, the more I believe he'll be on the field against Miami. The Florida head coach has been clear to say "at this time" the suspension stands, but with all Morrison has been through this summer, it wouldn't be a surprise for him to get his head right and live up to the expectations in practice. If that happens, he should be on the field for the first snap against the Hurricanes.
Bob: I am going to say Jones will return in game three and Morrison will return in game two. I have no inside scoop on either and I totally believe it is just about getting Jones back on his feet after his illness. I don't think they want or need to put him out there if he risks getting hurt again. I will say him showing up in a helmet and shorts on Wednesday means they may be trying to work him through the five-day acclimation period where all players have to spend at least five days out of pads before they can put the pads on.
As for Morrison, I thought as soon as the video came out about his last "transgression" that his two-game suspension would be lowered. Like Cody said, Muschamp has hinted at it a little bit, and I think that is all I need to hear.