Defensively it will be hard to replace the big plays made by Guss Scott and Keiwan Ratliff but the unit may be able to get those turnovers from a variety of areas with the depth across the defensive front. This is the first time in four seasons that the defense returns the same coordinator in Charlie Strong, who is in his second year. In one week he has already put his fingerprints on some new schemes that will get the best personnel on the field in every situation.
Ron Zook has not released a depth chart to the media because the battles are so intense that they are changing each and every day. Here is a look at what I think would be the lineup today based on one week of practice. This is not an official depth chart:
QB: Chris Leak, Gavin Dickey, Justin Midgett, Matt Kynes
RB: Ciatrick Fason, DeShawn Wynn, Skyler Thornton
FB: Billy Latsko, Eddie Hatch
WR: Dallas Baker, Reggie Vickers, Andre Caldwell
Slot: Andre Caldwell, O.J. Small, Reggie Lewis
WR: Jemalle Cornelius, Chad Jackson, Kenneth Tookes
WR Fourth Slot: Andre Caldwell, Kenneth Tookes
TE: Markell Thompson, David Kenner, Brian Crum, Darrell Carpenter, Hunter Cain
RT: Randy Hand, Carlton Medder, Anthony Guerrero, Zach King
RG: Mo Mitchell, Lance Butler, Anthony Guerrero, Jonathen Marvin
C: Mike Degory, Steve Rissler, Billy Griffin
LG: Lance Butler, Ron Dowdy, Billy Griffin, Ryan Carter, James Stone
LT: Tavares Washington, Jon Colon, Randy Hand
DE: Tranell Morant, Jeremy Mincey, Jarvis Moss
DE: Steven Harris, Joe Cohen, MaKenzie Pierre
DT: Ray McDonald, Eric Holcombe, Clint McMillan, Michael Hill
DT: Marcus Thomas,Kenny Parker, Julian Riley,Brandon Daniel, Dwayne Norris
SAM - Travis Harris, Todd McCollough, Taurean Charles, Richard Brown
WILL - Earl Everett, Howard Linguard, Alik Scott
MIKE - Channing Crowder, Bryan Royal, Doug Guziec, Alvin Butler
CB - Dee Webb, Deshaun Carter, Tremaine McCollum
CB - Reynaldo Hill, Vernell Brown, Jermaine McCollum ,Matt Nedoff
FS - Jarvis Herring, Terrence Holmes, Zephrin Augustine
SS- Cory Bailey, Nick Brooks, Jermaine Thomas
Kicker: Matt Leach, Chris Hetland, Eric Nappy, Jeff Whitaker
Kickoff: Matt Piotrowicz, Chris Hetland, Eric Nappy
Punter: Eric Wilbur, Jason Hunter, Nick Flemming
LS: Casey Griffith, Jonathan Lively,Jay Pattela
Holder: Eric Wilbur, Jeff Whitaker
Snippetts and Tidbits:
Looking at the Depth Chart: UF returns 43 letter winners with 21 on offense, 18 on defense and 4 on special teams. The Gators will look to extend the SEC's longest streak of six win seasons in the conference to thirteen this fall. The second best total is six by Alabama from 1961-1966. The passing game should be improved with Chris Leak entering his second year in the system. UF has not had a quarterback enter consecutive seasons with the same system in the Zook era. The players returning account for 79% of the returning passing yards and 65% of the rushing yards. UF has led the SEC in passing offense two of the last three years and had 71 plays of 20 yards or more last season which was up 11 from 2002.
Defensively with Charlie Strong returning and the interior of the defense having the most experience look for more sacks in 2004.The Gator front will be youthful but faster than one season ago. The defensive line should be fresher. For example, Ray McDonald had a tremendous freshman campaign and played a little light for the season, but participated in a team high 712 snaps in 13 games. Look for that number to be around 35-45 per game this season on an 11 game schedule. With the depth and numbers UF's front line players should be fresher. The linebacking corps returns with 8.5 sacks a season ago and look for Earl Everett and Channing Crowder to blitz more. The linebackers, safeties and corners could use one more player at each position. This will be an opportunity for the freshman to make an impact right away.
Lance Butler continues to become a valuable commodity across the offensive line. I like the move of Dowdy to guard to create more competition at that position. When the unit is healthy the Gators are easily two deep. Expect Jason Watkins to get into the rotation in the fall. Skyler Thornton is making the most of Jimtavis Walker's departure and looks to solidify his hold on the third spot. He must improve his receiving skills and pass protection. Markell Thompson and David Kenner have impressed me so far considering I had low expectations for both of them. There are not many Ben Troupe's in college football but these two look very adequate in the intermediate passing game. Andre Caldwell is going to need to do a lot of conditioning in the summer. He needs to be able to play two spots and not only learn them but go full speed all the time. Other Gator greats went through the same process - Willie Jackson, Chris Doering ,Jack Jackson, Travis McGriff and Jaquez Green all worked inside before moving outside in their careers.
The kicking game looks to be in solid hands and Chris Hetland is going to push Petro for the kickoff duties.
The Gators could really use a middle linebacker behind Channing Crowder. Royal has been solid but does not have the range right now to be a big time playmaker. He can however be much like Reid Fleming of a year ago.
The backup quarterback race seems to be in the hands of Gavin Dickey. I think he would move to safety if Justin Midgett can show some progress in the spring and fall camp. Right now he seems to have the edge. Leak throws the best deep ball of any of the QB's and seems to have found his trademark throw - the corner route. If the young receivers can polish their routes this could be a big zone buster for UF in the fall. Week two is important because more work in pads and a longer scrimmage on Saturday. Look for a fierce battle in the Swamp as Zook tries to challenge his players this week.
Week one risers: Julian Riley, Terrence Holmes, Andre Caldwell, Lance Butler, Tree Morant, Joe Cohen, Channing Crowder, Dee Webb and Chris Leak
Simmering and looking to shine in week two: Steven Rissler, Cory Bailey, Taurean Charles, Makenzie Pierre, Chad Jackson, Skyler Thornton, Tavares Washington, Mo Mitchell and Clint McMillan.
Need to make some noise this week: Jarvis Moss, Howard Linguard, Michael Hill, Anthony Guerrero, Jermaine McCollum and Reggie Lewis.
The disappointment from last week still has a bitter taste in fans mouths. I believe rightfully so in that the effort was non-existent. Billy Donovan has done a great job building UF and I think he has great players. The next step for him his to get the pulse of his team and find the right buttons to push them. He may recruit differently or different type of players but this team had some gutty wins including two in the SEC tournament over Sweet 16 teams Alabama and Vanderbilt. The players did not compete against the Jaspers and the stat lines told the story. The Gators had only four assists for UF to go with 3 three pointers made and being out rebounded 36-26 by a shorter team.
Billy took a couple days off to go to the beach and will now concentrate on top players in the 2005 class. Tyler Hansbrough out of Missouri, Keith Brumbaugh out of Deland, Florida and Joey Cameron out of Alabama will top his lists of prospects. If everyone returns for Florida guess who will be the preseason favorite to win the East? That's right Florida. I have a hunch Anthony Roberson is gone and David Lee is a real possibility. Grades could play a factor for Peep but we will see. The day to announce is May 10th for the early entries. June 8th-11th is the camp in Chicago that will determine their stock and then the underclassman must withdraw by June 17th. Billy also must keep an eye on Ryan Appleby and Rashid Al Kaleem. It is possible by the luck of the draw the Gators could return without a point guard next season with any experience. Why would David Lee not come back? Last year only eight seniors in the first round and All-SEC guys Matt Bonner and Keith Bogans went in the second round .In 2002 only seven seniors selected in the first round and in 2001 the Kwame Brown year only three seniors taken in the first round with Jamal Tinsley being the only full-time starter right now. The NBA uses reverse logic when drafting potential.
Finally Billy's incoming class has one McDonald's All American in Corey Brewer. But when I asked experts to tell me what they liked about Brewer they mention is defense. This could bode well for him and Tito Horford who seem to be the most ready to come in and play.
Stat of the Week: 9
The number of wins for Billy Donovan's team over NCAA tournament teams this season.