With the departure of Ryan Appleby and Rasheed Al Kaleem from the UF basketball program that leaves the Gators with seven returning scholarship players. Should everyone return Florida will have a projected starting lineup of Anthony Roberson, Matt Walsh, Mohamed Abukar, David Lee and Adrian Moss. The second five would then be Taurean Green, Lee Humphrey, Corey Brewer, Al Horford and Chris Richard. Joakim Noah could be the eleventh player and by all indications Billy Donovan will look to see which freshman can help right away.
There is still a chance with Roberson going pro and Lee testing the waters but look for Donovan to push playing time in practice and exhibition games to his freshman to get them ready as quick as possible. The key may be the development of Abukar and Richard this summer. Abukar played hurt this past season and underwent shoulder surgery this week. He will be out six to eight weeks before he can do anything but he will be counted on to step in as a starter on the wing. Chris Richard has already committed to stay for both summer terms and workout more this offseason. Billy really liked his "big lineup" and may go with Richard, Moss and Lee along with Roberson and Walsh. This lineup opened up offensive mismatches for Lee and also made him a more productive offensive rebounder.
When I talked with Donovan early this week he said that the recruiting restrictions of the past few years have made it tougher for a coach to get to know his players he's recruiting as well as in the past. He feels responsible for most of the transfers over the past two years and mentioned he would make a concerted effort to get this freshman class ready to play. He also mentioned under the old rules with the amount of phone calls and contacts he really got to know kids like Mike Miller whereas that would not be the case today. He spent this past Monday at Augusta taking in the practice round and will take some time with his family while also doing some recruiting.
One thing that has not materialized to the level Ron Zook would like, is the running game with DeShaun Wynn and Ciatrick Fason. Both players have had there moments, but the consistency that Zook is looking for is still not there. The positive sign is both guys have had their share of big plays in scrimmages and for the most part both have stayed healthy.
Ciatrick is a big play "gamer" who can turn any play into a large gain. Last season he was responsible for 12 plays over 20 yards for the Gator offense. He had eight 20 yard plus runs and four 20 yard plus receptions. He has greatly improved his receiving skills since his arrival on campus. Wynn has yet to fumble in a scrimmage situation and is looking to shake the "fumbler " tag that followed him last season. Look for both backs to give UF the magical 1,500 yards rushing combined for the season.
Dallas Baker's spring has been well documented the last several weeks and there is even some silver lining to his first season. Last year Baker was very nervous, almost hyper on game day, which caused him to make some mental mistakes on routes. He, like Wynn, has shaken that label and is a polished mature receiver who can still get better. Last season Baker only had 13 receptions but he did have five of those for 20 yards or more. I believe he will develop into the redzone threat that UF did not have a season ago. The top six receivers in the SEC are either gone due to graduation or the NFL and none of the returners averaged more yards per catch than Baker last season.
I have mentioned the one of the spring emphasis points was third down defense for the Gator "D" and Charlie Strong. The biggest concern is 3rd and short. UF gave up 38 out of 60 on 3rd down and three yards or less. Strong would like to see this number under 50% or less including more 3rd and one stops. Without many of the defensive middle on Saturday the defense led by Travis Harris did stop the offense twice on a 3rd and short. The number two defense also made a pair of short yardage stops. The other point of emphasis has been redzone defense and the offense has made up some ground the last week of practice. The key to redzone defense is the front four and their ability to wad up the run and pressure in passing situations. Most likely in a short field situation teams will use their quick game with three step drops. To neutralize this UF's defensive ends have worked on their rush with getting their hands up. Steven Harris has even been effective inside at getting in the throwing lanes. It also helps to have a "salty" middle linebacker like Channing Crowder up the middle of the defense.
More on the Gator Schedule:
Based on last season UF will face five bowl teams in 2004. That is the lowest number in some time for the Gator team. The Gators have faced at least seven teams that went to bowl games the last two years under Zook and if you count Kentucky who was bowl eligible, but on probation, they faced eight his first season. East favorite Georgia has six bowl teams on it's schedule while Tennessee only has four bowl teams on it's 2004 ledger. Mississippi St. replaces Ole Miss on the Gator schedule as part of the SEC's 5-1-2 rotation that began in 2002. It allows teams to keep one traditional rival from the other division (LSU) while playing every conference member four times in a ten year period. UF has the Bulldogs and the Razorbacks this season while picking Alabama next year in place of Arkansas. Alabama and Auburn return together on the schedule in 2006.
Snippetts and tidbits
Zephrin Augustine, who is a senior walk on safety, has really had a big spring. He is a fearless physical player who will provide quality depth in the secondary. He reminds me of former Gator Sammy McCorkle who also shined as a walk on under Ron Zook. Howard Lingard would see much more playing time if the defense was facing a pro style offense. Linguard will attack the run straight ahead and is a relentless chaser. He has struggled with assignments in the spread attack and that is why he seems a bit behind. Mike Degory is a difference maker at center. He makes all the calls and has accepted a leadership role up front. His insertion into the lineup last week also was a big reason for the offensive success. Reynaldo Hill's emergence this spring is what UF was looking for last fall when he arrived on campus. He is confident, coachable and very fast at the corner position. If Hill wants to have a big year and take the next step to the NFL he must improve his tackling versus the run. One thing the corners have worked on in man coverage this spring is "there work at the line". This is where UF jams the receivers disrupting the flow of the play. Ron Zook has even stepped in to offer his tutelage at the position with regards to man to man. Finally the last two Orange and Blue games have been the best vs the rest. They have also been very competitive games. Kickoff is set for 1pm in the Swamp.