Orange & Blue Game Preview

This year's Orange and Blue game will provide fans with a look to the fall and what to expect from the Gators in 2004. Some will leave very optimistic, some thinking futuristic (2005) and some just plain pessimistic. Early in the spring some new faces have stepped up and they have maintained a level the entire month. But as we always know someone could shine in the Orange and Blue game (Shane Mathews 1990) and catch the coach's attention going to fall camp.

Offensive Outlook:
Chris Leak has been really sharp over the last couple of practices, elevating his play to a high level. He will continue to get better and develop throughout his career. Reading coverages on the fly and in the heat of battle is the only thing I can see that he needs to continue to improve. Justin Midgett has great physical tools and if he has time to throw could hit some big plays in the game. Midgett has improved after a shaky first week of practice. He could help himself with the coaches by having a solid turnover free game. He will probably start behind Gavin Dickey in fall drills but if he has a big day Saturday that race could tighten up. Matt Kynes will also play and he is solid not spectacular.

The running back battle on Saturday could use some infusion of big plays. Throughout the spring the incumbents Ciatrick Fason and Deshawn Wynn have performed as if they agreed before workouts to share the position. Both guys could improve and take there game to the next level. Fason has been a big game guy so keep an eye on him in this "game-like" situation. Skyler Thornton is a solid number three back who could benefit from a strong performance.

The receiver position is going to be much improved from the standpoint of big plays. Whether it's run after the catch or down the field, this unit has shown the ability to make something happen. Andre Caldwell is the premier guy in the group and has really stepped his practice habits this spring. Dallas Baker is a much more confident receiver who has added several routes to his repertoire. Jemalle Cornelius has had a very good spring and has found the endzone in just about every scrimmage situation. Chad Jackson and Reggie Lewis have shown the ability and willingness to go across the middle during practice and proven veteran O.J. Small returned to practice this week. One other guy who has impressed me from time to time has been Kenneth Tookes on the inside. The tight end position has been the big surprise of the spring with Markell Thompson improving every practice. He is a big target at 6'7" and has athleticism to go with it. David Kenner and Darrell Carpenter have both made some big plays during practice.

The offensive line started the spring with injuries and some question marks and in three weeks it may be the deepest unit on the team. Mike Degory returned last week and is clearly an All-American candidate at the center position. While he was out the coaches got a good look at Steven Rissler and he made the most of it. Rissler handled the starting center job so well while Degory was out that he was moved to compete with Mo Mitchell for the starting right guard spot. Randy Hand and Tavares Washington are the starting tackles with Lance Butler moving over to left guard to start. Washington may miss the Orange and Blue game but he has the right mix of athleticism and size to be a big time left tackle. Jon Colon will be battling with him in the fall when he returns to practice. Butler continues to make himself valuable by learning and playing so many positions across the front. Carlton Medder is the backup at right tackle and he is improving after a slow start in the spring and Anthony Guerrero has played just about every spot on the line in spring. He will most likely settle at left tackle for the game. Finally, Ron Dowdy is working at the second team left guard position and he has done well this spring. Right now it appears UF has 11 linemen it can go to battle with in 2004 and that is not counting the incoming freshman.

The defensive line has been impressive in spring, especially before a rash of injuries in the last six practices. Starting defensive tackles Ray McDonald and Marcus Thomas look like big time players on the inside. Thomas will have hernia surgery this week and will not play in the game. His replacement has been Eric Holcombe who can look like an All-SEC guy sometimes and other times very average. Kenny Parker has been out with a bad back and Michael Hill had shoulder surgery and is out as well. Brandon Daniel and Julian Riley will give you an idea of the depth at tackle as both guys have bright futures at UF. Clint McMillan has done some good things on the inside as well. The defensive end position has four stars in the making and one, who if he can get healthy, could be the biggest star. Joe Cohen and Steven Harris have locked up in a tremendous battle on one side while Tree Morant and Juco Transfer Jeremy Mincey have battled at the other spot. Jarvis Moss is the player who has been bothered by a groin injury and has not had the breakout spring many thought he might have. Look for UF to play a lot of nickel with three defensive linemen on both teams on Saturday.

The linebackers are led by Channing Crowder who has been a terror all spring long. His move from outiside to inside linebacker has made this a defense to be reckoned with in the fall. He can go sideline to sideline with anyone in the country. Earl Everett is at one outside spot while the biggest surprise is the performance of Travis Harris at the other spot. Harris finally has a position and he has been quick and confident. He also is comfortable in the 3-3-5 look as the defensive end for their nickel package. His backup is Taurean Charles who needs a big spring game. He has shown flashes but needs to do something multiple times. Howard Lingard also could use a big game from the outside linebacker spot. He is a pure athlete that may do well in the game setting. Todd McCollough has been held out of contact live drills and walk on Richard Brown has been injured as well. Bryan Royal will play a lot at middle linebacker, while Alik Scott and Alvin Butler will show up with some plays as well.

The secondary has been more impressive this spring than many expected considering the loss of four seniors. Jarvis Herring has had a tremendous spring at the safety spot while Dee Webb has been the most complete corner. Reynaldo Hill has the most speed and is a good cover guy who looks more confident in his second year. Cory Bailey has had a solid finish to the spring after a slow start. Vernell Brown moved back to corner from receiver and appears to be the next guy on the list. He is diminutive but will come up and hit you with a lot of effort. Deshawn Carter has not had the breakout spring you would have liked but he has had a nose for the football. Carter, who has intercepted a pass in at least three scrimmages, needs to become a more complete corner by tackling better versus the run. Zep Augustine is a walk on safety who has played very well, while Terrence Holmes was lighting it up before he suffered an ankle injury.

Special Teams:
All the starters return but keep an eye on backup punter Nick Fleming and backup kicker Chris Hetland. Matt Leach and Eric Wilbur could both be All-SEC this season are being pushed by the coaches to perform at a higher level. Vernell Brown seems to be the leading candidate as the punt returner. The kickoff return team could see Reggie Lewis, Jemalle Cornelius, Chad Jackson and Andre Caldwell on the unit.

The last two spring games provided competitive contests with the teams being split by starters vs everyone else. With the depth being better on the lines of scrimmage it could provide another entertaining game this spring. The advantage in the game certainly is the defense with Crowder (if he plays). He has been very disruptive and has backs and receivers looking for him on every play. I would think the starters might try to put up some big numbers because of the way both Crowder and Leak have performed. Here are some guys to watch -

Offense: Dallas Baker, Andre Caldwell, Markell Thompson, Chris Leak, Mike Degory
Defense: Channing Crowder, Joe Cohen, Jarvis Herring, Dee Webb, Travis Harris

Guys who would love to have a big day to enhance there standing -
Offense: Chad Jackson, Skyler Thronton, Steve Rissler, Reggie Lewis
Defense:Jeremy Mincey, Taurean Charles, Howard Linguard, Cory Bailey

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