Don't expect to see many redshirts out of this incoming recruiting class. All the freshmen have been told to report with the expectation that playing time is available if they are willing to put in the hard work to earn their shots on the field.
At this moment, at least three of the four offensive linemen (Jason Watkins, Jim Tartt, Drew Miller and Phil Trautwein) who were signed are expected to be pushed from day one to ready themselves for duty beginning with game one. Both linebacker signees (Javier Estopinan and Brandon Siler) are expected to be no worse than second team on the depth chart by mid-August and all four defensive back signees (McIntosh Nicholas, DeWayne Grace, Tony Joiner and Kyle Jackson) will be given ample opportunities to step in and play immediately.
Defensive end Derrick Harvey and defensive tackle Michael Brown are both expected to be in the early mix for playing time as well. On the offensive side of the ball, expect tailback Markus Manson to see special teams duty from day one and, fullback Eric Rutledge to step in immediately as the backup to Jimbo Latsko.
Coaches are very pleased with the recovery of defensive tackle Michael Hill, a signee from the state of Alabama in the 2003 recruiting class. Hill missed all of last season recovering from a heat related illness but his health is 100% and his weight is back in the 280s now. He's expected to play this year.
Defensive tackle signee Brandon Daniel, who was enrolled at UF and participated in spring drills, is another one who has been working very hard and should see time on the playing field in the fall. Daniel is 6-4 and between 290 and 300.
When the Gators open the season against Middle Tennessee State in September, look for a linebacking crew that has Channing Crowder in the middle, Earl Everett on the weak side and Taurean Charles on the strong side. This will give UF one of its fastest and most physical linebacking crews in several years.
Everett is 6-3 and his weigh fluctuates between 224 and 228. With his superior speed and the newfound strength that's visible in a frame that has added 20 pounds of upper body muscle, he should be a terror on the blitz and now he has the size to take on a tight end in coverage.
One surprise to expect will be the emergence of Richard Brown as Everett's backup on the weakside. Brown originally signed with Florida State several years ago when he was an All-State safety in Broward County, but he was also a second round draft pick of the New York Yankees so he spent a few years in the minors, rising as high as AAA before calling it a career and deciding to give college football at try at UF. He had some injuries and redshirted last year, then was redshirted in the spring due to injury, but his rehab is said to be ahead of schedule. Brown is 5-11, 228 with outstanding speed and apparently, the time away from football hasn't dulled his instincts.
Todd McCullough continues his rehab from surgery. While he is ahead of schedule, it won't be until August until he can run at full speed again.
Sporting News ranks offensive coordinator Larry Fedora, who took over as UF's OC in the spring after two years on the staff as an offensive assistant, near the very bottom of the SEC in its coaching rankings. That's prretty amazing considering Fedora's offenses at Middle Tennessee State were among the nation's most productive and most balanced. Fedora is so well thought of that after the 2000 season when it appeared that Tennessee offensive coordinator Randy Sanders was going to bolt to the NFL as a quarterback coach, Phil Fulmer had only one name on his replacement list and that was Fedora.
The Orange and Blue game showed glimpses of what to expect in the fall from Fedora. Fedora likes the mobility that he's seen out of quarterback Chris Leak, so expect to see Leak rolling slightly to the left and to the right out of the shotgun as a way to negate blitzers and to open passing lanes. We can also expect to see more of Leak under center with the Gators in the I-formation to take advantage of tailback Ciatrick Fason and play action fakes that will allow Leak to hit receivers in stride in the seams.
Fason has been working on strength and endurance in the offseason to prepare for a season when he'll see 20 carries a game. Fason is UF's most complete back. He's a proven commodity as a breakaway runner, excellent pass receiver on the wheel routes out of the backfield and he is absolutely fearless as a blocker, willing to take on linemen or linebackers head on. If the Gators are able to establish Fason and get 20 carries per game out of him, safeties won't be able to play 15-17 yards off the line of scrimmage to take the deep ball and the seam routes away from Leak.
Skyler Thornton's willingness to be an asset as a blocker may move him ahead of DeShawn Wynn on the depth chart before the first game.
Word has it that Coach Ron Zook has already gotten verbals from five or six rising high school seniors who are of the impact variety. Most of the offers that have been made to high schoolers are conditional, based on improved performance in the classroom and on the playing field, but we are hearing that Zook has made approximately 15 offers to impact players whose total house is in order, both on the playing field and in the classroom.
We continue to hear that running backs Coach Mike Locksley is making UF as serious player in the DC/Virginia area and that offensive line coach Joe Wickline has become a virtual pied piper to prospective offensive line recruits.
UF's greatest recruiting push should come in the July Rising Seniors camp. Most of the schools in the SEC camp only in June, so the bulk of the outstanding prospects skip UF's June camp to come in July when there are very few camps at the bigtime schools. The fly tells us that this year's July camp at UF will be brimming over with hot prospects from all over the country.
Tight end Tate Casey was the bearer of glad tidings in the past couple of days when he informed Coach Ron Zook that he's decided to put his dreams of a major league baseball career on hold. The 6-6, 225-pounder from Longview, Texas was an outstanding high school pitcher, drafted in the 19th round by the Minnesota Twins last week.
After weighing his options to play baseball or come to UF, Casey informed the Gator coaches that he'll be in Gainesville when the incoming freshman class reports for orientation. In the spring, it is expected that Casey will be a welcome addition to Coach Pat McMahon's Gator pitching staff which is expected to lose ace Justin Hoyman (second round draft pick).
Casey had expected to go higher in the draft but apparently major league baseball teams were concerned with his commitment to play college football, causing his draft stock to plummet. While Casey has not signed with the Twins and has told the UF staff that he's going to be a Gator, the Twins are expected to make at least one more offer.