1. Who will step up at linebacker?
With Channing Crowder out of the first game against Middle you could see a combination of guys working inside during camp. One thing Bill Miller (linebackers coach) has done a great job of, is cross training all the linebackers. Todd McCullough seems the logical choice for Crowder's spot in game one but he is coming off an injury and it still remains to be seen if he can handle the constant hitting day to day. Keep an eye on McCullough's health in camp. Todd can also play multiple positions. Earl Everett has the speed and the toughness to go inside as well. Everett has had a strong summer in the weight room and by moving him inside for "nickel" situations it allows you to keep his playmaking ability on the field. Javier Estopinan and Brandon Siler will have to accelerate their learning curve very quickly, because they have to play this season. Coach Miller once coached a freshman linebacking crew that included Dan Morgan and Nate Webster, so he knows how to get guys on the field ready to play. Siler is athletic enough to play any position on the field and Stopy appears to be an inside guy. This unit must stay healthy in camp and during the season. If more than two guys go down with injuries UF could be in some serious trouble. Playing a spread offense in the first game will allow the top three guys to stay well rested (McCollough, Everett and Travis Harris). I expect scrimmages to be very important for Javier and Siler. There could be another freshman in the mix during camp if the coaches feel it is necessary.
Ack's Answer: Earl Everett and Brandon Siler will shine in fall camp.
2. With two spots up for grabs on the offensive line who will emerge at LT and RG?
These two battles should be as competitive as any I can remember for the offensive line. The incumbents, so to speak, will be Tavares Washington at left tackle and Mo Mitchell at right guard. The challenges will come from a healthy Jon Colon at tackle and a rising star in Steve Rissler. I think all four guys will play meaningful snaps this season and offensive line coach Joe Wickline is thrilled to have co-starters at these positions. First, at guard Mitchell is back from the defensive line and in the spring proved to be one of UF's best run blockers. He has great feet for his size and he is extremely physical at the point of attack. Rissler started the spring at center and can play either spot but he his developing into an all around offensive lineman. He is strong enough to run block, yet has enough athletic ability to pull and pass protect. The tackle position is manned by an improving Tavares Washington. Last season Washington was basically overmatched in the Miami game down in Coral Gables. He has since regained his confidence and worked very hard in the weight room. He is not your typical "Florida Tackle" of the last ten years but he is more athletic from the ability to block in space than most of his predecessors. Jon Colon was also outmanned by Miami two years ago and has since battled back problems. He has transformed his body this summer into an NFL proto-type and could win the job by the Tennessee game. Both guys are nastier than former left tackle and third round pick Max Starks. I think each of these guys will improve the run blocking from the left side. This is a no-lose situation for Wickline with Colon's health being the only concern.
Ack's Answer: Barring injuries, I think Washington and Mitchell win the jobs. But all four guys will be big time players for UF this fall.
3. Will UF have more than the two corners and develop some depth?
Dee Webb and Reynaldo Hill are the starters at the cornerback position with no questions asked. This combo is the fastest and most athletic duo UF has had since the mid 90's. The question is can they use that athleticism to make plays in real game situations. Both guys played some last year and are relatively unknown going into 2004. Hill has regained the confidence he showed in junior college and is the fastest corner. Webb, who did give up some big plays in the spring, is the toughest corner and has a nose for the football. Webb has a high football IQ and this will serve him well as a first year starter. A lot of people forget Webb went into the San Jose St. game as a co-starter with Johnny Lamar. He got injured game week and Lamar took the spot and ran the table with it. Vernell Brown is number three right now and while that may not excite many people, Brown is a solid football player. UF cannot leave him in man alone vs some of the bigger receivers in the league but Vernell is physical and right now the third option. DeShawn Carter just did not get it done in the spring but may have to play some and could really use a strong fall camp. Jermaine McCollum, who made some plays in the spring game, is also smallish like Brown and should play in nickel or dime. UF as few options with Dewayne Grace the only incoming freshman who could help them. One possibility is to move Nick Brooks back to corner or accelerate Grace into the rotation. Both have size but lack one on one experience. This is a very thin position for new secondary coach Dan Disch. If Webb and Hill both go down at some point , it will limit UF's ability to play a lot of man to man.
Ack's Answer: Vernell Brown and Dewayne Grace.
4. Who will win the punting job, Wilbur or Fleming?
Last year in fall camp, I kept raving about Nick Fleming and he went out and had a great spring practice. One problem, he is battling a guy who finished eighth in the country last season as a true freshman. Eric Wilbur was put to the test in the spring and Zook has listed these two as co-starters. I think Eric will look to improve on a season that included no blocked punts and many balls inside the 20. Fleming has a quick release and if anyone could steal the job he is a likely candidate. Wilbur has the experience and in the Southeastern Conference that means a lot.
Ack's Answer: Eric Wilbur
5. Who will be the feature back for the offense this season?
In this day and age of college football it is becoming the norm to have more than one back. FSU, Miami, USC, LSU and Oklahoma will all have two backs in their backfield that can make plays this fall. The Gators will be right there with all those programs by having Ciatrick Fason and Deshawn Wynn carry the ball. Wynn has really dedicated himself this summer and is in great shape. Fason is workout warrior who practices much like a former Gator legend Errict Rhett. New Coordinator Larry Fedora would like the Gator offense to average near 180yds per game. For him to get that it will be important that these two guys stay healthy and compliment each other. Skyler Thornton will also play a lot and is a tough inside runner. I think if UF can get Ciatrick Fason 155-165 carries this season he will get 1,000 yards. He has great vision and sees the cutback as well as any Gator since Fred Taylor. Wynn runs well in traffic and can break arm tackles on a regular basis. UF ran the ball 318 times last year with Fason, Wynn and Carthon and I could see the same number of carries divided by two. Look for UF to win some games easier this season and these guys can get some "extra" carries in the 4th quarter.
Ack's Answer: Ciatrick Fason
6. Which defensive end has the best chance to earn all conference honors?
This unit is deep and talented. Joe Cohen could be the best backup defensive end in the country by mid season. I think Steven Harris is poised for a big year. You look at the guys at the outside spots on the defensive line and it has so much potential. Harris, Morant, Moss, Mincey and Cohen are essentially all starters. I think the challenge for Charlie Strong is to find the right rotation that keeps them all hungry and productive. For example, I could see guys like Moss and Mincey being very productive against spread offenses while Cohen, Morant and Harris being big against a team like Tennessee. In an ideal game situation the defense will play 65 snaps. Each guy should get 20 snaps a game minimum and that is a nice luxury for Strong. UF will have strength in numbers and I think Harris will have a big year as will Joe Cohen.
Ack's Answer: Steven Harris
7. Will the Gator offense continue to go down the field as it did in the spring?
Larry Fedora will stretch the field more this year than UF did a year ago. But if you remember the early games of the Zook era, Zaunbrecher did that a bunch but after the Ole Miss loss the Gators reeled it back in. This receiving corps is deep and talented. The unit also has guys who excel at the deep ball and players who can run after the catch. UF struggled the last couple of years making plays in zone coverages after the catch. Bubba Caldwell has a chance to be like "Peter Warrick" in this offense. I apologize for the FSU analogy but UF did not have this style of offense in the 90's so it was hard to draw a comparison. Caldwell has the ability in traffic of a Willie Jackson, the toughness of a Chris Doering and the speed of a Ike Hilliard. That's why I think he could be big time this season. Baker became a better route runner in the spring but he will stretch the field from the get go. Cornelius reminds me of Harrison Houston and really runs the screen play the best. Keep an eye on Chad Jackson and Reggie Lewis. These two guys have gained confidence from the spring game and have worked very hard in the summer. The only possession receiver is OJ Small and he plays faster than his forty time. OJ certainly has the respect of the SEC coaches because they selected him third team all conference. Every receiver I mentioned can go deep and if they can get open expect Leak to take his shots. The offense will take what the defense gives them, but the running game and the play action is a wrinkle that is definitely in the playbook for Tennessee.
Ack's Answer: Yes, especially against man.
8. What about some backup battles in camp?
The backup battles are almost as important because the guy is only one play away from playing. The first spot is quarterback and Gavin Dickey vs Justin Midgett. I like Midgett's arm and ability but he will have to show he can handle his "off" days as well as his good days. Dickey has not been around much in the summer so I am not as optimistic about him as others may be. Dickey is a natural leader and Midgett is naturally talented. Whoever moves the team and makes the least mistakes will win the backup job. At receiver, Chad Jackson and Reggie Lewis along with Kenneth Tookes and freshman Mike McIntosh will vie for the fifth receiver spot. UF will play at least six every game for meaningful snaps and you could see OJ at tight end a lot this season. It will be an important spot for one of the guys to prove themselves as a reliable backup. Vernell Brown will get a challenge from either Dewayne Grace or Jermaine McCollum as the third corner. This also will be DeShawn Carter's last chance to get in the mix and he may be battling Grace directly. Anthony Guerrero will battle Carlton Medder at tackle or Ron Dowdy at guard to get some playing time on the offensive line. Guerrero showed his worth in the spring playing three different positions. If Julian Riley opens camp at defensive tackle, I think he could earn some backup time by beating out Kenny Parker or Eric Holcombe. Also keep an eye on Michael Hill to get in the mix at defensive tackle as well.
Ack's Answer: These are great battles and shows the depth that Zook is building with the last two recruiting classes. The quarterback battle and the cornerback battles are the biggest key ones, in my opinion.
Fall camp provides the appetizer to the season and gets us ready for some football. The keys to this year's camp is for the team to stay healthy. The young players at linebacker and secondary need to come in and learn on an accelerated curve for this team to take it's self confidence and turn that into wins. The schedule does allow this team six weeks to hit it's peak but fall camp will provide a glimpse into what this team can become. Look for Chris Leak to be more of an offensive leader and for the offensive line to really gel together. Defensively it will be important for the front four to stay healthy as Charlie Strong is building this defense around the fact that he will have numbers on the front. Scrimmages will again provide great entertainment with UF having loads of young talent.