FOOTBALL: Top 10 Personnel Questions Answered

I made a personal list of the top 10 personnel questions for the start of pre-season practice. Heading into the first game, some of the questions seemed to be answered and some are yet to be determined. Here is a look at at I thought were some must answers. <p>

  1. Starting Corner Backs - We went into pre-season with the assumption that Dee Webb and Reynaldo Hill would be the starters. That still may be, but Vernell Brown played well enough to make this a three horse race. That is a great sign. A lot of emphasis is being placed on the front seven providing heat for the young secondary, but if these guys can step up big time the coaches can have a lot of fun calling plays this year. The talent is there, the inexperience is somewhat scary. The outlook after pre-season is a BIG SUCCESS.
  2. Backup Linebackers - Last year the Gators wanted the older guys to take command and let the younger guys nurture under them. That didn't happen and the freshmen had to take charge. This year the starting group is the known factor and is expected to lead the defense. The backups will have to earn their keep. Todd McCullough will provide the best of the depth in the linebacker corps. For the first game, with Channing Crowder's suspension, he should be able to fill in nicely. The other two spots at second team linebacker will be manned by two true freshmen and both have shown promise in the pre-season. Brandon Siler and Javier Estopinan have been on the second team since day one of their arrival. Although neither were spectacular, both were solid when healthy. The outlook after pre-season is a SUCCESS.
  3. Left Offensive Tackle - Tavares Washington was penciled in early to start here. His knee injury kept him out of open practices in the pre-season. Jonathan Colon stepped in and pulled an iron man playing almost every down when the groups were split. Colon impressed enough never to waver off of the first team except for a slight injury. He also impressed with his durability. The jury is still out for the backup spot. Anthony Guerrero played a lot there, but look for Lance Butler to possibly shift over from the left guard spot in a pinch. The outlook after pre-season is mixed sue to the backup, we will say it is a MILD SUCCESS.
  4. Defensive End Rotation - Our interview with Coach Strong during the summer indicated the positive feel he had about the defensive end rotation. At the time he had a top five that included Jarvis Moss. Since then Moss has been moved to linebacker and will probably only be used in long yardage situations. Joe Cohen and Jeremy Mincey emerged as the definite starters. Mincey has been great all pre-season, while Cohen came on really strong in the last scrimmage. Tranell Morant and Stephen Harris will start out on the second team, neither has pushed the starters. Derrick Harvey started coming along strong at the end and with Moss over at linebacker, he moves a step closer to playing time. With the starters settled and playing well, but the backups not pushing them, right now I would consider this a MILD SUCCESS.
  5. Safety Rotation - The starters for now are Corey Bailey and Jarvis Herring. Herring's suspension should open it up for Terrance Holmes, Zepherine Augustine and a few others to get some major playing time. Some of the younger guys may have more physical ability than Herring and Bailey, but the experience they bring is hard to replace. Still, I look for some of the younger guys to push them and maybe a surprise a few weeks into the season if not sooner. The two new freshmen, Tony Joiner and Kyle Jackson showed up in tremendous shape and have a lot of ability. Jackson actually, led all defenders in the pre-season with five interceptions. Early on in pre-season drills the defensive backs had it tough. They seemed to settle down into their roles and played well as time went by. I think the starters hold on to their spot for now. Holmes and Augustine will provide immediate depth. The freshmen will continue to push their way up. As far as the rotation goes, I think it will change a lot. However, the position itself looks much better than the first few days of pre-season and the prospects for the future are even better. I consider the rotation un-settled, but the outlook a SUCCESS.

  6. Starting Tight End - Markell Thompson impressed me more than any Gator player in the spring. He's huge, 6-7 and 280 pounds. He spent a lot of time away from the field studying the game with Chris Leak. David Kenner had an excellent spring game but has been totally inconsistent since his arrival. Still, Coach Zook announced at the last practice , he was ahead. Darrell Carpenter is out for a while due to injury. He was the best returning receiving threat.. Brian Crum could be the best receiver in the group but he has been an on again off again linebacker. The two freshmen have played extremely well, but lack the knowledge of the offense enough right now to be every down players. I would have to say the outlook here is UP IN THE AIR.
  7. Go To Receiver - There just always seemed to be one. But, with the spread offense, this shouldn't be the case. I think with this team that is absolutely what will happen. If the starters stay healthy, I can see different guys leading in yardage, number of catches, and number of touchdowns. My picks, Cornelius will lead the team in yards receiving. Dallas Baker will lead the team in touch downs. OJ Small will lead the team in number of receptions. I actually see this option as better than a go to guy. I see this as a BIG SUCCESS.
  8. Back-up Defensive Tackles - The starters are set. Ray McDonald and Marcus Thomas should form as good of a combo of DTs as we have had and that are currently in the SEC. The question lies behind them. The oft injured Kenny Parker can substitute ably when healthy, but no one knows when and how often that will happen. Clint McMillan played very well late in pre-season open practices. I thought as a whole, Parker and McMillan played pretty well. Some combination of Mike Hill, Eric Holcombe, Julian Riley and Brandon Daniels provide even more depth. The list is long, which is a luxury they haven't had, the quality is to be determined. With the depth and the decent play of Parker and McMillan I would say this is a MILD SUCCESS.
  9. Backup Quarterback - Gavin Dickey showed up as the second team quarterback and never relinquished the spot. He seems to know the offense well, but at times holds the ball too long. His ability to scramble will probably cure that come game time. He hasn't been as good as Leak, yet he always faced the first team defense. He has been steady and at times spectacular. It's still a big drop-off from the 1st to 2nd team, but he has some good intangibles. I think the backup quarterback position has been a MILD SUCCESS.
  10. Punt / Kick Returners - We really didn't see a lot of this in the pre-season. I expect Vernell Brown and Gavin Dickey to return punts. I expect Dee Webb and Bubba Caldwell to return kicks. Because they didn't show it much I will have to rate this one as UP IN THE AIR.

Coming into the pre-season, four of the top five major questions with personnel were on the defensive side of the ball. In my opinion answers were found to all of those questions, some better than others. Not every question was answered in the pre-season, yet I think enough were to allow for this to be a great year. Actually, I expect it.

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