SPRING FOOTBALL: Much Anticipation On Offense

The long-awaited first spring football practice of the Coach Urban Meyer begins Wednesday, filled with anticipation about the merging of Meyer's spread option offense with the tremendous collection of athletes at the skill positions left behind by the previous administration.

Here is an analytical look at the offense complete with questions that will have to be answered. Heights and weights are from the spring football prospectus and will be updated as soon as we are provided with updated heights and weights by the SID at the University of Florida.

QUARTERBACK: Even with the experience of a two-year starter at quarterback, there is probably more anticipation about this position in Gator Nation than any time since 1990 when The Ole Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, got things rolling with his first spring practice. Junior Chris Leak (6-0, 195) led the Southeastern Conference in passing last year but if the offense that we saw at Utah is to be run here at Florida, Leak will be asked to run more than he has in the past. Coach Meyer insists that Leak can handle this task and that Chris is athletic enough to handle every aspect of running the offense. Still, he be asked to do a lot of things differently than in the previous two years. Because they are involved in other sports, redshirt freshman Cornelius Ingram (6-4, 209) and junior Gavin Dickey (5-11, 196), may miss important learning opportunities in the spring, opening the door for true freshman Josh Portis (6-4, 200) to move quickly up the depth chart. Portis arrived at Florida in January after early graduation from his high school in California. Portis is the prototype of what Meyer wants for his offense with his running and throwing ability. He should get about half the snaps if Dickey and Ingram are unable to practice.

SPRING QUARTERBACK QUESTIONS:

  1. Can Leak be the athletic quarterback that Meyer likes in his offense, or will the offense be changed to suit more of what we know Leak can do best?
  2. What role if any are Ingram and Dickey going to play in the spring?
  3. How good is Portis and will his extra time on the field translate to the depth chart?

TAILBACK: When Ciatrick Fason declared early for the NFL, it put the tailback position up for grabs among the three-some of juniors DeShawn Wynn (5-11, 228) and Skyler Thornton (5-11, 210) along with redshirt freshman Markus Manson (6-0, 189). Wynn has shown flashes of brilliance in his brief career and when given a chance to play, Thornton has shown both running and pass catching abilities. Manson was a human highlight reel in high school. It's easy to see the potential at this position, but inexperience and the obvious lack of depth make this a position of concern. Unquestionably, all three backs will have to be ready to step on the field and play in the fall, so they will be given a heavy spring work load. While the base set of the offense is a single back, frequently there will be two backs on the field to create mismatches which only emphasizes the depth concerns.

SPRING RUNNING BACK QUESTIONS:

  1. Will Wynn show up in shape and more importantly, with the attitude to be the man at the tailback position?
  2. Can Thornton challenge and push to be the man?
  3. Will Manson live up to the hype he came to UF with and push the other two?

RECEIVERS: There is an abundance of talent but not an abundance of scholarship bodies. The Meyer offense uses a four wide receiver set for its base formation and the Gators enter the spring with six scholarship receivers, not enough for a two-deep. The receiving corps is top heavy with juniors. Chad Jackson (6-1, 202) , Bubba Caldwell (6-1, 195), and Jemalle Cornelius (5-11,180) are proven, outstanding pass catchers and fellow junior Kenneth Tookes (6-2, 197) is in need of a chance to show he can make catches. Dallas Baker (6-3, 205) is the lone senior wideout but he could earn a fifth year in the program if he is able to graduate in the next year. His efforts in the offseason have drawn the praise of Meyer, but on the field he has to prove that he can put the mental mistakes behind him once and for all. Redshirt freshman Michael McIntosh (6-0, 177) was the scout team star last year who has shown tremendous speed and agility in the preseason drills.

SPRING WIDE RECEIVER QUESTIONS:

  1. How well will Caldwell take to the new H-Back position, where he will sometimes line up in the backfield and be asked to run the ball?
  2. Will Baker grow out of the mistakes he made and become a big time weapon?
  3. Will Jackson be utilized more than he was early in the season last year?
  4. Will Cornelius step up and get noticed for the abilities he has?
  5. Is Mike McIntosh as good as publicized last year?

TIGHT END: Two years ago at Utah, Meyer's tight end was a finalist for the John Mackey Aware (nation's top tight end) so it will be interesting in the spring to see how the tight ends are integrated into the offense. Tate Casey (6-6, 219) came into his own late last year as a top red zone target but he's presently playing baseball. How much of the spring practice he misses could determine who will emerge as the man at this position. Senior Markell Thompson (6-6, 265) has the body to be a dominating blocker but he's unproven as a pass catcher and he doesn't have the kind of speed that Casey brings to the table. Redshirt freshman Dane Guthrie (6-2, 224) was going to be the first freshman tight end to play last year until sidelined with an injury. Meyer has already singled him out as an athlete capable of probably playing a little at the tailback position so he will be an athlete to watch in the spring to see how he is utilized in the offense.

SPRING TIGHT END QUESTIONS:

  1. What is the exact role of the tight end in the offense?
  2. Can Guthrie live up to his early season hype last year?
  3. Will Casey be utilized more than some wide receivers that will have to come out the game?
  4. Will Thompson be a factor at all?

OFFENSIVE LINE: Three experienced seniors give Florida an outstanding foundation on which to build. Mike Degory ( 6-6, 306), Lance Butler (6-7, 298), and Randy Hand (6-6, 305) are returning starters who have both talent and experience. There are two positions up for grabs, however. Senior Tavares Washington (6-3, 307) was expected to play a lot last year before he was sidelined by injury and redshirted. Going into the spring, it is unclear whether he will be playing guard or tackle although his height tends to indicate that he would move inside. Junior Steve Rissler (6-3, 300) has three starts under his belt so he's likely to get the first look at one of the guard positions. If sophomore Drew Miller emerges along with Rissler as a solid guard tandem, that would open it up for Butler to move to left tackle where he seems to be a natural due to his quick feet, long arms and the fact he is a natural lefthander. Sophomore tackle Phil Trautwein (6-6, 280) was one of the big surprises as a freshman so he will be starting the spring as a prospect for playing time at tackle. This could be a make or break spring for sophomore tackle Carlton Medder and senior guard Jonathan Marvin (6-3, 335). Redshirt freshmen Jason Watkins (6-6, 280) and Jim Tartt (6-3, 305) are expected to get plenty of reps in the spring. Freshman Eddie Haupt (6-4, 280) enrolled in January so he will be going through spring drills. Fellow early enrollee Ronnie Wilson (6-4, 350) is expected to miss the spring while rehabbing a foot that underwent surgery.

SPRING OFFENSIVE LINE QUESTIONS:

  1. If it is a given that Degory, Butler, Hand, d Rissler are starting. Who will most likely be the fifth out of Miller, Washington, and Trautwein?
  2. Are Watkins, Tartt, and Medder going to be able to step up and add depth to the offensive line, making it a complete two deep?
  3. Are either of the true freshmen going to impress enough to get in the mix?

SPECIAL TEAMS: Punter is set with junior Eric Wilbur (6-2, 192) back for a third season after averaging well over 40 yards per kick in his first two years. His challenger is walkon senior Nick Fleming (6-1, 200) who has a very good leg. There is no scholarship placekicker on the spring roster so the battles here will be between three walkons, junior Eric Nappy ( 5-10,168), junior Chris Hetland (6-0, 182), and sophomore Brandon Abbaspour (6-0, 216). Junior Jay Patella (6-1, 237) and freshman James Smith (6-0, 214) will have the difficult task of replacing the reliable Casey Griffith as the long snapper for the spring.

SPRING SPECIAL TEAMS QUESTIONS:

  1. Will a kicker emerge who can compete against incoming scholarship freshman Jonathon Phillips in the fall?
  2. Will the Gators have a long snapper who is not a blocking liablility?

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