New Gator Era Begins

The Ron Zook era has officially begun with Spring football practice in Gainesville. Florida now has a battle at running back, a re-tooled offensive line, and a new, blitz-happy defense. And Heisman trophy candidate Rex Grossman looks sharp. UFI takes a look at the first five days of spring.

With five practices and one scrimmage in the books the Ron Zook Era has swiftly begun. The Gators have used an up-tempo "NFL Like" approach to spring football, as the new systems have been introduced to the players. While the "No Sitting " policy for fans has been a favorite issue for talk shows, the real issue has been the tempo for the actual practices. Zook believes in scripting everything and repeating nothing, and by doing so he has been able to implement a lot of his systems in five days. He teaches the mistakes off of film work and there have been quite a few the first five practices.

Offensively, the style of offense is to continue to throw the football, yet the philosophy (so far) is a bit different. Where Spurrier was a more vertical passing game, Ed Zaunbreaker's is more of a horizontal passing game. Rex Grossman has been very sharp, as expected, and is getting more comfortable every day. He has used a lot of shotgun the first five practices, which is the opposite of what he has done in the past. The question is at backup quarterback where Ingle Martin who has competed really well but has struggled in the passing game. Gavin Dickey or Patrick Dosh could have an opportunity to push him in the fall.

At wide reeceiver Taylor Jacobs is the fastest he has ever been and has looked good. In the three receiver set that is there trademark "base" formation he lines up opposite of Kelvin Kight and Carlos Perez (who is in the slot) with two backs. Perez and Kight are clearly the next two but after that it is open. Matt Jackson and OJ Small have been up and down and Reggie Vickers has finally shown some life. Antoine Sharpe has been better than expected, but if he can't break into the top five expect Zook to get his athleticism on defense.

Running back has been interesting with Earnest Graham and Ran Carthon. Carthon really caught the new coaches attention by running a 4.39 before spring and is pushing Graham in the new offense. The running game is more straight ahead and a lot out of the shotgun formation. Willie Green unfortunately continues to battle knee problems and may not be a factor. Expect both Ciatrick Fason and Deshawn Wynn to play as freshmen next year, with Wynn getting a look at fullback.

The Tight ends have been average so far and are not a big part of the passing game.

Finally the offensive line has been a merry go round. The latest combo which has been effected by injuries and depth is from left to right – Max Starks, Shannon Snell, Mike Degory, Jonathan Colon and Maurice Mitchell. David Jorgensen has an air cast on his foot after injuring his ankle and has been disappointing to the new staff. Bennie Mills has left the team forcing Zook to move Ron Dowdy over from defensive line in the spring as an experiment. His first day however was quite impressive and he may have a chance at guard. Mitchell has struggled and if that continues through fall expect Colon to move out if need be. Depth is a concern with only four tackles right now on campus.

Defensively there has been a few surprises, most notably at middle linebacker where Matt Farrior has the lead over Travis Harris. Farrior looks like a totally different player in John Thompson's system and has really shown great athletic ability. Mike Nattiel and Bam Hardman are more active on the outside and have become leaders for the defense. With an injury to Dwight Jackson (not a major one) Todd McCollough has moved back to Sam linebacker from defensive end. Larry Kendrick is also at outside linebacker up from safety where he played as a freshman.

The secondary is Keiwan Ratliff at one corner and a good battle for the other with Robert Cromartie (returning from injury) and Marquis Westbrook. The safeties are still Todd Johnson and Gus Scott and good news is that Scott is still a primary "blitzer" in the new scheme by Thompson. This is an area that he excelled in under the old staff. Corey Bailey has emerged as the fifth defensive back and physically looks similar to Lawrence Wright and Marquand Manual.

The defensive line has taken advantage of the reshuffling of their offensive counterparts to have a strong beginning. Ian Scott has dominated while Bobby McCray looks like he will flourish in the new system. Darrell Lee and Marcus Oquedno-Johnson have created some havoc and one bright spot has been Sylevester Mcgrew. He has added weight and looks real active at the defensive end spot. Tron Lafavor has struggled a bit and Kenny Parker is once again out for the Spring due to his back. He is expected to be full strength for fall practice. Florida has used a lot of three-man line with the fourth man standing up as a rush end/outside linebacker type. Make no mistake they do blitz.

Two practices are scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday, with another morning scrimmage in the swamp on Saturday March 23.

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