I believe the answers to these five questions will determine whether or not Florida is able to repeat as SEC Eastern Division Champion. And as we've seen, if you can get to Atlanta great things can happen.
Can the linebackers play and stay healthy?
Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe are going to be fine filling in for two outstanding players in Brandon Siler and Earl Everett. I like what I saw out of A.J. Jones and don't see much of a drop off if any from Brian Crum. But the Gators were extremely fortunate that the starters stayed healthy last year and need that to be the case even more so in 2007. Brian Stamper is the lone scholarship reserve so at least two freshmen have to get ready in a hurry.
Is Florida big enough at defensive tackle?
In a word, no. Florida's best hope up front would be for Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders to emerge as the top two tackles. Clint McMillan might be the "fifth starter" spelling those guys on the inside and Derrick Harvey and Jermaine Cunningham on the outside. A full-strength Javier Estopinan would be a plus as would be a bigger, stronger Brandon Antwine. However, just like at linebacker, immediate help will be needed from one or two of the six linemen slated to enroll in July.
Who will emerge as the number one running back?
I'm not sure any of the guys on campus have the combination of skills to take over and become the kind of guy who gets you a hundred yards a week. Kestahn Moore will be the leading rusher, unless it's Tim Tebow. Brandon James gives you a nice change of pace and Chevon Walker needs to be more consistent. Chris Rainey will get in the mix, but to me he's more of a utility guy than a feature back.
Can anyone out there kick the ball?
Eric Wilbur is gone and the Gators are counting on incoming freshman Chas Henry to step right in and claim the job. Based on what I saw on the practice field, he better. Wilbur will be tough to replace after averaging 42.3 a punt last year and nailing 22 inside the 20-yard line. As for the place kicking job, it's not too challenging to replace 6-for-15, but Chris Hetland did nail two important ones in the Ohio State game and one big FG against Arkansas. Joey Iijas and Jonathan Phillips have stronger legs, but similar senses of direction. We shall see.
Will the play at cornerback be good enough?
Joe Haden wowed me and impressed most observers throughout the spring, but we have to remember he's just a true freshman. Haden seems to have great physical ability and a physical, competitive nature. He's my pick to win one starting job. The other starting candidates all have their plusses and minuses. Wondy Pierre-Louis is the best athlete and has excellent size, but little experience. Jacques Rickerson hasn't shown he can be healthy, but he was good in the second half of the spring. Markihe Anderson is the best cover guy right now, but may have the lowest "ceiling" with his size. Markus Manson has all the tools but has never focused on defense before this fall. He was a track star in high school, so the athleticism is there but will he be physical enough? Corners that miss tackles can turn short gains into touchdowns. Ahmad Black is probably a year or more away, but I wouldn't write any of them off at this point.
If those five questions generate strong positive responses, it'll be time to plan another trip to Atlanta. And you must admit one thing. That fine city has been very, very good to the Florida Gators lately.
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