Spring Preview - Offense

It's time for the Florida Gators to hit the gridiron once again, and with the start of spring football, there are several things to watch when Wednesday rolls around. The offense has added some new weapons for returning Heisman winner Tim Tebow and a battle tested offensive line returns near full health.

QUARTERBACKS --- There's no battle here with a Heisman winner returning for another season for the first time since Southern Cal's Matt Leinart did it back in 2005. But both Cameron Newton and John Brantley didn't come to Gainesville to send in signals from the sidelines. Brantley is recovering from a minor shoulder injury suffered during mat drills and Newton has been strong throughout the offseason workouts. Urban Meyer wants to go back to the two-quarterback system that the Gators used when they won their national title in 2006, and Newton looks like the frontrunner to take more snaps under center in the fall.

For Tebow, there are a couple things to watch for. First, Florida will spend a lot of time and spend it early in spring drills working on the two-minute offense. Tebow had chances to drive the Gators down the field against both LSU and Michigan with less than two minutes to play and came away with two first downs. Second, the Gators will look at installing some no-huddle plays, and third, they will focus on second-and-long situations, which were a shortcoming from a year ago.

RUNNING BACKS --- Two words – Emmanuel Moody. Not that there's any pressure on the USC transfer, but the Gators have been devoid of a go-to-guy out of the backfield in Meyer's first three seasons. The closest Florida came was with DeShawn Wynn in the last couple games of the national title season.

What does Meyer want? Meyer wants a back who will keep the ball off the ground, pick up yards after initial contact and get a first down with the game on the line. After Moody, the dependable Kestahn Moore will get his carries and Mon Williams will get his chances after missing all of last season with a knee injury. Chris Rainey has also added 18 pounds (174-pounds) during the offseason, so how he carries his added weight and whether or not he can take care of the football during the spring will determine what kind of action he sees in the fall.

WIDE RECEIVERS --- For the first time in five years, Andre Caldwell will not be at spring practice. The leadership of the receiver corps falls squarely on the shoulders of Cornelius Ingram and Percy Harvin. Ingram returns for his senior season after flirting with the NFL Draft and will see more time as a true tight end. Harvin added about 12 pounds during the offseason, but the major focus for the spring will be the assimilation of Carl Moore. The 6-4, 220-pound junior college transfer comes to Gainesville from Sierra Community College in California and has the size and speed to be an immediate threat in the SEC.

Louis Murphy should have a role in the Gators' first team of receivers locked down, so the thing to watch is who emerges to join first team five-wide rotation. David Nelson made some big plays last season and Justin Williams began to prove his worth on special teams. But redshirt freshman Deonte Thompson stayed in Gainesville to make an impact and he has Harvin-like ability.

OFFENSIVE LINE --- The Gators return four of their five starting linemen, so there's not too much to watch for here. Maurkice Pouncey moves to center after starting at right guard last season. Last spring, Drew Miller struggled with the shotgun snap early, so Maurkice's adjustment may be something to watch. His brother Michael Pouncey moves to his old position after finishing last season at defensive tackle. Jim Tartt will work at left guard, and Phil Trautwein and Jason Watkins have the tackle spots nailed down. Trautwein's involvement will be somewhat limited after missing all of last season with a stress fracture in his foot.

Marcus Gilbert, Maurice Hurt and Carl Johnson will be looking to impress the coaches and earn their trust for the fall. Talented early entrant Matt Patchan from the incoming freshman class has said numerous times he came to Florida to play. How he makes the adjustment to the next level will be something to keep an eye on. With Trautwein coming back from injury combined with his senior status, Patchan should have plenty of reps to show if he can play.

Tomorrow, we'll take a look at things to watch on the defensive side of the ball.

Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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