Spring Game: What to look for?

The number of injuries and guys sidelined from the Orange and Blue debut on Saturday is enough proof that the Gators went at it hard this spring. There should be no worry about them resting on their laurels. It's a team that returns everyone on defense and a lot on offense. There weren't a lot of questions this spring. Still, there are a few new wrinkles in the 2009 Gators to watch for Saturday.

On offense, we should expect some subtle changes, and some not so subtle changes. On Saturday look for the Gators' top target to be junior tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez has been the go to guy all spring and in my opinion will be the leading receiver this fall barring injury. He has all the tools to be a great play maker and has shown that on the big stage already. It would mark the first time since 1990 and Kirk Kirkpatrick if a tight end does lead Gator receivers in receiving.

Look for backup quarterback John Brantley to have a hot day on Saturday. Brantley came to UF with all kinds of accolades and he has lived up to the hype over the last half of the spring. To put it mildly, Brantley has been on fire for about six practices and is hitting and seeing the deep ball very well.

Look for the quarterbacks to work a little under center, but not a lot. Yes, they will work under center more often this fall. Yes, that means the fullback will line up behind them in the I and lead block more than they have in the last few years. Yes, we will see some fullback play action flare passes in the flats. But, this won't be a huge staple in the offense. A nice wrinkle, and you may see more of it Saturday than you will all season. At least, that is what I think.

We know about Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Moody. Jeff Demps is running track and will not participate. The guy to watch for on Saturday is walk-on tailback Christopher Scott. He isn't as speedy as the aforementioned backs, but he has a knack for making people miss and when he doesn't he has some power at the position. He has been a very pleasant surprise and will be wearing No. 20 on Saturday.

It is a real M*A*S*H unit on the offensive line right now so a lot of players will be absent on Saturday. That just means some young guys will be front and center and none this spring has been more impressive than freshman center Sam Robey. Sophomore tackle Matt Patchan just got his feet wet in the last two weeks, but has really impressed even if he needs to add some weight to his frame. True freshmen Nick Alajajian and Jonotthan Harrison have had a lot of shining moments as well and should start on Saturday.

The receiver position is one that has been every important this spring and three young guys that have stepped up are freshmen Frankie Hammond and T.J. Lawrence, and sophomore Deonte Thompson. All three are deep threats with Thompson and Hammond doing their damage from the outside and Lawrence from the slot position vacated by Percy Harvin.

The Gator secondary and entire defense returns intact, but that doesn't mean some young guys in the backfield haven't made some noise this spring. Starter Janoris Jenkins will be out of the game with injury, but Joe Haden, Wondy Pierre-Louis, Ahmad Black, and Major Wright will play on Saturday. Don't be shocked if safety Will Hill makes more plays than all of them as he has done all spring.

The young guys coming up have also made noise. Freshman Adrian Bushell may have had the best spring of all the defensive backs. He should push the starters this fall and tomorrow. Jeremy Brown just got back from injury and was solid on his first day back Wednesday. Senior safety Dorian Munroe is back this spring after missing all of 2008 and he had a solid spring as well.

At linebacker, starters Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe return along with occasional starters Ryan Stamper and A.J. Jones. Brandon Hicks has been out all spring recovering from shoulder surgery. The real positive surprise this spring has been the play of true freshman middle linebacker Jon Bostic who has already entrenched himself as the number two MLB. Look for him to try and impress Saturday as he has all spring.

Most of the starting defensive line is out for Saturday as Lawrence Marsh, Terron Sanders, and Carlos Dunlap recover from injuries. They are joined on the list by Brandon Antwine and Justin Trattou. With their absence a few new guys showed up and played big.

Junior Duke Lemmens had a solid spring and looks to do well on Saturday as a strong side defensive end. Jaye Howard had the most impressive spring as a relative newcomer. Howard is looking to press for a starting spot in the fall and I look for him to have a big day on Saturday. Omar Hunter and William Green are also seldom used guys from 2008 that look to be influential contributors in the fall.

Urban Meyer will most likely want to have an offensive shootout on Saturday so look for the rules to be geared that way. More than 600 high school and small college coaches are in town for a coaching clinic along with 100's of top prospects that will be in the stands. The Gators will want to put on a show, and I expect they will.

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