Spring: Who has Made an Early Impression?

A year ago at this time there wasn't a whole lot of drama involved with the Florida football team as they prepared for a season with so many starters returning. There are still a great deal of returning experienced players, but there are also some key battles emerging for the fall depth chart. There are a few positions where someone needs to step up. Here are some guys that have impressed early.

The Gators return all the running backs from a strong running team in 2009. However, junior Chris Rainey will spend the spring working with the receivers and trying to be a difference maker in the slot. With his absence, all the reps are going to senior Emmanuel Moody and sophomore Mike Gillislee.

Moody has looked fine, but Gillislee is really playing well this spring. His big thing last year was knowing the offense, but he seems to really know what is going on as they continually install the offense bit by bit. On top of that he has run with reckless abandon and we have seen his power and the speed he possesses when carrying the ball. He has gone beyond what I expected so far early this season.

At receiver, the Gators really need about four to five guys to step up this offseason. Deonte Thompson is the leader of the group and has shown that on the practice field. He has had two drops, but outside of that has been steady and at times very good.

One player that has made noise is freshman receiver Stephen Alli. Alli towers over the other receivers at 6-6 and has a little strength to him as well on his 210 pounds. He is surprisingly fast for his size and that is starting to show up on the field of play, where sometimes fast players aren't so fast. He still has a lot to learn and is extremely young (he should be a senior in high school), but he looks like a great find by this staff s far.

Another receiver that should be in high school but is already enrolled at Florida is Solomon Patton. Patton just looks like the fastest football player on the field when he plays. He makes cuts in traffic at top speed and finds ways to get out of that traffic and down the football field for long gains or touchdowns. Patton is about 5-9, but has a solid frame on him that will resemble Brandon James build before he is done. He is going to be a big weapon in the slot position along with Rainey and fellow freshman Robert Clark.

A third receiver that has stood out for some unexpected elusiveness has been Carl Moore. Moore is 6-3.5 and 220 pounds but has shown his ability to make defenders miss. His big body is a great target for quarterbacks and if John Brantley and the coaching staff know he is going to make plays, he will really start getting the ball. So far, Moore has emerged as my breakout guy on offense this year.

Maybe the biggest surprise to me has been the exciting play of freshman tight end Jordan Reed. He switched positions from quarterback in the offseason, and I for one thought it was just a matter of time before he was out the door. Well, Reed has been quite good at tight end this spring. He has speed, size (6-4, 240), athleticism, and the ability to make plays with his feet. He doesn't resemble Aaron Hernandez, not that elusive. He just seems to make plays right now.

No one has made huge steps on the defensive line, but I have seen junior defensive end William Green make a few big plays that seemed to me, to set him part. It is imperative this year that the Gators find an end opposite of Justin Trattou on the line. I pegged Williams to be that guy this spring and have to hold off Ronald Powell in the fall. Green hasn't started yet this spring in favor of senior Duke Lemmens, but I expect him to.

A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks are steady players at the two outside linebacker spots so far, but the Gators need someone to step up in the middle. Sophomore Brendan Beal had a good day on Friday while Jon Bostic did his damage when the pads came on Saturday. I will give Bostic the edge now, but this may be a battle moving forward. Speed is a big advantage for Bostic in this battle.

Jelani Jenkins is a guy that hits hard on every play from his WILL linebacker position. Jenkins has made many big plays yet, but you can see him on most tackles and he tries to make that big play every time. They will come.

Will Hill and Ahmad Black are going to be the two starters at safety. The roster is really young behind them two with all freshmen and a sophomore. Of the group, Matt Elam has had the most chances on the field of play and has taken advantage of those chances. I have witnessed at least three pass breakups for Elam and I don't catch them all. He has a nose for the ball and is playing aggressive, even though he is yet another player that should still be roaming the halls in high school.

As Larry mentioned in his column it is a pretty tight race to see who is going to start at the cornerback position opposite of Janoris Jenkins. However, I think there are a couple of guys that have impressed me more than I was expecting.

Moses Jenkins is the only senior at the position and he is also the biggest of the bunch. Jenkins is known more for his special teams prowess as Urban Meyer has pointed him out numerous times in the past for his play on special teams. Jenkins seems much more fluid and I would say faster than what I have seen from him in the past. He really has kept that starting spot in practice because he has deserved it. He brings a nastiness and a physical game to the field and the staff loves that.

Joshua Shaw came in with some high praise out of high school. The early enrollee is yet another Gator that should be in high school but is already trying to earn some stripes on the football field. Like Moses, he plays physical, but the thing that surprised me is his athleticism...I thought with his size (6-1, 195) he would be a little more stiff. That just isn't the case. Shaw is one of very few on the team that I can say has made a big play in each of the three practices so far.

The last guy I will talk about is sophomore Jeremy Brown. No one really know what to expect out of brown this spring, but watching him go through contact drills on Saturday had to make everyone feel really good about him. He is a little rusty at times, but there are glimpses out of a guy that hasn't played in two years that just say he is going to be a player. I would put Moses and Shaw ahead of Brown right now, but would also say he is closing that gap pretty quickly.


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