2007 SEC Preview: Florida

As spring practice began in Gainesville, confidence was low. Urban Meyer portrayed his defending national champions in two simple words – "train wreck." How would the defense rebound after losing nine starters? Was Tim Tebow capable of running the offense on every down?

The offense proved to not only be fine, but potent. It is loaded with firepower that will operate behind an experienced offensive line. The front five lost one starter, so senior guard Drew Miller moved to center. After struggling in the first few weeks of practice, Miller had the role down by the Orange and Blue Game.

At receiver, senior Andre Caldwell returned for his senior season and has been moved to the outside after lining up in the slot. Sophomore Percy Harvin takes over the slot role, and will be the go-to-guy. Junior Cornelius Ingram proved this spring that he can be a big-time SEC performer. The converted quarterback to tight end showed he's more comfortable with his role. Wideouts Louis Murphy and David Nelson also emerged as strong options for the Gators, and early entrant Aaron Hernandez, who was the top high school tight end last year, also had a great spring.

After Chris Leak's departure, Tebow eagerly stepped in as the leader of the offense and proved he can be the dual-threat quarterback that everyone expected him to be. He completed 17-of-27 passes for 216 yards in the spring game while tossing three touchdowns.

In the end, the only true problem for the Gator offense is in the backfield. Sophomore Mon Williams emerged as an early favorite, but suffered an ACL tear in his knee that will sideline him in 2007. Junior Kestahn Moore became a more powerful back and showed that his field vision has improved and is the frontrunner for the starting job.

The defense improved during the spring, but there is still a long way to go. On a positive note, the line returns junior Derrick Harvey at defensive end, who put up huge numbers in the BCS title game against Ohio State. Sophomore Jermaine Cunningham solidified the other end spot, and redshirt senior Clint McMillan and redshirt junior Javier Estopinan will fill the middle with sophomore Brandon Antwine.

The linebacking corps is completely new, but highly regarded. Sophomore Brandon Spikes takes over the Mike spot left vacant by Brandon Siler. Spikes is a big, physical player who will eventually take over the leadership role on defense. Redshirt sophomore Ryan Stamper came into his own, earning a starting spot and sophomores Dustin Doe and redshirt freshman A.J. Jones will also contribute.

The secondary has to deal with the loss of All-America Reggie Nelson at free safety, but strong safety Tony Joiner is back for his senior season. Joiner has the maturity and patience to work well with his younger surrounding cast and with senior Kyle Jackson, the safety positions will be solid. The cornerback position dealt with some lingering injuries, but by the Orange and Blue Game, a couple of players proved they can handle the job. Redshirt junior Markus Manson moved from tailback to cornerback and adjusted nicely. Sophomores Markihe Anderson and Wondy Pierre-Louis also had strong springs, but they could be pushed by true freshman Joe Haden.

The kicking game will feature two new kickers, with incoming freshman Chas Henry expected to replace Eric Wilbur at punter and several players battling for the placekicking role.

The schedule is highlighted by a trip to Baton Rouge to face LSU, but home games against Tennessee and Auburn in The Swamp, where Meyer has yet to lose a game in 14 tries, should give the Gators a legitimate chance to defend their SEC East title and challenge for another league crown.


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