GATOR CLAUSE TAKES A CRITICAL LOOK AT SOME OF THE POTENTIAL PROBLEMS FACING THE GATORS AS PRESEASON PRACTICE BEGINS.
GAINESVILLE -- It's here. It's here. It's finally here. Football is back!
The returning players of the University of Florida football team begin preseason practice at 6:10 a.m. on Thursday. The newcomers -- the freshmen and maybe some redshirt freshmen -- practice at 4:35 p.m. The schedule is the same on Friday and those four practices will be the only times fans can watch the Gators in action until the season opener on Sept. 5. After Friday, practices are closed to both reporters and fans.
So, in honor of the annual celebration that is the beginning of fall practice, Gator Clause is offering free doughnuts and coffee to anyone -- fans, reporters and UF support staff only (no players and coaches) -- who attends Thursday morning's practice. Supplies are limited, so get to the field early. (Well, I guess "early" is relative in this case.) A reminder: Sunrise is set for around 5:56 a.m.
Now, let's ask some questions. (They're hypothetical, but feel free to answer or leave a comment with your insightful preseason annotations.) Before we begin, I should probably point out that the aim of these questions and answers was not to heap praise and preseason hype upon the Gators. If you want that, then go read a preseason magazine. Or, read my Cliff's Notes version of them, which is right here... LINK! (I'll be praising the Gators plenty this season, but I've got to be a critical reporter every once in awhile, right?)
5. How much can UF really expect of Riley Cooper?
Look, I know everyone is excited about Riley Cooper returning to football, but does anyone other than me think that Cooper is no longer a starting wide receiver? Sure, Cooper was great last postseason. He caught some of the most important passes of the season, but that doesn't mean Cooper gets a pass for missing ALL of spring practice and ALL of summer conditioning? Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe Cooper walks onto the field on Thursday sight-unseen and everyone greets him with high fives, bear hugs and Krispy Kremes. But I don't think that's going to happen. Florida coach Urban Meyer says that starting positions are won during the spring. Well, Cooper wasn't there. He was playing baseball. (And, if you read The Miami Herald this morning -- LINK! -- then you already know that Cooper's forthcoming contract with the Texas Rangers might not be so forthcoming.) Cooper has a lot to prove in the next three weeks. How out of shape is he? Can he pick up where he left off after being gone for eight months? As of right now, here are my starting wide receivers to begin fall camp.
[PICTURED, Is Riley Cooper (left) ready to compete?]
Carl Moore: Now a senior, this is Moore's second fall camp since transferring from a California junior college. When he first arrived, Moore had the look of a timid newcomer. He played with confidence during the spring, however, and should be a starter.
David Nelson: Like Cooper, Nelson was a postseason hero for the Gators. Unlike Cooper, Nelson never left the team.
Deonte Thompson: Thompson has been working overtime since the BCS National Championship to take Cooper's position. Cooper was busy trying to learn how to hit a curve.
4. Who's at the Percy position?
Florida doesn't win the 2009 BCS National Championship without Percy Harvin. Quarterback Tim Tebow was named the game's most outstanding offensive player but Harvin was the real star that night in Miami. He rushed for 125 yards on nine carries and caught five passes for 49 yards. Sure, Florida defeated Alabama in the Southeastern Conference championship game last season without Harvin. But let's face it. The Tide died in the fourth quarter.
The Gators need to find a replacement for Percy Harvin in the next three weeks. Well, two replacements, actually, or maybe three ... because Harvin led ALL Florida receivers in receptions (40 for 644 yards) last season, led ALL Florida running backs in rushing yards (668 yards on 70 carries) and led ALL Florida players in touchdowns (17).
[PICTURED, Is Jeffrey Demps ready to do it all?]
Can Jeffrey Demps take over for Harvin? Is Demps dynamic enough to play that position? The depth at running back is certainly there if Demps can move over to the slot. I assume UF offensive coordinator Steve Addazio can find someone to run the ball among Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Moody, Christopher Scott and incoming freshman Mike Gillislee.
3. How does Andre Debose fit into the equation?
Sorry to break the news to everyone: Over-hyped incoming freshman Andre Debose is still a freshman. I wouldn't expect too much earlier on. Can Debose account for even a modicum of the yards Harvin produced last season? Only time will tell. Debose apparently injured his hamstring over the summer, which is never good news when you're skinny, about to play in the Southeastern Conference and need to gain muscle mass quickly. I'm not ready to anoint Debose the SEC's next A.J. Green, let alone Florida's next Harvin.
2. Who's at left tackle?
Last time I checked, left tackle was one of the most important positions on the football field. Well, Florida doesn't have one right now and the leading candidates are a former offensive guard (Carl Johnson) and a sophomore (Matt Patchan) who weighed about 260 pounds in the spring. Will Johnson win the position during two-a-days? If so, then that means Maurkice Pouncey will likely remain at left guard and redshirt freshman Sam Robey will play center. (Assuming Robey is good enough to play center.)
[PICTURED, Matt Patchan has beefed up. Is he big enough?]
Is Patchan big enough to start at left tackle in the SEC? He gained weight during the offseason but was it enough? If Patchan wins the starting left tackle position during two-a-days, then Johnson will likely move back to left guard and Pouncey will move back to center.
Another scenario: Johnson at left tackle and James Wilson at left guard. Wilson didn't practice in the spring due to chronic problems with his feet. Is Wilson healthy and ready to compete?
1. Will the offense improve or suffer with Addazio and Loeffler in charge?
Oh, almost forgot. The Gators have a new offensive coordinator (Steve Addazio) and a new quarterbacks coach (Scot Loeffler) this fall. I'm being sarcastic, of course, but it does surprise me that no else is talking about this. Are we to assume that Florida's offense won't miss a beat with Dan Mullen now in Starkville, Miss.?
[PICTURED, Will the offense thrive with Steve Addazio in charge?]
Mullen not only helped Florida coach Urban Meyer create the Gators' version of the spread offense, Mullen also was quarterback Tim Tebow's teacher and close friend. Of course, with Mullen gone it's not like Florida's offense is going to change much. In other words, Meyer won't let Addazio screw it up this fall. Still, the chemistry of the offense will be different with Addazio in charge. As for Tebow, this is one of the first things Meyer told Loeffler when he was hired to coach Tebow: "Don't screw him up." Loeffler worked all spring with Tebow to improve his mechanics. It should be interesting to see the final product.
Don't forget, FREE DOUGHNUTS!