GAINESVILLE -- OK, it's finally time to start writing about the fun stuff. Over the next week, Gator Clause will shift its focus from the BORING ankle-sprain updates of training camp to the GAME WEEK! discussions that get everyone excited. Let's start with a broad topic: Who's going to play?
Well, let's project the field...
Your projected starting offensive line: left tackle Matt Patchan, left guard Carl Johnson, center Maurkice Pouncey, right guard Mike Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert.
Guard James Wilson is the top reserve and Maurice Hurt will be in the rotation as well. Freshman Xavier Nixon could also see the field.
Pretty clear cut here. Tim Tebow is the starter and John Brantley will likely receive a few more snaps this season than he did in 2008. Not too many, though. Timmy needs to keep his stats up! Because we all know Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy are going to put up some big numbers this season.
Sophomore Jeff Demps is the de facto starter but Meyer will give redshirt sophomore Chris Rainey plenty of love as well. Rainey didn't know much of the playbook last season but he still averaged 7.8 yards per carry (as did Demps). If Rainey can remain healthy for an entire season, he could have a breakout year. Of course, Rainey has been plagued by injuries ever since his sophomore year of high school.
Emmanuel Moody is the great unknown. It's time for this guy to produce. Now a redshirt junior, Moody's career (both at USC and at UF) has been slowed by ankle injuries.
The top four receivers are Riley Cooper, Deonte Thompson, David Nelson and Brandon James. For some reason, that combination of players doesn't exactly jump off the page. Maybe it's just me. Thompson needs to be a legitimate downfield threat or the Gators' offense will be handicapped. Offensive coordinator will Steve Addazio will need to be creative to get James involved. James is pretty small (5-6), so he's not going to be much of a target.
I wouldn't be surprised to see Frankie Hammond Jr. see the field at some point this season. He's an extraordinary athlete and despite only being a redshirt freshman, Hammond Jr. has a firm grasp of the Gators' playbook.
We might as well list Aaron Hernandez as a receiver. After all, I wouldn't be surprised if Hernandez led the Gators in receiving this season. Keeping Hernandez healthy is key. There's no back-up.
Hernandez will see some action at fullback but T.J. Pridemore will be used as well.
Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham are the starting defensive ends but Justin Trattou, Duke Lemmens and William Green will get plenty of reps as well. Inside, Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders are the returning starters. Redshirt freshman Jaye Howard and redshirt freshman Omar Hunter will play regularly.
Your starting linebackers to the begin the season: strong-side linebacker A.J. Jones, middle linebacker Brandon Spikes and weak-side linebacker Ryan Stamper.
Brandon Hicks was the projected starter at the strong-side position at the beginning of training camp but Hicks will begin the season with a nagging ankle injury. Dustin Doe is the top reserve at weak-side linebacker. He's back with the team (was suspended for repeatedly driving with a suspended license) and should be ready to go by the Tennessee game. Freshman Jon Bostic will be the second-string linebacker in name only. If Spikes goes down in the middle then Stamper will slide inside.
Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins are entrenched at the two cornerback positions. They're not coming out of the game unless they're injured. Seniors Markihe Anderson and Wondy Pierre-Louis are the top reserves.
Here's where things get interesting. Coach Urban Meyer has said all preseason that he has four starting safeties: Major Wright, Ahmad Black, Dorian Munroe and Will Hill. Munroe went down with a knee injury during two-a-days and probably won't be available until the LSU game. That leaves UF with three starting safeties. But, of course, you can't start three safeties.
Projecting the field, I'd say that Wright and Black are the every-down starters and Hill will be used often as a nickelback. Can UF play three safeties in some sort of zone coverage? Doubtful, at least according to Meyer. He has said all preseason that UF's defense is a man-defense. No zone. We'll see...