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Gators enter preseason with pressing needs at key offensive skill positions

GAINESVILLE -- Untapped potential overflows from Florida's preseason offensive depth chart. To fully take advantage of all that talent, some very important things must happen between now and Sept. 11.

That's the second Saturday of the season, when Florida hosts South Florida in what will be a game of high energy and high stakes. It seems unlikely, but Florida could lose this game in a worst-case scenario. After all, USF defeated Florida State at Doak Campbell last season. And I'm quite certain no one needs reminding of Florida 23, Arkansas 20 or, more to the point, Ole Miss 31, Florida 30.

To avoid such an upset, Florida must take full advantage of every single skill position in its spread offense. That didn't happen last season for two reasons. 1. Florida relied too much on Tim Tebow. 2. Tebow usually delivered. There will be no Tebow this season -- no fail-safe back-up plan. Florida's offense must adapt but a few pressing needs and potential deficiencies could hinder that growth. Here they are:

1. Who is going to play tight end and will he be any good? Tight end was a key position last season. Where would the Gators have been without Aaron Hernandez? He led the team in receptions. UF offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said during the spring that finding a quality tight end was one of his most important tasks. As Addazio explained it, tight end was a crucial piece of the puzzle in Florida's new offense. If Florida can't rely on its tight end, then the offense as a whole will suffer and need to be adjusted.

The options at tight end are redshirt freshmen Jordan Reed and Desmond Parks and true freshman Gerald Christian. All three players have talent but all are young. Reed, who seemed to emerge as the first-stringer after spring practice, only began playing tight end in the last year. In the mold of Cornelius Ingram, Reed was a quarterback when he first arrived at UF. Parks was injured much of last year. Christian seems to be on the right path but is a bit raw.

2. Can Florida's receivers stretch the field? They couldn't last season with any consistency. Riley Cooper and Deonte Thompson both suffered from the yips at times. Thompson must be the man this season and his confidence must improve. (This is the real reason why Urban Meyer flipped out on a reporter this spring.)

3. Who is going to play slot receiver? The Great Brandon James Experiment just didn't pan out at slot receiver last season. Now UF wants to experiment by putting another running back at the position? Chris Rainey is great -- don't get me wrong -- but surely there's a receiver on UF's roster who can, you know, actually play receiver. Will Andre Debose be ready? Meyer knew he had problems when the extent of Debose's hamstring injury was discovered last year. Meyer was right. He had problems.

4. Who's the power back? Tebow played this position for four years. He carried the ball more than anyone else for three years. He did it so well I think people took it for granted. Jeff Demps is no power back. Chris Rainey would completely fall apart if he had to pound the ball. The options are Emmanuel Moody and Mike Gillislee. Remember a long time ago when Meyer convinced Moody to transfer to UF because he could one day be the "featured back?" That time is now.

5. Can John Brantley handle the pressure? People are assuming Brantley is going to be a world-class quarterback from the first snap of the season. Maybe he will be, but keep in mind he hasn't started a football game in three years. Brantley, of course, is the least of UF's worries. He should be fine.

-jo-

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