After a difficult first season, Will Muschamp has plenty of work to do at Florida this spring
Will Muschamp’s first season as Florida’s coach wasn’t a memorable one. The Gators were miserable on offense, couldn’t force turnovers and finished with six losses for the first time since 1987.
The Gators did manage to beat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl to finish 7-6 and avoid their first losing season since 1979, when they went 0-10-1 in Charley Pell’s first season.
Coach: Will Muschamp (2nd season)
Last season: 7-6 overall, 3-5 in SEC
Spring practice dates: March 14-April 7
(minimum 7 starts last season):
Offense (7): H-back Trey Burton, T Chaz Green, G Jon Halapio, C Jonotthan Harrison, T Xavier Nixon, T Matt Patchan, TE Jordan Reed
Defense (11): LB Jon Bostic, T Dominique Easley, S Matt Elam, S Josh Evans, T/E Sharriff Floyd, LB Jelani Jenkins, E/LB Ronald Powell, CB Cody Riggs, CB Marcus Roberson, S DeAnte Saunders, CB Jaylen Watkins
Special teams (2): P Kyle Christy, K Caleb Sturgis
It’s not going to be easy, though: The Gators need a new quarterback, a new tailback and a new go-to receiver, and likely will have a reshuffled line. They also have to establish some kind of pecking order at wide receiver. The leading returning receiver is TE Jordan Reed, who had 28 receptions. Andre Debose, who had 16 catches last season, is the leading returning wide receiver.
There are fewer questions on defense. The Gators lose just one starter, T Jaye Howard, and actually return 11 players who started at least seven games last season, with six of those in the secondary.
A key this spring is making sure the pass rush is more productive. UF basically was unable to get to the passer against the better teams on its schedule; that was one reason the Gators managed to force just 14 turnovers last season.
Special teams should be a positive this season; K Caleb Sturgis has one of the strongest legs in the nation and there are a plethora of return men.
The biggest problem: Line play. After a 7-6 season, there are plenty of problems. But none of Florida’s issues can be solved without vast improvements up front on both sides of the ball. Only four SEC teams gave up more sacks than the Gators in 2011, and those squads went a combined 8-24 in conference play. Florida also was 11th in turnover margin in the SEC, largely because of a lackluster pass rush that had 15 fewer sacks than SEC East champion Georgia. The Gators will rely heavily on new faces to turn things around, including early-enrollee offensive linemen D.J. Humphries and Jessamen Dunker and junior college defensive tackle Damien Jacobs. This is an important spring for holdover Ts Chaz Green, Matt Patchan and Xavier Nixon and sixth-year senior G James Wilson, who hasn’t come close to living up to his high school hype because of injuries. Junior DT Sharrif Floyd needs to make expected improvement. It hurts that junior DT Dominique Easley will miss the spring after tearing his ACL.
[ Related: Steve Spurrier has South Carolina in good shape ]
On the spot: TB Mike Gillislee. Florida loses 1,550 rushing yards from 2011 as RBs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are gone. With just three scholarship running backs on the spring roster, senior Mike Gillislee finally could get the opportunity he has been waiting for. Gillislee averaged 5.9 yards per carry last season, but was limited to 56 touches and was seen as one-dimensional by the coaching staff. He needs to prove he can be a more complete option in 2012.
On the verge: WR Ja’Juan Story. After playing quarterback in high school, Story’s fundamentals as a wide receiver didn’t match the athleticism that made him a four-star recruit in 2011. After redshirting and working the scout team for a season, Story will get an opportunity to show what he has learned at his position during the spring. The Gators are desperate for offensive playmakers. At 6 feet 3 and 206 pounds, Story has the frame and ability to be a major contributor if he can refine his skills.
General overview: Most of the attention this spring will focus on sophomore quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel, who are vying for the starting job. While coaches will be evaluating which one is the proper replacement for John Brantley, there are no guarantees that competition will be solved by the end of the spring game. At wide receiver, offense-starved fans will be looking to see if Andre Debose and Quinton Dunbar can be the deep-ball duo that Florida hasn’t seen in years. Also important is where the returning linemen and defensive backs stand before a freshman class that has been promised early playing time arrives over the summer.
For in-depth coverage of Florida athletics, go to InsidetheGators.com
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