Spring football practice is about to heat up. This year there will be nine spring practices open to the public. I guess last season failed to provide evidence of the success of CIA level secrecy concerning practice. Of course, this is just the spring practices so I wouldn’t hold my breath on seeing a lot of fall practices. As far as I have heard, it remains to be seen what kind of Orange and Blue game the Gators will participate in this year. I, for one, would like to see some real game action to judge some key areas.
As practice gets going you will read and hear a lot about the quarterback position and the need for playmakers to emerge at receiver, but anyone with any sense knows that the 2014 season will hinge on two units more than any others. Those would be offensive line and linebacker. Yes, who ends up under center (or in the shotgun) is immensely important but if Florida cannot block or stop the run it will not matter whether Jeff Driskel is healthy and improved.
The above-mentioned units became critical last season because of injuries. Both units were absolutely decimated and both come into spring with health questions remaining that could dramatically affect depth. By my count there are three big health concerns with respect to returning offensive linemen and five concerning linebackers. While those are not huge numbers they can have a big impact on units that were going to have questionable depth to begin with.
On the offensive line the health of Chaz Green, Tyler Moore and D.J. Humphries remains in question. Based on the track record for the Gators under the last couple of coaches, it is unlikely that any solid information will be forthcoming with regards to player health. Suffice it to say that it is imperative that these three are ready for action in the fall. The seemingly inexplicable transfer of Ian Silberman makes the situation even worse. Even in the best-case scenario redshirt freshmen and an incoming juco will have to provide depth if there is to be any real rotation. A starting unit will have to emerge out of Green, Moore, Humphries, Trip Thurman, Max Garcia and Trenton Brown. After that it gets pretty dicey since three of those six have health questions already. Gator fans are very excited to have a new offensive coordinator and a new offensive line coach but the bigger question may be whether they have enough raw materials to build upon.
Things might be even worse for the linebacker corps. Antonio Morrison, Michael Taylor, Alex Anzalone, Jeremi Powell and Matt Rolin all suffered time loss due to injury last season and all come into the spring with at least some concern over their readiness to contribute. What makes this even more of an issue is that Florida’s starting linebackers will come from a group of those five plus Neiron Ball, Jarrad Davis and Daniel McMillian. Ball has been no stranger to injury so far in his career either.
This makes it even more baffling as to why the staff did not seem to find it imperative to bring in any linebackers in the 2014 signing class. There is some youth on the above list although Ball and Taylor are seniors. However, with the injuries this group has already incurred things could get pretty thin next year unless Will Muschamp manages to land a couple of SEC ready linebackers in the 2015 class.
While the passing game has taken a firm hold in the SEC these days, the best recipe for winning in college football’s best conference remains running the ball and stopping the run. This makes offensive line and linebacker critical for long-term success in the SEC. 2014 will depend heavily on the effectiveness of those two units for the Gators.