The 2014 Florida Gators are going through a complete makeover. Despite a brand new offense being installed, Will Muschamp, Kurt Roper and the Gators coaching staff opened the doors and invited fans and media in to watch the team. After eight open practices and 15 practices this fall we have learned a lot about what the Gators will look like this season. These are the five biggest takeaways from what we saw this fall camp as the Gators inch close to Idaho and the 2014 revenge tour.
1. The backup quarterback battle is the biggest fall camp story line.
Two years ago, Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett divided Gator Nation. Half were team Driskel, half were team Brissett and each side labeled the other a hater for picking a quarterback that they wanted to see start for Florida. So much drama. In 2014, the team and position of QB1 is in no doubt. This is Jeff Driskel’s team. But those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Will Muschamp is not a foolish man, he learned his lesson when Jeff Driskel went down and the Gators didn’t have a backup quarterback ready to take over. That will not be the case in 2014 as the Gators plan to have a quarterback ready to go and the backup quarterback will get snaps in the very first game of the season. The only question that remains is who will that be. Treon Harris and Will Grier are the clear-cut two in the race — ahead of Skyler Mornhinweg — but both freshmen have had their ups and downs this fall. The Gators will likely turn to a freshman to backup Driskel, but which one still remains to be seen.
2. Offensive line depth is still an issue
This predates Muschamp and goes back to the Urban Meyer era. Florida hasn’t recruited or held on to enough offensive linemen in the past six seasons. They’re paying for it now with a lack of depth. It’s why Muschamp has tried to reach into the junior college ranks to pull linemen in the past but the issue with depth still remains. Currently, D.J. Humphries, Trip Thurman, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore and Chaz Green are the starters with Trenton Brown and Rod Johnson the other two players the coaching staff feels comfortable with moving forward. In theory, you would like to have a solid two-deep on the offensive line but having eight to nine is more realistic. The Gators will be fine if they can go through the season without injuries to the line but if a couple linemen go down, so will the offense.
3. Questions remain at safety
Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins plugged the Josh Evans and Matt Elam hole last year but right now only Keanu Neal has stepped up and into a starting role. Neal has a bright future ahead of him and has the talent to become a household name but he needs someone beside him. Duke Dawson has gotten a lot of work but an injury has sidelined him and slowed his learning process at safety down. Physically, he’s everything that Muschamp looks for in a player at safety but there are a lot of mental responsibilities that go along with playing safety for Muschamp and Dawson will need time and experience to fully grasp what will be asked of him back there. Marcus Maye has made a move to nickel back — and his athleticism is in full display playing there — but will still play some safety. He’s the leader in the clubhouse to start next to Neal followed by Dawson, Jabari Gorman, Marcell Harris and Nick Washington.
4. The defensive line is better than expected
Finding a lone player to replace Dominique Easley is impossible but the Gators are progressing on the line and will replace Easley with a litany of players. In the spring Muschamp was very worried about the young players taking the next step but some of those worries have been alleviated by the play of Jay-nard Bostwick, Joey Ivie, Gerald Willis, Caleb Brantley and others. The defensive line may not have the same talent level that it has the past two or three season but they are a much deeper unit than they have been in the past. Even Neiron Ball is getting looks on the line — and getting after the passer — in pass rush situations.
5. This offense is fun to watch
With the launch of the SEC Network, there have been replays of the glory days of the SEC and all the past national championship victories. It reminded me of a time where watching the Florida offense was fun. Chris Leak hitting Dallas Baker in stride for a touchdown. Percy Harvin breaking the hearts of opponents and making Gator Nation swoon with his quick feet and playmaking ability. The past four seasons have been more black and blue than orange and blue for the Gators but that is about to change. I found myself sitting out at practice, enjoying the offense. Kurt Roper’s spread scheme has injected life into the offense and fans will notice a difference when they tune in this fall. You can’t schedule bathroom breaks for when the offense is on the field this season, the team will score points, they’re going to move the football and most importantly — other than winning games, of course — they’re going to entertain the fans who pay to watch them play.