There are few reasons to doubt the potential firepower of the Florida offense in 2008, especially with the return of Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow for his junior year, the nation’s most dynamic playmaker in wide receiver Percy Harvin and one of the best lines in Gators history.
Impressive? Yes. But let me throw the names of five players into the mix who I expect will make quite a splash when Florida welcomes the Hawaii Warriors on Aug. 30. Not only will this quintet of players add depth to an already loaded unit but they should help light up the scoreboard this season.
Chris Rainey: The 5-9. 182-pound running back out of Lakeland High was redshirted last season after suffering a shoulder injury. Rainey appeared in the first four games of the season and ran one time for 10 yards, setting up Florida’s final touchdown against Tennessee. He also returned a punt against Western Kentucky for 22 yards to set up another Florida touchdown.
Rainey was simply outstanding last spring. He was just as effective running the ball inside as he was outside. The former Lakeland High Dreadnaught has added some much needed muscle mass to his frame, which should serve him well this season.
Florida offensive coordinator Dan Mullen can do so much to exploit Rainey’s talents: Line him up deep in the backfield, split him out wide, line him up in the slot, or slip him the ball as he lines up alongside quarterback Tim Tebow..
Emmanuel Moody: The 6-0, 210-pound redshirt sophomore, a transfer from Southern California, averaged 5.8 yards a carry during an injury-plagued freshman season. After spraining his ankle against Oregon, Moody missed games with California, Notre Dame, Michigan and UCLA. Still, he earned the Pacific 10 Conference Freshman of the Year Award in 2006 after gaining 459 yards on just 79 carries.
Moody had to adjust to Florida’s Spread offense. Used to standing deep in the backfield and getting a good view of everything in front of him, Moody found himself closer to the action and had to adjust to a different perspective. Once he did, he ran like a wild man, especially in one of the scrimmages during the spring. He should compliment Rainey in the backfield.
Deonte Thompson: During his senior season at Glades Central, the 6-0, 195-pound redshirt freshman wide receiver wrenched a lot of necks and twisted a few opponents’ ankles averaging 19.1 yards per reception. The average is even more impressive when you consider Thompson suffered a foot injury and missed five games.
Thompson may not have been quite ready as a true freshman, but appeared much more prepared this past spring. He was explosive in man-on-man drills, demonstrating why he was named to so many All-America teams as a prep school phenom. You’ll see him with Percy Harvin, Louis Murphy and Riley Cooper running through defensive backfields.
John Brantley: The 6-3, 217-pound redshirt freshman quarterback flourished under the direction of former Gators standout and Trinity Catholic head football coach Kerwin Bell and his father, John Brantley III, who has taken over the Celtics head coaching job. He wisely perfected those lessons on the practice field and pounded opposing defenses leading the Celtics to the state title game in both of the years he was the starter. His mechanics are absolutely superb.
Injuries have slowed his development, including a mangled hand during just before last spring’s Orange and Blue Game, and few know how good he is. Brantley is stronger and spent hours watching film to help acclimate himself to the Florida offense. He needs a few weeks of practice some time in those early games to shake some rust off.
Caleb Sturgis: The 5-11, 192-pound freshman placekicker from St. Augustine High School missed half the field goals he attempted during his junior season and still warranted All-America honors. Why? St. Augustine did not have a punter during Sturgis’ junior season, having lost Jacques Rickerson to Florida. So whenever the Yellow Jackets needed to pin their opponents back, Sturgis would attempt a 55-yard or longer fi eld goal. If he drilled it, the Yellow Jackets got 3 points. If he didn’t and the ball went into the end zone, it was a touchback.
Should the Florida offense stall anywhere 50-60 yards from the goal line, Urban Meyer now has an option. Sturgis had the benefit of working with a snapper and holder at an entirely new level, where consistency is demanded. He spent the spring and summer getting stronger and improving his accuracy, which is the one area that definitely needed addressing.