Q)How do the coaches really feel about the following positions: safety, linebacker and wide receiver?
A) We’ll start with safety. This is probably the position that the coaching staff is most concerned about, well safety and tight end. The question at safety isn’t about talent; Florida has a slew of talented players that can play safety. The problem is finding a player who is ready and able to play safety the way Will Muschamp and D.J. Durkin need them to play the position.
What I mean by this is the coaches ask a lot out of the safeties as far as communication is concerned. The safeties play a big role by communicating protections and making sure the entire secondary knows what they need to do on every play. Throughout spring the coaching staff waited for a player to step up and “get it” but so far there hasn’t been one player to step up and take control.
Marcus Maye is a player that Joker Phillips mentioned as far as standing out some but other than that, we just hear a lot of typical coach talk like so and so has done some nice things. It’s hard to think that a freshman could come in and meet the coaching staff’s expectations but Marcell Harris and Keanu Neal will both have an opportunity to play and potentially start as freshmen. The battle for the two starting spots at safety is far from over.
The linebacker group is extremely green but what they lack in experience, they make up for with talent. Antonio Morrison is going to be a special player for Florida. The group is made even stronger with the addition of Ronald Powell, who will play both Buck and SAM. Jeremi Powell, Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone, Michael Taylor, Darrin Kitchens and Neiron Ball give the group a ton of depth. The staff is very comfortable with what they have at linebacker and they should be.
Wide receiver is still a waiting game. Like at safety, the staff is waiting for one player to shine and stand out above the rest. Quinton Dunbar appears to be that guy at this point. He’ll enter the fall as the unquestioned No. 1 guy but whom else can Florida count on? Demarcus Robinson could turn into that option. Calling him “athletic” wouldn’t do it justice. He’s a playmaker and he will be a big-time player for Florida, but can he do it as a freshman?
I know everyone wonders about Andre Debose and how he is doing. Reports are that Debose had a solid spring but I won’t believe it until I see him do it during the regular season. Gator fans have waited for Debose to turn into the “next Percy Harvin” as Urban Meyer unfairly dubbed him but Debose was never going to be the next Percy. I am more interested in how the coaching staff uses the five freshmen that they signed as well as players like Solomon Patton and Latroy Pittman.
Q) Will anything change with game prep? Specifically with “smaller” opponents?
I don’t think the coaching staff prepares differently for the “smaller” opponents. Will Muschamp values one stat and one stat only. That’s putting a “W” down on the schedule each and every Saturday.
While Gators fans grew accustomed to Steve Spurrier trying to hang half a hundred every week and Urban Meyer calling timeouts at the end of a blowout victory against Georgia, those things don’t excite Muschamp.
Florida played a very conservative offensive style in 2012 because they had the defense and special teams units to be able to play that way. I think the defense will pick up where they left and continue to be one of the strongest units in the country. Once Florida figures out who is going to kick, the special teams unit will be strong as well. That means more conservative play calling in 2013 and less “sexy” wins over lesser opponents.
Q) How are the following players doing/developing and do you think they will contribute this year: Jeremi Powell, Ian Silberman, Trip Thurman, Austin Hardin, Bryan Cox Jr. and Tevin Westbrook.
A) Powell – This is a player the coaching staff is very excited about. Powell can play both outside linebacker spots and he could easily work into the rotation. He’ll make an impact for Florida this season.
Silberman – He missed most of the spring with an injury and Max Garcia looked solid at left guard. I don’t see Silberman earning a starting spot on the offensive line this season but he is a player who can come in and contribute if someone goes down with injury.
Thurman – The coaching staff says that he will be back at full strength following surgery to repair a torn labrum. After going through a labrum injury of my own, I have no idea how Thurman will be able to play this season. With a labrum injury, it is extremely difficult/painful to extend your arm out straight and put any pressure on it. Thurman will need to do this motion every single time the ball is snapped. I just don’t see how he can come back and be effective this season following that type of surgery.
Hardin – I had Hardin penciled in as the starting kicker heading into spring. He didn’t grab the job but continues to work and will battle for the starting spot this fall. I think he takes the job by the time Florida kicks off against Toledo.
Cox Jr. – Being completely transparent, I am partial to Bryan Cox because he and I attended the same high school. My bias aside, Cox had a great offseason and the coaching staff noticed. He added some considerable size in the offseason and looks the part of a Buck LB. He is going to contribute this season and will surprise some people along the way.
Westbrook – Being completely honest, I don’t see Westbrook being anything more than a blocking option at tight end. He improved as a pass-catcher in the offseason but he’s still not on the same level as the rest of the tight ends in that aspect of his game.
Q) Will we get out of the cellar in passing yards per game in 2013?
A) I expect the passing game to be better in 2013 but Florida will probably still be in the bottom half of the conference. That’s just the kind of offense that Muschamp wants to run and last season showed that it can be effective.
Q) Who’s your bet as our “go-to” clutch receiver on third and long?
A) Quinton Dunbar.
Q) What are your expectations for the defense and how do we pick up where we left off after losing 7 starters?
A) I expect Florida to have a top-3 defense in the SEC. I mentioned before that what the defense lacks in experience they make up for in talent.
Florida has the potential to have the best secondary in the league and the defensive line and linebacker units should be strong again. Antonio Morrison is picking up right where Bostic left off both on and off the field and you can mark it down, he will become the next great middle linebacker in Florida football history.
Safety is the only real concern for me. There is a ton of talent but Florida is looking for the complete package. I think they have that player on the roster, he just hasn’t shown himself yet.
Q) Other than lifting with Coach Dillman what can the players do over the summer and what coaches can they interact with?
A) The players can only interact with Dillman and the nutrition staff. As far as working out goes, the players have player run practices that they call “captain’s practices.” This is where you need players to step up and become leaders.
Q) Is Driskel actually improving?
A) The main things Driskel needs to work on are his decision-making, footwork and pocket presence. It’s hard to get a sense of where he is based on what we saw this spring first hand. We won’t really know how much he has improved in his decision-making and pocket presence until we see him in a live game at full speed. His footwork looked improved this spring. He had a tendency of not stepping into all of his passes last season and that caused some balls to sail on him.
As far as improving as a leader, I think he has. After talking to some people close to the team, it seems that Driskel has taken a leadership role in the captain’s practices and is really working with the receivers to develop a better chemistry with the group as a whole.
I want to thank everyone who sent their questions in and made this article possible. I hope I answered all of your questions sufficiently and I look forward to making this mailbag a weekly staple. I’ll create threads every week starting on Wednesday asking for questions and I’ll run the story on Friday.