Now that the last open practice has come and gone, this is a good time
to analyze what we’ve seen so far and how that relates to the 2006
season. Prior to practice I had five areas of concern that needed to be
corrected in the preseason. I want to address those issues along with a
new list of concerns.
I believe if the Gators eliminate these concerns this could be a very strong season.
Here is my preseason list of concerns and how I believe the Gators have gone about addressing these issues.
1. LEAK TAKING CHARGE: Number one on my list was the thought that Chris Leak really needs to be the man in charge when the offense is on the field. Leak hasn’t had to be overly vocal out there, so I can’t mislead anyone into thinking that. What I did see is that he is more decisive on a lot of his throws. He makes a lot more throws on time, but he still needs to get a little more comfortable reading some defenses a little sooner.
2. SOLIDIFY THE CORNERBACK SITUATION: Reggie Nelson is solid to spectacular at one corner spot and Reggie Lewis will also be a good player. Newcomers Ryan Smith, Markihe Anderson, Jacques Rickerson, and Wondy Pierre-Louis will all help the depth immediately and all have had their great moments in practice.
3. OFFENSIVE LINE MUST RUN BLOCK: The videos have been pretty obvious how much these guys have done. The starting unit has a really tough time forcing their will against the defensive starters, but they will not see a group that good at any other time this football season. Update: The running game took a big hit when mauler / masher Ronnie Wilson went down with a broken ankle. The Jim Tartt infusion will help, but losing Wilson hurts the run game a lot.
4. HARD RUNNING, CONSISTENCY FROM RUNNING BACKS: Of the five things to improve on, this may be the shakiest of them. The Gators got great play from freshman Brandon James and DeShawn Wynn had some very nice runs and has drawn the praise from the coaching staff. How consistent they will be is still a question in my book
5. DEPTH AT LINEBACKER: This looks to be the question that was answered the best in week one. Again, it is just one week but it looks like the Gators may have a legitimate two deep with Brian Crum, Jon Demps, Dustin Doe, Brandon Spikes, A.J. Jones, and even Ryan Stamper having pretty good weeks.
With all five of the above questions answered at least somewhat during the week, here is my list of specific positions and where the Gators have the biggest question marks on the starting roster for the upcoming season. I believe I am being very picky here and if these five positions are solid, watch out.
1.RIGHT OFFENSIVE GUARD: With the injury to Wilson Drew Miller moves inside to the left guard spot. I thought Carlton Medder looked as good as he has ever looked in the preseason and he should get the first shot at right tackle. Jason Watkins moves over from the left side and he is probably one of the top eight linemen on the roster. The position takes a big drop vacated by Miller, but has a chance to be solid nonetheless.
2. LEFT OFFENSIVE GUARD: The entire starting offensive line has looked great this early off-season, except for the one spot vacated by an injured Jim Tartt. Red-shirt freshman Simon Codrington held down the spot in the first four days but he fared poorly in individual drills and was unseated by true freshman Maurice Hurt. Hurt is okay, and I would assume it is a positive that he moved ahead of Codrington because he played better. Of course this all becomes moot if Sophomore Jim Tartt gets healthy and he did start practicing again this week. The staff has always loved the way Tartt plays.
3. RUNNING BACK: We have seen flashes of brilliance, but no one has come right out and said “this spot is mine,” at least not in my opinion. Running back Coach Stan Drayton has come out and said publicly he thinks DeShawn Wynn is the man and if he is, then great. I just haven’t seen one guy be the man yet.
4. STRONG SIDE DEFENSIVE END: My skepticism here comes from the fact that Ray McDonald has not played a single snap of contact yet this fall. He has two new braces brought on by two ACL surgeries on both knees. His backup Derrick Harvey improved during the week, but was not a world beater. Coach Strong and Mattison feel McDonald will be a huge player this year.
5. FREE SAFETY: I just didn’t see anything from Kyle Jackson in six days of practice to warrant me thinking he’s ready to go. I am not saying he is playing bad, I just never saw any big plays like we were seeing from him in practice in his freshman year. He had a great year in 2004 before struggling last season. This spot is the least of the worries in my opinion, because we have seen it from Jackson before and know what he can do.
Overall, I think the Gators answered a ton of questions in one week with some young talent that has or will step up into key roles this season. These four singular positions all have answers already imbedded in the roster. It is just a matter of seeing those players produce. If the Gators are down to one or two questions from their starting cast, it could be a very special year