Football: Florida Gators Week 1 Recap – Offense

The first week of fall camp is in the books, and plenty of Florida Gators football news has come out of it.

Gator Country has been following all the action and providing daily updates to whet your football appetite.

Today, we stop to recap the first week of fall camp with a position-by-position breakdown of all that has happened, starting with the offensive side of the ball.

Overview The Florida Gators entered fall practice with only one real question at quarterback: who would win the backup job.

John Brantley has a firm grasp on the offense and is expected to maintain the starting role for Florida heading into the 2010 season.

With spring behind him, Brantley feels more comfortable with the offense and said some of the nervousness he experienced playing in the new offense in the spring has disappeared.

Meanwhile, a backup battle that redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy seemingly had a sizeable lead in now appears closer than ever, with Brantley stating that all three quarterbacks are splitting second-team reps equally.

True freshman Jacoby Brissett has been an early standout, and he is progressing quicker than expected. Head coach Will Muschamp has also had nice things to say about the progress of true freshman Jeff Driskel, who enrolled early in the spring.

Changes Not much has changed at the quarterback position after the first week of practice. Brantley has held onto the starting job, and Muschamp still feels confident in his ability.However, the backup job is much closer than expected with all three quarterbacks getting even reps after it looked like Tyler Murphy would fairly easily win the job.
Best Player Brantley easily maintains his hold on best player at the position. There has been nothing negative said about him in the first week of camp.

Senior quarterback John Brantley has held onto the starting role after the first week of spring practice. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise The biggest surprise so far has been the quick adjustment of true freshman Jacoby Brissett to the offense. While he was studying the playbook before he was ever on campus, Brissett has made a bigger impact already than many expected.
Improvement Needed Muschamp seems pleased with the quarterback position as a whole, and it’s tough to pinpoint anything needing work here. Florida’s coaches would like to identify its permanent backup soon, so someone needs to step up and win the job.
Best Quote “I like this offense a lot, and as long as we keep getting better each day, everyone’s confidence will keep going up. Going out there every day, I don’t feel as nervous as I used to back in the spring. I feel more confident going out there, making the right calls, making the right protections.” – John Brantley on new offense
Freshman Impact It’s hard to gauge the kind of impact Florida’s two true freshmen will have right now. Brissett and Driskel are both pushing for the backup job, but they could both just as easily redshirt should Tyler Murphy lock down the backup job.
What to Watch Brissett has been the biggest surprise so far, and heading into the second week of fall camp it bears watching whether he will continue to impress and push for the backup job. Florida would like to have its backup identified by the end of the second week, so the quarterback battle should be the most interesting thing to watch this week.
GC Projected Depth #12 John Brantley | #10 Tyler Murphy | #16 Jeff Driskel | #17 Jacoby Brissett
Injury Report None
Running Back
Overview There’s been very little news on the running back position in the first week of fall camp.

Florida is expecting a big year out of both Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, and Demps appears to have returned from his track season in great shape and with good knowledge of the playbook.

Brantley said Demps arrived ready to go, and he’s already almost fully caught up on the offense.

Behind Rainey and Demps, neither Mike Gillislee or Mack Brown has really made a move. Nobody has said much about either in fall camp, but Brown was seen on ESPN’s All-Access segment getting an earful from Muschamp after a fumble in a practice drill.

Changes Not much has changed in the running back competition, though Rainey may be ahead of Demps on the depth chart due to having more time in the system. That would be the only early change to the depth chart, though.
Best Player Players have been equally complimentary of Demps and Rainey in the first week of fall camp, so the nod here goes to Rainey due to him being around in the spring. Florida knows what they’re getting from him, while the coaching staff is likely still trying to get a feel for how to use Demps.

Senior running back Jeff Demps has come in and picked up the offense quickly early in fall camp. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise The biggest surprise so far at running back has been the lack of news about the position. On the surface, it doesn’t appear as though Gillislee or Brown are making a serious push for playing time, even with Florida looking for a tough runner between the tackles.
Improvement Needed Simply put, Florida needs to have Gillislee or Brown step up soon and become a bigger factor at the running back position. The Gators need to develop a bigger back behind Demps and Rainey.
Best Quote “Right now you look at Chris and Jeff certainly have distanced themselves from the pack. Mike and Mack got some making up to do as far as Mack missed most of spring, Mike missed all of spring. Mentally, as far as getting back into it, and also physically. It’s been a long time since they’ve had contact, but certainly Jeff and Chris have distanced themselves.” – Will Muschamp on running back position
Freshman Impact There’s unlikely to be any true freshman contributions at running back since Mike Blakely transferred over the summer, but fullback Hunter Joyer may get a few carries this season.
What to Watch The main thing to keep an eye on is whether Gillislee or Brown will make a push for more carries in the second week of fall camp. It’s also worth keeping an eye on whether Demps or Rainey is ahead on the depth chart.
GC Projected Depth #1 Chris Rainey | #28 Jeff Demps | #23 Mike Gillislee | #33 Mack Brown
Injury Report None
Fullback and Tight End
Overview The Gators have a lot of questions at both the fullback and tight end positions.

The tight end spot was looking like a real strength for Florida early in fall camp, as true freshman A.C. Leonard was an early standout and Jordan Reed provides Florida with a terrific receiving option at tight end.

But Leonard tore his meniscus and will miss six to eight weeks in recovery. That injury has cemented Gerald Christian’s move back to offense.

In addition, true freshman defensive end Clay Burton has moved over to tight end to provide Florida with more bodies at the position.

At fullback, Trey Burton is expected to get the most work. Burton will be used in a variety of ways for the Gators in 2011, and his skills as a blocker have been praised by a handful of Florida players.

True freshman Hunter Joyer could also make an impact at fullback, and Christian will also take some snaps at fullback.

Changes There have been plenty of changes at tight end with Leonard’s injury vaulting Christian into a bigger, more permanent role at tight end. Clay Burton’s has also moved to tight end to provide depth.
Best Player While Jordan Reed is expected to be a huge part of the offense, Trey Burton’s versatility makes him the choice for best player in this position group. His blocking also gives him an edge over Reed.

Sophomore tight end Gerald Christian will play a much bigger role at tight end following A.C. Leonard’s injury / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise Leonard was making a serious push for playing time and was emerging as one of Florida’s best blocking tight ends. His injury throws a wrench into the Gators’ plans at tight end, forcing Clay Burton to move over to offense.
Improvement Needed With Leonard sidelined, Florida desperately needs to players to step up and stay healthy at tight end. Christian said he felt behind this summer due to his spring move to linebacker, but he’s fully caught up now. He needs to show it on the practice field.
Best Quote “At the end of the day, I did watch over every game last season, and you saw how valuable he is with the ball in his hands and the things he creates and the problem he creates for the defense … It’s kind of limitless what he’s going to be doing in our offense.” – Will Muschamp on Trey Burton’s role
Freshman Impact With Clay Burton moving back to tight end, he probably has a better chance to get on the field as a true freshman. He played the position well in high school. Likewise, Joyer could make an immediate impact at fullback, possibly as a starter.
What to Watch Will Christian step up and become a serious factor now that he feels caught up on offense? Will Florida be forced to run less two tight end sets as a result of the shortage of bodies at the position? Can Burton or Joyer start to make moves up the depth chart as true freshmen?
GC Projected Depth Fullback – #8 Trey Burton | #41 Hunter Joyer | #32 Gerald Christian
Tight End – #11 Jordan Reed | #32 Gerald Christian | #88 Clay Burton
Injury Report #81 A.C. Leonard (torn meniscus, 6-8 weeks)
Wide Receiver
Overview The wide receiver battle has gone pretty much as expected through the first week of fall camp. Muschamp has maintained throughout that his top three receivers are Frankie Hammond, Jr., Deonte Thompson and Quinton Dunbar.

Dunbar and Thompson have provided the deep threats in a more vertical passing attack for the Gators, while Hammond, Jr., has been Florida’s more consistent receiver.

Junior Omarius Hines is the fourth receiver taking reps with the first team, Brantley said. Meanwhile a bulked-up, healthy Andre Debose feels he’ll have a better opportunity to contribute in the new offense.

Brantley said the coaching has improved considerably at this position group, as his receivers are running better and better routes every day.

Changes There have been very few changes at the receiver position since fall practice began. The top receivers have held their ground, and players haven’t really mentioned any other guys stepping up just yet.
Best Player Muschamp has stressed consistency in camp as the one thing he’s really looking for, and Hammond, Jr., has been tabbed the most consistent player by the head coach and several players. He’s done everything right so far under the new coaching staff.

Florida wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill’s work has already been praised by quarterback John Brantley. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise Perhaps the biggest surprise in this position group is the lack of surprises. Nobody outside of the top three has really seemed to make a serious impression on the coaching staff early in fall camp.
Improvement Needed Florida seems to be in good shape in terms of starting receivers, but the Gators could probably use a few more playmakers in th second unit. Getting guys like Stephen Alli, Robert Clark and Solomon Patton to take the next step will be key.
Best Quote “He’s not just a coach to me, he’s like a father to me. He helps me on and off the field. He stays on us about classes. Football is just football to him. He cares about football and he cares about our class work. He just tells us about his different experiences he has been through. Since he has been a receiver here we can relate to him more.” – WR Quinton Dunbar on receivers coach Aubrey Hill
Freshman Impact Ja’Juan Story is the only true freshman receiver for Florida, and given the Gators’ depth at the position and his raw skill set, it’s unlikely he’ll make much of a contribution in 2011.
What to Watch There wasn’t much mention of Omarius Hines in the first week of camp, but Brantley said he’s been running with the starters. Will he make a move? Will anyone from the second tier of receivers emerge?
GC Projected Depth X – #9 Quinton Dunbar | #6 Deonte Thompson | #89 Stephen Alli
Z – #85 Frankie Hammond, Jr. | #4 Andre Debose | #80 Ja’Juan Story
F11 – #82 Omarius Hines | #7 Robert Clark | #83 Solomon Patton
Injury Report None
Offensive Line
Overview The news from the first week of fall camp has been remarkably positive for the offensive line, as the Gators have Matt Patchan, James Wilson and Dan Wenger all healthy and playing.

Florida’s offensive line is young but talented, and the addition of the healthy veterans has solidified a position that has had some question marks.

Frank Verducci has coached up the offensive line, along with Notre Dame transfer Wenger. Wenger is 100 percent cleared to play for the Gators, and could provide the Gators with an instant impact center.

He is competing for the starting center job with Jon Harrison, while an almost 100 percent healthy James Wilson competes with redshirt freshman Ian Silberman for the left guard spot.

The other offensive line positions seem relatively set at the moment, with Xavier Nixon at left tackle, Jon Halapio at right guard and Chaz Green at right tackle.

Changes The starting offensive line has changed little since the spring, though Chaz Green and Xavier Nixon have switched tackle positions. Dan Wenger being cleared to play at center is also a new development.
Best Player The leader of the offensive line and the guy everyone is pointing to as the unit’s strongest is undoubtedly redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio. He has emerged as a very good interior lineman.

Will Muschamp has been pleased so far with the way the offensive line has come together. / Photo by UF Communications

Biggest Surprise The biggest surprise so far has been the emergence of a healthy James Wilson. Wilson was more or less an afterthought coming into fall camp, but appears to be making a legitimate push for the starting left guard spot.
Improvement Needed As well as things have gone for Florida’s offensive line so far, things are looking good for the Gators. The unit simply needs to stay healthy, keep making progress and continue gelling.
Best Quote “When you go through a concussion, the emotions run wild. It’s a rollercoaster ride. One day is great and one day is bad. You contemplate is this worth it, is it not? But once you get over that and past that, it’s just one of those things – this is instilled in me. It’s instilled in me to keep fighting, and I’m going to keep fighting.” – Dan Wenger on health, continuing to play football
Freshman Impact Florida only has two true freshmen on the offensive line in Trip Thurman and Tommy Jordan. Both are physically ready to play already, though Thurman is the more likely of the two to see early action. Still, it would be nice if the Gators could afford to redshirt both.
What to Watch The two spots to keep an eye on are the left guard and center spots, which appear to be the two with the most competition for the starting spot. It’s also worth seeing how Matt Patchan comes along and whether he can push for a starting tackle spot.
GC Projected Depth LT – #73 Xavier Nixon | #64 Kyle Koehne
LG – #77 Ian Silberman | #66 James Wilson | #63 Trip Thurman
C – #72 Jon Harrison | #56 Dan Wenger | #50 Sam Robey | #58 Nick Alajajian
RG – #67 Jon Halapio | #78 David Young | #65 Tommy Jordan
RT – #75 Chaz Green | #71 Matt Patchan
Injury Report None