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Florida Spring Review: Defense
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There are more than 140 days until the Gators run out of the tunnel for the season opener against Toledo on Aug. 31.
Florida concluded spring practice on Saturday with the annual Orange & Blue Debut and Gators coach Will Muschamp is conducting exit interviews with players this week to put a cap on the spring and shift focus to the fall.
As part of his exit interviews, Muschamp outlines each player's strengths and weaknesses and discusses their potential roles heading into next season.
Once the players leave his office, "our guys have to take control of that,'' Muschamp said.
The players will work closely with strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman over the next three months and they will run player-organized practices in between various summer breaks.
With spring in the books, here is a final look at the coaching staff and offense as the Gators move forward in preparation for Muschamp's third season:
Junior Jeff Driskel led the Gators to an 11-2 record in his first season as the starter and Muschamp was pleased by Driskel's improvement this spring.
The next step is to ensure Driskel has enough support to flourish in second-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease's pro-style system.
"I think he has been very consistent through spring,'' Muschamp said. "We've got to continue to improve around him and make some plays for him outside vertically down the field."
The biggest concern is keeping Driskel healthy. With backups Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg untested, Driskel is being advised to be smart when running and facing pressure.
The Gators closed spring confident in the talent they have in the backfield.
Sophomore Matt Jones created separation as the No. 1 tailback and carried just one time in Saturday's spring scrimmage.
"That was by design," Muschamp said. "Matt's had a really outstanding spring. We have a good comfort level of where he is as a player."
Redshirt junior Mack Brown and true freshman Kelvin Taylor are behind Jones on the depth chart. Unofficially, Taylor rushed for 59 yards on Saturday and scored on a 7-yard run.
Muschamp expects Taylor to be able to contribute in the fall once he grasps more of the playbook over the summer and during fall camp.
"His strength right now is his contact speed," Muschamp said. "He plays fast through contact."
Meanwhile, the fullback position is deeper than it has been under Muschamp. Starter Hunter Joyer remains atop the depth chart and a pair of converted defensive players, Gideon Ajagbe and Rhaheim Ledbetter earned the coaching staff's trust at their new position during spring drills.
The biggest question mark on offense entering spring remains perhaps the biggest question heading into the summer.
However, progress was made according to Muschamp.
"We've got to continue to develop the position but I know we have improved,'' he said.
Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar will enter fall camp as the leader of the group. Senior Trey Burton's versatility continues to be a bonus, and newcomer Demarcus Robinson showed flashes as a potential playmaker this spring.
Fifth-year senior Andre Debose remains a factor as does Solomon Patton, Latroy Pittman and Ralph Andrades. Patton is coming off a broken arm and Pittman and Andrades are sophomores still developing and need more reps.
There is more help on the way in the fall when freshmen Alvin Bailey, Ahmad Fullwood, Marqui Hawkins and Chris Thompson join the mix. If any of the newcomers make an immediate impact, they can expect to earn playing time.
The loss of Jordan Reed left a void that four players are competing to fill.
Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook, a pair of former defensive linemen, are listed 1-2 on the depth chart.
Both players have good size and are still adjusting to the position. Muschamp pointed out Westbrook's improvement this spring on Saturday.
Meanwhile, a pair of highly touted freshmen a year ago is now getting an opportunity to make their mark. Kent Taylor has shown signs of being a good receiver but Muschamp wants to see him develop into a better blocker.
Colin Thompson is the bigger of the two and is healthy after missing last year because of a foot injury. This should be one of the more intriguing position battles when fall camp opens.
Muschamp altered the format of the Orange & Blue Debut due to a lack of healthy offensive linemen for a traditional spring game.
But don't take that to mean this unit is a major point of concern. Instead, Muschamp is upbeat about the offensive line's prospects for next season.
"Max Garcia and Tyler Moore are two outstanding pickups for us,'' he said. "Both guys will compete to be starters."
Garcia, a transfer from Maryland, and Moore, a transfer from Nebraska, give the Gators eight players up front with significant Division I experience.
"That's good depth to be walking into fall camp with,'' Muschamp said.
Garcia is a candidate to start at left guard and Moore can play either tackle spot.
The duo joins a group that includes center Jonotthan Harrison, right guard Jon Halapio, left tackle D.J. Humphries, right tackle Chaz Green and the versatile Kyle Koehne and Ian Silberman up front. Trip Thurman, backing up Humphries at left tackle, showed significant improvement during the spring until a shoulder injury sidelined him.
Silberman, Halapio and Green were injured in the spring but are expected to be healthy come fall. Two others in the mix are Quinteze Williams, who moved from the defensive line to add depth, and redshirt freshman Jessamen Dunker, who was suspended for spring practice.
The Gators are adding five freshmen over the summer to bolster the unit's depth.