While most of the national media is focused strictly on the Gator basketball team, and deservedly so, there is another front opening tomorrow for Gator fans starved for anything and everything Orange & Blue. The Gator football team takes the field Wednesday afternoon for the first of fifteen practices and GatorBait.net will be there every step of the way with daily practice reports, photo galleries, notebooks, interviews, video features and much more.
Here are a couple of lists for Gator fans to look over while you wait for our first live practice reports from the field to be posted in the Alley starting at around 3:30 Wednesday afternoon.
Starting Wednesday afternoon we will have LIVE practice reports in the Alley as well as a post practice notebook, Meyer interview, News & Notes, photos, videos, other features and more.
TIME TO SHINE: If the Gators are to have a successful follow up to their National Championship winning season, these five players will need to step their game up.
1. Tim Tebow, Soph., QB: The sophomore to be was exceptional at times last season, but he has to be able to do so much more now that opposing teams will be game planning for him rather than Chris Leak. Last year he was called on to run more than pass, that won't be the case next year as this spring he moves from a backup/complimentary role to being the main man. Make no mistake about it, with a depleted defense, the Gators will only go as far as Tebow can carry them this year and it all starts this spring.
2. Derrick Harvey, Jr., DE: How much more can Harvey possibly do? Last year he led the squad in sacks (11) and tackles for loss (13) while finishing second in quarterback hurries (8). All of that was accomplished with several other notable players along the defensive line, which caused opposing teams to not be able to concentrate on Harvey. This year he is the top dog, and teams will know where he is before every snap. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to that over the course of the spring.
3. Cornelius Ingram, Jr., TE: From everything we were told last year, we were expecting Ingram to be an All American candidate by the end of the season. That of course didn't happen as he disappeared for a five game stretch during the middle of the season (from the Alabama through the Vanderbilt games he had 2 catches for 13-yards), before reemerging toward the end of the year. Meyer compares his ball skills to Chris Carter – he needs to show that comparison is justifiable this spring.
4. Javier Estopinan, Jr., DT: This is a kid that we hear a lot about as far as potential and off the field leadership, but because of injuries and upperclassmen ahead of him, he has yet to show it on the field. Last year he was limited to playing in 6 games contributing 5 tackles and 1 quarterback hurry. He needs to match that production in the Orange & Blue game alone if this is going to be considered a successful spring.
5. Carlton Medder, Sr., OT: Not only did John Hevesy tell GatorBait.net at the Jacksonville Gator Club that Medder had turned the corner and was expected to have a big senior season, Urban Meyer followed that up by having good things to say about his off season workouts last weekend in Ft. Meyers. He will be counted on to man the right tackle position – covering the left handed Tebow's blind side.
IT'S THEIR TIME: Though four of the five may have suited up last year as true freshmen, none of them were being counted on to perform as starters. This spring these underclassmen will all get an opportunity to make their mark.
1. Brandon Antwine, Soph., NG: Hand picked by co defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to play the nose guard position, Antwine actually played in 8 games along a talented line last year as a backup.
2. Brandon Spikes, Soph., MLB: The dynamic youngster led the Gators true freshmen in tackles last year recording 15 in 9 games of action during mop-up duty. He'll be on the field when it counts this spring – how will he respond?
3. Jermaine Cunningham, Soph., DE: He came in a bit undersized for a Southeastern Conference defensive end, but has since added bulk and strength to his frame. There are still questions as to whether he can hold up against the run. He has a chance to provide an answer over the next 15 practices.
4. Wondy Pierre-Louis, Soph., CB: One of the bigger Florida Gator corners in recent memory. Though he saw action in 12 games, most of his impact was felt on special teams. The Gators need for him to step up in a depleted secondary.
5. Lawrence Marsh, Fr., DL: There was actually some consideration to playing him late last year, but the staff decided against burning his red-shirt season. He could play either inside or out – and is likely to be tried at both.
FINAL ROUNDUP: If these five players aren't able to step up their game over the spring, they could be in danger of losing ground to some of the young talent Meyer and staff have been bringing in.
1. Tate Casey, Sr., TE: He was involved in what was probably the play of the year for the Gators (Tebow's jump pass touchdown pass to him), but that was one of the lone bright spots for him in 2006. Last weekend in Ft. Meyers, the head ball coach made mention of the fact that Casey needed to get faster and stronger. If Aaron Hernandez starts taking catches from him over the spring, it will be hard for him to regain his foothold on the position.
2. Jim Tartt, Jr., OG: Although he had to play injured – or at least hurting – more often than not, Tartt actually played in and started for 13 games last year. He was still relieved here and there by Ronnie Wilson once he came back from his broken ankle. Regardless he is in a battle to keep that left guard job and it will only get more difficult once the Pouncey Twins and James Wilson learn the offense.
3. Clint McMillan, Sr., DT: Much like Estop above, you hear a lot of great things about McMillan, but because of injuries and great players ahead of him, he hasn't been able to show everything he can do on the field. The thing is, with the younger talent on hand and coming in over the summer, his time to show what he has is quickly running out. Regardless, he is a key member of the special teams unit.
4. Kyle Jackson, Sr., FS: At one time, during his true freshman season, it looked as if he would go on to an All Everything sort of career at the University of Florida before heading on to the next level. Now it would be considered an accomplishment if he were to regain a starting position. While Jackson played in all 14 games last year, he started none and now has to contend with Dorian Munroe at the free safety position. According to Meyer, he has to tackle better – not exactly what you want to hear about the player who is the last line of defense.
5. Bryan Waggener, Jr., QB: You're probably thinking, 'He's been on campus for a total of two and a half months and he is included in this group – why?' The answer is simple, Meyer said he wants to play two quarterbacks this year, if Waggener isn't able to beat out true freshman Cameron Newton over the spring, do you honestly think he ever will? His greatest advantage over the bigger, more athletic Newton will never be more than it is right now. If he is going to secure the backup job, it's probably now or never.
SPRING SUPRISES: It may be that these five haven't done much so far, but if there are going to be some pleasant surprises this spring, they will likely come from this group.
1. Carl Johnson, Fr., OL: Coming in as a mid term guy, he didn't report in the greatest shape, but since then he has worked his butt off (literally) and has a chance to make some noise over the next couple of weeks.
2. Jacques Rickerson, Fr., CB: One of the best cover guys to come out of North Florida in recent memory didn't do anything as a freshman because of an injury. However, the corner position is wide open this spring and he is as talented as anyone in the secondary.
3. Lutrell Alford, Sr., DT: Strange seeing him around all these young guys, but this walk-on defensive tackle played in 10 games last year. With the lack of bodies at the position, he has a chance to turn some heads.
4. A.J. Jones, Fr., OLB: Before he was injured during the pre-season last year, it actually looked like he was a bit ahead of fellow freshmen linebackers Dustin Doe and Brandon Spikes. Now that he is healed, and has added much needed bulk and weight – watch out!
5. David Nelson, Soph., WR: He only played in 4 games last year, and was held pretty much in check during 3 of those 4 contests. But during the Western Carolina match up (yes it was only WC we know), he and Tebow looked to have a connection. It will be interesting to see if that carries over to this spring.
BATTLE ROYAL: 3 Position Battles to Watch
1. Free Safety: On a defense that lost nine of its eleven starters, no loss will be felt as much as the early departure of Reggie Nelson. Not only was he an extraordinary play-maker, his presence back there helped cover the mistakes of others. Neither Kyle Jackson or Dorian Munroe is as naturally gifted as Nelson, but each of them have the ability to play in the Southeastern Conference.
The winner is... Munroe has a bigger upside, while Jackson has more experience. If Jackson improves his tackling, the job is his to lose.
2. Backup Quarterback: If you're thinking this battle won't be settled until John Brantley arrives over the summer, I got news for you, it will be nearly impossible for him to overcome the big head start Cameron Newton and Bryan Waggener have on him. Of those two, perhaps Waggener has a slight advantage based on his being a change of pace from Tebow, while Newton is basically the same type of player.
The winner is... In the end, this will likely won't be decided this spring, but will still come down to one of the two over the summer heading into two-a-days.
3. Center: According to both Hevesy and Meyer, there are four players in the running – converted guard (who was moved from tackle) Drew Miller, converted guard Ronnie Wilson, converted guard (see a reoccurring theme here?) Maurice Hurt and center Eddie Haupt. Less than a month ago, Hevesy said this job would be decided on leadership ability more so than anything else. However, he also said that the five best players would make up the starting line. Meaning if it is close at center and one of the players would be an upgrade at another position, that could affect the outcome of this race.
The winner is... Come on, it's a senior against three underclassmen, don't you already know who is going to hold down this job? But, what if Miller is needed at guard or something happens and he has to go back outside to tackle?
THE TERRIFIC TEN: Top 5 players on Offense/Defense
1. Percy Harvin (The most dynamic player in the Southeastern Conference with the ball in his hands)
2. Bubba Caldwell (His big play potential returning is a big boost for the Gator Nation)
3. Drew Miller (Mr. Versatility could be playing his 3rd different position in three years if he wins the center job)
4. Phil Trautwein (With Tebow being a left hander, he no longer guards the QB's blind side)
5. Tim Tebow (The leader of the offense is fifth for now, but could vault up to one or two by the end of spring ball)
1. Derrick Harvey (Meyer says he has a chance to be better than Jarvis Moss and Ray McDonald)
2. Tony Joiner (He was a vocal leader on last year's upperclassmen dominated defense)
3. Brandon Spikes (With the departure of Brandon Siler, his time to shine has come sooner rather than later)
4. Dorian Munroe (In the last 3 weeks Hevesy, Strong, Mattison and Meyer have raved about his play against Arkansas)
5. Kyle Jackson (He has a chance to be a calming influence on a young, rebuilt defense)