It has finally arrived – Gator football is back in session with the start of fall practice this afternoon. Florida will hold their first two-a-day practice out at the practice fields in preparation for the season ahead. Can the Gators repeat as Southeastern Conference Champions and successfully defend their National Championship? Follow the team this season as we find out the answers. 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 2:30 Sunday afternoon.
Starting Sunday 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. Percy Harvin, Soph., WR: The question isn't how much more he can possibly do for the offense - when healthy he is as good as it gets on the college level – but whether or not he can avoid the injury bug enough to be the focal point of the Florida offense. One way to ensure that he stays healthy might be to limit his touches out of the backfield and instead get him the ball on end arounds, screen passes and short passes. Having him go down around the line of scrimmage where those 300-pound linemen are falling on him (and those valuable legs), increases the chance of injury.
2. Markihe Anderson, Soph., CB: While the corner back position as a whole consists of a group of inexperienced players, we're putting the onus on Anderson because as young as he is, he's still the veteran of the group. He showed signs this spring of being capable of being a lock down corner. If Florida is to play the man defense they prefer, he'll have to step up his game.
3. Tim Tebow, Soph., QB: Although Tebow has already been vaulted to superstar status by many, the truth is he has only attempted 33 passes to date and is as unproven as any potential starter on the team. We've seen him perform in a complimentary role, but how will he handle it when it comes time to perform while under-the-gun, while everyone is looking to him to deliver?
4. Brandon Spikes, Soph., LB: Last year, even with the upperclassmen base of talent that Florida had on hand, mainly because of his personality, rather than his performance, Spikes was looked to as one of the leaders on defense. Coming off an above average spring, he's got the middle linebacker spot nailed down. The biggest worry with him is whether or not the defensive tackles ahead of him can keep offensive players off of him in order for him to make plays.
5. Lawrence Marsh, Fr., DT: It might be a little unfair to include him here considering the other guys above him on this list have been battle field tested somewhat. Marsh has to be included because, honestly, along the interior of the defensive line, there isn't a single player who anyone would mistake for a 'big-time' / 'franchise' type of tackle. Marsh has that sort of ability. He'll need to display it early and often if the Gators hope to have a better than average defense.
IT'S THEIR TIME: Though these five players have performed to a certain extent over the years when called upon, none of them have been considered top notch contributors thus far. This fall these Gators will all get an opportunity to make their mark.
1. Cornelius Ingram, Jr., WR: To hear his coaches talk about him, you would think that he is well on his way to becoming one of the top players not only on the team, but in the conference as well. When it comes to Ingram, if we are still discussing his potential come mid season, rather than his production, that won't be a good sign.
2. Jim Tartt, Jr., OG: His stumbling block has been his inability to stay healthy. He kicked the injury bug over the spring and was able to hold on to the left guard spot. If he remains healthy, he should remain on the 1st team.
3. Markus Manson, Jr., CB: Bigger than many of the most recent corners stature wise, surprisingly he didn't always play as the most physical corner over the spring. Maybe when he gains more experience, that will take care of itself?
4. Clint McMillan, Sr., DT: After sitting behind players such as Marcus Thomas, Ray McDonald, Steven Harris and Joe Cohen, and fighting the injury bug himself (another of those guys), he hasn't had much of a chance to date – well opportunity is now knocking.
5. Javier Estopinan, Jr., DT: Greg Mattison spoke highly of him in Jacksonville Beach last month – saying he considers him a returning starter. He was actually playing well when he went down last year. He'll need to regain that form.
IMPACT FRESHMEN: With what Florida lost from last year's team, there are positions on the depth chart available to members of this past signing class. These five seem to be ready and play at a position of need.
1. Carlos Dunlap, Fr., DE: He gets top billing here not necessarily because of his high ranking coming in but because of his combination of size, speed and overall athletic ability. Mattison said at the Jacksonville Beach Gator Gathering that he believed an incoming freshman defensive lineman was capable of contributing and holding his own for three plays in a row. I can see Dunlap fitting that bill and recording a sack here and there doing just that.
2. Joe Haden, Fr., CB: The upside for him is that at this position there isn't much returning experience whatsoever. The downside is that for the most part, even those inexperienced players have more experience playing corner than Haden does. He was solid over the spring while learning the position – what will determine his fate for the upcoming year is how much was he able to improve during the voluntary summer passing drills.
3. James Pouncey, Fr., OG: On an offensive line that is returning enough solid players that playing a true freshman isn't a necessity, putting him this high on the list could be deemed a bit of a reach, but Pouncey has the total package of size, strength and aggressiveness that you are looking for in a lineman. He ran with the 1st team at times over the spring and should have a place on the two-deep secured.
4. Cameron Newton, Fr., QB: When Bryan Waggener went down with an injury at the beginning of spring drills, even with a performance that was so-so to solid depending on what day of the week it was, it looked as though Newton had the 2nd team quarterback job locked up. Then when he had his own injury problems over the summer (back), it could have opened it back up somewhat. Meyer said Newton is the leading candidate to backup Tebow – if he holds onto that job, he'll see enough action to justify this ranking.
5. Jerry Howard, Fr., DE: He's ranked here for two reasons – Florida desperately needs help at defensive end and seeing him at Friday Night Lights, he looks like he has gained enough weight and is solid enough to help fill that void at the position.
FALL SUPRISES: While these five may not have done much so far, if there are going to be some pleasant surprises this fall, it wouldn't be at all surprising if they came from this group.
1. Jason Watkins, Jr., OL: He started coming on over the course of spring ball and from what we've been told he has had an excellent summer. Watkins has the physical ability, but being new to football, didn't have the experience level of those he has been competing against. Don't be shocked if he leaves two-a-days as a starter.
2. Chevon Walker, Fr., RB: Kestahn Moore was the one receiving most of the praise (and rightfully so) from the coaches, but there isn't a player on the team who had a more impressive second half of the spring than Walker. He has the ability to run between the tackles, and has some burst about him.
3. Jarred Fayson, Soph., WR: The coaches have been raving about his off season as well as his off the field work ethic and demeanor. His problem is, when a play is called for a receiver to get the ball, he has a lot of talent he is vying with (Harvin and Caldwell to name two of them) to tote the rock.
4. Riley Cooper, Soph., WR: Florida has their share of small, quick, shifty type of receivers and couple of big bodied guys as well, but no one else has Cooper's combination of size, speed and physicalness (yes that's a word). If he can stay healthy, he'll make some noise this year.
5. Jermaine Cunningham, Soph., DE: You're probably thinking, 'How much of a surprise can he possibly be to those who followed his development over the spring?' Well, if he continues to progress at this rate, he could be one of the biggest surprises in the nation, not just among those wearing the Orange & Blue.
BATTLE ROYAL: 3 Position Battles to Watch
1. Right Tackle: Other than the fact that Ronnie Wilson got himself in trouble and the coaches decided to play switcheroo with the tackles – moving them around to get them experience on both sides of the line – there really wasn't much movement along the offensive line over the spring. One player who moved in and out of the starting lineup was Jason Watkins in place of Carlton Medder after Medder struggled at times with speed rushers on the outside.
The winner is... Call it for Watkins with Medder moving inside to guard.
2. Running Back: Even though Meyer has repeatedly said in the past that he wants a go-to guy, with the way the Florida offense spreads the ball around combined with the fact that no one is heads and shoulders better than the rest of the players at the position, naming a starter here isn't the most important thing in the world.
The winner is... Walker was every bit as good as Moore taking the entire spring into consideration and was one of the top players on the squad over the last half of the practices. Because he is more of a threat to break off a big run, he could eventually replace Moore, but barring injury, it isn't likely to happen before the start of the season.
3. Free Safety: This was one of our three position battles heading into spring ball – and of course, as predicted, it wasn't settled then. This is Kyle Jackson's last chance to prove his incredible freshman season wasn't a fluke. He looked as though he had done that this spring, but then reverted back to taking poor tackling angles during the Orange & Blue game.
The winner is... As the last line of defense, Florida needs a sure tackler at the free safety position. At this time, Dorian Munroe seems to a fit that criteria a bit better than Jackson.
THE TERRIFIC TEN: Top 5 players on Offense/Defense
1. Percy Harvin (When healthy, he is a danger to take the ball to the house anytime he touches it whether it be via the run or pass)
2. Bubba Caldwell (Now that he's been moved to the outside, he should be able to stretch the defense)
3. Phil Trautwein (He has steadily improved each season to the point of being one of the top OTs in the SEC)
4. Drew Miller (He had some trouble adjusting to snapping the ball over the early portion of spring ball before getting the hang of it)
5. Tim Tebow (The talent is there, the question is how will he respond now that he is being counted on to deliver on a full time basis rather than in mop-up duty?)
1. Derrick Harvey (The nation knows and understands what he is capable of. Now the question is can he do it when he is the focal point that offenses will try to stop?)
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 end, given his upside, he should prevail over the more experienced Jackson as the last line on defense)
5. Jermaine Cunningham (He has come out of nowhere to become one of the top players on a young and inexperienced defense. Absolutely explosive!)