THREE THINGS WE KNOW
1. The running game should be very good.
Yawn... ho hum. Another SEC team set for a good running game. It feels like a broken record in this weekly feature, and we're up for another skip next week too. Anyway, four of the five offensive linemen from last season are back, including preseason All-SEC pick Mike Pouncey and the humongous 360 lb Carl Johnson inside. Plus, every running back on the roster is back. The even-faster Jeffrey Demps figures to be the primary back, while the elusive Chris Rainey will get some carries in the "Percy position." Emmanuel Moody will finally get the lion's share of the power back carries now that Tim Tebow is gone, and hard running sophomore Mike Gillislee (No. 23 here) figures to get some carries too. Oh, and if anyone goes down, there's five-star freshman Mack Brown to bring into the mix. Despite not having Tebow, Florida is not going back to the days of Kestahn Moore and DeShawn Wynn taking turns being underwhelming in 2005.
2. The secondary will be tough to throw on.
Joe Haden became a top ten pick and Major Wright went in round three in this year's NFL draft, but the crew they left behind is still very good. Preseason All-SECer Ahmad Black, who shared the national lead in interceptions in 2008, anchors one safety spot while Will Hill, a regular rotation man a year ago, holds down the other. Freshman All-American in 2008 Janoris Jenkins steps up to the shutdown corner role Haden vacated, though he'll need to return to form after somewhat of a sophomore slump last season. The other corner is a bit of a mystery at this point, but it's coming down to senior Moses Jenkins, four-star sophomore Jeremy Brown, and four-star freshman Joshua Shaw. VHT true freshman Matt Elam figures to get a lot of playing time at the nickel after impressing the coaches all spring long. The proven guys are great, and the question marks are still very talented. Expect UF to continue to have a great rank in passing efficiency defense in 2010.
3. There is more back on defense than you think.
Brandon Spikes, Ryan Stamper, Haden, Wright, Jermaine Cunningham, and Carlos Dunlap all started for the Gators last season, and all but Stamper were selected in one of the first three rounds of the draft (he went undrafted but is trying to catch on with the Lions right now). Replacing the defensive ends will be the toughest task, but senior Justin Trattou actually started a few games ahead of Dunlap last year. Every defensive tackle on the roster is back, including 2008 starter Lawrence Marsh, who missing 2009 to injury. A.J. Jones, a full-year starter in 2009, and occasional starter Brandon Hicks will lead the young linebacking corps. As mentioned above, the secondary has a lot back too. The biggest names are gone, and the defense won't reach last year's heights. However, this is no repeat of the 2007 defense, where most everyone was either too young or starting more because of attrition than anything else.
THREE THINGS WE DON'T KNOW
1. How good a defensive coordinator Teryl Austin will be.
Florida first hired NFL vet George Edwards to run the defense in Charlie Strong's absence, but Edwards took off for the Buffalo Bills after about a month on the job. UF then turned to the NFL again for former Arizona Cardinals' defensive backs coach Teryl Austin, whose biggest selling point seemed at the time to be that he has worked with Steve Addazio. Hooray? It may end up better than expected simply because Austin plans to keep Strong's schemes in place as opposed to Edwards's plan, which had called for a switch to the 3-4. Continuity in scheme is good, and longtime Urban Meyer assistant Chuck Heater steps up as co-coordinator. Just because Austin will run a Strong-style defense doesn't mean it will work as well, because inspired defensive play calling (especially with corner blitzes) was Strong's best attribute. We just don't know how well Austin will do on game day, especially as this is his first coordinator job anywhere.
2. What to make of the receivers.
Perhaps even more than quarterback, wide receiver is the most important position in Meyer's offense. It only works well when all the guys he has has spreading the field horizontally are credible threats to get the ball. Thinness at the receiver spot last year helped to lead to a 17.3 PPG drop (!) in SEC play versus 2008. Deonte Thompson has gotten all the votes of confidence that a top receiver gets from Meyer and his coaches, so he's set at the top. After that, it gets less certain. Carl Moore played almost all of 2008 hurt and missed 2009 to injury. Also missing '09 to injury was redshirt freshman Andre Debose. Omarius Hines, TJ Lawrence, and Justin Williams rarely played meaningful downs last year, Aaron Hernandez was the only tight end to play last year, and Frankie Hammond DUI'd himself far into Meyer's doghouse. UF signed some VHTs at receiver, but so far, only Percy Harvin has gotten any serious playing time at receiver as a true freshman under Meyer. There's plenty of talent, but none of it is proven.
3. What happens if John Brantley goes down.
John Brantley has yet to play anything but garbage time, so there is some concern there. However, he's a redshirt junior who didn't play much because he was sitting behind a Heisman winner. You're never sure what you're getting from a quarterback until you see him, but overall, Brantley is not that big a risk. The situation behind him is pretty desperate though. Thanks to freshman Jordan Reed's switch to tight end midway through last year, it's entirely possible that the guy with the most practice snaps at quarterback besides Brantley is punter/extreme emergency quarterback Chas Henry. Reed has been practicing some Wildcat-style sets this year, but that's hardly the full offense. True freshman Trey Burton has been getting reps as a full-on quarterback, but Meyer's offense is tough for rookies to fully grasp. But hey, there's also two-star true freshman Tyler Murphy! Needless to say, Florida's season goes way up into the air if Brantley finds himself too injured to play.