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July 18, 2010

10 questions surrounding Florida football

Every team is loaded with question marks, no matter how good it is. At Florida, the Gators appear to have a ton of talent, arguably college football's best coach, several standouts returning, and a star-studded group in incoming freshmen. Even so, there are questions about this team. Lots of them, in fact. Without further adieu, here are 10, and a guess as to how things might play out:

How effective will John Brantley be at quarterback?
Overview: After three years as Tim Tebow's backup, Brantley, a junior from Ocala and the son of a former Florida QB, is now in charge of the Gator offense. On the plus side, he has an accurate and lively arm (one of the strongest around here ever), a terrific offensive line and strong running backs. The receivers appear talented, but are still an unproven group. Also, one has to wonder if Brantley can be the leader the Gators needs him to be. There's no denying his talent, but can he put it all together on game day?
Best guess: Brantley will make a run at All-conference honors. Working behind a veteran line and having a sound running game will give him time to grow into the spot early on. Then, he'll take off.

How well will Chris Rainey do at his new position?
Overview: A tailback for two seasons, and a decent one at that, Rainey was moved to receiver in the spring and now plays the position once occupied by current NFL star Percy Harvin. Rainey has unreal top-end speed and is incredible in the open field. But route running, at least in the spring, was something that needed lots of work.
Best guess: This is difficult to answer. Brantley has plenty of weapons with witch to work and it's doubtful Rainey will be his first option. Also, Rainey's route running must improve. Additionally, he's likely to get pushed for playing time by Andre Debose. The end result might be a season in the 30-catch range.

As a group, how good will the receivers be?
Overview: Florida's top three receiving leaders from 2009 are gone. That's a significant loss. Among the top returnees, Deonte Thompson has the most experience, but his career thus far has been marked by inconsistency. Carl Moore, another projected starter, missed all of last season with a back injury and was hot and cold in the spring before erupting with a big afternoon in the spring game. Rainey is the other likely starter. Among the backups, Debose appears to have the most talent, Omarius Hines has sure hands and Frankie Hammond Jr. is a burner (but was recently arrested and likely faces some type of suspension). Another player to watch is true freshman Chris Dunkley.
Best guess: Let's face it, the talent is certainly there. Now, it's time to shine. Thompson had an outstanding spring and seems ready to take his play up a notch. For Moore, a senior, it's now or never, so motivation shouldn't be a problem. Rainey is still a work in progress, but he has the potential to do nice things. Debose is a rising star, and the most talented player of the bunch. When all is said and done, this unit should rank in the top third of the league.

Who will start at tight end?
Overview: There are three players in the mix -- true freshman Gerald Christian and redshirt freshmen Desmond Parks and Jordan Reed. Reed switched from quarterback in the spring; Christian was an early enrollee; Parks missed most of spring practice with an injury.
Best guess: After a solid, though not spectacular spring, Reed emerged as the frontrunner. He's not only a better-than-average blocker, but displayed a nice set of hands. Because he was out, Parks has some catching up to do in August. Christian, on the other hand, is still very much in the mix. At least, he appears to be. He didn't disappoint in the spring, he just wasn't flashy. Provided he's having a good summer in the weight room, he should push Reed all the way. In the end, though, Reed will start on opening day.

What will be the offense's identity?
Overview: With Tebow gone and Brantley, a more traditional quarterback, in his place, the Gators aren't likely to do things the way they've been done the past three seasons. In other words, we won't see Brantley run 20 times in a game. What remains uncertain is how much he'll be in the shotgun and how much he'll be under center. Also, will Florida lean more on the run or the pass?
Best guess: Even though Brantley isn't Tebow, he's an excellent athlete who isn't a bad runner. Because of that, it wouldn't be a shock to see him carry the ball now and then on designed runs, just to keep opposing defenses honest. That said, most running plays are likely to be pegged for Florida's talented group of running backs. The Gators almost certainly will be in the I-formation a decent amount, but Brantley still worked a lot from the shotgun this spring -- so expect a good mix of formations. In the end, it's not likely Florida will be classified as either a running team or a passing team. With talent across the board and a versatile offensive line, the Gators will have a diverse offense capable of leaning on one area or the other based on whom it faces.

Will the new, refreshed Urban Meyer be a different coach?
Overview: After his much publicized health-related flip flop, the Florida coach has tried to relax a little more and devote more time to unwinding. He took a short leave of absence this year and has done a fair amount of traveling during his off time, with the hope of recharging his battery.
Best guess: No. Meyer is Meyer. During the spring, he might have backed off a bit and delegated a little more, but the intensity was still there. And the desire could still be seen in his eyes. He's far too driven to ease off the gas. The rest he took isn't likely to change that. If anything, it should give him even more energy to get through the next five months.

Can Duke Lemmens hold onto the first-string job at defensive end?
Overview: With All-SEC ends Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap now in the NFL, Lemmens, a senior who has mostly been a backup in his career, had the best spring of his life to grab ahold of one end slot. But in August, he'll have to fend off talented junior William Green and true freshman Ronald Powell, arguably the top player in the Class of 2010.
Best guess: Yes. As defensive line coach Dan McCarney put it, the light came on for Lemmens this spring. Is he as talented as Green and Powell? No. But he has enough ability to be successful, and during spring practice he played with tremendous energy. Regardless of who starts, all three should see plenty of playing time.

Who will start at cornerback opposite Janoris Jenkins?
Overview: Jenkins is a tremendous talent and has 25 career starts. But whomever gets the nod at the other cornerback spot will be a first-time starter. In the running are: senior Moses Jenkins, sophomore Jeremy Brown and early enrollees Joshua Shaw and Jaylen Watkins.
Our guess: Entering fall practice, this position is wide open. In fact, even summer arrival Cody Riggs might get a decent look. Shaw and Watkins each had their moments in the spring. But while both are immensely talented, it looks as if Moses Jenkins and Brown have a slight edge. Jenkins wouldn't be a bad option, but if healthy the speedy Brown, who has been injured during most of his time in Gainesville, probably gets the nod.

Who will be Florida's starting middle linebacker?
Overview: Right now, it's a two-man race between true sophomore Jon Bostic and redshirt freshman Jelani Jenkins. Brendan Beal, who was expected to be a factor, fell to third on the depth chart in the spring and has since transferred. Bostic saw action in 12 games last year.
Best guess: While most suspected the job would be handed to Bostic, Jenkins got more first-team snaps this spring. Players told the media the coaches were trying players at every position to see what the Gators had and make sure every linebacker was trained at each spot. That said, one can't deny Jenkins was outstanding in the middle. Bostic is a big-time hitter, but Jenkins has more speed and gets from sideline to sideline exceptionally well. For now, it looks like the job could end up belonging to Jenkins.

Who will be the Gators' first two defensive tackles on the field?
Overview: Simply put, Florida is loaded at this position. Five players with starting experience return: Brandon Antwine, Jaye Howard, Omar Hunter, Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders. Also, the Gators have three highly touted true freshmen -- Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd and Leon Orr.
Best guess:If healthy, Marsh is still probably a first-teamer. He's a senior. He has performed at a high level on the big stage. He's a winner. But Marsh had surgery on his hip, which is no small deal. If Marsh isn't back to his old self, Hunter will start and that's not a bad alternative. At the other spot, it appears as though Howard, who played at an extremely high level this spring and is beginning to look like a potential star, will run with the first unit. A proven playmaker, Sanders, though, isn't far behind and will see significant action as the Gators will rotate often to stay fresh.


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