Tuesday, January 23, 2018
Colleges

Five things to watch during Florida Gators spring practice

Florida begins spring football practice today without a quarterback controversy but in search of someone to step up in multiple key positions, including running back, receiver and the front seven. Coach Will Muschamp is opening two practices to the public: Friday, from 4:35 to 6:35 p.m., and Saturday, 1:05 to 3 p.m.

The Orange and Blue spring game is at 1 p.m. April 6. Spring game tickets are $5; call toll-free 1-800-344-2867 (34-GATOR).

Here are five key things to watch over the next three weeks of spring practice:

DEVELOPMENT OF JEFF DRISKEL: He enters the spring as the undisputed starter, but there is no clear backup. And for a quarterback who has been injured in his two collegiate seasons, having a capable backup is a must. Driskel has acknowledged he struggled with second and third reads, had a tendency to jump out of the pocket too quickly and often held the ball far too long — leading to 39 sacks on the season (106th in the nation). "We've got to be a better throwing team and that starts with him," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. "And a lot of it is based around understanding the protections a lot better, when he has to get rid of the ball and where he has to see his reads."

THE DEFENSE: The Gators had the No. 5 defense in the nation last season, but they will open the spring without five of seven starters on the front seven and playing for a new defensive coordinator — former linebackers and special teams coach D.J. Durkin. Defensive linemen Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard each had impressive freshman seasons and could earn a bigger roles in the spring. Linebacker Antonio Morrison will move inside, and linebacker Michael Taylor also adds depth. "We have a lot of guys coming back that contributed quite a bit," Durkin said. "We play 20-something guys in a game on defense, and we want to continue that. So we've got some up-and-coming guys we feel really good about. "

DEVELOPING NEWCOMERS: UF has eight early enrollees, six of whom are first-year collegiate players. Several freshmen who contributed last season got that early start. Among the favorites this year: running back Kelvin Taylor, son of former Gator great Fred Taylor and the state's all-time high school leading rusher, and two highly touted linebacker prospects in Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian.

WHO WILL CATCH THE BALL? As much as the Gators need Driskel to develop more as a passer, they also need to find consistent receivers. The coaching staff will allow Loucheiz Purifoy to get seven days during spring playing receiver (even though he's a potential NFL-caliber cornerback), showing how much the staff is searching for help at the position. Muschamp said Latroy Pittman has had a stellar offseason, and freshman Demarcus Robinson could help.

THE CHANGES: There are multiple position changes heading into the spring, and it'll be interesting to see how some develop. After three years of utility work, Trey Burton is moving full time to receiver. At least for spring. Muschamp said QB packages will remain in the game plan for Burton. Quinteze Williams is moving from defensive line to right tackle where he'll try to earn time while Chaz Green is recovering from ankle surgery. After three years of injuries and little playing time, Gideon Ajagbe moves from linebacker to fullback — a position where he excelled in high school. And Dominique Easley is moving from defensive tackle to end, though he'll still play both end and tackle.

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