Florida spring wrap

2009 overall record: 13-1

2009 conference record: 8-0, lost in SEC championship game to Alabama

Returning starters

Offense: 6; Defense: 5; Kicker/punter: 2

Top returners

RB Jeffery Demps, RB Emmanuel Moody, WR Deonte Thompson, C Mike Pouncey, LB Brandon Hicks, CB Janoris Jenkins, S Ahmad Black

Key losses

QB Tim Tebow, WR Riley Cooper, TE Aaron Hernandez, C Maurkice Pouncey, DE Carlos Dunlap, DE Jermaine Cunningham, LB Brandon Spikes, CB Joe Haden, S Major Wright

2009 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Tim Tebow (910 yards)

Passing: Tim Tebow (2,895 yards)

Receiving: Riley Cooper (961 yards)

Tackles: Ryan Stamper (78)

Sacks: Carlos Dunlap (9)

Interceptions: Joe Haden (4)

Spring answers

1. Brantley steps in: We’ve been hearing about how well John Brantley can throw the football for a couple of years now. We finally get to see it next season. For the second straight spring, he looked polished and comfortable in directing the Gators’ offense. Obviously, he’s a different type of quarterback than Tim Tebow, and the Gators will gear their offense around what Brantley does best, which is throw the football. He’ll take his lumps like any first-year starter in this league, but he also has the ability to put up big numbers.

2. Options to replace Tebow: Other than Tebow's leadership, the hardest thing to replace will be his ability to convert third downs in short-yardage situations and his presence on the goal line. The Gators think they found a couple of guys this spring. Converted tight end Jordan Reed looked very good running the “Tebow” package, while true freshman Trey Burton is also more than capable. Granted, nobody is expecting either to be Tebow, but the Gators also know they still have that part of the offense available to them.

3. Young talent on ‘D’: How good was the Gators’ signing class? We shouldn’t have to wait long to find out. Already, a few of the early enrollees have shown their stuff. Cornerback Joshua Shaw will certainly play as a freshman, while safety Matt Elam and tackle Leon Orr will also be difficult to keep off the field. End Ronald Powell and tackle Sharrif Floyd arrive this summer, and they also figure to play early. This defense won’t lack for talent, just experience. Guys like Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Omar Hunter, who haven’t played starring roles because of the people in front of them, are poised to break through.

Fall questions

1. Generating more big plays: The Gators will be looking for more big plays down the field next season and were lacking in that area a year ago. They hope redshirt freshman receiver Andre Debose can fill that void. Hamstring surgery caused Debose to miss all of last season, and he was limited this spring. But he came back toward the end of practice and provided a glimpse of how explosive he can be. It’s also a big season for junior receiver Deonte Thompson, who needs to be more consistent. Former running back Chris Rainey has moved to the slot, and the Gators are hoping to get the ball to him any number of ways and better utilize his speed.

2. Defensive line firepower: The Gators were stocked at defensive end the past two seasons and had dominant interior defensive linemen when they won the 2006 national title. With Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham both gone to the NFL, Florida will have to lean on some younger guys up front. Several of the freshmen will get long looks, while senior Justin Trattou will be counted on to be more of an every-down player at end. This is a group that should be outstanding in another year or two, but they will fight some inexperience next season.

3. Meyer’s health: Let’s face it. Pinning down how much longer Urban Meyer plans to coach at Florida, what his state of mind is going into this season and what kind of impact the last five months have had on him are things nobody really knows … with the exception of him. And he’s not saying much, nor is anybody around him saying much. It’s been a bizarre past few months, to say the least. But the Gator Football Machine seems to roll right along. The real test, though, may come this fall.