Schedule: The Gators open spring practice on Wednesday, and their Orange & Blue Debut spring game will be played on April 9. The noon ET game will be televised live by Sun Sports. None of the Gators’ practices or scrimmages will be open to the public.
What’s new: Actually, what isn’t new? Will Muschamp takes over for Urban Meyer in what will be Muschamp’s head coaching debut. Former Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis will run the offense and plans to put in a pro-style attack. Longtime NFL assistant Dan Quinn moves in as the Gators’ defensive coordinator, and five other new coaches round out Muschamp’s first staff at Florida – Aubrey Hill (receivers), Derek Lewis (tight ends), Travaris Robinson (defensive backs), Frank Verducci (offensive line) and Bryant Young (defensive line).
On the mend: Cornerback Janoris Jenkins (shoulder), running back Mike Blakely (shoulder) and linebacker Neiron Ball (congenital syndrome) will all be held out of spring practice. Running back Jeff Demps is running track this spring and won’t participate. Other players who will be limited because of injuries include offensive linemen Matt Patchan, James Wilson and David Young, defensive tackles Omar Hunter and Jaye Howard, linebacker Kedric Johnson and defensive back Jaylen Watkins.
On the move: Sophomore Gerald Christian is moving from tight end to strong side linebacker, where he’s listed No. 1 on the depth chart. Sophomore Jordan Reed, after playing some at quarterback last season, is at tight end to stay. Sophomore Trey Burton, who also rotated in at quarterback last season in the Gators’ old spread attack, will move to a hybrid position on offense. He could be used as an H-back, running back, receiver or tight end. Redshirt freshman Leon Orr has moved from defensive end to defensive tackle.
Key battle: Senior quarterback John Brantley gets a do-over in Weis’ pro-style system after being miscast in the spread last season. To hold onto the starting job, he’s going to have to hold off true freshman Jeff Driskel and redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy. Driskel was ESPN’s No. 1 quarterback prospect in the country last year and is a freakish athlete who’s equally adept at throwing the ball from the pocket.
New faces: The Gators had seven players to enroll early, including Driskel. Blakely was another one, but shoulder surgery will keep him from going through the spring. The others were defensive end Clay Burton, punter Kyle Christy, tight end A.C. Leonard, receiver Javares McRoy and cornerback De’Ante Saunders.
Breaking out: Take your pick of some of those sophomore defensive linemen, namely tackle Sharrif Floyd and buck end Ronald Powell. Switching over to offense, junior receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. has been the talk of the offseason program and could be the one to provide some of those big plays that were missing in the Gators’ offense last season.
Don’t forget about: Although he was on campus last season, Chris Martin didn’t play for the Gators. He had to sit out after transferring from California, where he signed in 2010 as one of the most highly rated defensive end prospects in the country. A redshirt freshman, Martin was a force on the scout team last season and opens this spring No. 2 on the depth chart at defensive end.
All eyes on: Not only are the Gators putting in a new offense, but they will be doing it with a brand new offensive line. The projected starters going into the spring have a combined 19 career starts. The right side of the line is the most experienced with sophomore guard Jon Halapio and junior tackle Xavier Nixon.