GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Some extra thoughts and notes on my time in Gainesville from last weekend:
I'll start things off by talking about defensive end/Buck Ronald Powell, who will be out four to six months after tearing his ACL in the Orange and Blue Debut. Before the injury, most around Florida's program felt Powell was having the best spring of any of the defenders. After two seasons in which people expected more from Powell, he really turned it up this spring. He was more aggressive, tougher and caused more headaches for Florida's offense than he had during any other time. Coach Will Muschamp might have found that dangerous pass rushers he needs in his defense. Now, Muschamp must turn elsewhere and things will start with OLB Lerentee McCray. He was out with an injury this spring, but played the Buck in place of Powell at times last fall. He made his biggest jump as a player last season and is one player Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are especially excited about.
True freshmen Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard will get chances to play at the Buck, too, but keep an eye on Neiron Ball. He didn't play last season because of the arteriovenous malformation found in his brain in February of 2011. There has been no word yet if Ball could resume playing for the Gators, but if he remains healthy and the SEC clears him, Ball could get a shot at play at the Buck.
The quarterback situation was tight before the spring game and was even tougher afterward. Jacoby Brissett entered the spring with a little bit of an advantage, but Jeff Driskel played his way right back into it. I was told that he really has matured both on and off the field this spring. He's taking film more seriously and he's looking to be a real leader now. He wasn't sure how to operate at the college level last fall, but is getting much more comfortable, now. As for Brissett, he doesn't lack confidence at all. He was smiling, laughing and cracking jokes (one on me in front of everyone) during his news conference after the spring game. He fits a pro-style offense more than Driskel and that will help him in the long run. Athletically, Driskel has the edge, but this thing will come down to which one can take over this team during summer workouts.
Tyler Murphy is a distant third in the quarterback race. He didn't get much time in the spring game and spent more time talking with offensive coordinator Brent Pease. But that doesn't mean he's not helping. He was relaying signals better than anyone and most there think he understands the offense the best, he's just not has gifted physically. He knows what to do the best of the three, but might not be able to do it the best. His role will be more of helper at this point, but he's valuable for the other QBs.
Pease is much more hands-on with his quarterbacks and players. He was snatching players around during spring game warmups as they ran through plays and formations. He's making sure everyone knows exactly what they're doing and where they're supposed to be. It's especially helping the quarterbacks. Driskel said Pease's closer instruction has helped him learn the offense better than he did last fall. Driskel didn't have any bad words for former coordinator Charlie Weis, but said Pease's approach has been very helpful. "He's developed us into much better quarterbacks in the short time he's been here," Driskel said of Pease.
This team is much closer than it was a year ago. Like I said in my coaching recap, the pregame locker room was electric. It wasn't like that last year, especially not for a spring game. Linebacker Michael Taylor told me this group really banded together after the Florida State loss. That one really hurt these guys. They were all called soft by their coach and made it a point to change Muschamp's opinion of his team. Something certainly is different. Players are stepping up and leading more than they did a year ago. "A team that's together is a team that's better," Taylor said.
Two young players to keep an eye on are wide receiver Latroy Pittman and cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy. Pittman might have been Florida's best receiver this spring and while he's not the fastest guy out there, he's tough, physical and has solid hands. With Florida still lacking a true playmaker at receiver, Pittman will get his chance to play a lot this fall. Purifoy drew praise from Muschamp last season, but really came along this spring. With Marcus Roberson out for most of the spring, Purifoy got more reps at corner. He might be lining up opposite Roberson at the second starting corner spot this fall.
Don't forget about corner Jeremy Brown. I talked to him briefly before the spring game and he said that his knee is much better than it was last fall. His career has been riddled with injuries (he's missed three seasons in four years), and he received a medical redshirt from the NCAA after missing all of last season. This is a guy who was ahead of Janoris Jenkins at one point in his career before a back injury sidelined him for two years. Having him back will definitely upgrade this secondary.
The offensive line looked better, but time will tell how good this unit can be. Muschamp seems pretty happy with it, mainly because he has depth. He talked about only having six scholarship linemen at one point during the offseason because injury. The team had to take breaks in practice to keep those guys going. That wasn't the case this spring. For as bad as the quarterback play looked and for as much as Florida struggled to run up the middle, a lot of the Gators' shortcomings came because of an inefficient offensive line. "We're better offensively than we were at any time last year," he said. "We have everybody back and we have some talented guys."
Jeff Dillman might have been Muschamp's biggest hire. Florida's new strength coach was with Muschamp at LSU when the Tigers won it all in 2003-04. He's focusing on more Olympic-style lifting and you can tell. The players are much bigger than last fall. Dillman's secret? Three moves: the power clean, the snatch and the split jerk. He's making sure they're hitting every muscle possible as efficiently as possible.