Which SEC program has the most to gain or lose this spring? Without a doubt, it's the Florida Gators. Head coach Will Muschamp kicks off his fourth spring in Gainesville on Wednesday on the hottest seat in the SEC.
While some important battles around the SEC—like Alabama's quarterback battle and Auburn's pecking order at running back—won't be settled until fall camp, Florida's offensive issues need to be settled now, so that the offense can be fine-tuned this fall.
Considering new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper will be installing his hurry-up scheme during the spring session, expect a lot of moving parts in Gainesville over the next month.
"We need to get things turned back around," Muschamp told GatorZone.com's Scott Carter. "That’s what we plan on. I know from the schematic standpoint, the guys are excited about what we’re doing. That’s good."
So what questions does Florida have to answer this spring?
Develop Playmakers Outside
For a program that is loaded with athletes from top to bottom, there's a remarkable absence of playmakers outside at wide receiver for the Gators.
Quinton Dunbar has been a spring superstar over the last few years, but that hasn't translated to the fall for the 6'1", 194-pound rising senior. Andre Debose is a potentially dangerous slot receiver, but injuries and offenses that didn't suit his skills have hampered the progression of the sixth-year senior. Latroy Pittman has seen very limited action over his first two seasons, and Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood came with significant hype in the class of 2013.
But despite the talent, the Gators' passing game has been stagnant.
They finished 12th in the SEC in yards per passing attempt in 2013 at 6.6 and last in the conference in touchdown passes with 11.
Somebody has to stretch the field.
I wrote last week that this could be the season that Debose finally lives up to the hype thanks to Roper's success with slot receivers with similar skills. But he won't be cleared for contact after his torn ACL until later this month, so it's up to some of the other receivers to step up.
|Florida Top 3 Returning WR Statistics from 2013|
Jeff Driskel Needs to Hit the Ground Running
Quarterback Jeff Driskel suffered a broken leg in September versus Tennessee, ending his season and sending the Gator offense out of first gear and into neutral for the remainder of the season. Driskel is back, and now he's in an offense that can use and thrive with his dual-threat capabilities.
Roper's hurry-up no-huddle will place more emphasis on the quarterback being a running threat out of the shotgun, which Muschamp knows plays into his quarterback strength.
"In total-run situations, you’re right at 5.8 [yards per carry] ... which is outstanding, the best I’ve ever been around,'' Muschamp told Carter. "Then you look at runs from the gun, you’re looking at close to seven yards a carry, 6.8. Runs from under center you’re looking a little over four."
But just how healthy is Driskel and will he be the same after that injury?
It's his job to lose—and he likely won't lose it to either sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg or true freshman early enrollee Will Grier. So it's up to Driskel to get comfortable this spring so that the rest of the pieces can fall into place around him.
Depth and Consistency up Front
Offensive linemen Chaz Green, D.J. Humphries and Tyler Moore all suffered season-ending injuries either before or during the season, and Jon Halapio missed the first two games of the season, according to PhilSteele.com.
The constant moving parts prevented an already stagnant offense from every gaining momentum. The Gators finished tied for 10th in the SEC with 27 sacks allowed, and 13th in tackles for loss allowed with 86.
The silver lining is that the absence of so many starters earned reserves significant snaps, which will help if a similar situation develops again in 2014.
But in Muschamp's perfect world, he won't have to test that depth, but developing solid first and second units this spring is imperative so that the offense can continue to grow during fall camp.
An offensive front that's solidified this spring will ease the transition to Roper's scheme, allow running back Kelvin Taylor and his running back mates to continue to grow and create a level of comfort for Driskel in the pocket.
Keep an eye on Gainesville, because the Gators will be the most intriguing team to watch during spring practice.
* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.
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