GatorZone.com Senior Writer
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Orange & Blue Debut will feature some different twists and turns on Saturday.
Gators coach Will Muschamp revamped the format earlier this week because of injuries to the offensive line. Rather than a traditional spring game with four quarters and a running score, the Gators will showcase their skills for fans at the Swamp in individual and position drills.
There will also be scrimmage snaps in 11-on-11 drills but Muschamp said it wasn’t fair to the six healthy offensive linemen to take as many as 100 snaps like in a traditional spring game. To keep the fans engaged, Muschamp and his assistants will be interviewed throughout the day to explain certain drills and what they are working on.
The practice portion of the event starts at 1 p.m. and gates at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium open beginning at 11:30 a.m.
Muschamp doesn’t like the fact Florida’s offensive line is beat up, but he doesn’t mind the format change in Saturday’s showcase in front of Florida fans.
“I'm comfortable with this, I really am,” Muschamp said. “This is no different than if we would have a scrimmage. And to me, it's about getting good-on-good work. It's about getting your best players going against your best players. I see some of these springs games, these guys put their first group against the rest of them. You don't get any better doing that stuff.”
For a detailed schedule of Saturday’s events, check out this story posted on GatorZone.com on Tuesday.
If you’re like me, you forget the score of the spring game by the time you reach your car. The most interesting takeaways from spring games are usually how the newcomers fit in, how the returning players look compared to last season, and who is playing where.
With those criteria in mind, here is a look at some of the most intriguing storylines to the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut from this writer’s view:
THREE NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
--DT Darious Cummings: Based on what Muschamp has said this spring, Cummings is ready to step in and play a significant role. That is what the Gators need after losing nose tackle Omar Hunter and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd from last season. Cummings (6-2, 305) is strong, wide and athletic. He also has experience after starting his career at Florida State before transferring to East Mississippi Community College. Cummings is listed behind redshirt junior Leon Orr on the depth chart but that could change if he continues to open eyes.
--WR Demarcus Robinson: A true freshman, Robinson chose Florida over Clemson and enrolled early to get a head start for next season. He recently suffered an ankle injury that slowed him in practice but Muschamp said Tuesday that Robinson returned to practice on Monday. At 6-foot-2, 195 pounds, Robinson’s blend of speed and size could make him a favorite target one day for quarterback Jeff Driskel.
--RB Kelvin Taylor: He is another true freshman who enrolled early. Taylor is the son of former Gators star Fred Taylor, which automatically makes him a target of curiosity for fans. Taylor has experienced growing pains this spring as the tries to learn the offense, but his natural ability makes him dangerous when he gets the ball in his hands.
THREE REDSHIRT FRESHMEN TO WATCH
--FB Rhaheim Ledbetter: Recruited as a defensive back, Ledbetter moved to fullback this spring along with former linebacker Gideon Ajagbe as a safety net for starter Hunter Joyer. By all accounts, Ledbetter (5-9, 207) is making progress and offers a different look than Joyer running the ball.
--DE/LB Alex McCalister: The coaching staff really likes McCalister’s size (6-5, 238), his body type and his ability to speed rush off the end. He added weight and muscle as a freshman and is listed behind sophomore Dante Fowler Jr. on the depth chart at buck this spring. He won’t get a chance to knock down a quarterback Saturday, but it will be interesting to see how he handles blocks.
--DB Marcus Maye: He arrived at UF with some impressive credentials and a reputation as a playmaker. Maye sat out last season after suffering a knee injury in fall camp but is a player the Gators could use to step up and provide depth at safety following the losses of starters Matt Elam and Josh Evans.
THREE MORE TO WATCH
--RB Matt Jones: The sophomore played behind Mike Gillislee as a freshman and flashed the ability to be a premiere back. Muschamp said Jones has distanced himself in the competition at tailback and Saturday should give fans a gauge as to expect from Jones when asked to carry more of the load next season.
--QB Tyler Murphy: This one might raise a few eyebrows, but with Driskel firmly the starter and Jacoby Brissett gone, Murphy is one snap away from taking over as the starter. Murphy has yet to throw a pass in a real game and said recently he is much more comfortable in second-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s offense than a year ago.
--LB Antonio Morrison: You get the feeling from listening to Muschamp and others talk that Morrison could be the guy the Gators’ defense thrives off in a fashion similar to the way Elam often set the tone last season. A sophomore, Morrison is a physical, gritty, in-your-face kind of player who changed the game at FSU when he caused Seminoles QB EJ Manuel to fumble in the second half with a crushing hit.
--Kicker: It’s not the sexiest battle of spring camp, but it’s one of the most important considering how dependable Caleb Sturgis was in Muschamp’s first two seasons. Brad Phillips, Austin Hardin and Frank Velez are kicking away to replace Sturgis.
--Receiver: Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar has emerged as the most reliable among the receiving corps, but the Gators need others to help shore up the team’s weakest position group the past couple of seasons. CB Loucheiz Purifoy spent the first half of spring practice at receiver and will see time there. Still, Robinson, fifth-year senior Andre Debose, Latroy Pittman and Ralph Andrades could all provide a lift if they show marked improvement.
--Linebacker: Starters Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins have departed, opening up opportunities for returnees Morrison, Darrin Kitchens, Neiron Ball and Michael Taylor to assumer greater roles. Also, true freshmen Alex Anzalone (injured for spring game) and Daniel McMillian are talented enough to play right away based on reports from Muschamp. Kitchens has moved inside to see if he can help there with Anzalone down.
OL Chaz Green (ankle), OL Jon Halapio (knee), OL Ian Silberman (shoulder), OL Trip Thurman (shoulder), DB Cody Riggs (hamstring), DL Jonathan Bullard (hamstring), DB Jeremy Brown (groin), LB Matt Rolin (knee), DE/LB Ronald Powell (knee), WR Solomon Patton (arm) are out or limited.
BEST JOKE OF SPRING
Muschamp told the players on Monday that the NCAA had approved five additional spring practices.
“They didn’t really care for that very much,’’ Muschamp said. “It finally dawned on them that it was April 1.”
THREE FINAL THOUGHTS
--No doubt there will be a lot of eyes on Driskel and if the offense looks more polished in Pease’s second spring
--This is first UF spring game for new defensive line coach Brad Lawing and receivers coach Joker Phillips
--Following the Orange & Blue Debut, the Aug. 31 season opener against Toledo is 147 days away