When the final whistle sounded at Saturday’s spring game, the critical offseason began. The installation of a new offense and defense during spring practice was important, and the coaches were happy with the progress. However, it’s what happens between now and the start of fall camp that the coaches believe will determine how success the Gators are this fall.
“This is a critical time for us,” Will Muschamp said after Saturday’s spring game. “Now the coaches will be on the road recruiting and by NCAA rules, we’re very limited with the time we can spend with our players. Our leadership needs to take over.
“It’s time for guys to step up, and it doesn’t have to be a senior. We don’t have many seniors. (The players) need to understand it’s their football program, not mine.”
The person who will spend the most time with the team between now and the start of fall camp is strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti. In the past, Urban Meyer has entrusted Marotti with the day-to-day of the team in the weight room and during conditioning, and it will be no different with Muschamp.
“We’ve got the best strength coach in the country, so let’s listen to him with the 7-on-7 and from the team standpoint,” Muschamp said. “Let’s use this now to become a better football team this fall.”
OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH ISSUES: The offensive line didn’t perform well on Saturday, but the head coach isn’t worried yet. The depth was an issue before the team even opened spring practice, and once they did, injuries decimated what depth was left.
“There has been some spotty work up front because of injuries, and we were thin to begin with,” Muschamp said. “Then you take the laundry list out of that, and it’s even worse. There are two units that have to be the tightest on the team, and that’s the offensive line and secondary. When you have a lot of moving parts on either of those, it creates problems.”
It hasn’t been fun for the players or coaches this spring to figure out ways to piece together enough healthy bodies to make the offensive line functional. They were forced to do it one more time in the spring game, piecing together players from both teams to find one offensive line that worked.
It’s not the ideal way to go through the spring, but the Gators could look back at it during the fall and find it as a positive.
“It’s good for our football team because we’re building depth, and we’ve had to cross train guys at different positions,” Muschamp said. “In the long run, that’ll help us, but in the short run, it has been a little frustrating.”
INJURY UPDATE: Dominique Easley was helped off the field in the second half, but Muschamp wasn’t concerned about a possible injury.
“Easley is fine,” he said. “Easley got tired.”
Trey Burton was held out of the spring game because he twisted an ankle this week in practice. Holding him out was only precautionary.
“He probably could’ve scrimmaged today if it had been a game,” Muschamp said. “He’ll be fine.”
IDENTIFYING PLAYMAKERS: Muschamp has said multiple times this spring that they are trying to find the best way to use the personnel on both sides of the ball, and the offense continues to be a work in progress. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will run the offense through the strength of its playmakers, but he has to find out the best way to use them first.
The receiver position has plenty of bodies, and there are a few of them that have stood out this spring.
“(Quinton) Dunbar has made more big plays than anybody else,” Muschamp said. “Frankie Hammond has been the most consistent receiver. Omarius Hines has been a guy we’ve used at multiple positions. Those are the ones that jump out at me, and Deonte (Thompson) has done some nice things. Anytime Deonte is on the field, he’s a threat because of the speed factor.”
Dunbar started the spring listed seventh on the depth chart at wide receiver, but his emergence has made him a fixture of the offseason. He could steal playing time from some of the upperclassmen, notably Thompson, but it’s about getting the best players on the field.
“Deonte has had a really good spring and done an outstanding job on special teams, but you can’t take away from what Quinton Dunbar has done vertically down the field throughout the entire body of the spring,” Muschamp said.
The coaching staff already knew Jordan Reed would be a playmaker in the passing game, but they may have found another tight end on Saturday that could produce. Freshman A.C. Leonard caught plenty of attention before the game because of his big frame, and he also made noise during the game by recording three catches for 18 yards.
“AC is a guy that is a high school senior, but he’s adjusting well,” Muschamp said. “In our offseason program, the first two weeks he was okay. As he ended the offseason program, he really started maturing and growing up. I’m really proud of where he is.
“He’s a guy that can help us as he continues to mature. He’s another guy that this time of the year is very important for. He’s going to be away from the coaches, so instead of Coach Lewis and Coach Weis telling him what to look at, a lot of it is going to have to come on his own.”
Most people know the electricity Chris Rainey brings to the team out of the backfield, but every once in a while, Rainey isn’t afraid to remind everybody. During a first half run on Saturday, he made a move on strong safety Matt Elam to draw to breath out of the crowd.
“He’s a good football player,” Muschamp said. “He is special with the ball in his hands because of his vision. Matt Elam is a very good open field tackler, and Matt drew wind on (Rainey). That’ll tell you the vision he’s got. We need to get him in space. We’re excited about putting him together with Jeff Demps in the backfield.”