SEC spring football forecast: Florida Gators

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With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, Florida.

Florida opens spring practice tomorrow, and the Orange and Blue Debut is set for April 12th.

What’s changing?

It’s all about what’s changing on offense. Former offensive coordinator Brent Pease was fired, and Florida hired Duke’s Kurt Roper, who promises to get the ball to playmakers in space with some tempo. That’s a completely different direction than a conservative, clock-eating pro-style attack of the last three years. This will be Will Muschamp’s third coordinator in four seasons, but Roper’s offense fits Florida’s personnel much better, especially at quarterback. Mike Summers was also hired to coach the offensive line, and that was a necessary change, as Florida’s offensive line was awful last season. Personnel-wise, Florida returns enough talent to win nine or 10 games.

RELATED: See where Florida finished in SDS’ final 2013 rankings

Position of concern

There are obvious concerns at several offensive positions, but the biggest is the offensive line. Florida suffered a biblical proportion of injuries in 2013, and the offensive line wasn’t exempt. The Gators have to identify on their top personnel, and they lose their two most experienced players in center Jonotthan Harrison and guard Jon Halapio. DJ Humphries returns at left tackle; Max Garcia started 12 games last year, and he’ll likely shift to center. Cam Dillard needs to develop quickly this spring. The Gators also return Tyler Moore and get projected starter Chaz Green back from injury. Florida needs to find the best fit and best five this spring. New position coach Mike Summers has his work cut out for him.

Position of strength

Perhaps unlike any other position, Will Muschamp feels great about his defensive line. With All-SEC caliber Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard both returning, along with tackles Darious Cummings and Leon Orr, Florida should have another strong defensive line. Talented newcomers like Gerald Willis and Thomas Holley, among others, will compete for time in fall camp, but they won’t get to campus until summer. Florida should have one of the SEC’s strongest defensive lines again.

RELATED: SEC Pre-Spring Power Rankings

Three signees who will get you excited

1. Jalen Tabor, CB: With corners Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson heading to the NFL, the 6-1 early enrollee has the opportunity to fill a need immediately. Tabor is talented enough to start opposite Vernon Hargreaves game one.

2. Gerald Willis, DE: Florida usually signs great defensive linemen, and Willis is the Pied Piper of the class. He could make an early impact in the trenches and provide instant depth.

3. JC Jackson, CB/WR: The back and forth nature of JC Jackson’s recruitment was well documented, but he’s a big-time player. At 5-10, he’ll get a crack at corner or receiver as a freshman, and he could play both ways in 2014.

MORE: Florida’s National Signing Day recap

Spring’s primary position battle

Who will emerge for Florida at wide receiver this spring? Andre Debose returns from a knee injury, and talented rising sophomores Ahmad Fullwood, Demarcus Robinson, Alvin Bailey and Chris Thompson all return. Quinton Dunbar is the team’s top receiver, but he’s not the big-time deep threat or the game-breaker the offense needs. There is some depth, but there will always be depth at Florida. The Gators need somebody to step up and emerge as a legitimate receiving threat in 2014.

Emerging spring player prediction

One of the biggest sleepers in the 2013 recruiting class was linebacker Jarrad Davis. He made 24 tackles and one forced fumble last season as a true freshman, and he’ll be an everyday starter exiting spring. He’s a punishing linebacker who will emerge as a leader.

Offseason’s burning question

Can Florida have a Mizzou or Auburn-type turnaround?

Gators’ offseason crystal ball

This spring is all about installing a new offensive scheme under Kurt Roper for quarterback Jeff Driskel. Yes, high school All-American Will Grier will be pushing Driskel, but this spring is all about Roper identifying Driskel’s strengths and calling plays to those. The offense and the reads should simplify Driskel’s decision-making, and I think he benefits (as does Florida) from the scheme change. I also think Jalen Tabor will win the corner job opposite Vernon Hargreaves to give Florida the top young corner combo in the country.

Photo Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

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