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March 7, 2013

Spring Preview: 10 with the most to gain


In exactly six days, the Florida Gators will officially open spring practice ahead of the 2013 season. With four junior starters having declared for the 2013 NFL Draft and nine other starters off the team due to graduation, Florida enters the spring with plenty of holes in its starting depth chart. The Gators are looking to replace 13 total starters - including most of the team's impact players from the 2012 season - and there will be ample opportunities for players to let it be known that they are next in line for increased playing time.

With head coach Will Muschamp focused on determining which players have made the greatest strides from last season through the spring workout program, Inside the Gators takes a look at 10 players with the most to gain this year from spring practice.

Inside the Gators: 10 with the most to prove this spring
Redshirt freshman defensive back Rhaheim Ledbetter
2012 Season: Did not play - Scout Team Player of the Week (twice)

Opportunity: Florida has two starting safety positions open and the competition for those roles will be fierce right out of the gate. In addition to a number of veterans that will be in the mix are a pair of redshirt freshmen - Ledbetter being the first - hoping for the opportunity to step in and earn major playing time right away. Physical, strong and tough, Ledbetter is an explosive tackler and has more than adequate coverage ability. Look for him to make some noise as he attempts to win the strong safety job.

Redshirt freshman defensive back Marcus Maye
2012 Season: Did not play (injured - torn meniscus)

Opportunity: The other redshirt freshman looking to make waves in the defensive backfield is Maye, who missed the entire 2012 season but made up for it during practice leading up to the Sugar Bowl. Muschamp said Maye was "very good" in those workouts and by all accounts he has been working his tail off to ensure that he is in top physical shape to compete for a spot beginning in the spring. Ranked 70th overall in the 2012 recruiting class, Maye has a tall frame and solid speed and will undoubtedly be in the mix with Ledbetter and numerous others at safety.

Freshman linebacker Daniel McMillian
2012 Season: Army All American at Jacksonville (Fla.) First Coast High School

Opportunity: Florida has lost all three of its starting linebackers from 2012 and though the Gators do have veterans looking to take those jobs, McMillian has the talent and athleticism to play in any of the three spots. He can shed blockers and rush the passer, play coverage and even be a force in the run game at 6'3" and 220 lbs. The Rivals250 standout is unlikely to win a starting job in the spring, but he can certainly showcase the necessary talent and work ethic to make coaches give him strong consideration come the summer.

Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy
2012 Season: Dressed for all 13 games - third-string

Opportunity: After three seasons with the team, Murphy has never been in a better position to actually see legitimate playing time than he will be this year. Though it would likely take an injury to junior QB Jeff Driskel for him to actually get him on the field, he will be competing for the No. 2 job in camp and already has the early lead on redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg, according to Muschamp. Murphy will have every opportunity to take the first step toward locking down his reserve role for good and see his patience and commendable work ethic finally pay off.

Sophomore wide receiver Latroy Pittman
2012 Season: Played in 12 games - two receptions for six yards

Opportunity: The supposed star of last season's spring practice, Pittman wound up seeing the field as a true freshman in 2012 but did not get the chance to flash his receiving abilities. With Florida in dire need of playmaking receivers (UF lost its top-four pass catchers in the off-season and was in desperate need of improvement anyway), Pittman can show the coaches that he is ready to play a major role for offensive coordinator Brent Pease as he looks for ways to make the Gators' offense more explosive.

Redshirt freshman linebacker Jeremi Powell
2012 Season: Did not play - Scout Team Player of the Week (five times)

Opportunity: Unlike McMillian, Powell has a year of practice under his belt and he is already a known quantity to Florida's coaching staff. A two-way player in high school, he possesses a number of elite traits that may make him a top-end outside linebacker such as his pursuit, closing speed and coverage. A strong and intense player, Powell made himself known during his redshirt season and now has the chance to ensure that his name is up front on the depth chart.

Junior defensive back/wide receiver Loucheiz Purifoy
2012 Season: Started 12 of 13 games - 51 tackles (38 solo, one for loss), three forced fumbles, five pass defenses, two blocked kicks

Opportunity: Purifoy will be starting for the Gators one way or another in 2013, but the coaches have decided to narrow his focus to offense - the side of the ball he played on least in 2012 - during spring practice. Purifoy has proven to be a playmaker in his first two years at Florida, delivering big-time hits, forcing turnovers and making game-changing plays on special teams. Because he possesses fantastic athletic ability and solid hands, the Gators think he can be a factor at wide receiver. UF is deeper in the defensive backfield than out wide on offense, and Purifoy may very well be at least part of Pease's solution to his playmaking problem.

Freshman wide receiver Demarcus Robinson
2012 Season: The Rivals100 member was the No. 52 rated prospect in the nation as a high school senior

Opportunity: Arguably the player from Florida's 2013 signing class with the greatest potential to make an immediate impact, Robinson committing to the Gators and deciding to enroll early must have appeared as a light shining from heaven for Pease. Ranked as the No. 52 overall prospect in the nation, Robinson truly has it all. At 6'2", he is immediately Florida's tallest scholarship receiver; and at 195 lbs., he is the second-largest in mass only to Pittman (209 lbs.). Robinson can catch passes crossing the field, underneath coverage, down the field, over the top and everywhere in between. He already has the size and pure talent to play in the SEC, so all Robinson has to prove to the coaching staff is that he is mature enough for the responsibility and has the necessary understanding of UF's playbook.

Freshman running back Kelvin Taylor
2012 Season: The No. 38 rated prospect in the nation ran for over 2,400 yards and 41 touchdowns as a senior in high school

Opportunity: Thomas Edison once said that "opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work." Taylor has been waiting for the opportunity to step on Florida's practice fields for years and now, finally, he has the chance to start his own legacy beginning on March 13. But it will not be easy. Not only must he prove that he is capable and responsible enough to play right away for the Gators, Taylor has to ensure that he does enough to steal carries away from sophomore Matt Jones (who came on strong for Florida late in the season) and redshirt junior Mack Brown (who will start spring as the No. 2 running back). Taylor's pedigree and high school accomplishments are well-documented but all of that gets thrown out the window the second he steps onto the field next week.

Redshirt freshman tight end Colin Thompson
2012 Season: Did not play (injured - foot)

Opportunity: The stage is set for Thompson and fellow 2012 recruit Kent Taylor to be impact players at tight end for the Gators in 2013. Ranked as the No. 6 and No. 1 tight ends in their class, respectively, the duo came to UF together knowing they would have different roles for Florida. While Taylor was able to see the field and even caught a touchdown in the Sugar Bowl, Thompson did not get to go through the motions with the team until bowl practice. Instead, he spent the entire 2012 season soaking up the playbook and being ultra-attentive during team meetings. With Jordan Reed departing early, Taylor will step into his role as a pass-catching tight end, but the Gators have been searching for a blocking tight end with good hands to play on the other side of the line. Juniors Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook are simply not talented enough to get the job done.

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