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March 9, 2009

Spring Countdown: Five to the forefront

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Vote: Who will step to the forefront?

With the start of spring practice just around the corner, GatorBait.net begins a series of updates inspecting what the Gator Nation should be looking for as the Florida football team attempts to defend their 2008 National Championship. Up first is a look at five players who have been on the field for the Gators in the past with a limited degree of success, but will have a chance to make their mark over 15 spring practices.

Two years ago, Florida received solid contributions from first-year starters such as Tim Tebow, A.J. Jones and Jason Watkins.

Last year, players such as Carlos Dunlap, Ahmad Black and Terron Sanders rose from part time players to starting status based somewhat on solid springs.

Who will it be this time around? Here's a look at five Gators that could emerge and step to the forefront this spring.

The players are listed alphabetically:

Five who will have a chance to emerge this spring

Redshirt Sophomore Quarterback John Brantley
Of the players listed here as having a chance to emerge this spring, Brantley is the only one of the five who has almost no chance to earn a starting position - at least not for the 2009 season. If Tim Tebow remains healthy, he's not only the starter, but likely to last late into games in order to help him make a run at yet another Heisman Trophy. What Brantley has a chance to do this spring, is something he has been unable to do over the previous two years, win a backup job outright. That is completely different this time around is, with Cameron Newton no longer in the picture, the job is his by default. Perhaps knowing that he will be able to relax more and allow his natural ability to take over. While as of right now Brantley is no Tebow when it comes to being the overall package, he's certainly no slouch either. Brantley has a bigger arm, better release and is surprisingly, a more polished passer than the former Heisman Trophy winner. How much of that carries over to live action remains to be seen as Brantley has had his fair share of practice struggles in the past. A successful spring for Brantley will be judged by whether or not he performs well enough to be considered a reliable backup to Mr. Tebow.

Redshirt Freshman Defensive Tackle Omar Hunter
When it comes to height, the big man isn't quite as big as advertised, which in turn makes him look a bit more out of shape. Reporting with back issues last summer caused him to fall behind conditioning wise and though he played in three games, he was never able to catch up fully and was a non factor for the most part. After being rated five-stars by Rivals.com and lauded by Urban Meyer on each of his Gator Gathering tour stops, more was probably expected of Hunter than he could reasonably contribute. This spring, with Florida returning two productive starters at defensive tackle combined with his inability to produce last year, the spotlight on him has dimmed considerably. The staff should have the luxury to pick-and-choose their spots for him this spring. That in turn should afford him room to grow and maybe eventually work his way into the rotation.

Redshirt Junior Running Back Emmanuel Moody
While Hunter may have been the most heralded incoming player last year, Moody was without a doubt right there with him as far as expectations are concerned. After being forced to sit out a year upon his transfer from Southern Cal to Florida, it was thought that Moody would burst onto the scene for Florida football. It didn't quite turn out that way at the start of practice, but as spring progressed, Moody slowly started coming around. He capped off the 15 practices with an outstanding performance in the Orange & Blue game. However, he was unable to carry that performance into the summer and fall as both Chris Rainey and Kestahn Moore were ahead of him on UF's running back depth chart heading into the season. After being injured during a solid performance against Tennessee, he saw little more than mop-up duty the rest of the year. This spring is Moody's chance to cement his status as a go-to back in the Florida offense. He has the tools physically - and now that he apparently has the playbook down, he should become a much bigger factor in the offense.

Redshirt Sophomore Wide Receiver Deonte Thompson
The thing about the average fan is that when a highly rated prospect doesn't immediately contribute, he is considered to be a bust of sorts. Forget the fact that at a program like Florida, there are usually other highly rated prospects, who have more experience lined up ahead of him. Thus is the story of Deonte Thompson. He is in possession of outstanding speed and a better than average pair of hands. Because of that, combined with the fact that the Gators are a little shorthanded at receiver, he has a chance this spring to make as much noise as any player on this list. With the departure of Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy added to the fact that Riley Cooper will miss some practice in order to play baseball - Thompson should get all the work he can handle.

Redshirt Sophomore Offensive Guard James Wilson
At this time last year it looked as though Wilson was well on his way to transferring to Wake Forest or some other football program. He was undoubtedly miserable as a Gator. A year of being laid up on the sidelines without the ability to fully practice or play football will do that to you. Seeing what the problem was, Meyer convinced him to at least go through spring practice before calling it quits. It took less than a week of spring ball for Wilson to once again feel like he was part of the team and reconsider his request to transfer out. Now one year later, he is one strong spring away from claiming a starting job on the offensive line. Wilson and Maurice Hurt will do battle this spring for the left guard job vacated by Jim Tartt.



RECAPPING LAST SPRING'S FIVE TO THE FOREFRONT


Torrey Davis: Last year he was only able to attend every other practice due to academic difficulties. That level of uncertainty followed him throughout the fall and into the season. His availability for this spring is also in question.

Jamar Hornsby: Without a doubt he was one of the top defensive performers on the team last spring. He was well on his way to solidifying his spot on the two-deep depth chart when he was booted from the squad after his arrest on credit card fraud charges.

Lawrence Marsh: Marsh had a solid, yet unspectacular spring last year as he adjusted to new defensive line coach Dan McCarney's way of doing things. After a rough start, a solid finish resulted in his securing a starting spot opposite Terron Sanders.

Jonathan Phillips: Not only was he able to hold off incoming freshman Caleb Sturgis for the starting job, he was able to use the experience he gained over the 15 practices to put himself in a position to contend for the Lou Groza award. He may actually be back for a chance to win the award in 2009 if he receives an extra year of eligibility.

Mon Williams: Williams was never able to return from a knee injury to become a factor for the Gators. He had one or two solid practices last spring, but he wasn't a factor come the fall and decided to transfer.



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