Sunday, August 05, 2001

Florida's No. 1 but Spurrier has some concerns

Gators' leader has yet to name starting quarterback

By David Jones
Florida Today

        GAINESVILLE, Fla. — While the USA Today-ESPN coaches poll and others have voted the University of Florida the top-ranked team in college football heading into preseason practices, Gators coach Steve Spurrier is far from convinced.

        Florida has the talent to produce a big season and the schedule is favorable, with home games against Florida State and Tennessee. But when the Gators open practices Monday with the first freshmen work out, Spurrier will be among those searching for answers to major questions — just like every other coach around the country.

        “We don't have many backups at certain positions,” Spurrier said. “Mike Pearson is at left (offensive) tackle and we have a redshirt freshman who was playing defense (Bobby Williams) as the backup there. Hopefully we won't have injuries that will hurt, and hopefully our quarterback situation will get settled. I would like to have one player to know what he is doing and be a leader.”

        Among those concerns:

        • Who's the quarterback? It is almost an annual question since Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy in 1996. No quarterback has started a complete season for the Gators since. This year could be more of the same.

        Rex Grossman was All-SEC as a freshman but Spurrier was still unhappy with Grossman's reads at times and has compared fellow sophomore Brock Berlin to Wuerffel.

        Spurrier said Grossman and Berlin will be dead-even heading into the fall. Jesse Palmer and Grossman shared most of the time last year. Palmer's in the NFL but Spurrier isn't convinced he knows who his best QB is.

        • What will the impact be of early season suspensions? The Gators will start the season with sophomore defensive end Clint Mitchell serving a six-game suspension. Spurrier said Mitchell remains on scholarship but he hasn't worked out with the team. He was suspended for breaking a university policy for the second time and currently faces possible sexual-assault charges for a summer incident involving a female student.

        Kennard Ellis also is out the first game and would have likely started in place of Mitchell. That leaves some serious lack of depth on the defensive front.

        Another big suspension was cornerback Lito Sheppard, an All-America as a sophomore and one of the team's main big play guys, also returning kicks.

        • Will the Gators' defense improve to go to the next level? Spurrier said at the SEC media meetings in Birmingham he hopes Jon Hoke has gotten smarter.

        The heat will be on Hoke this year, his third as Gator defensive coordinator. The spotlight will also be on defensive end Alex Brown, who has been spectacular at times but just average at others.

        • Can Florida develop a consistent running game? Earnest Graham and Robert Gillespie have had some superb games in the past couple of years. But neither has taken over the job and it likely won't happen this year.

        Eraste Autin, who collapsed and died of heatstroke last month, could have provided depth at fullback. That leaves Rob Roberts, coming off serious knee surgery, as the only dependable player at that position. Graham and Gillespie have both had injury problems in the past.

        • Can receiver Jabar Gaffney repeat the amazing freshman season of a season ago? Gaffney surprised a lot of opponents in 2000. This year, however, opponents will spend a lot more time figuring out how to stop him. That means Reche Caldwell and Taylor Jacobs have to step up with big games, along with some others.

        If other receivers can't take some of the load, Gaffney will be double teamed all year and his numbers will fall dramatically.


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