By MICHAEL DIROCCO Florida Times-Union Staff Writer
Apparently, there is life after Tim Tebow. The University of Florida will begin to figure that out today when the Gators participate in the first of 20 practices leading up to the Sept. 4 season opener against Miami (Ohio). Here’s a look at some issues facing the Gators this season:
WHAT’S THE DEFENSE GOING TO LOOK LIKE?
New defensive coordinator Teryl Austin has said he will take a conservative approach in replacing Charlie Strong. That means Austin won’t completely overhaul the defense – not that it needed it – so you will still see the 4-3 and joker package. Austin didn’t rule out also using the 3-4, but that will depend on how well the defensive line develops.
IS JOHN BRANTLEY UP TO THE TASK OF REPLACING TIM TEBOW?
No player in the country will be more scrutinized than Brantley, but he seems to have the calm, laid-back attitude required to handle the pressure of following one of the greatest players in college football history. Brantley understands he can’t do some of the things Tebow did, and more importantly, Brantley’s teammates understand. The real test won’t come until Sept. 18 in Knoxville.
WHO WILL PRESSURE THE QUARTERBACK?
This is the Gators’ No. 1 issue heading into the season. With ends Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap and their combined 39 career sacks gone, UF is desperately needs a pass rusher. Senior end Justin Trattou is the most accomplished, but has just seven career sacks. The other returning linemen have a combined 10. Freshmen Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell might contribute. Another possible source is the linebackers, especially if the Gators use a 3-4.
FIVE NEWCOMERS TO WATCH
Sharif Floyd, Dominique Easley, Ronald Powell: The three defensive linemen are listed collectively because they form the backbone of what has been called one of the greatest defensive signing classes in college football history. All three were ranked in the top seven of Rivals.com’s national recruiting rankings- Powell was No. 1 – and should get plenty of playing time. Don’t be surprised if all three start the season opener.
S Matt Elam: Elam enrolled in January and was so impressive in spring practice that UF coach Urban Meyer said Elam had already earned playing time. Considering the strength of UF’s safety rotation – beginning with Ahmad Black and Will Hill – that’s high praise.
QB Trey Burton: Burton also enrolled early and had a solid spring. He’s a big kid (6 feet 2, 222 pounds) who runs well and gives a change-of-pace option at quarterback if Meyer chooses to use two, as he did in 2006.
WR Robert Clark: There are huge questions at the receiver spot, and Clark will have every chance to earn a spot. The only concern is his size (5-8, 175).
TE Gerald Christian: The tight end is now a fixture in UF’s offense. He’s big (6-3, 240) and runs well. He struggled a bit in the spring.