Like every late August, I’m getting a lot of questions from people asking me how I think the Gators will be this season. My reply has been very general: they’re going to be better than last season.
Now, it’s time to be a little more specific about that. Here are three areas where I feel Florida is going to be significantly better in 2013:
* The passing game — In the few practices I’ve attended, I’ve seen a different Jeff Driskel. He seems more in command of the offense, more confident and certainly more poised in the pocket. He appears much better at going through his progressions and finding the open receiver, something he struggled with a year ago when he had a tendency to lock in on one guy. The coaches have also said Driskel is much better now at reading defenses and getting the offensive front in the proper protections. This is huge. Many of the sacks last year were a result of not getting in the right protection for certain plays against certain defensive schemes. Here’s another key factor: the wide receivers have been much more productive and are starting to make plays. Based on his consistent camp performance, Quinton Dunbar is primed to have a breakout season. He’s been very good at making plays down the field. And anyone who’s been at practice can see what kind of player Demarcus Robinson is going to be. He’s dynamic and has a knack for making plays. He certainly doesn’t look like a true freshman. It all adds up to the passing game being much more productive than a year ago.
* The pass rush — The Gators were just OK getting after the quarterback last season. They should be good to excellent in 2013. UF has potentially one of the best outside pass rushes in the nation when Dante Fowler Jr. and Ronald Powell are both coming off the edge (which we’ve seen a lot in camp). Fowler has been close to unblockable in camp, while Powell’s quickness and explosion off the ball have been one of the highlights of camp. The Gators also will have a much stronger inside pass rush. It starts, of course, with Dominique Easley, who has made the permanent move back to tackle after playing some end in the spring. Easley seems to have regained the lightning-quick first step that he had before tearing his ACL late in the 2011 season. And then there’s the Leon Orr factor. He may still lack some consistency in defending the run, but this big guy is quick off the ball and will add to UF’s strong push up the middle. Throw in some blitzes from the linebackers and defensive backs, and we’re talking about a potentially devastating pass rush.
* The offensive line — The Gators are quicker and more athletic at the crucial left tackle spot (and that’s huge in the SEC going against all the great speed rushers) with true sophomore D.J. Humphries. Some worry about his size, but 285 pounds is plenty big enough (but not too big) going against the quick, athletic rushers on the edge who are usually in the 250-60 range. Overall, the depth up front is going to be better. The addition of transfers Tyler Moore and Max Garcia is huge. Garcia is the starter at left guard and can also spell Humphries at left tackle. Moore is a tough, physical player who is versatile enough to play both guard and tackle positions. Center Jon Harrison and right guard Jon Halapio give the Gators a strong and experienced look inside. Throw in the fact right tackle Chaz Green has had an excellent camp, and it looks like the Gators have a chance to be significantly better up front, especially in pass protection, which ties into the improvement in the passing game.