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Spring Practice Primer: Florida

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer

Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Florida.

Spring Practice Starts: March 14

Spring Game: April 7

Returning starters: 7 offensive, 10 defensive, 1 specialist

Three Things To Look For:

1. Can Brent Pease give Will Muschamp the running game he's looking for? In a Q&A published yesterday at the Sporting News, Muschamp said he wanted his offense to be "multiple" but emphasized -- again -- that he wants it to start with a strong power running game. "To me, running the football creates toughness in your program. It creates toughness on offense and toughness on defense," Muschamp said. "We weren't a mentally tough team last year." The first signs that was the case under Charlie Weis arrived in the 2011 spring game, when the Gator offense looked confused and soft and finished the day with a meager total of 340 yards. Pease has a much better track record with creating a legitimate ground game than Weis did, but he's still going to have to do it without Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, or Dan Wenger. If Pease can put players like tailback Mike Gillislee and lineman Xavier Nixon to use this spring, and give Muschamp something of the toughness he's looking for at the Gators' spring game, it will be a much, much better omen for Florida's 2012 chances than last year's spring outing.

2. Who's the quarterback? Of course, all the toughness in the world won't do much for the sputtering Gator offense if the passing game can't stretch the field. So hey, good news, Gators: you're replacing both your starting quarterback and your most consistent wide receiver! On the latter point, an improved Andre Debose can likely make up for the loss of Deonte Thompson, but it remains to be seen if sophomores Jacoby Brissett (pictured) and Jeff Driskel can improve on John Brantley ... even if Brantley spent the last part of the season doing as much for the Gators' opponents' causes than his own team's. Still, Brissett and Driskel combined to go 34-of-73 (46.5 percent) for 4.8 yards an attempt with a 2-to-6 touchdown-to-interception ratio. At least one of the two is going to need to show dramatic improvement this spring for the Gators to start thinking about winning the East again.

3. Can the defensive line put it all together? It seems like they should already be working on a fifth year (or their combine 40s), but Ronald Powell, Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley are in fact still only juniors. The trio of five-star defensive linemen were the crown jewels of Urban Meyer's heavily hyped (and, in retrospect, heavily overhyped) 2010 recruiting class), and as a group they took major steps forward in 2011 from their awkward freshman seasons. But that only got the Gators so far; they still finished a merely OK 40th nationally in rush defense (fifth in the SEC) and 23rd in yards allowed per-carry. There's little doubt, however, that another year of improvement from Powell, Floyd, and Easley could push the Gators into the national elite where D-lines are concerned; a good spring would, naturally, go a long way towards making that improvement a reality.

To check in on the rest of the SEC and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule.

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