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College football

The Florida four

By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published March 16, 2003

SOUTH FLORIDA

KEY DATES: Two-hour practices on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday, March 25-27; April 1, 2, 4, 8 and 9. Scrimmages at 9 a.m. March29 and 3 p.m. April5.

SPRING GAME: 1 p.m. April12 at Raymond James Stadium, admission and parking is free.

KEY LOSSES: QB Marquel Blackwell, WR/KR DeAndrew Rubin, WR Ryan Hearn, WR Hugh Smith, LB Kawika Mitchell, DT Greg Walls, DE Chris Daley, CB Maurice Tucker, DT Tavares Jurineack, S John Miller, DE Shurron Pierson and P Devin Sanderson. Pierson is the first USF player to declare early for the NFL draft and is considered a second- or third-round selection as a linebacker or defensive end. Mitchell also could go on the first day (first three rounds), and several others are considered possible draft picks or free agents, including Blackwell, a four-year standout and the program's first marquee player.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: QB Ronnie Banks, T Derrick Sarosi, C Alex Herron, G Chris Carothers, T Levi Newton, WR Huey Whittaker, WR Brian Fisher, WR Elgin Hicks, RB Clenton Crossley, RB DeJuan Green, RB Quinton Callum, DE/DT Tim Jones, DT Matt Groelinger, DT/DE Cedric Battles, DE Terrence Royal, LB Maurice Jones, LB Courtney Davenport, CB Ron Hemingway, CB D'Juan Brown, S J.R. Reed, S Kevin Verpaele.

BIGGEST QUESTION: All eyes are on Banks, the primary candidate to replace ESPN.com independent player of the year Blackwell. He must be able to cope with the attention and pressure. Should Banks falter, redshirt freshmen Jean Julmiste and Evan Kraky and sophomore David Mullins are vying for their opportunity.

OF NOTE: Senior DT Lee Roy Selmon Jr. returns from a torn knee ligament that kept him out all of 2002. Junior CB Kenny Robinson could start after redshirting last season. Junior Bruce Gipson has moved from WR to CB. He was superb at WR last spring but played sparingly in the fall because of injuries and depth at receiver. Two February signees, DB Cliff Magby and OL Roland Clarke, and Kansas transfer DT Keith Watts will be participating. Watts and Selmon will help alleviate the loss of four starters on the defensive line. Junior Tim Jones switched from TE to DL in midseason and has star potential, as does senior Maurice Jones, who could move from OLB to MLB. Reed takes over as defensive leader with the graduation of Mitchell. Sophomores Devon Davis and Stephen Nicholas will vie for Mitchell's starting spot.

-- PETE YOUNG

* * *

FLORIDA

KEY DATES: All practices are open to the public on the following dates: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, March 24, 25, 27 and 29. April 1, 3, 5, 7, 8, 11.

SPRING GAME: 1 p.m. April12, Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Tickets are $3 for general admission and free to all Alumni Association members.

KEY LOSSES: QB Rex Grossman, RB Earnest Graham, WR Taylor Jacobs, TE Aaron Walker, CB Robert Cromartie, MLB Bam Hardmon, FS Todd Johnson, DE Marcus Oquendo-Johnson, DE Clint Mitchell, OLB Mike Nattiel, DT Bryan Savelio, DT Ian Scott. The Gators lost the most important part of their offense (all-conference quarterback and receiver) and the majority of their defense, which means a rebuilding season. They return some key players, including most of the offensive line. This spring is critical for many players, including five junior college transfers, to make an impression on coaches and solidify their roles. Florida signed the consensus No. 2 class in the nation but those players aren't on campus this spring. Those who are will be expected to work hard and learn quickly. Lots of starting jobs are on the line.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: OG Shannon Snell, OT Jonathan Colon; C Mike Degory; RB Ran Carthon; WR Kelvin Kight; WR Carlos Perez; TE Ben Troupe.

BIGGEST QUESTION: Who's going to be the quarterback? With Grossman gone to the NFL, Florida will look for a new quarterback for the first time in two years. Ingle Martin, last year's backup quarterback and punter, will begin the spring as the No. 1 quarterback, but redshirt freshman Gavin Dickey is also vying for the job. This will be a critical time for both; a chance to make a strong impression on the coaching staff now, before USA Today Offensive player of the year Chris Leak arrives on campus this summer intent on making the job his.

OF NOTE: Coach Ron Zook begins his second season with many questions about himself and his team. Last year at this time, the Gators were trying to learn completely new offensive and defensive systems, and it took all season to master them. This year, players and coaches say they'll begin ahead of the curve because the system is familiar.

-- ANTONYA ENGLISH

* * *

FLORIDA STATE

KEY DATES: Tuesday (first practice), Saturday (first day with pads), March 29 (full scrimmage), April 5 (full scrimmage), April 12 (Garnet and Gold game).

SPRING GAME: Time TBA, Doak Campbell Stadium. Admission is free.

KEY LOSSES: WR Anquan Boldin, WR Talman Gardner; TB Nick Maddox, OT Brett Williams, OG Montrae Holland, OG Todd Williams, C Antoine Mirambeau, TE Patrick Hughes, DE Alonzo Jackson, P Chance Gwaltney. The strength of the offense began with its talented, experienced OL. Four starters are gone. Meanwhile, Boldin, Gardner, Maddox and Robert Morgan combined for 143 catches, 2,011 yards and 23 TDs.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: QB Chris Rix, TB Leon Washington, WR Craphonso Thorpe, DE Kevin Emanuel, DT Travis Johnson, DE Eric Moore, LB Michael Boulware, LB Kendyll Pope, CB Stanford Samuels, CB Rufus Brown, S Jerome Carter, S B.J. Ward, PK Xavier Beitia. The interior of the OL needs retooling. C David Castillo started the last four games of the season in place of the injured Mirambeau, but OGs Bobby Meeks, Matt Heinz and East Lake product Matt Meinrod need to prove themselves. WRs Thorpe, P.K. Sam, Dominic Robinson, Chauncey Stovall, who sat out last season, could face a crossroads. Said offensive coordinator/receivers coach Jeff Bowden: "We've talked about raising our standards again at the receiver position. I thought we took a big dent in the perception of us with the exception of Anquan."

BIGGEST QUESTION: The coaches are stressing chemistry, which was missing the past couple of seasons. Much can hinge on how the players embrace Rix. The quarterback of a team is a logical leader, at least offensively, and Rix, who missed an exam and was ruled ineligible for the Sugar Bowl, must demonstrate his worthiness as someone the others should follow. Said Jeff Bowden: "It's just understood that the quarterback here is one of the highest profile positions in the country and you slip up here, boy, you don't get away with it. He's learned the hard way. Last year is last year. It's time to move ahead and he's got to reprove himself."

OF NOTE: Nearly a dozen players will be out recovering from offseason surgeries, including TB Greg Jones and OT Ray Willis. DT Darnell Dockett, who is facing a felony grand theft charge, is ineligible. ... He won't be in full-contact drills, but freshman WR Chris Davis, the former St. Petersburg Catholic star who injured his left knee last summer and sat out, will get extensive work. ... Look out for TB Lorenzo Booker, one of the nation's top prospects who sat out his freshman year. His presence could mean Willie Reid moves to WR.

-- BRIAN LANDMAN

* * *

MIAMI

KEY DATES: Tuesday (first practice of spring); March28 (6 p.m. scrimmage at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale).

SPRING GAME: 10 a.m. April5 at the Orange Bowl, admission free.

KEY LOSSES: QB Ken Dorsey, TB Willis McGahee, WR Andre Johnson, WR Ethenic Sands, OG Sherko Haji-Rasouli, C Brett Romberg, DE Cornelius Green, DE Jamaal Green, DT William Joseph, DE Jerome McDougle, DT Matt Walters, DE Andrew Williams, LB Howard Clark, K Todd Sievers, P Freddie Capshaw. Remember last year when questions surrounded UM's secondary, which lost its top five players, and the offensive line, which lost its starting tackles? How much did it really matter? This year, the focus will be on the glamor positions on offense, where the 'Canes must replace a quarterback (Dorsey) who lost only two games as a starter, a record-setting tailback (McGahee) and top deep threat (Johnson), who likely will be one of the first five selections in next month's NFL Draft. Coach Larry Coker also will need to replace his top six defensive linemen, two standout starters on the offensive line and both kicking specialists.

KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: RB Frank Gore, WR Jason Geathers, WR Roscoe Parrish, WR Jarrett Payton, TE Kellen Winslow, OT Vernon Carey, OG Chris Myers, DT Santonio Thomas, DT Vince Wilfork, LB Jonathan Vilma, LB D.J. Williams, CB Kelly Jennings, CB Antrel Rolle, S Maurice Sikes, S Sean Taylor. The 'Canes have plenty of talent coming back led by probably the best tight end in college football in Winslow. Parrish might be the next star receiver and is a dangerous return man. Unlike last season, UM returns all four members of a physical, big-play secondary.

BIGGEST QUESTION: Miami is called "Quarterback U." but the school's most heralded position is vacant with Dorsey's graduation. Ex-Gator Brock Berlin, who sat out after his transfer and learned the offense last year, is the favorite to win the job. But Marc Guillon, who is from the same high school as Dorsey, and freshman Kyle Wright, who has been going to school and working with the team since January after finishing high school early, will make this an interesting scramble. Last year's backup, Derrick Crudup, isn't likely to be a factor for the starting job.

OF NOTE: Heading into spring Coker said, "I think the primary concerns would be the progress of our defensive ends and looking for the emergence of a quarterback." ... The coaching staff remains intact for a second season. ... Mark Gent and Jon Peattie will vie to replace Sievers. Coker expects freshman Brian Monroe to challenge Peattie to be the punter when fall practice begins. ... Miami is scheduled to open the season in Shreveport, La., on Aug. 30 against Louisiana Tech before the home opener against Florida on Sept. 6. Miami tried to move the opener up two days but Louisiana Tech balked. ... Miami, which could have as many as 11 players taken in this year's NFL draft, has had the most players picked in the first three rounds (63) since 1987.

-- MICHAEL SNYDER

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