By JOANNE KORTH
© St. Petersburg Times, published March 12, 2001
KEY DATES: Practice starts today. The Gators likely will hold at least two scrimmages before the Orange and Blue game, but dates have not been determined.
SPRING GAME: Noon, April 7; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville. Tickets are $3, students free with I.D; call 1-800-34-GATOR.
KEY LOSSES: QB Jesse Palmer, G Leon Hires, T Kenyatta Walker, FB Rod Frazier, RB Bo Carroll, DT Gerard Warren, DT Derrick Chambers, DT Buck Gurley, P Alan Rhine. Though Palmer lost the starting job midway through the season, he was essential to UF's SEC championship, directing the winning drive at Tennessee and coming off the bench in come-from-behind wins against Georgia and South Carolina. Walker, an All-SEC performer, and Warren, the heart and soul of the defensive front, gave up their senior seasons to enter the NFL draft.
KEY RETURNING PLAYERS: QB Rex Grossman, So.; QB Brock Berlin, So.; WR Jabar Gaffney, So.; WR Reche Caldwell, Jr.; TB Earnest Graham, Jr.; TB Robert Gillespie, Sr.; T Mike Pearson, Jr.; T Max Starks, So.; G Thomas Moody, Sr.; G Shannon Snell, So.; G Erik Strange, So.; C David Jorgensen, Jr.; DE Alex Brown, Sr.; DE Clint Mitchell, So.; LB Travis Carroll, Sr.; LB Andra Davis, Sr.; CB Lito Sheppard, Jr.; FS Todd Johnson, Jr.; K Jeff Chandler, Sr. Florida won the SEC with the youngest starting lineup in the league. It returns 18 starters and 35 players from the Sugar Bowl's two-deep chart. Grossman, who took over as the starter in the sixth game, was MVP of the SEC championship and the league's first-team quarterback. All-American Gaffney was the Sporting News National Freshman of the Year. Two-time All-SEC pick Brown needs six sacks to break Alonzo Johnson's UF record of 271/2. All-SEC pick Sheppard led the league with six interceptions and returned two punts for touchdowns. Look for even more members of the top-rated 2000 recruiting class -- Snell, Starks and DT Ian Scott -- to move into the lineup. Davis is back from torn knee ligaments, but Carroll and Jorgensen will miss the spring because of recent surgeries.
BIGGEST QUESTION: At Florida, the question never changes: Who will play quarterback? The Gators have not had one quarterback play the entire season since Danny Wuerffel won the Heisman Trophy in 1996. Chances are, controversy will continue. Despite Grossman's stellar debut season, he will face competition from golden-boy Berlin. "I don't know if we can have a No. 1 quarterback coming out of the spring. Maybe we will have one coming out of preseason," coach Steve Spurrier said. Or by Week 3. Or Week 6. Or for the FSU game. Or here's a thought: Maybe both could play.
NOTES: Though Florida will be considered a national championship contender, it has areas to address. On offense, it needs to settle on a quarterback, replace starters at right guard and tackle, develop depth throughout the offensive line and improve a rushing attack that ranked 10th in the SEC and 91st in the nation. On defense, it must rebuild the interior line and improve the overall performance of a unit that ranked seventh in the SEC in rush defense and eighth in total defense. -- Compiled by Joanne Korth.