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UF: What's new


© St. Petersburg Times, published August 25, 2000

WHAT ELSE IS NEW?: For at least the first few games, the quarterback job will be up for grabs. Senior Jesse Palmer has first crack based on his experience, but if he cannot meet coach Steve Spurrier's demands, true freshman Brock Berlin or redshirt freshman Rex Grossman will get the chance. Look for all three to play against Ball State and Middle Tennessee State, opening games that should allow the Gators to empty their bench.

PLAYBOOK WRINKLES: When the offense bogged down late last season, there was talk the Fun "n' Gun had passed its prime, that defenses had figured out how to defend Spurrier's innovative system. Though he believes the system still works when the plays are executed properly, Spurrier did come up with some new ball plays this season.

"Coach has always been a cutting edge guy," assistant Buddy Teevens said. "He's very imaginative and we will have some new wrinkles to keep people off balance."

FRESH FACES: The upside to Florida's three-game losing streak at the end of the 1999 season was a top-notch recruiting class of players who figured the Gators needed immediate help. Apparently, they were right. Coaches are talking about a number of freshmen who could make an impact this season, including defensive end Darrell Lee of Kirkwood, Mo.; offensive lineman Shannon Snell of Tampa; tight end Ben Troupe of Augusta, Ga.; and at least three of six wide receivers.

THE OH-NO-LINE: The Gators could have five new starters on the offensive line for the Sept. 2 opener. Of the three returning starters, tackle Mike Pearson is out indefinitely with a skull fracture, center Zac Zedalis is recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery and tackle Kenyatta Walker must sit the first half for fighting in the Citrus Bowl. Among the candidates for all five positions, only center David Jorgensen started a game last season.

FROM SECONDARY TO SECOND STRING: Florida started three sophomores and a freshman in the secondary last season, but only the freshman -- free safety Daryl Dixon -- has a lock on his starting job this season. He could be joined by three new sophomores. At cornerback, sophomore Marquis Westbrook is pressuring two-year starter Bennie Alexander, and sophomore Lito Sheppard already has beaten out junior Robert Cromartie. At strong safety, where Marquand Manuel led the team with 118 tackles last season, sophomore Todd Johnson has proven a better pass defender.

TIGHT END TIME: In its search for wide receivers, the Fun "n' Gun offense may turn more often to a seldom-used target. Tight end Kirk Wells impressed coaches at the end of last season, catching three passes for 64 yards against Florida State before sustaining a broken clavicle in the second half. Wells recovered in time for spring drills, receiving the offense's Big Play Award.

"Every year they say this is the year the tight ends are going to be used a lot, the year they break out," said Wells, a sophomore from Riverdale, Ga. "But it's going to depend on us. If we play good, we could see 50 balls this year. If we come out slow, we could see one a game."

JOB DESCRIPTIONS: Looking to energize his coaching staff, Spurrier changed the job titles and responsibilities of several assistant coaches. The biggest changes came on offense, where Lawson Holland now coaches running backs and Teevens joins longtime assistant Dwayne Dixon as wide receivers and tight ends coach. Teevens also has a new title, but, like most people, is eager to see what it means to be Spurrier's passing game coordinator.

A SOBERING CHANGE: In an effort to reduce drunken, disorderly conduct during and after games, fans who leave Ben Hill Griffin Stadium no longer will be readmitted. In the past, many fans visited their tailgating sites at halftime and returned to the stadium for second-half action.

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