GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida began fall practice and its defense opened with three noticeable absences, a surprising addition and a glaring weakness.
Defensive tackle Torrey Davis, safety Bryan Thomas and incoming freshman defensive back Adrian Bushell weren't around Monday for the first practice of the season.
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Davis and Bushell were dealing with academic issues. Thomas had a cyst removed from his knee and will be out at least a few weeks.
The Gators did have one player back on the field for the first time in more than a year. Junior Ronnie Wilson, who was kicked off the team and out of school in April 2007 following his arrest on battery and gun charges.
He moved from offensive to defensive line and shortened his first name to Ron.
”I'm sorry that I caused so much embarrassment for my family, the school and the football program,“ Wilson said in a statement. ”I'm thankful for the opportunity to be out here. It was very difficult being away from the school and the football team that I care so much about. I'm blessed to have this chance.“
Police accused Wilson of shooting a semiautomatic rifle into the air after a dispute with another man. Wilson told police he took the rifle out of his trunk and fired one shot because he wanted the other man ”to know how it felt to be scared,“ according to the police report.
Wilson later pleaded no contest to battery and discharging a firearm and received two years of court-supervised probation. He also was ordered to forfeit his firearm and perform 100 hours of community service.
Wilson re-enrolled at Florida in January, and coach Urban Meyer said he has passed 20 credit hours since. He is taking another six credit hours in the second summer session and is on track to graduate next May. But Meyer stopped short of reinstating the 6-foot-3, 309-pound lineman.
”He's not back,“ Meyer said. ”We're still evaluating him. I have a long history of giving guys opportunities. ... A lot of thought went into it, though.“
Meyer also said he was aware of Wilson's arrest on a marijuana possession charge in January. The charge was later dismissed.
The Gators hope Wilson can bolster a defensive line that struggled to pressure quarterbacks and stop the run at times last season.
An even bigger area of concern for Florida is the secondary, specifically the safety position. The Gators lost starter Tony Joiner and backup Kyle Jackson to graduation. Then Jerimy Finch transferred, Jamar Hornsby was kicked off the team for allegedly using the credit card of a deceased student, and Dorian Munroe and John Curtis had season-ending knee surgery.
And incoming freshman Dee Finley, expected to compete for playing time, did not qualify academically and enrolled at a prep school.
After all the attrition, Florida opened practice Monday with returning starter Major Wright and a handful of inexperienced others. Sophomore Ahmad Black and freshman Will Hill, a Parade All-American, are expected to compete for the other starting spot.
The Gators also moved walk-on receiver Cade Holliday and freshman receiver T.J. Lawrence to safety.
”The guys that we do have, I know they're going to work hard and compete,“ Wright said. ”We have a couple of freshmen that came in that are pretty good and we've got a couple of guys that were already here that know safety and are doing pretty good.“
Meyer wasn't nearly as positive.
”That's a concern, but Will Hill has looked great and Ahmad Black had an excellent practice,“ Meyer said. ”I think we have some people, just not enough.“