Updated:ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) (AP)
e whirlwind that was UCF's 2013 football season has officially turned to a new page.
The Knights opened spring practice on Wednesday with the effects of their historic 12-1 run and Fiesta Bowl win barely two months old.
The spoils of success have brought in a solid recruiting class to develop. But while the Knights didn't take a huge graduation hit -- returning nine starters and defense and six on offense --there are some big holes to fill.
Last season's starting quarterback Blake Bortles and running back Storm Johnson both opted to enter the NFL draft. Sophomore Will Stanback shared time with Johnson in the backfield last season and is expected to be a capable replacement in the backfield. But the three-man battle at quarterback between sophomore Justin Holman, and freshmen Pete DiNovo and Tyler Harris is clearly the one that will be the talk of the spring.
Knights coach George O'Leary said he plans to leave the April 12 spring game having name a starter.
"I'd rather have somebody ready (to replace Bortles). But it will be interesting," O'Leary said. "I think everybody will have an opinion. But I'm going to name the guy that can basically move the chains and make sure on fourth down if we're not making a first, we're punting. We have enough other players that can carry the load, so it's not like he has to do everything. He just has to maintain the game."
Senior receiver J.J. Worton said he thought all three of the quarterback candidates rushed throws at times and were a little uneasy in their first workout Monday, but he said it was nothing he didn't expect.
He also acknowledged that it was a little strange seeing a new face running the offensive huddle after spending the past three seasons working with Bortles.
"A little bit," Worton said. "You just have to adjust. Being a veteran now, it's definitely something where you can come in and try to help out the younger guys now. It's not easy to replace Blake, but we're going to do our best. We've got a lot of athletes on our team that are weapons that our quarterbacks can use."
UCF's offense will also be looking to break in two new faces on the line over the next month, following the graduation of twin brothers Justin and Jordan McCray.
It has meant some adjustments, with senior Torrian Wilson moving from tackle to guard and junior Tarik Cook projected to start at the other guard spot. Sophomores Chester Brown and Michael Campbell are the early candidates to start at tackle.
Pivotal to those transitions will be the leadership provided by Bortles' former roommate and junior Joey Grant, a second-year starter at center.
"I asked for it. I told the coaches during the offseason. I said I want this responsibility," he said. "As center that's what I need to be doing. I really got in the film room with (offensive line) Coach (Brent) Key and all of the coaches and took initiative to take that role. Because I'm going to have to do that if this offense is going to be at the same level."
O'Leary expects to get a better picture of what he has to work with at the end of the week when the Knights put on pads for first time, but for now he said he likes what he sees.
The only thing that he wants his players to know for sure is that he doesn't want to hear any more talk about the 2013 team.
"I made it very clear. I gave out (award) plaques yesterday for the conference (teams) and I said `This ends last season. It's over,"' O'Leary said. "This is a new team. New chemistry. New leadership. There are a couple of key positions that have to come through for us. But we'll be a solid football team from what I can see. A lot of young, good athletes that just gotta learn how to practice and learn how to finish."