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2014 Florida Gators: Team Overview
by Jess Nicholas
August 24, 2014
Will Muschamp is fighting for his coaching life at Florida. If the Gators aren’t significantly more competitive than they’ve been the last three years, this will be the end of the line for the animated Muschamp. Unfortunately for him, if the Gators finish at the predicted 7-5 with losses to Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State, it probably won’t be enough. On top of that, this team is dealing with massive turnover and uncertainty at several key positions.
Returning Offensive Starters: 3 (SE, C, RB)
Returning Defensive Starters: 8 (DE, NT, DT, JLB, WLB, MLB, SLB, RCB)
Returning Specialists: 2 (PK, P)
Projected Overall Record: 7-5 (UA, LSU, UGA, USC, FSU)
Projected SEC Record: 4-4 (UA, LSU, UGA, USC)
Projected SEC West Record: 4-2 (UGA, USC)
Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)
Quarterbacks: Av Defensive Line: Ex
Running Backs: Vg Linebackers: Ex
Wide Receivers: Fr Defensive Backs: Av
Offensive Line: Av Special Teams: Fr
Florida is changing up its offense, going away from a pure pro-style attack to something resembling a hybrid pro-style spread under new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. There won’t be a fullback on the field anymore and there may not be any tight ends, either. Florida is expected to take more chances and to put more of the game in the hands of the quarterback and allow him to make plays on the fly.
If Jeff Driskel can stay healthy, Florida might have something here. Driskel has the best raw skill set of any quarterback in the SEC, and one of the best sets in the country. The problem is getting all the tools to work together. Driskel’s arm strength is eye-popping, he can run and he can improvise. But he hasn’t read the field particularly well up to this point and he can get flustered. Skyler Mornhinweg will be his backup now that Tyler Murphy transferred out of the conference. The Gators lose quite a bit of athleticism once they move down to Mornhinweg, so keeping Driskel upright becomes a priority.
The Gators will run plenty of split-back and spread-style packages this season, meaning Mack Brown and Kelvin Taylor might get on the field together. Big Matt Jones will operate as a running back at times and as an H-back at times. Hunter Joyer, last year’s fullback, could take over the H-back role in the new offense. The key to making it work will be to get Brown back on track, as he averaged just 3.7 yards per carry last year and scored only four times. Signee Brandon Powell will fill the requisite role of scatback when the Gators need a speed burst.
Despite lighting up the boards on National Signing Day, Florida’s production from the receiver position hasn’t subsequently matched up once the players actually got to campus. Quinton Dunbar will have to take the next step in his development this season or the passing game might be grounded before it even attempts to launch. The other two starters will likely come from some combination of Ahmad Fulwood, Latroy Pittman and Valdez Showers. Demarcus Robinson could be the breakout player Florida needs, but he’ll have to prove it first. Andre Debose has been that player in the past, but multiple injuries may have rendered him a role player. Florida didn’t recruit particularly well given the need it had, as neither Ryan Sousa nor C.J. Worton appear ready to make an impact. Tight end was a sore spot in 2013; Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook will compete at the position but don’t expect either player to be more than a situational package player.
There’s a lot of experience here, but the unit returns only one fulltime starter (C Max Garcia) and the rest of this group hasn’t played together as a unit yet. The best of the four new starters is RT Chaz Green, who has prior starting experience and is coming off injury. Tyler Moore and Trenton Brown will start at the guard positions, while D.J. Humphries needs to realize his immense potential at left tackle. Depth isn’t the best; junior guards Drew Sarvary and Trip Thurman don’t have much experience, while the rest will be left up to freshmen.
The system is sound; now the players have to play like it. Florida runs the same 3-4 over/under scheme that Alabama employs, but a weak rush defense in 2013 made things tougher than they should have been.
Florida has high hopes for its line, anchored in the middle by Leon Orr, with ends Jonathan Bullard and Darious Cummings returning for another year. Depth, though, is a major issue. Sophomore Bryan Cox Jr. will be the primary reserve outside, while Jay-nard Bostwick will be Orr’s backup in the middle. Bostwick is a freshman, as are Caleb Brantley and Taven Bryan, who will be under pressure to perform. Florida will have to rely heavily on its signing class for tackle depth, but given the number of nationally-ranked prospects the Gators bagged in February, it might be a good bet after all. Khairi Clark, Thomas Holley and Gerald Willis will all get a shot.
The big name to watch is Jack linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., who could be the top player taken in next year’s NFL Draft. Fowler can pressure the quarterback and is good run-stopper as well. There is plenty of experience elsewhere, but Florida’s ratings at the position are based mostly on athletic potential. Antonio Morrison, Michael Taylor and Neiron Ball have plenty of the latter, but none have proven to be impact players on Saturdays. Jarrad Davis will push for playing time, as will Alex Anzalone. Alex McCalister will back up Fowler and could play a little defensive end, as well.
Florida has consistently produced top-flight defensive backs, and CB Vernon Hargreaves III is just the latest in that line. Just a sophomore, he may already be the SEC’s best defensive back. Now he just needs some help. Jalen Tabor is set to start opposite him, with Duke Dawson and Brian Poole competing for time. Dawson and Tabor are freshmen. The safety positions will fall to new starters Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman. Gorman, a senior, will be relied upon for leadership, but this one could be scary until the lights go on and Florida proves it can stop opposing offenses. Keanu Neal will provide depth at the safety slots.
This was an outright wreck in 2013. Kicker Austin Hardin made only 4 of 12 kick attempts, and punter Kyle Christy was so bad that he went from award watch lists to the bench. Sophomore Johnny Townsend is actually the returning starter there, and the two will battle for the job all season long. The return game is a mystery; Andre Debose could try to regain his past form, or Vernon Hargreaves III could be the answer – if Florida wants to expose its only proven defensive back to potential injury.
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