2013 Fall Previews: Florida Gators

 

Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) warms up prior to the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) warms up prior to the game against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Photo Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Florida Gators: Team Overview

 

Returning Offensive Starters: 6 (SE, HB, C, RG, RT, QB)

Returning Defensive Starters: 3 (DT, LCB, FS)

Returning Specialists: 1 (P)

 

Projected Overall Record: 10-2 (UGA, USC)

Projected SEC Record: 6-2 (UGA, USC)

Projected SEC East Record: 4-2 (UGA, USC)

 

Ratings (Ex, Vg, Av, Fr, Pr)

Quarterbacks: Vg Defensive Line: Vg

Running Backs: Av Linebackers: Av

Wide Receivers: Av Defensive Backs: Ex

Offensive Line: Fr Special Teams: Vg

 

The Gators did a good job of sneaking up on the rest of the SEC in 2012. They’ll sneak up on no one this season. Florida successfully made the transition back to a pro-style team from the spread-option attack of Urban Meyer’s staff, in part by getting back to tough, fundamental football. The 2013 Florida team will have to rebuild its defense and find playmakers on offense now that several important, long-time veterans have moved on to the NFL. Florida will need to lean on its defense, especially early in the year.

 

OFFENSE

The Gators operate an offense that looks very much like Alabama’s, with three wideouts, a tight end and a fullback all making appearances in various packages. The offense seeks to be multiple in its looks, but at heart it’s a pro-style attack that needs to run the football and make plays in the downfield passing game in order to be successful. While six starters return from a year ago, Florida has question marks all over the field. The offensive line got shuffled substantially in the spring, while new faces dot the depth chart at receiver and running back.

 

QUARTERBACKS

Credit Jeff Driskel for bouncing back from a rough freshman campaign to have a very solid sophomore season. Driskel didn’t throw for many yards, but he was efficient and didn’t throw many interceptions. Driskel has all the physical tools necessary to be a good SEC quarterback, and he’s a player to watch this season if he can harness his immense natural talent. He’s one of the better athletes at quarterback for any SEC school. The problem will be depth. Jacoby Brissett left the program in the spring, so the job will fall either to inexperienced junior Tyler Murphy or redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg. Driskel is tough but has had a penchant for getting dinged up, and he starts the 2013 season in recovery from an appendectomy. If Driskel is out for an extended amount of time, Florida could be in danger of getting upset by a lesser opponent.

 

RUNNING BACKS

Mike Gillislee was as underrated a player as there was in the SEC last year, amassing 1,152 yards and stabilizing a position that had been in the hands of a revolving door of scatbacks ever since Meyer took over the program from Ron Zook. Gillislee wasn’t a big running back, but his replacements are. Matt Jones and Mack Brown are both stout backs in the 220-pound range who figure to give Florida a better inside rushing presence. Signees Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane will join walk-on Mark Herndon in providing depth. Florida will also have a fullback, Hunter Joyer, available for certain packages. Overall depth isn’t the best, but if Jones and Brown stay healthy, there’s plenty of depth to do damage in the SEC.

 

WIDE RECEIVERS

Florida took a big hit early in fall camp when speedster Andre Debose tore his ACL and was shelved for the season. Debose was one of the most maddeningly inconsistent SEC receivers in recent memory – outstanding when he wanted to be; a liability otherwise. Without him, though, Florida will be without its best deep threat. Quinton Dunbar becomes the go-to receiver now. He had a so-so 2012 campaign and needs to step up. Latroy Pittman and Demarcus Robinson will compete for the other starting job along with cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who is going to try to play both ways. Robinson is a true freshman. Debose’s injury means signees Ahmad Fullwood and Alvin Bailey could get an early look. Senior Solomon Patton adds depth. Trey Burton is also in the mix in some way, be it as a wideout, a tight end or his most comfortable position, H-back. Burton could find himself lined up outside if the youngsters can’t step up. The tight ends Florida has in the mix – Kent Taylor, Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton – are good blockers but not proven threats in the passing game.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE

Three starters return, but as few as one could make it to 2013 still in the starting lineup. Senior Jonotthan Harrison will return at center, and after that, it’s all up in the air. Nebraska transfer Tyler Moore is pushing returning starter Chaz Green at right tackle, with the loser probably fighting with D.J. Humphries for the left tackle job. This will be Humphries’ first year in a starting role. At guard, Jon Halapio will probably retain his starting spot on the right side, but Ian Silberman will push both him and Maryland transfer Max Garcia, who won the left guard job in the spring. Kyle Koehne figures to be in the mix somewhere as well, and if he doesn’t start, will probably settle in as Harrison’s backup in the middle. Despite the 4- and 5-star pedigree, Florida’s line gave up too many sacks and QB pressures in 2012, and more consistency is needed across the board. The fact the starting lineup is still unknown is not a good thing. Worse yet, Halapio, Garcia and sophomore Trip Thurman are all dinged up at the moment and questionable for the start of the year.

 

DEFENSE

Florida’s 3-4 over/under scheme is a direct copy of Nick Saban’s defense in every way. It’s little surprise the Gators were second to Alabama in three of the four major statistical categories and fourth in the other. But the 2013 defense is still being built. The secondary is in fine shape, but the front seven has just one returning starter. The Gators will likely take a step back statistically in 2013.

 

DEFENSIVE LINE

Tackle Dominique Easley is the lone returning starter of the linemen and linebackers. Easley has all-world natural talent, but hasn’t always been able to put it together. This is his last shot to do so. Who starts around him is still a mystery, and will likely come down to whether Ronald Powell has recovered enough from ACL repair to allow him to play the Buck position, Florida’s name for a Jack linebacker. If he can’t, he’ll have to move down to end, which would likely displace sophomore Jonathan Bullard, a rising talent. Damien Jacobs is a coaches’ favorite who will play either end or tackle, but if he moves inside, Florida won’t have a true noseguard. Leon Orr would play situationally at the nose in that scenario. Darious Cummings will add depth inside, while Dante Fowler Jr. will play either end or Buck. Bryan Cox Jr. adds depth outside. If Florida can sort out the pieces, this could be a good group.

 

LINEBACKERS

Everything that happens here will be dictated by what happens in the defensive line group first. Florida would love to play Fowler and Powell as its outside linebackers, but one or both could end up playing end. Complicating matters is a lack of depth at both outside positions. Only Neiron Ball has any appreciable experience there. There are new starters at inside linebacker, too – sophomore Antonio Morrison and senior Darrin Kitchens, although Florida will have to wait two weeks to see Morrison’s debut as starter. He’s suspended for the Toledo and Miami games. With Morrison out, Ball could move inside, or journeyman Michael Taylor, who is expected to be the first inside backer off the bench, could move up. Freshman Daniel McMillian adds depth. Gideon Ajagbe had moved to fullback in the spring, but is back with the linebackers thanks in part to Morrison’s suspension. Florida took another hit when Matt Rolin was lost for the year with injury. Signee Alex Anzalone will have to contribute somewhere. This is an area of concern.

 

DEFENSIVE BACKS

Linebacker might be an area of concern, but the secondary isn’t. Florida is set to have one of the strongest defensive backfields in the league. The cornerback tandem of Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson is probably the best 1-2 combo in the league this year. Jaylen Watkins returns at free safety, while Cody Riggs, Jabari Gorman and Marcus Maye will battle for the other safety slot. Brian Poole is an interesting talent who can play safety or corner, while Valdez Showers offers depth inside. Watkins is currently dinged up, as is signee Vernon Hargreaves III, who was expected to challenge the depth chart at corner. One all get healthy, Florida should be able to shut down a lot of opposing passing games.

 

SPECIAL TEAMS

Florida must replace the superlative Caleb Sturgis at placekicker, and that could be a problem. Senior Brad Phillips won the job in the spring, but it wasn’t by much over Austin Hardin. Both are plagued by accuracy problems. True freshman Danny Krysalka could get a look, as could Johnny Townsend, signed as a punter but who can also kick field goals. Punter is in the capable hands of Kyle Christy, one of the conference’s finest at the position. Unfortunately for Florida, the loss of Andre Debose is huge here, and would have rendered this unit a rating of “average” rather than “very good” had it happened before our initial rankings came out. Marcus Roberson could step into the role, or it could go to one of the younger wide receivers.

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