August 26, 2016
Overview: The Gators probably exceeded expectations as much or more than any team in Division-IA football last year, thanks more to a sideline upgrade than anything to do with talent. Jim McElwain wants to prove last season was no fluke, but the Gators lost more to graduation than they gained in recruiting, and questions at quarterback and along the offensive line might be too much to take.
Projected record: 8-4 (Ark, UT, UGA, FSU); 5-3 and 3rd SEC East
Returning offensive starters: 4 (SE, LT, C, RG)
Returning defensive starters: 7 (DT, LDE, WLB, RCB, LCB)
Returning specialists: 1 (P)
QB: Fr DL: Av
RB: Av LB: Vg
WR: Vg DB: Vg
OL: Av ST: Vg
Offensive breakdown: Florida’s offense still resembles McElwain’s old Alabama offense in theory, but a lack of proven talent in the tight end/H-back group means Florida will base more from three-wide sets than McElwain’s preferred, tight end-heavy offense. Keying it all will be Luke Del Rio, who walked on at Alabama before transferring first to Oregon State, and now here.
During his time at Alabama, Del Rio was more or less bracketed with Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod, but he obviously has an edge now in experience. Del Rio isn’t a big guy or particularly fast, but he has a good arm and is accurate. Still, Florida won’t have much from a playmaking standpoint with him there.
Senior Austin Appleby came out of spring as the backup, which means there are two former Purdue QBs (LSU’s Danny Etling being the other) currently on SEC rosters as backups. Appleby is tall and thick and will continue to push Del Rio throughout the season.
Florida must also have a running back step up this year in the same way Kelvin Taylor did in 2015. Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett are the two everyone is looking at, as experience is thin otherwise. Scarlett leads all returning backs with 181 yards. Behind them, little-used senior Mark Herndon will fight JUCO big back Mark Thompson, scatback Tyriek Hopkins and signee Lamical Perine for playing time.
Receiver will be in better shape, provided Antonio Callaway and tight end C’yontai Lewis return quickly from suspensions. Callaway, along with Ahmad Fulwood, Dre Massey, C.J. Worton and Brandon Powell, give Florida a good mix of experience and depth, although Worton is nursing a foot injury. DeAndre Goolsby had an effective year at tight end in 2015 but Lewis will push him.
The offensive line was what held back Florida in 2015 and it might do so yet again. Left guard Antonio Riles was lost early in fall camp to a knee injury, which will likely affect Florida’s plans to move Martez Ivey to tackle. Instead, look for Ivey to go back to guard, opposite Tyler Jordan. Cameron Dillard will play center. Fred Johnson becomes the likely starter at right tackle for now, unless Florida is set on putting Ivey in that role.
If Florida does indeed move Ivey outside, a freshman, either Nick Buchanan or Richerd Desir-Jones, will get the starting nod. Left tackle David Sharpe was a liability for much of 2015 in pass protection, and concerns continued in the spring, on both sides of the line. Given that Florida’s quarterbacks figure to be more pocket-bound in 2016, this is not a good thing.
Defensive/ST breakdown: Florida will continue to flex between a 4-3 and 4-2-5 defense, and unlike the offensive side of the ball, this group figures to be stout. Joey Ivie moves into the starting nosetackle slot, with Caleb Brantley returning alongside him. Jordan Sherit will become the full-time weakside end, while Bryan Cox Jr. gets almost a stand-up end assignment opposite him.
The question here, as it is many other places on the Florida team, is depth. CeCe Jefferson is a bit small to be playing inside, but he’s quick. Ends Jabari Zuniga and Kelvonnis Davis lack experience but have potential. Khairi Clark gives Florida at least one big body off the bench.
At linebacker, Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian figure to be two of the starters, with Jarrad Davis the third. This would give Florida three upperclassman starters. A freshman, Kylan Johnson, is pushing for playing time, however, despite the experience ahead of him. This group should be solid, but it’s a thin unit that is probably better served by having a fifth defensive back on the field, especially given the secondary is Florida’s strength.
Cornerback Jalen Tabor leads this group, but will serve a suspension to start the year. Chris Williamson and Quincy Wilson will hold down the fort until he returns. At safety, Marcus Maye and Nick Washington are the likely starters, with Maye having true star ability. Duke Dawson and Marcell Harris will compete for the nickel spot.
Punter Johnny Townsend was one of Florida’s most valuable players last year, and he returns. Antonio Callaway showed value as a punt and kick returner, and he’s back, along with most of the rest of the unit.
The question is at placekicker, but the question got easier to answer when Florida swiped Eddy Pineiro away from Alabama late in the recruiting process. Pineiro has very little experience kicking, but was making kicks from all across campus during the Gators’ spring game. If he turns out to be the real deal, Florida, which had no kicking game last year, might steal an extra win or two. If Pineiro flames out, the Gators have nothing else.
Overall Trend: Sideways. McElwain’s second season can only mean improvement in regards to familiarity of systems, but this staff didn’t show much firepower in recruiting, and that will have to change. The Gators’ biggest coup was either getting Pineiro to flip from Alabama, or stealing Feleipe Franks away from LSU during the whole Les Miles employment saga. Florida won’t be sneaking up on anyone this year after a surprise trip to Atlanta last December that, unfortunately, showed just how far behind the league leaders the Gators’ talent level has fallen.
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