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2014 Fierce 40 Previews: #37 Florida

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 3, 2014

#37 Florida Gators

 

2013 Recap:

Usually when you say Florida and 4 wins you are talking about their win total a month into the college football season, but that wasn't the case in 2013. Florida ended the season losing 7 in a row en route to a 4-8 season, topped off by a 26-20 loss to Georgia Southern in a game where Georgia Southern didn't complete a pass.

 

Coaching:

Will Muschamp had a fantastic second year at Florida and seemed to solidify his position as head coach before the wheels fell off in the second half of 2013. There were a number of changes on the staff and a lot of fingers pointed in different directions. This is an important year for Muschamp and the program in general, especially recruiting in a hotbed full of talent like Florida.

 

Offense

 

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

Jeff Driskel is back at quarterback and many can argue the collapse the Gators suffered last season had as much to do with Driskel and his injury than anything. Florida is going to run a wide-open offensive system as they take a page from the Duke Blue Devils with offensive coordinator Kurt Roper arriving from the ACC school. The question will be whether Driskel has enough mobility with his leg to be as mobile as the offensive system needs him to be. Skyler Mornhinweg is the backup as he started a handful of games last season.

As much as Florida wants to open things up throwing the ball, the Gators need to sticks to the basics of ball control and running the football. Florida has talent in the backfield and the offensive line is a bit healthier so run blocking should not be a concern as it was last season. Kelvin Taylor and Mack Brown will split duties in the backfield. The duo combined for 8 touchdowns on the ground with 1,100 yards and again most of this was done with very little help from the passing game, so both backs were facing a ton of eight and nine man fronts. The Gator staff has said they would like to utilize the backs catching the ball more this season, so it will be a priority for Florida.

Best Draft Prospect: Jeff Driskel UFA 2016.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:

Many seem to be down on Florida and the receiving corps but the problem actually is getting the Gator receivers the football. Quinton Dunbar had 40 catches and 548 yards but didn't find the end zone last season. He has reliable hands and has shown the ability to get open, so this is a case where the player is much better than the numbers indicate. Sophomores Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson will be vital to the passing game, yet both are very raw but have an abundance of speed. Florida has playmakers who are capable of getting yards after the catch and getting downfield. Execution has to be better with the passing game and the timing needs to improve. The Gators will be using a more spread system but timing is still the key factor and a healthier and improved offensive line should help this aspect as well.

Florida will be using less of the tight end in the new system and this is a departure from the great Florida tight ends of the past. This is a case of the coaches changing the system and catering to the personnel on the team.

Best Draft Prospect: Demarcus Robinson WR 5th Round 2017.

 

Offensive Line:

The offensive line was banged up all last season as the Gators only enjoyed a handful of games where the five starters from opening day played together. Chaz Green and Max Garcia have the most experience and again both battled injuries for most of 2013.  Garcia makes most of the calls for the line and is the vocal leader while left tackle D.J. Humphries seems to be the most pro ready and best prospect we can see. The best part about the line is Garcia gets to move back to center since he saw time at left tackle in addition to left and right guard due to injuries that caused constant shifting. Florida cannot go through another season with constant injuries because then the depth is not there. This is one of the weakest lines we have seen in years at Florida and if the injuries continue it could be like a quilt with patchwork everywhere.

Best Draft Prospect: D.J. Humphries OT 3rd Round 2016.

 

Defense

Defensive Line:

The Florida Gators could be getting back to the Gator teams of old with an imposing defensive line predicated on speed, yet this group has a little more size then we usually see from the Gators. Junior Dante Fowler Jr. had 10.5 tackles for a loss with 3.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles, and he only started a few games last season. It may not show up in the stats but Leon Orr looks to be the anchor of the line. He is a senior and the Gators will count on his leadership, but he has the style of play that sees him do the dirty work for others and he doesn't seem to mind. Orr should hear his name on draft day this season in the mid to late rounds. Jonathan Bullard is a starter at defensive end and he seemed to be one of the better run defenders the Gators had in 2013. Gerald Willis was a big recruit from New Orleans and he could contribute right out of the gate for Florida. If the offense struggles again it will be the defense carrying the team and controlling the football.

Best Draft Prospect: Dante Fowler Jr. DE 2nd Round 2016.

 

Linebackers:

The linebackers did not play up to expectations a season ago but in talking with the Gators coaching staff, this is the area of the football field they have seen the most improvement. Antonio Morrison seems to have fully recovered from the knee injury that ended his season a little early and Neiron Ball will see a dramatic rise in the pedestrian 25 tackle total he posted a season ago. Jarrad Davis was the benefactor of some injuries last season and he started to show signs of big improvement. Fifth year senior Mike Taylor is back and he actually led the team a season ago with 65 tackles.

Best Draft Prospect: Antonio Morrison LB 5th Round 2016.

 

Secondary:

The Gators will have freshman corner Jalen Tabor start and hope they strike gold a second consecutive year. Sophomore Vernon Hargeaves III has established himself as perhaps the premier young cornerback in college football. How good was Hargreaves? He was the standout in a secondary that saw two players get drafted and a third most assuredly making the roster as an undrafted free agent.  Hargreaves had 38 tackles, 3 interceptions and led the Gators with 11 pass breakups. You will see later Hargreaves is going to make an impact as a return man, as many of the Florida cornerbacks have done in the past. Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman are both new starters at the safety position but they have a significant amount of experience and are not too green to make an impact. With increased pressure on the quarterback I would expect to see a correlation for the Gators secondary to make more big plays.

Best Draft Prospect: Vernon Hargreaves III CB 1st Round 2017.

 

Special Teams:

Johnny Townsend won the punter job last year after Kyle Christy faltered out of the gate following a fantastic 2012. Christy still has yet to reclaim the starting job and this area of the football team probably cost Florida a game or two during 2013. At kick returner, the player that was supposed to lead the Gators also is the backup. Andre Debose was thrown through a window during an altercation and faced discipline from the team and also suffered a knee injury that shelved him for the season. Vernon Hargreaves is the punt returner and may even handle kickoffs if Debose gets into trouble again. Florida has yet to really settle on a full time kicker as last season was an adventure, but Austin Harden seems to have the job at the moment. Even a slight improvement in special teams should yield the team immediate results.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

Schedule:

The end of September through October looks to be the toughest stretch with Alabama on the road followed by LSU and Missouri at home before hitting the road again on November 1st against Georgia. Florida State always closes out the Gators schedule so this schedule is no stroll in the park.

 

Draft Outlook:

Vernon Hargreaves III is the jewel for the Gator as he looks like the only true 1st round prospect on the roster, but Dante Fowler Jr. has the power and talent to change that. The defensive and offensive lines are loaded with mid tier prospects so Florida will not see a shortage of draft talent any time soon. Defensive tackle Leon Orr remains a wildcard for this season as he will not get the eye-popping stats, but he is a solid player that can be counted on to excel at his assignments snap after snap.

 

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