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2015 Fierce 40 Previews: #33 Florida

by DJ Boyer on Jul. 24, 2015

#33 Florida Gators

2014 Recap:
The Gators stomped through an uneven 7-5 campaign which did include a bowl victory over East Carolina. The defense kept many games close, but often the lack of offensive punch kept the defensive unit on the field far too long and they would eventually wither. The highlight for the season came in a 38-20 thrashing over an injury-depleted Georgia team. Florida needed this win, as it came on the heels on what was probably the low point, a 42-13 pummeling at the hands of Missouri.

Coaching:
Will Muschamp was rumored to be long gone for quite some time. Getting in new blood at Florida seems to be best for everyone involved. Getting away from a defensive mind like Muschamp and bringing in an offensive-minded coach like former Colorado State head man Jim McElwain is also something the Gators need. Defense has not been the issue in Gainesville, but it has been the once-feared Florida offense and passing attack which slipped to an incredulous 104th overall a season ago. Florida has seen a steadily decline in their offensive production over the last four seasons. Doug Nussmeier and Geoff Collins are the respective offensive and defensive coordinators under the direction of new coach McElwain.

 

Offense Analysis

Quarterbacks/Running Backs:

This is the million dollar question: What will the Gators do at quarterback this season, and who will the starter be? At this time it’s unclear, but we are giving the nod to redshirt freshman Will Grier by a hair over sophomore Treon Harris. One can assume, quite safely we may add, that both quarterbacks will likely not only see time this season but significant time. Grier is a highly touted freshman, and Harris saw action in nine games as a freshman. Harris will need to improve his 49.5% percentage if he wants to see the field with regularity, but something has to be said about already having SEC experience under your belt. Grier has the stronger arm and could give the passing game the boost it is looking for.

To be effective Florida needs to use their stable of running backs and start wearing teams out with Kelvin Taylor, Adam Layne and newcomer Jordan Scarlett. There is no shortage of talent in the backfield, but the Gators lost a ton of talent and experience off of the offensive line. There seems to be more questions than answers heading into the season.

Best Draft Prospect: Kelvin Taylor RB 4th Round 2017.

 

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends

Demarcus Robinson has plenty of big play ability and was among the top targets in the SEC a season ago. The problem lies with the fact that apart from Robinson the other starting receivers returning had 17 catches between them a season ago. Only one player aside from Robinson had more than 20 catches a season ago, and that was just barely with 21. Robinson posted a solid 53-810-7, and those numbers could easily have been well over 1,000 total yards with another consistent threat or a passing attack that even resembled one that was mediocre. As in many past seasons, the Gators have a ton of talent and speed at wideout. They simply lack the system and/or passer to make things happen and make big plays on a consistent basis.

The biggest key to the passing game should come in the form of tight end Jake McGee who is back after a knee injury. McGee is someone that should get a look by a number of teams for their draft boards this season if he shows he is fully recovered from his knee troubles. McGee is a transfer from Virginia who will prove to be a valuable red zone asset.

Best Draft Prospect: Demarcus Robinson WR 3rd Round 2017.

 

Offensive Line:

Nobody really knows what to expect out of this offensive line, as D.J. Humphries leaving a season early to declare for the NFL seemed to catch the Gators a bit off guard. Florida has a vast amount of inexperience up front, and they suffered a few injuries during spring ball reducing their already thin numbers. It looks like a pair of freshmen will man the right side of the line, and they need to grow up in a hurry. Guard Travis Dorsey and tackle Martez Ivey will need a little more help from the tight ends and backs as they get accustomed to the speed of the college game. The running game should be the focal point of the offense, but with a porous line it could all be moot. Trip Thurman is graded as the only pro prospect at this time, because frankly we haven’t seen enough of the other prospects up front to make an assessment.

Best Draft Prospect: Trip Thurman OG UFA 2016.

 

Defense Analysis

Defensive Line:

If we learned anything a season ago it’s that Florida can play defense and get after the quarterback. Florida blitzed more than any team in the SEC, and the heat comes from a multitude of places. It’s true that Dante Fowler left a year early for the greener pastures of the NFL (we wish him well after that ACL tear his first day of camp in Jacksonville), but there are still plenty of defenders that can get after the quarterback. Alex McCallister will start at defensive end after finishing second to Dante Fowler in tackles for loss (9.5) and sacks (6) a season ago. While the numbers seem more impressive for McCallister, fellow defensive end Jonathan Bullard is the better prospect and is a more complete player. Bullard has the ability to penetrate and reach the quarterback, and he is more seasoned and plays better against the run than McCallister. Regardless, this is a strong duo at defensive end. Bullard is not exclusively an end, as we will see him line up at tackle. At nearly 280 pounds, he can play that role at the next level. Taven Bryan and Joey Ivie should be the starting defensive tackles

Best Draft Prospect: Jonathan Bullard DE 4th Round 2016.

 

Linebackers:

Florida is another team that employs the 4-2-5 as it’s base defense, something we are starting to see more and more at the NCAA level. With 101 tackles a season ago, Antonio Morrison led the team and that is a place he should reign again during 2015 barring injury. Morrison has the looks of a day two prospect and is a versatile linebacker with the size to be an outside linebacker and the tackling ability and instincts to play the middle. Jarrad Davis will man the other linebacker position, as he made 23 stops in nine contests during 2014. Look for Alex Anzalone to be the top linebacker off the bench, and he will see a lot of action at linebackers and on special teams.

Best Draft Prospect: Antonio Morrison LB 3rd Round 2016.

 

Secondary:

Without a doubt the Gators have the most talented secondary in the SEC, and they have to have one of the top five units in the country overall. Brian Poole led the Gators with four interceptions last season, and he is the only starter in the secondary that will be a senior this season. Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal are the starting safeties, and both juniors have a shot at the next level. One starting cornerback spot will be a tough battle, as three very talented defensive backs will compete. Newcomer J.C. Jackson will look to wrestle a starting spot away from sophomores Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor. Wilson and Tabor combined for 53 tackles 11 pass breakups, and a pair of interceptions a season ago. This starting cornerback spot will be vital to the defense, because teams will do their best to avoid the other side of the football field. Vernon Hargreaves III will occupy the other starting cornerback, and he is not only the best defender overall for the Gators, he could be the best cornerback at the NCAA level. Hargreaves looks like a top-15 pick overall if he indeed declares, and it looks like a battle between he and fellow junior Kendall Fuller of Virginia Tech to be the first corner off the board if both players declare. Hargreaves broke up 13 passes and intercepted four while collecting 50 tackles overall showing that Hargreaves will not shy away from contact.

Best Draft Prospect: Vernon Hargreaves III CB 1st Round 2016 (early declaration and possibly the first cornerback off the draft board).

 

Special Teams

Austin Hardin split kicking duties with Frankie Velez a season ago, but with Velez lost to graduation the job now belongs to Hardin. Hardin went 7-10 a season ago, but the misses were all beyond 40 yards and he hit a 52-yarder against Florida State. Time will tell if Hardin is as accurate from short range, and if so we may have a prospect here as Hardin already handles all kickoff duties. Johnny Townsend is the punter replacing Kyle Christie. Christie was one of the best in the nation a season ago, but the dropoff won’t be drastic with Townsend who was the punter in 2013. Andre DeBose was a formidable return man for Florida, and he has moved on. Demarcus Robinson expects to be the primary kick returner, while the punt return job remains up in the air or could be split. One of the leading candidates is cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

Best Draft Prospect: N/A.

 

2015 Schedule

Another positive for Florida is that the schedule is noticeably easier, at least on paper, than it was a season ago. Things are never easy in the SEC, but there is no Alabama or Missouri, both teams that have had their way with Florida recently. Teams like Florida State, Ole Miss and Tennessee are all at home, and Georgia is technically neutral in Jacksonville. LSU looks to be the toughest road test, and the Gators have a bowl rematch facing East Carolina during week 2 at home.

 

Draft Prospects & Outlook

Florida needs to return to form offensively, but there are plenty of terrific draft picks loaded on both sides of the ball. Hargreaves III looks like a lock to declare, and Demarcus Robinson is a possibility in a wide receiver class that seems to lack a true #1 prospect at this time.