11-2 is something we have seen at Florida many times but the way the Gators reached 11-2 was anything but typical. The passing game was virtually non-existent as the Gators ranked #114 nationally. Florida relied on the #5 national defense and a physical running game in order to get the job done.
Will Muschamp was one of the top assistants and coordinators in the country when he took the job before the 2011 season. Florida struggled to a 7-5 record in his inaugural season but last season he showed his worth by having Florida win a lot of grind-it-out physical type of games.
It is quite amazing that Florida was so successful a season ago. The long rich history of Florida quarterbacks, including three Heisman Trophy winners, (Steve Spurrier, Danny Wuerffel and Tim Tebow) has always relied or thrived on a strong and precision passing game. Last season the Gators ranked #114 in passing yet they have a quarterback who on paper seems to have all the attributes to be a successful and well recruited player. Jeff Driskel at 6’3” and 235 pounds seems to have prototypical NFL size and arm strength. Something just seems off with the passing game. Florida has talented receiver and a lot of speed at the position but for some reason they have been struggling the last few seasons putting a consistent passing game together. Florida has been relying on a steady run game but with Mike Gillislee now staying in Florida in the NFL with the Dolphins the question becomes who will take the reigns of the offense. Matt Jones had limited success on just 52 carries last year gaining 275 and getting 3 touchdowns averaging over 5 yards a carry. Of course Jeff Driskel has shown a propensity to run and can get the job done on the ground. Driskel holds onto the ball too long and often puts himself in situations where he has to scramble or leave the pocket under duress, this is something that needs to change if he wishes to have a chance at the next level. Even with the success of Jones he may not have the job long term. Blue chip recruit Kelvin Taylor has great speed for a physical 6’2” 230 pound back and comes from great lineage (son of former Gator and NFL great Fred Taylor). Throw in junior Mack Brown and you have a multitude of options running the football and next to Georgia this may be the best running team in the SEC. I currently have Matt Jones ranked as a 5th round prospect for 2016 but again we don’t have too much to go on with Jones so the jury is still out.
Best Draft Prospect: Matt Jones RB 5th Round 2016.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends:
Quinton Dunbar is the only returning wide receiver that started a season ago. The leading receiver from a season ago was tight end Jordan Reed and he is now in the NFL. Reed will play the traditional tight end role in the NFL but while at Florida he spread out and played more wide receiver as Florida does with most tight ends, rarely going with a traditional setting employing tight ends along the line. Andre Dubose was set to be one of the wide receivers we would see often, probably platooning as a slot receiver in the offense but Dubose just went down with a torn ACL injury thinning out the receiving corp. Latroy Pittman and Trey Burton are the other starting receivers right now and they combined for just 20 catches last season. We may see more of another blue chipper named Demarcus Robinson who could be a starter sometime during the season if he doesn’t win the job outright before it. With the injury to Debose this could also mean we see more of Louchiez Purifoy at wide receiver. I haven’t had the opportunity to talk about Purifoy yet but he is a starting cornerback who is the best prospect on this team, projected as a first round pick this year as a junior. Purifoy lined up at receiver a little last year and made 1 catch for 5 yards as he was mostly a decoy. Expect Purifoy to have at least 15 catches this season as we will see more and more of him on the offensive side of the ball. Quinton Dunbar is currently listed as a 7th rounder for this coming season but he has the chance to show himself as a true #1 in this offense and raise his stock considerably.
Best Draft Prospect: Quinton Dunbar WR 7th Round 2014.
The offensive line is one that has been a little inconsistent over the last few seasons but as a unit this looks like one of the best lines Florida has had in the last 10 years. The individual talent does not scream high NFL Draft picks but this has the looks like a line that can gel, especially with D.J. Humphries coming over from Maryland and becoming the starting left tackle. Humphries is on the smaller side as he has added weight in the spring but still goes at 290 pounds, slightly underweight with what we normally see from a left tackle. Humphries is a gifted player in space and is extremely mobile, just what the running game at Florida needs as they like running around the corner and sealing the edges. Tyler Moore plays on the right and I currently have him listed as the top prospect on the line and he is a 4th rounder for 2016, as he like Humphries is only a sophomore. Jonotthan Harrison is a gifted center that will make many of the calls along the line and he has experience starting as a guard. Chaz Green has experience starting at tackle and at guard and he will be a backup that can virtually play four positions along the line. Florida looks like they will lean heavily on the run again as this line seems to be built more for the run game than pass protection.
Best Draft Prospect: Tyler Moore OT 4th Round 2016.
This team ranked #5 nationally on defense yet Dominique Easley led the team with a pedestrian 4 sacks. Easley is back and I have him listed as a 4th round prospect for this season. Last season he played 71% of his snaps at defensive end and 29% at tackle so his versatility will continue to serve him well on defense. You may see a little more of Easley at tackle with Sharrif Floyd and Omar Hunter now gone from the line. Jonathan Bullard will be the other defensive end and is a player that Florida has high hopes for, he will also play some of the ‘buck” position, a position that floats between end and linebacker. Dante Fowler and Ronald Powell will share primary buck duties and both are the best athletes along the line. Fowler made 30 stops as a freshman with a very impressive 8.5 coming for loss. Fowler should easily get to double digits and is a player capable of posting 5 or 6 sacks for the defense, I wouldn’t be surprised if he closes the season as the leader for the Gators in one or even both categories. Easley is the only returning starter but there are a number of players with experience. I expect to see Florida employing many positions where we see platoon situations as they keep their players fresh along the line.
Best Draft Prospect: Dominique Easley DE 4th Round 2014.
There are no returning starters at linebacker but like the defensive line we will see lots of substitutions and platooning situations. Antonio Morrison will move from the outside linebacker position and into the middle where his ferocious hitting skills will be an instant hit (pardon the pun). Morrison is a terrific tackler and he has amazing range. Morrison is a player that I currently have listed as a 5th round prospect but I can easily see him moving up the draft boards with a big year because he has all of the physical attributes. Morrison doesn’t seem to be the fastest linebacker, he seems more quick than having straight line speed. Daniel McMillian and Darin Kitchens should be playing along the outside as will Ronald Powell or Dante Fowler as they will line up at linebacker sometimes vice the floating buck position. The players change but the concept is the same, speed…speed…and more speed. What I have seen from this young group of players thus far is there is a great understanding of play recognition and I would not be worried about the linebackers.
Best Draft Prospect: Antonio Morrison 5th Round 2016.
Cornerback is without doubt the strength of the defense even though they ranked #17 nationally while being #4 against the run. The numbers are a little deceiving as many teams got yards after falling behind. When the gators need to lock down the passing game they may be the best in the nation. Teams have immense respect for Louchiez Purifoy as he went last year without an interception, mainly because his side of the field is avoided. Purifoy is equally adept in zone as he is in man-to-man coverage. Purifoy stands about 6’0” so size is not a concern, he has great leaping ability and he should run 4.4 or even better when doing the 40 so there is plenty to like about him. Purifoy is also not a diva who shies away from contact. He is a corner who tackles more like a safety. Purifoy will be joined in the starting lineup by Marcus Roberson, another corner who should have NFL aspirations. Roberson may not have been a full time starter last year but his 12 pass breakups led the team (mostly again because Purifoy is avoided). Jaylen Watkins is a nice safety and he will be joined by the combination of freshman Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman. This unit is solid all the way around and I can see 3-4 players from this unit having NFL futures.
Best Draft Prospect: Louchiez Purifoy CB 1st Round 2015 (Likely to enter draft in 2014 and still be considered a 1st rounder).
Kyle Christy is a serious contender for the Ray Guy Award this season, the award goes to the top punter in the nation. Not only did Christy average a very superb 45.8 yards per kick but Florida was in the top 10 in net punting so punt coverage seems to be stressed as being just as important. The biggest question here will be who will replace Andre Dubose as the kickoff return specialist after that ACL tear. This may be another area where Louchiez Purifoy is used by Florida in order to get the ball in his hands more often. Florida will also be looking towards placekicker Brad Phillips to replace Caleb Sturgis after he went 26-28 in field goals last year and had plenty of distance on many of the longer attempts going 8-9 from 40 yards and beyond.
Best Draft Prospect: Kyle Christy P 6th Round 2015.
The second game on the road against an improved Miami (Fla) team will be very interesting. The toughest stretch seems to come with the first 3 November games where they play at a neutral site against Georgia, Vanderbilt at home and then a road date with South Carolina.
We should see a pair of corners going in the first two round. Florida continues to be a juggernaut as far as the draft is concerned with the secondary looking like it will produce big stars in the coming years.