In his Friday afternoon practice update, Florida Gator head football coach Will Muschamp had positive things to say about his Gator squad as they head into the first gameweek of the season and prepare for MAC opponent Toledo.
“I feel good about this team,” Muschamp said.
going on to relate “I met with the seniors and the leaders yesterday and talked about camp and where we are.”
“Where we are” is experienced, mature, and deep across the offensive and defensive lines as well as at qb. With Jeff Driskel back in year two as the starter at quarterback and Brent Pease back to become the first returning offensive coordinator since 2009 for the Gators, fans are hoping for good things out of Driskel. Pease, and Company. After last season, where the Gators finished 114th out of 120 FBS teams in passing yards per game at 146.31, Gator fans are cautiously optimistic that year two of the Pease offense will see a breakthrough in the passing department. Perhaps even more telling about the paltry passing numbers is that all the teams below them ran some version of the veer or option offenses that rarely pass. Some of the low passing numbers was by design as the staff wanted to take the pressure off Driskel in his first season as starter by limiting the number of throws and the depth of his progressions while some was out of necessity due to a lack of consistent options at wide receiver and a lack of consistency from the offensive line that wasn’t very deep.
Fast forward to this season and an offensive line that was lacking in depth is rolling in it this season. Not only depth, but experienced depth. There are two players new to the Gators rotation but not new to major college football. One is transfer offensive tackle Tyler Moore, who sat out last season after leaving Nebraska following his true freshman year where he started the first five games of his college career and played a total of 12 games overall. The other is guard Max Garcia, a Maryland transfer who also played as a true freshman but led the Gator scout team last season while sitting out due to NCAA transfer rules. The Gators gained experienced depth with those two, but with one particular junior college transfer they gained size. Mammoth size. Meet Trenton Brown all 6’9″ 369 lbs. of him. He’s an offensive tackle who, despite his gargantuan size, appears to be quite agile with his quickness off the ball and with his footwork. Defensive lineman have called him the hardest to get around because of his quick feet and long arms. Expect to see him in the rotation this season especially in short yardage and jumbo package formations.
Two returning starters and team leaders are RG John Halapio a four year starter and unquestioned leader of the offensive line and C Jonathan Harrison, beginning his third year as starting center a position he converted to at Florida and had never played before. In camp, he admitted he is finally feeling his most comfortable at the position, both with his mechanics and in reading defenses and making the correct line calls. D.J. Humphries returns for his true sophomore campaign after having a Freshman All American season last year. He’s a year more mature and has put weight on his frame after playing at around 270 last season which is extremely slight for an SEC offensive lineman. He is reported to be in the 290- 295 range coming into this season. Chaz Green is another returning veteran who will likely back up Tyler Moore at RT but will start the season opener there with Halapio out with an injured bicep until possibly the Tennessee game. Moore will slide over into Halapio’s RG slot.
Solid depth will be provided with returning backups Ian Silberman, Kyle Koehne, and Trip Thurman who are all versatile cross-trained lineman who can fill in at any of the line spots. Officially, Koehne is listed as backup center, Silberman and Thurman are listed as tackles but both can play either of the guard slots.
The level of talent, depth, and experience should help Driskel take solid command of the passing game as well as lead the way for a pounding, downhill running game which is admittedly green and a receiver corps that might be even greener.
“We have a lot of young guys at some positions we’re counting on,” Muschamp said. “I think everyone in the country would say the same thing. That’s part of it. I think we;re experienced in the places you need to be experienced. That’s the quarterback position-both lines of scrimmage have some snaps about themselves. We’ve got mature lines of scrimmage. We’re going to be a little green as far as the running back position in the first ballgame, then receiver a little bit, and in some situations on defense depending at linebacker. How we’re able to rotate those guys in, but I feel comfortable, very comfortable, about the talent at those position. That’s kind of where we are.”
Defensively, the Gators are mature along the line of scrimmage as well with preseason All SEC senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley and senior tackle Damien Jacobs. Pass rush will be provided by bookend true sophomore sensations Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler, Jr. as well as Ronald Powell returning from injury this season and moving to outside linebacker who can both cover and rush the passer. Muschamp is expecting big years from all three of the pass rushers hoping to improve on their 8th place SEC finish last season with only 30 sacks. Solid depth should come from redshirt freshman Bryan Cox, Jr., whom Muschamp raved about in preseason camp, junior college transfer Darious Cummings, who played at FSU as a true freshman and sophomore before leaving for East Mississippi Community College, and fourth year junior Leon Orr who appears primed to have a breakout season plugging the middle of the Gator defensive line.
Speaking of bookends, corner is a spot that the Gators have a pair of potential All American’s in juniors Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. Three year starter Jaylen Watkins had been switched to safety in spring practice as the Gators sought to replace both starting safeties but will likely see split time as a third corner, nickel, and dime as well as relief at free safety. The defensive backfield and linebacker all have a good mix of experience and talented youth. Several young players will be counted on to step up this season including sophomore Marcus Maye moving into Matt Elam’s starting strong safety spot, Vernon Hargreaves III who will be in the corner rotation and on special teams, and three freshman linebackers Daniel McMillian, Jarrad Davis, and Alex Anzalone who will all figure into the linebacker rotation.
Overall, the team likely will lose a step defensively from the one that finished top five the last two seasons nationally, especially early, but the talent level is there and it’s a much deeper defense overall than the past two years. Offensively, there appears to be nowhere to go but up after last season’s disappointing display. Year two of Driskel, Pease, and company should be fascinating to watch. With a deep and talented line as well as more prototypical type backs for Muschamp’s system as well as some young talent at wide receiver. How much better this season’s offense will be from last’s remains to be seen but there isn’t much time left before Gator fans get to find out as they kickoff the season at noon eastern this Saturday in the Swamp. Broadcast will be on the SEC Network for their game of the week.
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