As the month long dead period expires, the rush to national signing day 2015, which this year falls on February 4th, is on. For new Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain and his new staff, using the term rush is an understatement.
With the Gators’ commitments sitting at a paltry eight overall, as many as 28 scholarships available, and only three weeks left in the cycle, this staff will be rushing feverishly to secure as many official visitors as they can squeeze for the last three weekends. This means working overtime to contact the top guys, the Gator leans, current commits, as well as scouring the countryside for new guys to bring in.
The next three weeks for Gator staff and potential recruits will be playing a game of speed dating… On steroids… And heroin.
“Hi, my name is Geoff, and I want you to bring your swag to Gainesville and be featured in my Psycho defense…”
“Hi, my name’s Jim, but you can call me coach Mac, and I coached a Heisman winner and a few first round picks while winning two national championships at Alabama. Come lead my offense as we take back the Swamp and lead Florida back to the top of college football.”
While the staff furiously attempts to close strong let’s take a look at the top five recruits left on the Gators’ board in order of importance according to Swamp Music.
1) At the top, is the top player overall nationally according to 247sports, offensive tackle Martez Ivey (6-6 275) from Apopka (FL).
The Gators struggles the last five years have been well documented and look no further than the offense, or lack thereof, as the culprit. So Jim McElwain was brought in to revive the moribund offense. To do that, however, he’ll need to rebuild an offensive line which has been average at best the last few years and now is perilously short on depth.
The SEC is a line of scrimmage league, right Will Muschamp? Jim McElwain better go get him some big bodies to operate his offense behind.
While the Gators have solid commitments from three offensive lineman, this class is lacking the signature player. Ivey is that signature player. He is a franchise offensive tackle. He proved worthy of his lofty national ranking during the Army All American game week where he dominated against top competition showing great strength and agility as well as advanced technique and footwork.
He is the guy Coach Mac needs to anchor his offense and could be the guy to open the floodgates to this recruiting class jump starting a furious finish. He would certainly come in and provide immediate depth and very well could compete for a starting spot immediately with D.J. Humphries and Tyler Moore both exiting for the draft.
Ivey has long been considered a Gator lean, Florida has 88% of the 247sports crystal ball picks, and he is only considering Florida and Auburn at this point.
Regardless of who else Coach Mac and company get or don’t get, Ivey is the one recruit they cannot afford to lose.
2) With the Gators offensive deficiencies and pressing needs depth-wise, it’s hard to put a defensive player this high in order of importance. Especially when considering how loaded the Gators are defensively. However, Byron Cowart is no average defensive player.
Cowart (SDE, 6-4 250), from Seffner (FL) Armwood is the #3 player overall nationally according to 247sports. He was named Team Highlight MVP at the Under Armour All American game where he dominated all week and finished the game with four tackles and a sack.
One can never have too many pass rushers and Cowart is a dominant one. He possesses a great combination of size, speed, and strength combined with outstanding technique and a quick first step.
While the Gators most pressing needs lie on the offensive side of the ball, they want to maintain and reload defensively and with Dante Fowler leaving for the draft, Cowart is a must-get for new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins.
3) Back to offense. I’ll get criticized for this, putting a three star player 3rd in order of importance but he’d be 2nd if not for Cowart. Christian Pellage (OT, 6-7 282) from Brooksville (FL) is a guy the new staff is really high on despite being committed to South Carolina. The reason he is so high on this list is twofold.
First, the Gators most pressing need is depth along the offensive line. With only eight scholarship lineman on the roster, the Gators realistically will be looking to sign five to six this cycle. With three committed currently and Ivey likely, the staff will look for two more if they’re the right two. Right now Pellage is a clear number two behind Ivey and the staff will pull all the stops when he visits this weekend.
Secondly, Coach MacElwain made a point to mention taking back the state in regards to recruiting at his introductory press conference. Considering Pellage is an in-state kid who showed great interest in Florida initially, it makes perfect sense to go after him. Hit their-state kids and programs hard right off the bat.
You can’t teach size and at 6-7 Pellage would be another solid line of scrimmage pickup to begin the McElwain offensive era at Florida. These are the battles this staff will have to win if they are to be successful long term and this staff is showing they’re not afraid to jump right in the fray.
4) Looking back at the Gators struggles the last several years, the biggest culprit has to be the inconsistent and downright poor quarterback play. Whether it was recruiting busts or poor player development, the Gator qb’s have been unbearable to watch since Tim Tebow left.
For this reason, Coach Mac knew he’d need to get a quarterback in this class. Immediately after taking over as head coach he contacted Florida State commit Deondre Francois (6-2 200) from Bradenton (FL) IMG Academy and made it clear that he’s the guy Mac wants to lead his attack.
With Jeff Driskel, the guy who successfully made Gator Nation forget how disappointing John Brantley was, transferring out, the Gators are left with basically two returning quarterbacks: sophomore Treon Harris and redshirt freshman Will Grier. Skyler Morninwheg returns but he’ll likely be merely a career backup.
While both young qb’s were highly rated coming out of high school, the jury is still out as to whether or not either is capable at this level. Neither showed enough promise to give anyone confidence that they’re the guy.
Francois had a great senior year, was impressive in the camp circuit, and showed great skills, accuracy, and arm strength at the Under Armour All American week. He’s a perfect fit for what McElwain is looking for in a qb.
Francois had strongly considered Florida before committing to FSU and considering the Noles have three qb’s committed in this class, there’s a better than average chance this staff can flip him. He visits January 23rd and expect the staff to put on the full court press for his commitment.
5) The Gators need a running back, or possibly two, this cycle but have none committed so far. McElwain immediately identified Jordan Scarlett (5-11 200) from Ft. Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, a former Miami commit, as the top guy on their wish list. Scarlett possesses a great combination of size, strength, and speed with excellent burst and change of direction speed.
He’s a one-cut back that doesn’t dance around and he has great vision and instincts. Considering McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier’s history coaching top level running backs at Alabama, Scarlett has to be salivating at being their top choice.
The Gators have their work cut out for them, however, despite all the internet chatter about him being a silent commit, as the hometown Hurricanes and FSU are squarely in this recruitment. He visits along with cross town running back Jordan Cronkite on January 23. The Gators would, and very well might, take both Jordan’s if they both want in.