With just over two weeks to go before the beginning of spring practice the Gators are eager to get back on the field and begin the process of moving on from the worst season of football the university has seen in over 30 years.
The Gators have added several new coaches, including one tasked with revamping an offense that was once put up video game like numbers but has turned into the butt of jokes around college football.
The defense also took a step back after the loss of Dominique Easley. Despite losing a ton of talent to the NFL draft a season before, Easley and the Gator defense was proving to have the same kind of bite they had the previous two seasons. Kurt Roper’s offense will presumably take some time to assimilate and the defense will need to be strong early to make up for this.
With all of that being said, here are the five players on either side of the ball that need to step up for the Gators in 2014.
It begins and ends here with the quarterback. Florida’s season was forever changed when Jeff Driskel went down against Tennessee. Tyler Murphy played valiantly but could not hold up over the course of the season.
Florida added Will Grier, who is already in school, and will bring in Treon Harris this summer but the job of QB-1 is Driskel’s to lose.
Spring practice has been moved back more than a week to make sure Driskel would be able to be a full participant. That shows just how much he means to the offense and how the coaching recognizes this.
Driskel needs to take a big step forward in his development if the Gators offense wants to finish on the right side of the top 100 in 2014.
Humphries enrolled at the University of Florida with a ton of fanfare. The consensus No. 1 overall tackle in his recruiting class, Humphries played sparingly as a freshman but was impressive.
A lingering injury dragged down his productivity this season but Humphries still projects to be the starter at left tackle. That means protecting Driskel’s blind side. When you’re tasked with protecting a quarterback who has missed time due to injury in all three seasons he has been in school, your job becomes even more important.
Humphries needs to step up and reach his potential this season. He should have his weight up near 300-pounds for the first time since arriving in college and his play is directly tied into how Driskel will be able to do his job this season.
Speaking of fanfare, Robinson’s rollercoaster recruitment landed him in Gainesville and his physical tools had coaches and teammates alike raving about him in the spring and summer workouts.
Robinson is tall, fast and athletic. Physically, he has all the makings of the next big playmaker for the Gators. However, when your head coach tells the media that you need to “act right” it’s a sign of immaturity.
Robinson was suspended twice last season for a total of three games (Tennessee, Georgia Southern, Florida State).
The Gators offense needs playmakers and Robinson can be that. The coaches and fans both hope that Robinson was just going through some freshman growing pains last season and that he will grow up and mature off the field so he can let his talent show up on the field.
Florida was lucky to go from Brandon Siler to Brandon Spikes straight to Jon Bostic. For almost a decade the University of Florida didn’t need to worry about who would man the middle of the defense. That changed after the 2012 season when the Chicago Bears drafted Bostic and Antonio Morrison took his place.
Morrison had an eventful offseason, to say the least, and was suspended for the season opener before returning to the team in the role of Mike linebacker.
Morrison was remembered fondly for his freshman campaign that saw him spot-start for Jelani Jenkins and notoriously lay a knock out blow to Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel, a play that turned the tide of that game for the Gators.
However, Morrison didn’t resemble the player who flashed as a freshmen and was run over and around as a sophomore. Morrison was often too quick to a spot and unable to recover when backs would make a cut. Morrison needs to play under control and fill the void that Bostic left in the middle of the defense.
Part of the problem that not just Morrison had but all of the linebacker had was due in part to the defensive line not being able to engage and hold offensive linemen in place. Like Muschamp said during the season, there aren’t many linebackers that will win a battle against a 300-pound offensive linemen who bursts off of the line un touched.
Before Dominique Easley went down, this wasn’t a problem. Easley regularly was able to take on two offensive linemen, opening gaps for linebackers to blitz and stuff the run. However, after Easley’s ACL injury, the defensive line not only struggled to get a push but also had trouble play gap assignment football.
Florida needs to get a better pass rush but that responsibility doesn’t solely fall on the Buck linebackers and ends it starts with being able to get a push on the inside and disrupting offensive lines from the inside out.
5 who just missed the cut
The star-studded freshman will be Florida’s lockdown corner this season. He’s talented enough to continue progressing and become the best cornerback in the SEC and Florida needs him to do that.
Dante Fowler Jr.
The Gators finished tied for 12th in the SEC after posting just 19 sacks last season. Fowler needs to be a bigger impact player this season for the Gators.
At the Senior Bowl, Michael Sam asked Jon Halapio if he was a starter on Florida’s offensive line and made about No. 73 on the roster. Sam had three sacks and set up shop in the Gators’ backfield and most of that was due to being able to run right around Tyler Moore.
Keeping Driskel healthy is paramount this season and Moore simply needs to be better than he was last year.
With Matt Jones still recovering from offseason surgery, the load at running back falls on Taylor’s shoulders. He will have to be the workhorse that he was in high school for the Gators this season.
We thought that Maye would be able to fill the void that Matt Elam and Josh Evans left but after blowing an assignment that the coaching staff had specifically worked on all week leading up to the Miami game, he lost his starting job and was relegated to a back up role.
Maye is the most athletic safety the Gators have; he can cover, run and hit and has all the tools to be the next great Florida safety. He just needs to put it all together.