The 2014 draft is in the books. One need only look at the Gators in the draft to understand why the team has struggled of late. The only high draft pick was Dominique Easley who managed to go in the first round to New England despite very real health concerns. That is a testament to just how talented Easley really is. I have been a big Easley fan ever since he rebounded so well from the friction between his freshman class and some of the veterans on the team at the time. Having seen what I’ve seen since I am not real sure it was the freshmen class and not the veterans at fault there. Defensive back Jaylen Watkins went to the Eagles in the fourth round and Jon Halapio was taken by the Patriots in the sixth round.
Besides Easley three other Gators chose to forego their senior season and enter the draft a year early. One of them, Ronald Powell was picked by the New Orleans Saints in the fifth round. I am sure that this is not what Powell envisioned when he graduated high school as the top ranked player in the country. Injuries hindered his production and development throughout his time at Florida. It is possible that he might have come back, had an injury free season where he displayed his talent to the NFL and gotten drafted in the first round of the 2015 draft. It is also possible that he could have suffered another injury and never have gotten a chance to make an NFL roster. I think he chose wisely.
The other two early departures were defensive backs Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy. Neither was drafted. Personally, I think they made the right choice as well. Maybe it wasn’t the right choice for them but I think it was the right choice for Florida. Unlike some others seem to think, I don’t believe for a minute that either of these players were told by NFL advisors that they would be drafted in the top three rounds. I believe that both of these young men went into last season absolutely sure that they were leaving early when the season was over.
As the offseason wears on, we are hearing more and more about the friction and discord on the team in 2013. Many want to blame that on the coaching staff and they surely must shoulder some of that blame. However, you cannot have those issues without having players with attitude problems in the program as well. It is no secret here that I believe that Urban Meyer completely lost control of the team his last couple of years at UF. I am not around the team on a daily basis so I will admit openly that my opinion is based ENTIRELY on speculation. However, the vast majority of the evidence would seem to support my opinion.
I believe that Urban let his stars get away with many things he should have taken a stand against. I think he became obsessed with the reputation he was building as the ultimate recruiter and it helped recruiting when his stars told visiting blue chip players that things were lenient at Florida. It is clear that team chemistry broke down horribly during Urban’s last season at UF and that these issues have continued to plague the team ever since. The question now is whether Will Muschamp is up to the task of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. So far, there are very real concerns that Muschamp has been unable to stabilize the program in his three year tenure. If he does not do so pretty soon, someone else will be given the task.
Roberson and Purifoy were actually in Muschamp’s first class but they visited and committed to the environment that permeated the program at the end of Meyer’s regime. Both seemed to underachieve during their entire time with the Gators. They are certainly not the only potential stars to fail to live up to expectations during that time and it could be simply a lack of developmental coaching. Don’t get me wrong; I am not blaming all of the Gators’ woes on the two defensive backs. There can be many reasons why they fell short of what we thought they would accomplish. Roberson was clearly struggling with injuries last season. But they were both counted on to be leaders on the defense and neither stepped up to that role leaving a void in veteran leadership which is how you end up with a 4-8 season. That problem has seemed to exist since the beginning of 2010.
The team is almost completely made up of Muschamp’s guys now. The players that were immersed in the “I’ll do what I want” culture that derailed the Gator program in 2010 are all but gone. I believe that the Gator program had to reach this stage before it could truly turn the corner. Of course, all of this means that Will Muschamp is out of excuses. This is his team now and if he plans on coaching the Gators much longer he will have to make the climb back to the SEC elite quickly. In my opinion, the departures to the NFL and the many transfers should help facilitate that climb. We will see.