With a new regime in place and a new season just around the corner, the Florida Gators football team is ready to tackle 2015 and improve upon their past several seasons. To prepare for the season, Gator Country is counting down the top-15 players that Jim McElwain will rely on and the most crucial players to the programs’ success. Today we hit No. 6-10.
10) Quincy Wilson | CB | Sophomore
The first player in the top 10 may not even start on the team, and that is a testament to how great Florida’s secondary can be this upcoming year. Wilson has elite size, range, and mental toughness to dominate at cornerback, and he will in a rotation featuring fellow elite players Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor. His highest ceiling may be at the nickel back spot, but he has surprised many who wondered if he could even make it as a corner out of high school. I expect him to make some noise this year, and in 2016 will be counted on to replace Vernon Hargreaves. He may not start, but he is still one of the best corners in the league.
9) Jonathan Bullard | DL | Senior
Bullard may take the next step in his senior year, and if he does, will become the next dominant defensive lineman at UF. He really came on last season, and should be a force against the run off the edge. He has struggled a bit with his pass-rushing, but if he is able to eat up a pair of blockers by winning one-on-ones, it will open up Alex McCalister to do some damage on the other side. Part of what places Bullard so high is also his versatility. He has shown over the past couple of seasons that he can play both defensive end as well as tackle, giving the coaching staff flexibility in what they are doing defensively. If some improvements are made to his pass-rushing game, Bullard may even turn himself into a first round draft pick.
8) Brian Poole | CB | Senior
It could be argued that Quincy Wilson is better than Brian Poole as a pure cornerback, but I believe there are only a few players opposing teams have to plan around more than Brian Poole. He is a ball hawk, ferocious against the run, and a matchup issue for anyone he covers. He has the size to go up against a tight end, the hitting ability to shadow a running back, and the pure cover skills to take away a slot receiver. He is also a senior, and even in today’s game where youth has taken on an increasingly prominent role, veteran leadership cannot be discounted as anything other than a major advantage. Watch for Poole to pass up his team leading four interceptions from a year ago.
7) Alex McCalister | DL | RS Junior
As a 6’7” defensive end, McCalister’s pass-rushing ability comes as no surprise. Gathering six sacks as a backup is extremely impressive, though he did it with Dante Fowler in the lineup across from him. He needs to put on some weight to be able to stop the run, and will become a constant target of double teams. More than anything, though, he needs to emerge as a leader on the defensive line opposite of Bullard, as he is stepping into his redshirt junior season. If he can put on some bulk and improve the mental side of his game, I expect him to develop into a special player. His statistical output may not be extraordinary, but the effect of drawing double teams could yield extreme benefits for other defensive lineman, notably Jonathan Bullard.
6) Antonio Morrison | LB | Senior
Morrison is an excellent SEC linebacker and the best on Florida’s squad next season. He may have ranked higher if not for lingering injury concerns about his knee. Either way, his ability to tackle from sideline to sideline is without equal on the Florida roster, and he makes up for a rather small size with ferocious hitting power. Just ask former FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel what he thinks about it (if he is able to remember, that is). Morrison will never be an incredible coverage man, but I would still put his name against just about any other linebacker in the SEC, where defensive players are expected to be dominant. While he may miss a few games in 2015, expect Morrison to be a leader on the field, and should provide a stout threat against the run, helping put less pressure on an extremely talented defensive backfield (as if they need any more help).