By: Jacob Benson
Since the Florida Gators inaugural season under Will Muschamp in 2011, there have been questions (and rightfully so) regarding the talent level on offense since Urban Meyer skipped town. Each season the Florida Gators have grown harder to watch, and now that a new coach has entered the fray, the offseason attempts at fending off expectations will be in full swing.
The entire offseason we’ve all heard about the issues that Jim McElwain will face; the lack of depth on the offensive line and linebacker, about how it will take time to implement a new offensive scheme and how breaking in a young, inexperienced quarterback will take time.. Yes, all of these things are real issues for the McElwain and Co. However, what you haven’t been hearing about from this new group of coaches as much is what the talent level on this team is.
As Muschamp candidly put it upon his exit, “Don’t let that new guy tell you he ain’t got any players.” And this statement would be true, as much a self-given compliment about his ability to recruit players as it was a condemnation of the former headman’s ability to cultivate results.
But this new look Florida program should not look any longer to the past — whether it be at head coaches or past talent (there has been much of it over the past four years). Now, is the time to look at what this team has going forward, and here is where you can see it.
15) Jake McGee
The 6th year senior transfer from Virginia is back for another year after suffering a season ending injury in the first game in 2014. His sure hands and size should allow him to be a perfect safety valve for Will Grier or Treon Harris with such a young offensive line. Opposing defenses will have to work to cover up the middle of the field, and may even be forced to draw up a safety rather than linebacker, which could free up some space for deep passes in more than a few games. Even if McGee can grab around 400 yards this year, he will become the best tight end at Florida since Jordan Reed, who is now a dominant force in the NFL. Having this second option will also free up coverage and lure focus away from an already known Demarcus Robinson.
14) Johnny Townsend
Johnny Townsend may be the second coming of departed Kyle Christy, but back to his sophomore year form. Townsend actually wrestled the job away from Christy in 2013, only to give it back and take a redshirt in 2014. Now a redshirt sophomore, Townsend has the leg, coaching, and game experience to be a major factor in the special team’s game. With an offense that may struggle to find its legs early on, being able to flip the field can be extremely important (just look back to the 2012 Florida Gators). By the end of the year, this may be the second best punter in the league behind Ray Guy favorite J.K. Scott at Alabama. If he can come anywhere close to that level, McElwain will have a seriously dangerous weapon if his offense struggles.
13) Marcus Maye
The first to appear in a slew of secondary players, Marcus Maye really came around towards the end of last season mentally, and appears to have turned a corner. He is experienced, very talented, and may be Florida’s best safety in coverage in spite of being burned a few times early in 2014. Maye looks to be a future NFL safety, and 2015 will be the first time he can prove it. I expect him to take on a leadership role in a much more prominent way as the season progresses, and will be vital when it comes to communication in the secondary. If Maye has a strong season, good luck throwing against the Gators, no matter whom your quarterback may be.
12) Jordan Scarlett
Coming in at No. 12 should be extremely flattering for any freshman, but Scarlett has the potential to be great by midseason in his first year. As long as he is able to hold onto the ball (which he struggled with losing three fumbles in a high school All-star game), he is a homerun threat that teams will be forced to watch out for whenever he is on the field. As is the case with most young running backs, but even more important at Florida due to a questionable offensive line, is blocking ability, so watch for running back coach Tim Skipper to harp on this during fall practices. Even if he does struggle a bit in this area, his running ability is just too great to keep off the field in some capacity. By the time I am writing this at the end of the season, Florida may have a freshman All-SEC running back, the last one of those at UF being…
11) Kelvin Taylor
Yes, Kelvin Taylor — son of Gator great Fred Taylor and former freshman All-SEC running back — is finally the definitive starter going into 2015. He has elite vision and short area quickness, two attributes that become even more important behind a makeshift offensive line, where space may have to be created from nothing. His ability as a home-run threat is limited, but Taylor is most definitely a quality all around running back with NFL potential. The most important thing for him to work on is his blocking ability (its importance is mentioned above), as it has kept him off the field during his first two years. However, there is no Matt Jones in front of him any longer, so it is now or never with such a talented freshman waiting in the wings. This should be Taylor’s best year yet at Florida, and, if the line surprises, he and Scarlett may be running the show on offense.