It’s human nature to want to rank things. Whether it is cars, restaurants or movies, people are constantly rankings things consciously or subconsciously.
And we here at GatorCountry are no different. With the Orange and Blue Debut signaling the end of spring practice, let’s take a look back at the top-10 performers from the past 15 practices.
Rhaheim Ledbetter and Gideon Ajagbe
As the fullback position is slowing being fazed out of football both on the college and professional levels, the Gators are a throwback offense that relies on a bruising fullback in both the run and passing game.
Ledbetter and Ajagbe were both moved from the defensive side of the football to fullback this spring and by all accounts, adjusted nicely into their new roles.
“We were really concerned going into spring. Could we be a two-back team? Having only Hunter, when you take one hit, and then you’re out of a personnel grouping,” Will Muschamp said. “We certainly feel like with Gideon and Rhaheim are two guys that can come in and do some things for us.”
Poole played mainly in the nickel package last season but was productive as a freshman. Poole will get an increased role in the defense as a sophomore and that is due in part to how he performed in the spring.
Poole had a great open-field tackle in the Orange and Blue Debut that prevented a running play from turning into a huge gain. He has great closing speed and showed fluid hips and quick feet in coverage.
10. Neiron Ball
Ball is a player who has come through so much adversity off the field. After being diagnosed with arteriovenous Malformation or AVM. AVM is a condition that causes the brains blood vessels to tangle and rupture. The condition caused Ball to sit out a year.
After being cleared to play last season, Ball has gotten into the best shape he’s ever been in. The extra mass that Ball has added in the offseason makes him an interesting player to follow heading into 2013.
Ball’s play this spring has vaulted him ahead of Darrin Kitchens at Sam LB. Kitchens and Ball split time last season but Will Muschamp announced that Kitchens will move to Mike LB in the fall.
As the clear starter, Ball is playing with more confidence. During the Orange and Blue Debut, Ball was able to chase down Loucheiz Purifoy on a jet sweep, stopping Purifoy for a minimal gain.
Ball looks poised to have his most successful season in orange and blue.
9. Demarcus Robinson
Now, I’m no Urban Meyer. I won’t go around calling everyone the “next Percy Harvin” but let’s just say that Robinson gives the Gators their most explosive playmaker since Percy Harvin.
At 6’2” Robinson is a big body and target for Jeff Driskel. Robinson is athletic, fast and has a good knowledge of his position. He high-points the football and is a fierce competitor.
The last two were on display last Saturday during WR/DB 1-on-1 drills. Robinson was lined up against Loucheiz Purifoy and ran a fade route towards the corner of the end zone. Tyler Murphy’s pass was slightly under-thrown but Robinson was able to stop, get to the ball at its’ highest point, catch the pass over Purifoy and wrestle the ball away from the corner for a touchdown.
When Harvin would score touchdowns, Mick Hubert would often be heard shouting “Oh, Mercy Percy.” Well, Mr. Hubert might want to find some words that rhyme with Demarcus or Robinson because the freshman receiver is going to find the end zone early and often.
8. Kelvin Taylor
The hardest thing for highly rated running backs to pick up in college is pass blocking. Players like Taylor are so good in high school that they are rarely asked to identify the Mike or safety rotations and stay to protect the quarterback.
Matt Jones went through some of that as a freshman and is now watching as Taylor goes through the same maturation process.
“The difficult thing was pass protection” Jones said. “I think right now Kelvin is going through that process from high school to college and I think he’s doing a great job at it.”
While Taylor adjusts to being asked to do more than just carry the football, he continues to impress the coaching staff and his peers with his natural ability.
Taylor’s quickness and vision were on display Saturday as he received most of the carries during practice.
7. Antonio Morrison
I’ve written at length about the long line of middle linebackers that Morrison is trying to follow. From what we’ve seen from Morrison as a freshman and then again this spring, it appears Morrison is more than ready to step into those shoes.
When the media was given the spring depth chart there were whispers about Morrison being listed as the starting Mike linebacker. Was he big enough to play inside?
Morrison dedicated himself to the weight room after the season and the answer to that question was a resounding yes.
Morrison has added the necessary bulk to his frame to hold up at Mike LB throughout the rigors of playing an SEC schedule.
There is no questioning Morrison’s physicality. Morrison drew the ire of his head coach when he slammed Kent Taylor to the ground even before the team suited up in pads. Morrison has the kind of mean streak you love to see in a linebacker and will do just fine at his new position.
6. D.J. Humphries
Humphries had to get creative as a freshman. When you’re an undersized offensive lineman in the SEC you have to find creative ways to get the job done. Well, Humphries is no longer undersized. Listed at 280 pounds, Humphries wants to get as close to 300 before the season as he can.
Despite adding the extra size, Humphries hasn’t lost any of his quickness. Humphries and Dominique Easley had some epic battles in 1-on-1 drills during the two open practices and again on Saturday. Saturday, Humphries got the best of Easley and that is no easy task.
5. Max Garcia
The Maryland transfer had to sit out all of last season but that didn’t mean he took the year off. Garcia was named the scout team player of the week twice last season and he is already slated as the starting left guard.
Garcia showed exceptional strength, hands and footwork in all the 1-on-1 drills and offensive line work. Duing scrimmage snaps, Garcia got to the second level with ease. He should retain his starter status and provide the Gators with an upgrade at the position in the fall.
4. Dominique Easley
It can sometimes be easy to overlook Easley. Like a child on Christmas, fans often become fixated on their shiny new toys and forget about the ones that have been there for a while.
Although there are a lot of new additions, Easley remains as productive as any player on the defense. He’s reliable – you know the kind of production you’re going to get from him and he rarely disappoints.
Easley took it easy for most of the spring, giving way to the new guys so the coaching staff could see what they have behind him but that didn’t stop Easley from being his normal, impressive self.
Muschamp said twice this spring that despite having Darious Cummings and Damien Jacobs on the inside, that Easley would be tapped as the starter at defensive tackle if the season were to start today.
That’s not as much of a condemnation of Cummings and Jacobs, rather an indication of just how good Easley is.
Whether he’s inside or outside, Easley is going to be a leader on the field for the Gators in 2013.
3. Loucheiz Purifoy
There was once a time in college football where two-way players were common. As the game has advanced, players begin to specialize at a position at a young age.
Purifoy has been asked by the coaching staff to be a throwback player and play on special teams, offense and defense.
While he may not want to stray too far from his home at cornerback, Purifoy has shown ability at receiver that should be explored.
It’s no secret that the Gators are desperately looking for playmakers at receiver. While Purifoy is still acclimating to the playbook, he had to have coaches show him where to lineup at times on Saturday, he is electric with the ball in his hands.
Purifoy was also impressive on the defensive side of the ball. He made a huge leap from his freshman to sophomore year and looks even more comfortable at cornerback this offseason. Purifoy has the size, speed and talent to become an All-SEC type of player on the defensive side of the ball.
2. Matt Jones
The ultimate sign that Jones had a great spring was how he was used on Saturday. Jones got one carry during the Orange and Blue Debut. His inactivity was by design, as Jones has separated himself from the pack and is firmly planted atop the depth chart at running back.
“He’s a physical runner. He understands our protection. He’s got great hands in the throwing game. There’s no question he is an all-around back.” Muschamp said of Jones. “He can do everything for us, and he’s shown it to us for 14 straight practices.”
Jones rushed for 275 yards on just 52 carries last season. 161 of those yards came in just the last three games. The light switched on for Jones last season and he is now running with violent intentions and a purpose.
2012 saw the first 1,000-yard rushing season since 2004, but with Jones in the backfield it won’t take eight years for the Gators to see another 1,000-yard season.
1. Dante Fowler Jr.
Fowler came to Florida last season just in time for fall camp. Despite getting a late start, Fowler was productive as a freshman.
Fowler shed some baby fat in the offseason and that has helped his pass-rush. Fowler is even quicker than he was last season and is going to terrorize opposing offensive linemen all season long.
You hate to see someone lose their starting position due to injury, but it is going to take some kind of performance from Ronald Powell to jump over Fowler at Buck LB.