Every year at this time I try and assess the most crucial potential injury situations for the Gator football team. Not out of any morbid curiosity, mind you, but because injuries are often the difference in whether or not a team can enjoy a championship season.
The Florida Gators have a talented roster, but it certainly isn’t the deepest one out there. The Gators have some areas where depth does not appear to be a concern and others where it is critically thin. As a result, those are the positions where significant injuries would be devastating.
But you also have to assess the gap between the first and second teamers before determining the likely impact of losing a key player. A perfect case in point there is on the offensive line where Florida has no proven depth, but really not much in the way of proven starters. So in my view, injuries there wouldn’t be as big a deal because there’s a decent chance the backups in many cases will become better players.
There are times when these theories play out as expected such as last year with the significant impacts of losing Ray McDonald and Bubba Caldwell. And sometimes it doesn’t pan out, as in 1996 when the Gators offensive line overcame seemingly devastating injuries to hang 97 points on two top five defenses to win the National Title.
With that in mind, these are the six Gators I believe the team cannot do without in 2006. Obviously they’d have to try, but if this season is going to end in Atlanta or a BCS Bowl, these guys must be leading the way.
* Brandon Siler —– Not only is the Gators’ junior middle linebacker the most irreplaceable player on the field; he’s the most important leader off the field, too. First of all, Siler is a tremendous player. He’s likely to be a semi-finalist for the Butkus Award and could well be in the final three. Siler’s nose for the football is unmatched, as evidenced by his NCAA leading seven fumble recoveries last season. Off the field “B-SY” is the one who sets the tone. He’ll let anyone know if they are not doing enough to help the team. I don’t think anyone on the team adequately fills either pair of shoes, let alone both.
* Earl Everett —– Get the idea I have major concerns about the linebacker situation? Everett came on strong late last year and seems poised for a superb senior season. I expect him to be more of a big play guy this year and he might again lead the Gators in tackles. Like Siler, there’s too much of a drop off for these guys to come off the field. Maybe guys like Stamper and Sledge or some of the newcomers can change might mind about this in the next five weeks, but I doubt it.
* Andre Caldwell —– This might not make sense at first, but bear with me. Yes, Dallas Baker has proven himself and Jemalle Cornelius is a talent and the young guys have shown promise. BUT Caldwell is the one with the multiple skills to be a dynamic, unique threat in this offense. Early last year Bubba was Florida’s best receiver running with the ball, averaged almost 15 yards and catch and was a tremendous upgrade in kickoff returns. That’s the dimension this offense needs. Additionally, a repeat injury would be depressing and demoralizing.
* Chris Leak —– Yes, I know Tim Tebow is pictured in the painting of The Last Supper, and that he helped fix the space shuttle. Still, you don’t let your kid drive the Porsche on the day he gets his driver’s license. Leak has been through the wars and ridden the roller coaster during his three years the helm of Gator football. Now he gets his first shot at running the team with same offensive coordinator (Dan Mullen) for the second straight season. Leak is moving up all the Florida passing charts but his career will be a disappointment unless he brings home the SEC Title this year. Tebow needs time to learn, and he’ll be sensational in this offense in the future. But this is Chris Leak’s team and it needs to be his time.
* Reggie Nelson —– He’ll try to solve Florida’s cornerback problem this fall, but is incredibly valuable as the nickel back and is best suited for that role if quality corners emerge. Nelson just has that “it” factor that is hard to describe but rather easy to recognize. He was second on the team with four quarterback sacks despite only starting four times. It doesn’t matter so much where he plays, just that he plays.
* Jarvis Moss —– Even with Ray McDonald back and Derrick Harvey in reserve, I think Moss is going to be a spectacular player this year. His presence will force teams to game plan around him and will give Ray Mac the freedom to do some things on the other side. Losing him would not be as devastating… but it sure would hurt. And considering Florida’s situation at cornerback the Gators need a great year from the pass rush. Moss is crucial to providing that.
There are plenty of other guys that are awfully important this year and are in fact, better than most of the guys on this list – Marcus Thomas comes to mind. But when you consider all the factors, this is the six-pack that would be the hardest to do without and still make this a championship year.
If you have your own ideas on who’s irreplaceable, why don’t you post them on this thread in our BullGator Den forum?