The Gators will begin the 2007 season in about a month when roughly 60 scholarship players will take to the field for the start of spring practices. The Gators will enter spring with a rather lengthy list of issues they hope to resolve, most of them on the defensive side of the ball. However, there is a major obstacle to finding the answer to the questions facing this team – the roster.
Of the 61 players (my count) on scholarship, 37 of them would be listed on offense and two more (Brandon James, Jonathan Phillips) on special teams. That leaves just 22 scholarship defensive players – and that includes troubled sophomores Jon Demps and Darrell Gresham Junior. Take those two out of the mix and Florida enters spring with just four linebackers and seven defensive linemen.
Meanwhile the 37 players on offense include 15 linemen, nine receivers and six running backs. Simple math tells you switching a handful of guys from one side of the ball to the other makes perfect sense. So let’s start moving folks around.
Let me preface these suggestions with the admonition that they are suggested as experiments, not permanent switches. Only after seeing some of these guys in their new digs would I feel comfortable advocating permanent relocation. That said, the suggested moves take into consideration the players’ strengths and weaknesses as best I know them. The personnel situation at the position(s) they currently play (or are targeted for) and the personnel situation at the position(s) I am suggesting they take a shot at.
Trent Pupello from TE to DE —– The redshirt freshman had ten quarterback sacks as a junior at Jefferson High School in Tampa. He’s built like a traditional tight end, which is superfluous in the Gator offense. He can always switch over to be a short yardage blocker even if the switch becomes permanent.
Marcus Gilbert from OT to DT —– Florida needs size at tackle and Gilbert certainly offers that. He played both ways in high school and some teams recruited him for defense. Better to compete for a starting job here than be one of several guys battling to be a backup to proven veteran tackles Carlton Medder and Phil Trautwein.
Chevon Walker from RB to CB —– Seems to have the size and speed for the job and is in a logjam at running back. I don’t see him playing ahead of Kestahn Moore or Mon Williams.
Markus Manson from RB to WR —– He may not be physical enough to be a RB or CB, but his hands and speed give him a chance to make big plays. A former state champion high school sprinter it would be nice for him to find his niche in his senior season.
Justin Williams from WR to DB —– Another guy who was recruited on both sides of the ball in high school this is strictly one of those “find the right spot” kind of suggestions. I believe he will crack Florida’s top six WR rotation, but maybe he can be special on the other side of the ball. A 6’2’ corner with his speed could be something to behold. Safety might be worth a try, too.
Joe Haden from WR to CB —– This newly enrolled rookie should get a look at both sides of the ball no matter what. With nine receivers and just four corners the defense should get first shot at him.
Corey Hobbs from OL to DT —– He may not have the foot speed you’d love to have in a DT, but he has size and has played there before. It’s hard to see him getting playing time on the offensive line in 2007, so let’s see if the opportunity presented on the defensive line might light a spark.
Some of these moves may already be on the board, but all are worthy of consideration. It makes no sense to go through spring ball with 17 more offensive players than defensive. These moves create better roster balance and give the coaching staff some possibilities to evaluate. It’s not like there’s anything to lose, so to me it’s very low risk, potentially high reward.
Maybe there are other offensive linemen who it would make more sense to experiment with. That’s fine. Maybe safeties Bryan Thomas and/or Jamar Hornsby are big enough to take a shot at LB, I don’t know. If so, give it a look-see.
Come fall 13 of the 18 newcomers are currently ticketed for defense (four on offense, one special teams), so permanent position changes should only made if the guy switching from offense to defense is clearly higher on the depth chart after the experiment than he was before. Even if all seven changes are made, Florida would still enter spring training with three quarterbacks, four running backs, 11 offensive linemen and seven receivers.
So give it a shot…. It couldn’t hurt!