Florida Football: Finalizing the Week 1 Depth Chart
The Florida Gators are less than a week away from kicking off their 2012 season. While Will Muschamp has kept most of the cards close to his chest, the final depth chart is becoming clearer with every passing day.
Recent news about the quarterback position has cleared up what was one of the most heated offseason battles, but there are still plenty of other slots to fill.
Which Gators will take the field when the Bowling Green Falcons enter the Swamp on September 1st?
Let's find out.
The positional battle between Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett was easily the most watched during the offseason.
While John Brantley was out with injury during several key games in 2011, Driskel and Brissett gained some valuable experience against LSU, Alabama and Auburn. Neither backup could distance themselves from the other in Brantley's absence and after an offseason of scrimmages and practices, it still appears to be too close for Muschamp to decide.
Instead, the Gators will stick with the two quarterback system...for at least one game.
"We function as an offense regardless of who that guy is very well. It's a compliment to both guys because they both have a similar skill set and they both are accomplished in what they're doing" Muschamp said in a press interview earlier in the week (via SI.com).
As of right now, and for the Gators' opener on September 1st, the two quarterbacks will share the starting duties. Things might change if one of the quarterbacks can edge the other before the Gators open conference play by traveling to Kyle Field to take on new conference member, Texas A&M, in Week 2.
Starters: Jacoby Brissett (So.) and Jeff Driskel (So.)
No more Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, but it comes at a good time. The further the Gators moved from the spread offense, the more ineffective Demps and Rainey became.
With the speedy duo on to the next stages of their careers, Mike Gillislee looks to be the next in line to inherit the featured back position.
Last week, Will Muschamp confirmed that speculation, but the battle for the starting job has been closer than many believed.
Highly touted incoming freshman, Matt Jones, has the ideal size and strength to be a featured back in a pro-style offense. Sophomore Mack Brown also was contending for the starting job for much of the offseason.
Mike "Gilly" Gillislee has put in his time as a backup at Florida, serving as an alternate to Demps and Rainey for the first three years of his career.
Now with the lead role, Gilly has a huge opportunity to be one of the most productive offensive players.
Starter: Mike Gillislee (Sr.)
The fullback position was the least important for most of Urban Meyer's tenure at Florida, until the Gators attempted the pro-style offense.
Meyer stumbled upon Trey Burton, who has played almost every offensive position over the last couple of years. While he will still be a versatile player in 2012, Burton will likely see increased duties as a fullback.
Burton provides play-making ability out of the backfield, but he is slightly undersized as a lead blocker. That's where sophomore Hunter Joyer comes in.
Joyer has a good 20 pounds on Burton while standing five inches shorter, giving him extra leverage as a blocker.
Burton will likely get the starting job because of his play-making ability, but don't be surprised if you see Joyer get a good amount of time on the field.
Starter: Trey Burton (Jr.)
While the quarterback position has received considerable blame for the lack of a passing game in recent years, the receivers haven't exactly been the most consistent targets.
Andre Debose returns as the Gators' leading receiver in catches (16), yards (432) and touchdowns (4). The second most productive returning wide receiver is Quinton Dunbar who recorded 14 catches for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The wide receivers are going to have to be more effective than that if the Gators are hoping for an improved passing game.
Debose should continue to improve as a receiver and will still provide the big-play ability, but Muschamp needs another receiver to step up.
Quinton Dunbar might be that guy.
Dunbar has received several kind words from the coaches during the offseason. With precise route running and breakaway speed, Dunbar should challenge Debose as the most productive receiver.
Another much improved player is looking to make the most of his senior year. Frankie Hammond Jr. has been declared the most consistent receiver through the offseason.
That's something Muschamp will surely reward with more time on the field.
Outside of those three, two true freshman, Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades, should see time on the field with an opportunity to earn more playing time as the season progresses.
Starters: Andre Debose (Jr.), Quinton Dunbar (So.), and Frankie Hammond Jr. (Sr.)
The tight end position looked to be one of the stronger portions of the offense heading into 2012. That was before AC Leonard decided to transfer and talented freshman, Colin Thompson, was sidelined with a serious ankle injury.
That left Florida with only one returning tight end, Jordan Reed. Muschamp still shows confidence in the thin unit though, simply claiming (via ESPN.com), "We'll be fine."
Florida managed to quickly retool the unit by converting DE Tevin Westbrook, while also giving freshman Kent Taylor and sophomore Clay Burton more reps.
Reed will return as the premier tight end, especially in passing situations where his combination of speed and size creates matchup problems.
What once was a surprise concern for Muschamp and the other coaches has quickly turned into a surprise asset for the developing offense.
Starter: Jordan Reed (Jr.)
The offensive line was at the root of the offensive woes in 2011. Against talented defensive lines like Alabama and LSU, the Gators crumbled.
In fact, the Gators allowed 7.38 tackles for loss per game last season. That put them at a lofty 112th ranking in the nation out of 120 total teams.
No wonder the Gators couldn't move the ball, right?
The Gators brought in offensive line guru, Tim Davis, during the offseason to turn things around. Muschamp and Davis worked together as coaches on the 2005-06 Miami Dolphins under head coach Nick Saban.
A new workout program, combined with another year to bond, has really benefited the offensive line.
The line was young and inexperienced last season, and it proved to be too much for the offense to overcome. A brutal offensive outing in the 2011 regular season ended with Muschamp calling out his offensive line after a 21-7 loss to Florida State.
The criticism has led to an impressive all-around performance up front for the Gators.
It's a nice bonus that Muschamp also signed some elite-level talent in DJ Humphries and Jessamen Dunker, who will enter 2012 as true freshmen.
Starting LT: Xavier Nixon (Sr.)
Starting LG: James Wilson (Sr.)
Starting C: Jonatthan Harrison (Jr.)
Starting RG: Jon Halapio (Jr.)
Starting RT: Matt Patchan (Jr.)
With all the experience up front—Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley, Omar Hunter and Lerentee McCray have combined for 48 starts—the defensive line could be the Gators' most talented unit in 2012.
Even with Ronald Powell's ACL tear, the Gators should be strong up front. When Powell returns later in the season, the defensive line should be great; perhaps even one of the best in the nation.
Not only do the Gators have talented returning starters, Muschamp also brought in some young talent. Freshmen Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard have made solid improvement during the offseason and could get some valuable time on the field while Powell nurses his knee.
Regardless, the Gators recorded 28 sacks last year and they should easily increase that number in 2012.
A defense anchored by a physical and athletic defensive line will once again be the strength of the team and the unit's performance will go a long way in determining the team's success.
DT: Leon Orr (So.), Omar Hunter (Sr.)
DE: Sharrif Floyd (Jr.), Earl Okine (Sr.)
Buck: Lerentee McCray (Sr.) (Ronald Powell when he returns)
Senior linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Jonathan Bostic return with a combined 42 starts of experience. They have also bulked up over the offseason, with each player nearing the 250 pound mark.
The unit should provide a strong second level to stopping the run, an important task to complete if there are any hopes of contending in the SEC.
The unit has also grown to be very versatile, with each starter seeing time at all three linebacker positions.
On the downside, the unit does not seem to be very deep, especially with the loss of Ronald Powell for the time being. Lerentee McCray will have to step into Powell's position, leaving the third linebacker slot open for a more inexperienced Gator.
Darrin Kitchens looks like the lead candidate to fill the role, but newcomer Antonio Morrison had a strong offseason, and Michael Taylor can deliver quite a hit.
It would be fantastic if the linebacker unit could avoid any serious injury in 2012, or at least until Powell returns.
Sam: Darrin Kitchens (Jr.)
Mike: Jonathan Bostic (Sr.)
Will: Jelani Jenkins (Sr.)
A deep and experienced secondary should round out a very talented Florida Gators' defense in 2012. That's quite the achievement for Will Muschamp in only his second year as head coach.
The secondary has the potential to be one of the best in the nation, but they're going to have to create more turnovers to reach that goal. The Gators only picked off eight passes in 2011, tying them for 93rd in the nation.
That is simply not acceptable with the kind of talent in the Gators' secondary.
With another year under their belts, this unit should be more confident taking a few more risks.
Marcus Roberson started as a true freshman last season and managed to become a defensive playmaker by the end of the year. Loucheiz Purifoy was a little slower to develop but really came on during spring camp.
While Roberson and Purifoy may have already earned the starting jobs, the Gators' look to be two deep at the cornerback position. Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs have also proved to be solid defenders and should see their fair share of time on the field.
Don't forget about Jeremy Brown either. He should be back on the field once he is fully recovered from his knee injury.
Needless to say, the Gators are deep enough to defend talented SEC East quarterbacks Aaron Murray and Tyler Bray.
Starting CB: Marcus Roberson (So.)
Starting CB: Loucheiz Purifoy (So.)
Starting Nickel: Cody Riggs (Jr.)
One of the Gators' most talented defensive players resides in the secondary. Matt Elam came on strong last year and has developed into a talented all-around safety.
Elam is not the only talent returning for the Gators.
De'Ante Saunders and Josh Evans bring back solid experience to the unit, as the two players combined for 17 starts last season.
Like the cornerbacks, the safeties defended the pass well, but failed to provide enough turnovers to compensate for the poor offensive production. While the offense should not be as handicapped in 2012, the safeties should still increase the number of big plays.
That's a recipe for success.
Starting FS: De'Ante Saunders (So.), Josh Evans (Sr.)
Starting SS: Matt Elam (Jr.)
Special teams have been a staple of the Florida Gators since Urban Meyer took over in 2006. From kick returns to blocked punts, any coach will tell you this unit is just as important as the offense and defense.
The Gators return a very capable special teams unit, leaving the offense as the only real worry for fans.
Starting K: Caleb Sturgis (Sr.)
Starting P: Kyle Christy (Jr.)
Starting LS: Drew Ferris (Jr.)
Starting KR: Andre Debose (Jr.)
Starting PR: De'Ante Saunders (So.)