Florida Football: 10 Gators Who Must Improve This Offseason
The Florida Gators took the country by surprise in 2012.
In the preseason, the Gators were predicted by most to finish third in their own division behind the Georgia Bulldogs and the South Carolina Gamecocks. The general thought was that Florida was still a year away from getting back into the picture and competing for championships.
Boy were we wrong.
Florida's quick turnaround from a team that finished 7-6 a season ago could not have been possible without the team buying into Will Muschamp's system and committing themselves over the offseason. Sharrif Floyd, Lerentee McCray, Mike Gillislee, Kyle Christy, Matt Elam and Jon Bostic all had career years in 2012, and their improvement from last season to this season was a huge part of Florida's success in 2012.
Can the Gators keep the momentum from this season going and have continued success in 2013? They can, but they will need these 10 players to dedicate themselves during the offseason and come back ready, hungry and better next season.
10. Austin Hardin / Brad Phillips
Replacing Caleb Sturgis will be no easy feat for Will Muschamp. As I write this, Sturgis is in Orlando, Florida as a finalist for the Lou Groza Award. It is the second consecutive year that Sturgis has been named a finalist for the award, which is given out annually to the best place kicker in college football.
Austin Hardin came to Gainesville last season as the No. 1 rated kicker in the class of 2012 but is redshirting this season.
Brad Phillips kicked sparingly this season and missed his only field goal attempt against Missouri.
Phillips and Hardin will compete this offseason for the starting kicker spot and whoever wins the job will have a lot of work to do and big shoes to fill.
9. Chaz Green
Chaz Green's freshman campaign was a huge success with the Florida Gators. Green was named to the 2011 Freshman All-American team while starting and playing in nine games for the Gators.
However, Green could not carry that success into this season. Green struggled to stay healthy this season and struggled in both pass and run protection at times during the year.
With the emergence of D.J. Humphries and additions of Max Garcia, Tyler Moore, Octavius Jackson and Cameron Dillard, Green will be pushed this offseason and will have to earn a starting job next season.
8. Clay Burton
Clay Burton's stats won't impress, he has just two receptions for 12 yards this season, but Burton has been asked to be more of a blocker than receiving threat for the Florida Gators. Where Jordan Reed lacks some ability as a blocker, Burton more than makes up for that at the position.
With Reed's future at Florida still in question, Reed could forego his senior season and declare for the draft, and with no tight ends currently committed in the class of 2013, Florida will need to find a replacement for Reed.
Other than Reed, Burton has seen the most playing time this season and because of his blocking ability will continue to see the field. Burton needs to work on his route running and catching this offseason to become a more complete tight end.
7. Kent Taylor
Kent Taylor joined the Florida Gators' 2012 recruiting class as the No. 1 ranked tight end in the country. While Taylor failed to live up to that billing as a freshman, he has a long bright future at Florida still ahead of him.
Taylor is a tall receiver who will be asked to fill in Jordan Reed's role if Reed declares for the draft. Taylor played in just five games this season and had only one reception but at 6'5" can provide mismatches for opposing defenses.
Taylor needs to work with Jeff Driskel this offseason and develop a relationship with his quarterback. Taylor has all the tools to become an All-SEC or even All-American tight end and will have an opportunity to earn more playing time in 2013.
6. Mack Brown
Mack Brown came into Florida as a 4-star recruit but has failed to live up to that billing in three seasons.
Brown lost out on the backup running back spot to Matt Jones this season and with Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane committed to the Florida Gators in this recruiting class, more competition is on the way.
Based on his performance this season, Matt Jones has to be the early favorite to replace Mike Gillislee as the starting running back, but Brown will be given every opportunity to earn that spot and earn playing time this offseason.
Running back has quickly turned from an area where Florida lacked depth to a position of strength for the Gators.
5. Cody Riggs
Cody Riggs has had a frustrating season. Coming into the season, Riggs had seen playing time in all 26 games he had been at Florida, including 13 starts.
Riggs totaled seven tackles, a pass breakup and a forced fumble before a foot injury sidelined him for the rest of the season.
In Riggs absence Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins have shined at cornerback for the Florida Gators. On top of that, Florida has an embarrassment of riches coming in this year's recruiting class. Vernon Hargreaves, Nick Washington, Keanu Neal and Marcell Harris are all committed to Florida and have early playing time on their mind.
Riggs is a versatile player who worked out at safety during the offseason, but he will need to take his game to another level to be able to compete with all the talent Florida will have in their secondary next season.
4. Leon Orr
With Omar Hunter graduating soon there will be a hole in the Florida Gators defensive line. At 6', 305 pounds, it's a pretty big hole to fill.
The leading candidate to fill it at nose tackle is Leon Orr. Orr was having a productive season before being sidelined with what was first diagnosed as the flu but later revealed to be a kidney infection. From Orr's twitter account it appears that he has been cleared to get back on the practice field and could be available for the Sugar Bowl.
Hunter filled a huge need for the Gators at nose tackle. Orr will need to work on putting back on the weight he lost while he was sick and be able to take on the kinds of double teams that Hunter took on this season.
3. Quinton Dunbar
New wide receiver coach, Joker Phillips, has his work cut out for him. The Gators receiving unit hasn't performed up to their capabilities since Riley Cooper and David Nelson were still on the team.
With 31 receptions on the season, Quinton Dunbar was Jeff Driskel's favorite wide receiver this season but Dunbar never caught more than four passes in a game. Florida relied heavily on their running game this season but should be a more balanced team next season. Developing a true No.1, go-to guy at receiver would go a long way toward that and Dunbar is the early candidate to fill that position.
2. Jeff Driskel
Jeff Driskel played about as good as anyone could have expected him to play coming into the season, but that doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement.
Driskel is a true dual-threat quarterback, but he needs to develop a better sense of when to move around in the pocket while waiting for a play to develop and when to just take off and use his legs to gain positive yards.
At times this year Driskel looked to do too much and that often led to sacks and interceptions. This is a problem that is easily corrected and Driskel has looked better toward the end of the season in his decision making.
Will Muschamp has already voiced his intent to name Driskel the starter next season so a full offseason as the starter should let Driskel and his receivers develop some chemistry heading into 2013.
1. Andre Debose
There wasn't a player who had a more disappointing season than Andre Debose.
Billed as "the next Percy Harvin" when he committed to the University of Florida in 2009, Debose hasn't come close to making the kind of impact Harvin did.
Coming into the season, Debose had played in 22 games, catching 26 passes for 528 yards and four touchdowns. He was a playmaker on special teams with 40 kick returns for over 1,000 yards and a school record three touchdowns.
This season, Debose caught two passes for 11 yards and was largely ineffective on punt and kick returns. Debose hasn't played since the Georgia game and shouldn't be expected to make any impact in Florida's bowl game.
Debose has found himself in Will Muschamp's doghouse and will need to spend the entire offseason getting back in the head coach's good graces if he wants to finish his career at Florida on a high note.