Florida Football: 5 Weakest Positions to Worry About
Gator fans had a myriad of worries heading into the 2012 season. Their team had yet to officially commit to one quarterback, and they were forced to wonder if the squad's lack of toughness during the previous campaign was only a fluke or a developing problem. These were only two of the potential issues that concerned the Gainesville faithful.
Luckily for them, their worries turned out to be unnecessary for the most part.
The Gators won 11 contests and once again became a legitimate threat in the SEC. Thanks to the contributions of many talented defenders and an effective rushing attack, they were able to win close games with regularity.
While these elements of Florida's game should remain just as effective in 2013, there are a few other areas that have the potential to be trouble spots for Will Muschamp and his staff.
As the Gators hit their summer break, here are five positions that could turn out to be very worrisome.
Jeff Driskel struggled at times during his first season as a collegiate starter, which is understandable. In fact, he did not even know he would be leading the offense until the middle of Florida's season opener against Bowling Green. This meant he was behind the curve from the get-go, and it showed at various points throughout the fall.
If the Gators want to once again compete for a BCS berth, they will need a new and improved Jeff Driskel running the offense.
The problem is that multiple areas of his game were noticeably subpar in 2012. Although he took care of the football for the most part, Driskel had issues with accuracy and pocket awareness. He missed open receivers with regularity, and he was on the receiving end of too many sacks. He had a tendency to lock onto his first read, which forced him to either throw on the run or try to scramble for yardage.
The result was a bevy of stalled drives, which led to Florida's ranking as one of the worst passing teams in college football.
Driskel is in a position where he needs to improve significantly. Whether or not he can do so remains to be seen, and this should worry Gator fans to some extent.
Of course, it is hard to entirely blame Driskel when his most reliable receiver was his tight end. With a strong end to last season and a solid spring, returning pass-catcher Quinton Dunbar is basically guaranteed a spot atop the depth chart.
Other than him, however, there are no established weapons on the outside.
Gator fans will spend a lifetime wondering what Andre Debose's full potential could have looked like. Unless an almost miraculous transformation occurs, Debose will once again be relegated to special teams and have an extremely limited effect on offense.
Latroy Pittman, Solomon Patton and Raphael Andrades are the other main returning receivers, but they have a long way to go before they can be trusted as a starting player.
Because of this, the Gators may need to rely on their talented 2013 recruiting class to carry the rest of the load. Demarcus Robinson performed well as an early enrollee, and the arrivals of Ahmad Fulwood and Alvin Bailey are much anticipated. All three of them are talented enough to immediately earn extended playing time.
In any case, the Gators will be relying on unproven targets to help ignite their passing attack. If they underachieve in any capacity, the offense could sputter.
In terms of talent, the Gators are not all that weak at tight end. However, the fact that no one in particular has drastically distanced himself from the pack does leave some cause for concern.
Clay Burton is a good blocker, and he had a decent spring. However, he has had problems in the past with dropped passes and is not a dependable offensive weapon.
Likewise, Tevin Westbrook has never caught a pass in a Florida uniform.
The offensive threat should come courtesy of Kent Taylor. The former top-ranked tight end by Rivals.com is extremely athletic, and he can pick up right where Jordan Reed left off in 2012.
Similarly, Colin Thompson has the size and athleticism to be a red-zone threat. However, he has struggled to thoroughly grasp the offense and currently looks to be a step behind Taylor and the others.
The tight end position was somewhat of a safety blanket for Driskel last season. If a similar offensive option does not develop, the Gator passing attack may not show as much improvement as many hope.
The Gators have depth at a variety of positions on defense. However, nose tackle is not one of them.
Leon Orr currently is in line for the lead role, while Darious Cummings and Dominique Easley should serve as the immediate fill-ins. Cummings had an impressive set of spring workouts. Meanwhile, Easley will mostly be occupied at inside tackle after he was recently moved from defensive end. However, he should still contribute at the nose position.
Other than the production of these three, however, the Gators cannot be sure of what they will get at this spot. One or, preferably, two from the trio of Jarran Reed, Caleb Brantley and Antonio Riles will have to emerge. Only then will the Gators have a fully serviceable rotation.
Orr will need to be more consistent, and some of his teammates will have to step up. If this does not happen, this will remain one of very few problem areas for Florida's defense.
The Gators have literally seen the kicker position go from "sure thing" to "big question mark" in a span of only three months.
Caleb Sturgis, the greatest kicker in school history in terms of production, is gone and likely headed to the NFL. His absence leaves a big shoe to fill for either Austin Hardin or Brad Phillips.
Hardin is a former Under Armour All-American, and his potential upside should give him the starting nod over Phillips. However, the fact remains that Hardin has not made a kick in a competitive scenario since high school. He may struggle to adjust to the pressure of kicking for one of the premier programs in college football and thus, leave valuable points on the field.
Meanwhile, Phillips has only had minimal experience and has not been entirely impressive as a substitute.
In other words, they are pretty much equal. However, Hardin has room to grow and improve, while Phillips has pretty much hit his ceiling.
In any case, Gator fans have to be a little worried about the kicking game. Sturgis was a very valuable asset, and his replacement is crucial to the team's success.