If the Florida Gators are going to become the Auburn Tigers of the 2014 season, they must take major strides offensively. The offensive line needs to do a better job in protection, the running game needs to average more than 3.6 yards per carry and the quarterback, well, it's no secret that the position needs a serious makeover.
To take this offense from the bottom of college football to a respectable ranking that could make Florida a contender is no easy task. It's why new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper is being paid the big bucks, but not even he has all of the answers. The players will have to do a little soul-searching as well and simply perform better than they did last season—some much more than others, of course.
It'll take a total team effort, but here are the key offensive players who really need to step their game up. It includes a wide receiver who has been nonexistent his whole career, an offensive lineman who's struggled for two years and, wait for it, a quarterback.
Florida's offense could certainly use a Jordan Reed or Aaron Hernandez-type player to be the security blanket for the quarterback. Somebody who could not only make plays downfield and after the catch, but also be the checkdown option when nothing else is there. The offense didn't have that last season, but there are a handful of guys who could fill that void.
Former defensive linemen Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton caught a combined four passes for 42 yards last season and could be in for a bigger role with a year of experience under their belts. DeAndre Goolsby enrolled early for a chance to make an immediate impact. He's one of the top recruits out of Kansas and has a big, athletic frame at 6'4".
Colin Thompson is the wild card considering he was brought on to be a lead blocker. However, he does have great hands and runs solid routes. It's just a question of if he can stay healthy.
The prospects are there, which is good for Kurt Roper, who uses tight ends quite a bit in his offense. Since 2010, Duke—Roper's former team—has produced a tight end who has caught at least 30 passes. Last year, Braxton Deaver was the second-leading receiver for the Blue Devils, catching 46 passes for 600 yards and four touchdowns.
It's clear this position will be key for turning things around. Whoever wins the starting job will need to play at a high level and help provide that much-needed spark.
Andre Debose could have been in these types of articles his whole career. The problem is that he has yet to answer the bell and give Florida fans what they want. He's a former 5-star recruit and one of the most anticipated recruits in recent memory. But after making slim to no progress on offense during his career and missing last season with an ACL injury, he's become the forgotten man on a team searching for playmakers.
While Florida fans have probably already given up, Debose may have the biggest chance to succeed in his career. Roper is going to stretch the field and could use a speedy receiver to take the top off of a defense.
Just look at the impact Jamison Crowder had last season for Duke. He caught 108 passes for 1,360 yards and eight touchdowns, basically carrying the Blue Devils offense by himself. It'd be unfair to expect those type of numbers from Debose, but he certainly has the skill set to provide a huge impact.
I know, you've heard that for four years, but the speed and hands are still there. You can't give up just yet, especially when this offense could use a player like Debose to play to his potential. After all, it's been a while since you've seen plays like this.
It's now or never for the young man.
The entire offensive line deserves some of the blame for what happened last season. And while everybody needs to look in the mirror, D.J. Humphries is the one guy who needs to take his game to the next level. He's going to give it another shot at left tackle, the most important position on the line.
Florida allowed 27 sacks last season, which was tied for 10th in the SEC with Missouri and Ole Miss. Humphries played the first six games at the position, drove the coaching staff nuts at times and then missed the last five due to an injury.
This is somebody who was one of the top recruits in the 2012 recruiting class. He has the size at 6'6", explosion off the ball and the footwork to become one of the top tackles in the country. He just couldn't put it together and struggled on a weekly basis against some of the nation's top pass-rushers. Well, next season doesn't get any easier with Alabama, LSU, Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State on the schedule.
The offense all starts with the offensive line. If a team can't block and protect, it can't run or throw the football effectively. Humphries has got to become the player he was supposed to be coming out of high school. If he's able to do so, everything else should fall in line.
Florida had the 13th-worst rushing offense in the SEC last season, averaging less than 150 yards per game. While Roper is an offensive coordinator who will want to toss the pigskin across the yard, Florida must get back to its roots of physical football. It's the SEC way. You can be a spread offense and make big plays through the air, but you also have to be able to finish games on the ground by running the ball down the opponent's throat.
Kelvin Taylor is the go-to guy the coaching staff will look to next season.
He's the son of former Florida great Fred Taylor, and he experienced more than enough playing time as a true freshman to secure the starting role next season. He carried the ball 111 times for 508 yards and four touchdowns. He moved the chains 27 times and had five runs of 20 or more yards. He's a big play waiting to happen and also does a nice job of catching the ball out of the backfield.
Florida lacked explosive plays last season, ranked dead last in the SEC with only 14 plays of 30 or more yards. To put that number in perspective, Kentucky and Arkansas had 19.
Taylor has the potential to become a great running back like his father. His sophomore year will be critical to making that dream come true.
You hear that?
That's a collective sigh from Florida fans across the country.
They know that Jeff Driskel is going to be next year's starter, and that leaves a troubling feeling in their stomach. But now isn't the time to bash the most important piece to the puzzle. He needs all the support he can get after returning from a broken leg that sidelined him for majority of last year.
Like it or not, Driskel gives Florida the best chance to win games. He's the most experienced quarterback on the roster and really isn't as bad as some make him out to be. Sure, he could improve his decision-making, footwork, accuracy and just about anything else you look for in a quarterback. However, he has the ability to be a respectable starter. The arm strength, athleticism, size and speed you look for from a true dual-threat quarterback are all there.
Now it's a question of if he can put all of that together and stop making Florida fans cringe when he lets go of the football. If anybody can iron out those wrinkles and get the most out of his potential, it's Roper, a former quarterbacks coach, who will play to Driskel's strengths.
If, and that's a big if at this point, Driskel can manage the game better and reduce his turnovers, Florida's offense will make significant strides next season.