Florida Football: Projecting Who Will Win Gators' Open Starting Positions
It’s highly unusual that a four-win team from a year ago doesn’t have many open positions, but that’s the case for the Florida Gators this season. With seven starters returning on both sides of the ball, most have a pretty good idea of who will be where when they take the field in late August.
Most positions that remain up for grabs are on the offensive side of the ball, as the coaching staff is still trying to figure things out after such a horrible performance a year ago. There are also a few young defensive players who are competing for a starting role. Other than that, Florida seems to be in good hands as far as starters are concerned.
Let’s predict who will get the nod at the current vacant spots.
Guys Fighting For the Spot: Clay Burton, Jake McGee, Tevin Westbrook and DeAndre Goolsby
Who wins: Jake McGee
Florida’s tight end position looked absolutely horrible on paper just a couple of months ago. With a combined three receptions at the position last year, new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was likely pulling his hair out with what he had to work with. Remember, the position is key to making his offense work.
Then Jake McGee announced that he was leaving Virginia for Florida. Jackpot.
McGee is the big playmaking tight end the Gators needed, as he hauled in 71 passes in just two seasons. An incredible 26 of his 43 catches last season either moved the chains or resulted in a touchdown.
There’s really nothing else that needs to be said. McGee is sure to blow the coaching staff away in fall camp, and he’ll be the starter from day one. You can take that to the bank.
Guys Fighting For the Spot: Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson
Who wins: Demarcus Robinson
Ahmad Fulwood came on strong at the end of last season and finished the year with 17 receptions, 127 yards and a touchdown. Demarcus Robinson, well, he didn’t live up to the hype and dealt with off-the-field issues.
While it would seem like Fulwood is in the driver’s seat to become the starter on the opposite side of Quinton Dunbar, I’ll take my chances and say Robinson will be the starter by the time the season begins.
Robinson has by far the best skill set of any receiver on Florida’s roster. His size, hands and ability to make plays after the catch are all there. He’s a big play waiting to happen on a team that desperately needs big plays to happen. It really just comes down to whether or not he can be a good teammate without getting himself in trouble again.
If Robinson has a great fall camp, don’t be surprised if he’s starting this season.
Guys Fighting For the Spot: Latroy Pittman, Valdez Showers and Alvin Bailey
Who wins: Latroy Pittman
In Kurt Roper’s offense, the slot receiver may be the most important on the field. He’ll be the quarterback’s security blanket and allow for those quick passes to keep the rhythm of the offense going.
Out of these three players, Showers has the most experience with 18 receptions last season. Pittman caught two passes last year, and Bailey is a true freshman.
I believe Bailey is a severely underrated player, but the nod has to go to Pittman. He has the most consistent hands out of the three players and can make those tough catches in traffic look easy. Considering these guys are playing in the slot, tough receptions are what’s expected.
Showers is a flashy player, but he’s more of a hybrid who should be doing a little bit of everything. It’s also too early to throw Bailey into the fire when experienced playmakers are needed now.
Expect Pittman to be the Gators slot receiver come Week 1.
Guys Fighting For the Spot: Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson
Who wins: Jalen Tabor
Two true freshmen cornerbacks continue to battle for the right to start alongside one of the top corners in Vernon Hargreaves III.
While both are extremely talented, Tabor is the more polished corner and has the better skill set to step in right away and hold his own. Dawson is still a little raw at the position considering he spent much of his high school career playing both sides of the ball. Tabor is a physical presence who can do a lot of different things in the defensive backfield, which fits well with a shutdown corner such as Hargreaves.
I’d be absolutely floored if Tabor wasn’t starting day one for the Gators, as he has the potential to create a special cornerback tandem this season due to being the complete package at the position.
Guys Fighting For the Spot: Duke Dawson and Brian Poole
Who wins: Brian Poole
Assuming Dawson doesn’t get the starting cornerback job, he is duking it out with Brian Poole for the starting nickelback spot. Considering how much the Gators like to play more than four defensive backs, this isn’t a shabby consolation prize.
Poole played in 11 games last season and started six at nickel. He finished the season with 32 tackles, two interceptions and three broken-up passes. His experience alone should earn him the starting job at least to begin the season.
Dawson is an extremely talented player and brings the physicality to the field that you need from a starting nickelback. However, he’s a first-year player, which would mean two true freshmen and a second-year corner make up Florida’s starting secondary. While talented, the Gators need a veteran body in the backfield to help things run smoothly and make sure everybody is in the right spot.
Whether he starts or not, Dawson is going to see the field plenty this season. But as for what the depth chart says, Poole is going to remain the starter at nickel.