If you're a Gators fan who likes to know a player's name, you might want to start studying the Gators' second string now. Most of the players that we have come to know over the last three years probably won't be on the team in 2010.
While losing underclassmen is nothing new for a team with an extended run of success, the number of Gators who might be leaving could cause next year to feel a lot like 2007.
Heading into the 2009 season we all knew that Joe Haden and Carlos Dunlap would be leaving for the NFL. Both challenged Spikes for defensive player of the year last year, and this year Haden was arguably the best player on the team.
Considering both players have been first round projections all year, it won't be much of a shock when they declare early for the draft. Urban Meyer's recruiting reflected that expectation, with many top DBs and defensive linemen flooding the top of the Gators' recruiting classes over the last two years.
However, those two aren't the only underclassmen making the jump.
Bruce Black, father of Gators' safety Ahmad Black, claims that many Gators underclassmen will be bolting for the NFL. You can read his interview with Gator Sports' Robbie Andreu here.
He believes that his son, the Pouncey twins, and Chris Rainey will declare for the draft following the Sugar Bowl. Add Aaron Hernandez to the mix and the Gators could lose as many as seven star underclassmen.
Black claims that his son will declare early because of a lack of respect from Coach Meyer. This actually isn't a shocking revelation. Black's position is the least secure on the Gators' roster, and many times Will Hill plays in non-nickel situations.
Black is good enough to get drafted, albeit very late, and if it looks like Dee Finley is going to play nickel next year, then Black will be reduced to a rotational role. Honestly, it's not very surprising that he's choosing to leave, but it is a big loss.
With Black and Haden gone, the Gators secondary loses two sure tacklers and defenders. Janoris Jenkins is a good defender, but he tackles as well as a punter or quarterback. Hill can certainly fill Black's spot as JJ's fixer, but Hill's best work comes from the nickel position.
The 3–3–5 was so successful because of the Gators' sure tackling and coverage and because Hill and Haden were so good at blitzing. As a nickel, Hill played up like a corner. On blitzes, he cheated in and became a hyper–athletic 3–4 linebacker.
The 3–3–5 is not a very common base set. Charlie Strong didn't figure out a great scheme that nobody could stop. The success of the formation rested in the players' ability to make up for the negatives of only having a front six.
Without Hill at the nickel, the Gators' most dynamic defensive set is not nearly as useful. Unfortunately, without Haden and Black, Hill will need to move up top to play safety to cover for the loss of tackling ability.
The rest of that 3–3–5 defense won't be the same either. Dunlap and Cunningham will both be leaving from the front, and Spikes and Stamper will be missing from the linebacker position.
That leaves six of the 11 starters missing from next year's roster. Dustin Doe, the Gators' most prominent rotational player, will be graduating as well.
The last time the Gators replaced so many key players on defense, they went from the No. 6 defense to No. 46.
Offensively, the outlook might be worse. All–Everything player of the decade, Tim Tebow, is graduating and taking Riley Cooper, his No. 1 receiver, with him.
David Nelson, the No. 3 receiver, and Brandon James, the kick returner/Percy position, are graduating as well.
While neither James nor Nelson did much on the field, their absence leaves UF with, at most, two experienced pass catchers. If Hernandez decides to leave for the NFL, Deonte will be the only pass catcher on the team to have played significant minutes in the first half of any game.
Brantley may be a better passer than Tebow, but he will have even less to work with. Deonte is not a No. 1 receiver right now, and the rest of the talent is unproven.
This could be the most significant drop off in offensive talent of the Urban Meyer era.
Add to that Chris Rainey's decision, likely influenced by the same factors that are driving Ahmad Black to leave, and suddenly the Gators are very sparse on offense.
The running game will suffer, with Tebow and Rainey, the No. 1 and No. 3 rushers respectively, leaving. Demps will have to shoulder the load, or Meyer will have to start using Moody.
Either way, half of UF's rushing production will need to be replaced along with most of the Gators' total TDs.
The Pounceys turning pro removes a lot of stability from the offensive line. Maurkice Pouncey is the best center in the SEC and his brother will follow him to the NFL.
Mike will likely get drafted later, and I don't think we'll see him in the top two rounds, but his brother will be going late in the first, so they'll both come out.
For all of the flak the Gators' offensive line took this season, the Pouncey twins were solid. They anchored the offensive line and frequently graded out as "champions" during game analysis. They will be hard to replace.
Assuming we don't see any more declarations and that Bruce Black is right, the Gators will be replacing 15 significant players. The most stable position is surprisingly the QB (Brantley looks ready), and the deepest is still DB, but with so much talent leaving you have to wonder what's left for the Gators.
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