In case you forgot amid the crying and disappointment of the SEC Championship, Brandon James was injured and never returned to the game. Now, the Gators have released that he broke a bone in his foot and will not return in time for the Sugar Bowl.
Suddenly, the Gators have to replace their all–purpose yards leader amidst a host of other distractions and problems in preparing for the Beacats (replacing Strong, possibly replacing Billy Gonzales' replacement Zach Azzanni, Dunlap saga).
In doing so, the Gators have to replace kick returns, punt returns, and the Percy Position. However, this doesn't all have to come from the same person. The Gators can replace each aspect of James' game with a single player who excels at that specific aspect of the game.
In the interest of space, lets call it BJs by committee. Hmmm... my lawyer informs me that I should not refer to my Brandon James replacement plan as "Keys to the Gators Success: BJs by Committee."
Let's just call it "replacing one guy with a bunch of guys who can do certain things that the one guy could do, but who can't individually replace the one guy because they can't do everything that guy could do". Yeah, that's better.
Wait, that name sucks too. As a last ditch effort, I'll call it "Four Ways to Replace Brandon James", and make it an easy to read, numbered list.
1. Brandon James the Kick Returner
This is probably the most dangerous Brandon James this year. He's averaging 26.07 yards per return, good enough for 25th in the country. Still, the Gators have two capable return men on the team who can do a very good Brandon James impression.
Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps both returned kicks in the Alabama game. Demps had two returns for 55 yards, and Rainey had one for 28. While that's not much of a sample size to go by, it still works out to three returns for 83 yards, or 27.67 yards per return.
Splitting their touches seems like a good idea. I don't think the Gators need both back there at the same time mostly because neither blocks as well as Riley Cooper, Brandon James' partner in the kickoff backfield.
Ultimately, I think the Gators will have the least amount of change replacing Brandon James the kick returner. Rainey and Demps won't do much better, but they won't do any worse either.
2. Brandon James the Punt Returner
Brandon James' biggest disappointment, when measuring against his performance last year, is definitely his punt returns. Last year, James averaged 13.78 yards per return, 14th in the country. This year, he's averaged 7.39 yards per return, 43rd in the country.
The worst thing is, this is going to be the hardest part of James' game to replace. Nobody on the Gators' team is a proven punt returner except for James. Frankie Hammond Jr. has three returns in garbage time, and they weren't for many yards.
I doubt we'll see more than James' 7.39 YPR. I think the Gators should go with Hammond back deep and a full block for every punt return. Let Demps and Rainey have the opportunity to get "returns" off of punt blocks.
3. Brandon James the Screen Guy
Brandon James' offensive staple for four years has been the screen. He runs it from a variety of positions, and it's mostly boring.
I don't think the Gators need to do much here as it's not a very big part of the Gators' game. Let Demps handle the one or two RB screens, and continue using Hernandez' shovel pass/option as the go to screen pass.
4. Brandon James the Percy Position
Here's where the Gators can get fancy. James was a bust as a Percy replacement. The position was meant for Debose, but he hurt himself right before the season and James filled in. Basically, we're replacing a replacement.
Instead of filling in with the two most likely replacements, Demps and Rainey, the Gators should go to the most athletic player on the team, Joe Haden.
Demps and Rainey can't replace Percy. Hell, they can't even replace Brandon James replacing Debose replacing Percy. Neither one of them can catch a pass; they're throwback running backs, except for the whole... 180 lbs. a piece thing.
However, Joe Haden might be the spark the Gators need. I'll steal a line from the Bud Light Billy Mays guy and say, "Haden's the guy to turn this boring offense into a scoring offense!"
Do I know this for sure? Nope. I have zero factual basis to support my hypothesis that Haden can play the real life Flex position.
I think he can though, and that's all the convincing I need. There is a little more than my borderline man–crush going into this suggestion (I consider Joe Haden the best player on the 2009 Gators' team and I consider Tim Tebow the best Gator ever, so figure that one out).
Initially, Haden was recruited as a WR/DB. He turned into the best DB on the team, so we've never seen him on offense. Still, I've never said, "Joe! You should have picked that off! That's why you play defense!" when a ball goes his way, so he must have hands.
For those of you screaming, "Wait, idiot! Haden hasn't run a route ever! He was a QB in high school, and a DB in college. This is the stupidest idea since Fox drunkenly green-lit Brothers (you don't know what this is because it's already off of the air, but Michael Strahan had a sitcom)."
The Percy Position doesn't succeed thanks to tight route running. Percy, the most athletic player in the 2009 draft, fell to the Vikings thanks to questions about his route running (also, his health...whatever).
The Percy Position succeeds thanks to hyper–athleticism and soft hands. Demps and Rainey have the athleticism but not the hands. Haden has the athleticism, and he might have the hands. It couldn't hurt to give him a shot.