Florida Gators Football: First-Year Starters Who Will Have to Step Up

John SheltonContributor IIIAugust 27, 2011

After each football season teams look to see which players are going to be departing in efforts to play in the NFL. They then have to figure out which players will take over for these spots. 

For the Florida Gators, this year could go both ways decided heavily on the play of the first-year starters. After an offseason that included the departure of Ahmad Black, Justin Trattou, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Pouncey, Will Hill and more, who all decided to take their talents to the NFL, how much can the first-year starters step up and make their impact felt? 

Additionally, one of the best cornerbacks in the nation, Janoris Jenkins, was dismissed from the team and took his talents to North Alabama to complete his college career. In total the Gators return 12 starters—four from defense, seven from offense and one from special teams.

I have to believe that the starting point for the Gators coaches was definitely the loss of three defensive backs who all were big names for the Gators with Ahmad Black, Will Hill and Janoris Jenkins. Losing these three guys means that the Gators had to find three more players to take over; however these, were three of the best players on the 2010 Gator defense.

Ahmad Black (former safety)

Black appeared in 48 games while playing at UF, including 39 starts. Within these games, Black had 244 total tackles and 13 interceptions. As a senior captain in 2010 Black was a main player for the Gators and sealed his legacy when he picked off a throw from Penn State's QB in the 2011 Outback Bowl and took it all the way back to seal a victory for the Gators. 

Taking over for Black: Matt Elam

The 5'10", 206 pound sophomore will be taking over in hopes of not only playing the position like Black, but also having the impact that Black had for the Gators. Elam played in all 12 regular season games for the Gators as a freshman, which should have been enough play time for him to understand the speed of games and be ready to jump right into the position and take control.

Will Hill (former safety)

Hill played in 38 games before deciding to forgo his senior year. He had 144 tackles and four interceptions in his career at Florida. 

Taking over for Hill: Josh Evans

With Evans taking over for Hill, it means that once again we will have a Jersey boy playing free safety. Evans, a junior, has only seen four starts throughout his career at UF, getting the chance this year to take the free safety job. Hill leaves big shoes to fill, but I feel like Evans has the speed and athleticism to keep up with any receiver in the SEC.

Janoris Jenkins (former cornerback)

Jenkins saw time in 39 games, including 36 starts, in his three years at Florida. However, he was dismissed from the team in the offseason for a second drug-related arrest in three months. 

Taking over for Jenkins: Cody Riggs

Possibly the most important first-year starter for the Gators this upcoming year, Riggs has to take over for arguably the best cornerback in the nation. The good thing is, like Elam, Riggs was one of six true freshmen to see time in every game last year. That experience should make it easier for him to get going.

Considering that the Florida Gators lost three of their best players with Black, Hill and Jenkins, it's going to take a lot of work for the new starters this year to step up and have the same impact as these guys. They are also going to have a lot of haters, including a lot of quarterbacks who are going to take shots downfield at them in the hopes of catching them off guard. A very big key to the success of the Gators this upcoming season is the play of these three new starters.

Also, another area of positions that saw a big hit from the departure of players is the offensive line. With the arrival of new offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, the Gators have decided to switch to a pro-style offense and a key part to the success of the new offense is the offensive line. With the loss of Mike Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert, the Gators are in a ton of hurt going into this season.

However, I feel like the Gators have some guys who can step into the holes these guys left and become as good if not better then last years line.

Sam Robey takes over for Mike Pouncey (former guard/center)

After patiently waiting behind the Pouncey twins for three years, Sam Robey is ready to finally take what is his and become the Gators' center. This 6'3" 297 pound offensive lineman hasn't won the battle yet for the spot, but I believe come September 3 against FAU, Robey will be the starter. 

Chaz Green takes over for Marcus Gilbert (former right tackle)

Redshirted as a true freshman, Green a second-year player has to take over for the most consistent tackle that the Gators had seen in a while, Marcus Gilbert. Green has the same body type that Gilbert had at his age. With the Gators working with Green to help him put on some more muscle, I can only see him having success in the upcoming years.

A few other positions have some new starters this year, but in general the defensive backs and offensive line has the biggest opportunity to either help out the Gators or hurt them. With a lot of new guys working together it is going to be a test to see if they can all work on the same page to make a run for the SEC Championship.

Other first-year starters and players they are replacing:

Jon Halapio taking over for Maurice Hurt

Jonotthan Harrison for Carl Johnson

Ronald Powell for Duke Lemmens

William Green for Justin Trattou

Sharrif Floyd for Omar Hunter

Jay Howard for Terron Sanders


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