Florida Football: The Top 10 Most Important People in the Program
After firing blanks in the 2011 season the Gators will look to reload and get ready for the 2012 season, starting with the 2012 Gator Bowl against Ohio State.
Moving forward from a disappointing season the Gators will have to make some big changes in order to not suffer through more of the same next year.
With key players such as Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps ,John Brantley and Jaye Howard graduating, who will step in to fill the void? Couple that with the departures of Charlie Weis and Mickey Marotti, the Gators will have another season of turnover from a coaching standpoint.
With the players and coaches that are left, let's take a look at the most important people left in the program and what they will mean for next season.
A.C Leonard and Jordan Reed
Reed has made the best of his situation.
Coming to Florida as a tight end, Reed was asked to play some quarterback two seasons ago and was again moved back to tight end for this season. Reed was hobbled by an injury this season, but still finished tied for first in receptions with 28 for 307 yards and two scores. Reed will look to stay healthy for his junior season and improve on his numbers from this year.
A.C. Leonard struggled to find the field early in the season, but with the departure of Gerald Christian, was able to gain more playing time at the end of the year. Leonard finished the year with seven receptions for 95 yards. He is an athletic tight end that could develop into a serious receiving threat.
Reed and Leonard will both have to develop into a reliable safety blanket for whichever sophomore quarterback wins the starting spot. They will also face some stiff competition from incoming recruits Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor.
Thompson will receive some playing time as he is more of a blocking tight end and a bigger body than the other three at his position. Kent Taylor, like Reed and Leonard, is more of a receiving threat and will challenge for playing time early.
If the Gators gave out a comeback player of the year award, it would go to Dominique Easley.
Coming in as one of the prize recruits in the "greatest recruiting class ever," Easley struggled during his freshman season. Easley not only didn't receive much playing time, but was left in Gainesville for a road trip and contemplated transferring.
Oh, what a coaching change and a season can do.
Easley found new life under Dan Quinn and Will Muschamp, becoming a leader for a very promising defensive unit.
Easley finished the season with 37 tackles, seven-and-a-half for loss and one-and-a-half sacks.
Easley tore his ACL and will miss the Gator bowl and spring practice, but will be a key piece for a defense that will look to move from good to elite next season.
Matt Elam entered Florida in his freshman season as the kid who flip-flopped between Florida and Florida State ad nauseum before enrolling early at Florida.
Elam has done more than enough to erase that label and put himself right up there with other great Gator safties such as Reggie Nelson, Major Wright and Ahmad Black.
Elam finished the season with 72 tackles, nine for a loss, one sack, broke up seven passes and forced two fumbles.
Elam has developed into a force to be reckoned with in the secondary and will look to improve on those numbers next season.
The sky is the limit for Elam, and he will be a key piece for Florida next season.
Aubrey Hill was a standout receiver at Florida, leading the Gators to three SEC championships. He also was a graduate assistant for Florida's first national championship. Hill returned to his alma mater as the wide receiver coach and recruiting coordinator after serving as the wideout coach at Miami.
Hill makes this list not as the wide receiver coach—his unit seriously underperformed last season—but as the recruiting coordinator.
With the departure of Charlie Weis, the Gators could have suffered recruiting, but with Hill running recruiting the Gators have only lost one recruit since Weis' departure.
The Gators have put together a top 10 recruiting class thus far and are still in the running for a couple 5-star recruits that could push them back into the top five.
Over the weekend, Florida received a verbal commitment from Visesio "Junior" Salt, a JUCO defensive tackle that will fill the void left by Jaye Howard.
Muschamp has shown that he will stop at nothing to get the type of player he wants, and Hill will be crucial in getting a top recruiting class and filling out the roster with players that fit Muschamp's scheme and philosophy.
Brian White, the current running backs coach and interim offensive coordinator, is saying all the right things leading up to the bowl game.
In a press conference today, White said he expects to coach at Florida next season even if he isn't offered the head coaching job.
White is going to have the biggest opportunity of his career against Ohio State, where he will call plays and run the offense.
Moving forward, it is unlikely that White will be offered the offensive coordinator position, but his attitude will be key in moving forward and being able to work under whomever Muschamp picks as the new offensive coordinator.
White is also a great coach as he coached Florida's first Mackey award winner in Aaron Hernandez.
Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins
Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins came to Florida in the same recruiting class, both knowing they would have to wait their turn behind older linebackers, with Jenkins receiving a red shirt his freshman season.
After waiting patiently, the defense was turned over to the duo and they have become the backbone of the Gators defense.
Jenkins and Bostic share the responsibility of getting the play from the sideline and relaying it to the defense. They have also taken on a veteran leadership role for a very young unit.
With this defense set to take a step forward from good to elite next season, these two linebackers will be where it starts.
Dan Quinn left the Seattle Seahawks to become the defensive coordinator at Florida and lead a defense with head coach Will Muschamp.
Quinn's defense finished ninth in total defense, an astounding feat considering the entire secondary was made up of freshmen and sophomores.
Quinn will lead a unit of experienced and now veteran players next season as they look to become of of the best defenses in the country.
The University of Florida has seen unimaginable success since Jeremy Foley took the job of athletic director. Since he took the job in 1992, the Gators have won 15 national titles and finished in the top 10 199 times across the board.
Foley has been the AD for all three of Florida's football national championships and has been the man who brought back Steve Spurrier and hired Urban Meyer.
Foley along with Will Muschamp will be in control of selecting the next offensive coordinator, which will be a make-or-break decision for the success of the 2012 season.
Jacoby Brissett or Jeff Driskel
Both Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett received more playing time this season than either thought they would have before the season began.
Driskel enrolled in January and had the early edge on Brissett, earning the backup role in the fall. After John Brantley went down with an ankle injury it was Driskel who stepped in. However Driskel also suffered an ankle injury against Alabama and it was Brissett who would start the next two games before Brantley returned.
Brissett received much of the playing time the rest of the season, but did not do enough to earn the starting job moving forward.
The starting job will come down to who performs better during the spring, summer and fall camps. Both of the soon-to-be sophomore quarterbacks will become the face of the offense with star running back Chris Rainey out of eligibility and graduating this semester.
Quarterback is the most important position on the football team, and the team will be handed over to one of these two young quarterbacks.
Much like Urban Meyer in his first season as head coach, Will Muschamp has made it very clear that he wants a certain type of player on his football team. If you do not fit that mold then, no hard feelings, but we do not need you.
There have been a lot of players transfer for various reasons, but it has not fazed the first time head coach as he continues to build the team to better fit his coaching style and philosophy.
A lot has been made of how the team struggled in the first year under Muschamp, but he is admittedly a defensive minded coach and he, along with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, produced a top 10 defense with almost all underclassmen.
Muschamp's biggest move to date will be who he can hire to run the offense, and how quickly they can become successful. As he will soon find out Gator Nation does not accept losing very well, and losing six or potentially seven games a season will not endear you to the fanbase.
Muschamp has the want and the ability to turn this team around, but he will need to do it quickly as Gator fans are not known for their patience.