Players That Could Emerge in 2012

It happens every season. A player puts together a decent year one season and follows it up with a monster season. Whether it's an extra year of comfort in a new scheme, added muscle or athleticism, or improved focus, there are always returning players that have improved seasons. Here are some players for Florida that could turn in a big year.

Neiron Ball—What a story this would be. Ball missed the 2011 season after it was discovered that some of his blood vessels were tangled, and it was in doubt whether or not he would play football again. Doctors cleared him to start practice with the team when camp begins in early August.

As a freshman in 2010, Ball became a missile on special teams after playing in all 13 games. He was recently added back to the official team roster and listed at 6-2, 222 pounds. The added weight will help him be a factor on the field this season.

Mike Gillislee—After years of begging from the fans, there isn't much of a choice this fall—Mike Gillislee will be freed. The depth chart won't allow it to be any other way. The losses of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps force Gillislee and Mack Brown to split touches in the backfield.

If Gillislee can stay healthy, he should have the job throughout the season. He has totaled 920 yards in his first three seasons in Gainesville, but those numbers have come while splitting time with other running backs. This year, only the unproven Brown, freshman Matt Jones and two players moved to running back in the offseason, Chris Johnson and Omarius Hines, will vie for touches.

A big season from Gillislee can help the Florida offense get to where it wants to be, especially if the senior can take pressure off whichever sophomore quarterback wins the starting job.

Jelani Jenkins—The transition for Jenkins in the offseason came in his physical appearance. He looked like a different player on the field for the spring game. He even looked bigger than his listed 233 pounds. Jenkins was third on the team in 2011 with 75 total tackles after playing in 12 games. However, he was lighter and wasn't the physical presence at the point of contact. His extra muscle this year can turn him into that player.

Some extra work on his hands wouldn't hurt either, as dropped interceptions became a theme for Jenkins in 2011.

A.C. Leonard— The expectation is that Leonard will face punishment after he was arrested for battery in the offseason. However that punishment comes and goes, Leonard proved at the end of the season that he can be a force at tight end. He has the physical presence that can handle the pounding at the line of scrimmage, but Leonard also showed at the end of the year that he is capable of being a threat in the pass game. He led the team with 65 receiving yards on three catches against Florida State in the last game of the regular season.

Physical talent isn't an issue for Leonard. He just needs to prove he is capable of handling himself off the field.

Solomon Patton—The electricity at wide receiver has been missing in Gainesville since the departure of Percy Harvin. Part of that is because Harvin's explosiveness is rarely matched on the college level, but the Gators haven't had a receiver that's a threat to take it to the house since Harvin left.

Patton has the speed and agility to be a playmaker in the offense out of the slot receiver position this year. He got his feet wet as the kickoff returner early in the 2011 season. Now it's time for him to take the next step as a receiver.

Loucheiz Purifoy—The cornerback spot opposite of Marcus Roberson seems wide open as fall camp opens. Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs spent most of the 2011 season at the position, but Purifoy earned a start in the Gator Bowl last season when Roberson was out with a neck injury.

Purifoy is the tall, long-armed cornerback that Muschamp wants to use in his defense. He'll battle with Watkins, Riggs and others for the second cornerback job, but expect Purifoy to be on the field a lot this year whether he wins it or not.

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