Impact Freshmen for 2012

Florida's top-five ranked recruiting class brought talent at most positions to Gainesville, but it fills a number of important needs. The Gators needed bodies on the defensive line and signed talent and depth at the position. There are other needs that could be filled by freshmen if the first-year players prove in camp that they are capable of handling important roles.

1. Dante FowlerThe signing day switch from the Seminoles to Florida became even more important when Ronald Powell tore his ACL in early April. Fowler was recruited to play the BUCK linebacker position in the Florida defense, a spot from where Powell showed flashes of brilliance but still battled inconsistency in 2011. The 2012 season would have been his second year as the starter at the position and the second year in Dan Quinn and Will Muschamp's defense.

Without Powell, the depth chart opens up. Florida can and likely will move senior linebacker Lerentee McCray to the position because of his familiarity with the defense. The rest depends on how quickly Fowler picks up the defensive scheme.

If the freshman proves he's capable of the position early in his college career, the Florida coaches could slide Fowler to the BUCK and move McCray back to outside linebacker. The nation's tenth-ranked defensive end out of high school will determine his playing time by his performance in preseason camp.

2. Jonathan BullardAs the freshman defensive end waits full clearance to enroll at Florida, the Gators know how necessary he is to the team in 2012. The lack of a true defensive end forced Sharrif Floyd to slide outside from his natural position of defensive tackle. If Bullard can make an early impact at defensive end, the entire line would be better for it since Floyd would likely stay inside.

The 6-4, 250-pound frame of Bullard is physically mature enough to play early. Florida has made a habit in recent years of signing undersized defensive ends that needed weight before seeing the field. Bullard and Fowler aren't those players. They're thick, fast and ready to see the field early.

3. Antonio MorrisonLinebacker isn't a position of need for the Gators in 2012. Morrison might force his way on the field whether it is or not. Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and McCray return after starting in 2011, and Neiron Ball is back on the team for the fall after missing 2011 with an injury. Darrin Kitchens and Michael Taylor each saw plenty of time on the field last season, too.

Morrison turned heads in the spring with his physicality. The freshman was listed at 6-1, 216 pounds in the spring with the frame to fill out and play much heavier in the fall. He's the kind of linebacker Muschamp wants—the type that wants contact. The biggest opposition to Morrison seeing the field is the depth chart, but that might not even be able to stop the freshman.

4. Latroy PittmanThe first commitment in the 2012 recruiting class said yes to Urban Meyer and the previous coaching staff about 16 months from the day he would sign his name on the letter of intent. Even with a coaching change, Pittman didn't waiver. He drew rave reviews from Florida coaches and players during the closed spring practices and totaled 51 receiving yards in the spring game, highlighted by a 43-yard reception that showed off his explosiveness.

After Florida missed on Nelson Agholor and Stefon Diggs at the end of the recruiting process, the Gators need a wide receiver to step in and play immediately. The local product from North Marion High School has players and coaches believing he can be a productive receiver early in his career.

5. Kent Taylor/Colin Thompson The depth chart at tight end isn't friendly. Jordan Reed is back after an inconsistent season in 2011 and A.C. Leonard is expected to return after his off the field problems during the offseason. The freshman tight end combination should still see time on the field, but it will come in different roles.

Thompson can catch the ball and make plays with it, but his biggest immediate asset to the team will be as an extra blocker. The Florida offensive line struggled in 2011 and would greatly benefit from a tight end with blocking skills. The 6-5, 255-pound Thompson can be that as soon as the season starts.

With the lack of playmaking wide receivers on the roster, Taylor could see more time flexed out wide. The issue for him in coming to college was adding weight to play as an attached tight end, but if that doesn't happen before the start of the season, the Gators can still use him as a pass catcher.

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