1. Secondary: Safety Matt Elam and cornerback Marcus Roberson are the cornerstones of the Florida secondary this year. Elam had a big season in 2011 as a sophomore and should produce a strong enough season to go pro after 2012. Roberson started his first game as a freshman and blanketed opponents from the beginning of his career. He is expected to be healthy after a neck injury ended his 2011 season early.Josh Evans had an up-and-down year at free safety but has the tools to have a strong senior season. There will be a battle for the second cornerback position and plenty of suitors. Loucheiz Purifoy, Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins all saw time at the second cornerback spot in 2011, and don't be surprised if freshman Brian Poole joins the group competing for the starting spot in 2012.
2. Defensive Line: Sharrif Floyd is one of five players in the SEC that was nominated for at least five preseason award watch lists. Coaches and media members across the country realize what he can do. The question comes down to where he plays. Floyd is noticeably more comfortable inside at defensive tackle, but he played defensive end last season out of necessity.Floyd and Dominique Easley can split time at defensive end in the 3-4 sets while both play inside in a 4-3 defense. The key could be the emergence of freshman Jonathan Bullard. If he proves capable of playing time immediately, the Florida defensive line will be strong, especially up the middle.
3. Linebackers: On paper, this group should probably be closer to the top. The Gators return three starting linebackers—Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray—that were all placed on the watch list for the Butkus Award. The production in 2011 hasn't matched their accolades so far.Power run teams were able to gain yards on the ground when they wanted to against the Florida defense in 2011. That has to chance in 2012, and increased toughness and ability to get off blocks by the linebackers is an important step to making that happen.
4. Running backs: This ranking is based on one player—Mike Gillislee. The depth at running back is bad, as Florida has just Mack Brown and Matt Jones on scholarship behind him, but the Florida offense can be better this season if Gillislee stays healthy and becomes the 1,000-yard running backs many believe he has the talent to do. The senior said at SEC Media Days that his goal was 1,500 yards and 24 touchdowns—one for each game.The depth is the issue here. Brown showed signs of ability in the spring game, but he is yet to prove it during a game in his college career. Jones is a freshman that dealt with injuries during the end of his career at Armwood High School, but Florida will need him healthy for 2012.
5. Quarterbacks: No one is really sure about the talent level at this position. Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel were both forced into action before they were ready in 2011. The battle between the two for the starting job began soon after the clock turned to zero after a win in the Gator Bowl. There have been no hints from the coaching staff or players about who will win the job.Will Muschamp said he will wait until a week or two before the season to name a starter and that his team could elect to play both if that's the best chance they have to win. Both were highly recruited players that should be capable of running the Florida offense to an improvement from 2011.
6. Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: The tight ends are the only thing keeping this group from being at the bottom, but even they took a hit when A.C. Leonard elected to transfer. Jordan Reed has potential to be a go-to target, but he hasn't reached it yet. Freshmen Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson should see time in different roles. Thompson is a blocker while Taylor can stretch the field in the pass game.The wide receivers need to step up and take some pressure off a new starting quarterback. Andre Debose and Quinton Dunbar have been expected to make the leap in recent years, but it hasn't happened yet. Freshman Latroy Pittman made headlines in the spring when he enrolled early. Solomon Patton has the playing making ability that can change the game.
7. Offensive Line: I wanted to put this group higher, but all the hype and offseason talk about improvement has to show itself once the games start in the fall. By all accounts from players and head coach Will Muschamp, the difference has been the energy brought to the practice field and meeting room by new offensive line coach Tim Davis.The Gators return plenty of experience for the group to improve. Chaz Green, Xavier Nixon and Matt Patchan are a solid trio at offensive tackle, while Jonotthan Harrison and Jon Halapio will be anchors in the middle. The only question is the left tackle position, which should be decided by camp performances.