Nine Guys That Can Make a Difference

On a squad of 80 or so players and in a game like football when 45-50 will play on any given Saturday, a winning program will need some unexpected help sometimes. A year ago, when Florida suffered through its worst season in over 20 years there weren't a lot of background players stepping up for one reason or another. That seems to be different from what we are hearing one year later.

When the University of Florida football takes the field in 2012 they will start with a renewed vigor for the game and looking to forget all about the 2011 campaign. To do that, they are going to have to rely on different players, especially on offense, that a year ago.

Some of these will come from a very highly rated recruiting class, but there are several players from every class year on the roster that have gotten the attention of the football staff and look to make a move in 2012. A lot of these were probably unexpected, but nonetheless welcome. Florida wants to and is expecting to rely on a downhill running game using bigger and stronger running backs to go along with an older, stronger, and more experienced offensive line.

Florida lost more than 80% of their rushing game with the graduation of Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey from a year ago. They need someone to step up.

Almost gone but never forgotten, sophomore Mack Brown may finally get a chance to show his stuff. Brown was the only running back in the Urban Meyer era that was actually the top player on the recruiting board that actually signed with Florida. He is a big power back with speed and just the kind of raw athleticism and attributes Meyer always wanted.

However, Brown saw time in a single game and redshirted in 2010 and played very sparingly a year ago under a new coaching staff. As a matter of fact, a week or so into fall camp this year Brown was suddenly being mentioned fourth among the backs and things seemed to be heading down the same path.

In the last two weeks, all of that has changed. Murmurs were coming out of camp that Brown was running real well and getting more and more repetitions with the top two groups and now he is being mentioned right behind starter Mike Gillislee and in a dead heat with freshman running back Matt Jones for playing time. It appears that brown is finally on his way to helping the team.

Mack Brown (33) and Gillislee could be a force at running back

Florida lost a big time player they were counting on when sophomore A.C. Leonard transferred during the summer. The tight end had a little experience and a lot of talent including the ability to play as an extension of the offensive line that the other returning guys with experience didn't have.

Tevin Westbrook was moved to the position in the spring and he has been highly praised lately for his work on the field. Westbrook came to Florida as a defensive end and had only played one year of high school football. He was a basketball player by trade in high school. Now his 6-5, 270 pound frame is ideal to be a pass protector or a blocker on the end of the line of scrimmage, something as mentioned was lacking. Also his huge hands and athleticism from basketball has evidently made him an option to throw too as well. He is a pleasant surprise indeed.

Not to be outdone, fellow tight end Clay Burton was also moved from defensive end and has bulked up his body quite a bit. At 6-4 and 253 pounds he now should be a more than adequate blocker at the line of scrimmage. The younger brother of Trey Burton, Clay is a team player and has been quick top pick up things on the offensive side of the ball after switching there at the conclusion of last season.

Florida signed all of six lineman total in the last three recruiting classes and one of the lesser names in that group is redshirt freshman Trip Thurman. It isn't for his size that is for sure. At 6-6, 323 pounds Thurman is massive and has had a really solid fall camp letting him get a lot of reps on the second team at right tackle. If they can get some quality time out of him on the field in his freshman season that would be a bonus.

On defense, the guy you always want getting off the bus fist to intimidate the opponent is 6-7, 287 pound senior Earl Okine. Unfortunately in his four plus years on campus, he hasn't intimidated anyone when he has been on the field. From the sounds of things that has changed a bit this fall and he has now worked himself into getting reps in the two-deep at defensive end. He will be pushed by talented freshmen, but again getting steady work out of Okine is a welcome change.

Maybe he doesn't belong in this group but he is here because he's really stepped up a lot this fall. Darrin Kitchens will play a lot this fall at the SAM linebacker position and it appears he will do it well. It is an oddity because when pressed into duty twice a year ago he came up big in the two games once leading the team in tackles. But, he has evidently been inconsistent and not earning the time on the field. That has evidently changed and the 6-1, 229 pound junior from Homestead has been getting noticed this fall and will play a lot in 2012.

A star in high school on both sides of the ball, redshirt freshman Valdez Showers came to Florida as a cornerback and was quickly moved to safety. Showers was seemingly lost in the shuffle a year ago, and has made a small move on the depth chart in the spring and a bigger move this fall. He is now fully entrenched in the two deep and plays with the savvy of a veteran. He has ideal size (5-11, and 188) and good instincts for the position. From lost to prominent player in one offseason makes him a bonus.

Always a blur on special teams a year ago, sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy got little to no playing time on defense all year… until the bowl game. Thrust into duty because of injuries, Purifoy got beaten on a couple of plays that everyone noticed, but played lights out for most of the game. He has turned that little bit of experience into quality play this spring and fall and is now the cornerback that the Florida receivers hate to match up against in practice every day. Purifoy will likely start in year two and has all the tools necessary to be a great one.

Purifoy has elite speed and quickness to go along with height at corner.

These are nine players that at some point in the last 12 months were not really looked upon to contribute to this team, and maybe ever. Now they very well could be the difference in a good or bad season.

Fightin Gators Top Stories