Florida’s most irreplaceable players

Injuries ravaged Florida’s year in 2013 and played a big role in the eight-loss season. The Gators lost important players throughout the year, hurting the team’s depth and taking its talent off the field. It can’t happen again if Florida wants to rebound, and there are five players the Gators especially can’t afford to lose.

5. Linebacker Jarrad Davis: The fifth player on this list was difficult to come up with. There are a few ways to go with it, but I’m taking Davis. While the play at linebacker was subpar for Florida last season, he got a shot on the field and took advantage of it. Davis came to Florida as the least hyped member of the four-man linebacker class, but he had the best season of the four.

He now heads into his sophomore season likely as a starter. His statistics from last season look good but nothing special. He ended the year with 24 tackles, two tackles for a loss and one forced fumble. His impact was much bigger than that. He was always in position, especially impressive during his freshman season after he had only been on campus for a few months. He now has a full season and offseason under his belt, and with some of the underperforming linebackers last year still on the roster, losing Davis would be a big blow.

4. Center Max Garcia: It might seem strange for a lineman to be on this list during his first year at a new position, but Garcia is really important to this line and the entire offense. He moved to multiple positions last season on the line and played well while doing it. He has to get used to snapping the ball, and that has to improve during fall camp.

However, the coaches trust him to make the pre-snap calls at center because of his intelligence. Jonotthan Harrison handled the job in recent years and did it well, and the belief is that Garcia will be able to do the same. If he were to miss time, there’s no obvious replacement behind him that’s ready to play. Redshirt freshman Cam Dillard took backup reps in the spring but might need another year before he’s ready to play. Trip Thurman also took reps at the position but not enough to be trusted at center in games.

3. Quarterback Jeff Driskel: Everyone saw how quickly the offense fell apart when Driskel suffered a season-ending leg injury against Tennessee last season. This year, the Gators have a better situation with their backup quarterbacks. They have two talented freshmen -- Will Grier and Treon Harris -- that can step in if Driskel went down this season. They don’t have experience, but neither did Skyler Mornhinweg or Tyler Murphy last season. The talent level of the freshmen is higher though.

The best option for Florida is obviously that Driskel stays healthy and takes the leaps the coaches expect him to in Kurt Roper’s new offense. If he does get hurt and misses time, the Gators are set up to handle it better this year, but it still would force the offense to take a big step back by throwing a true freshman under center. There's an argument to put Driskel even higher on this list.

2. Defensive end Dante Fowler: There’s a clear top two of talented players on the Florida roster, and the order is certainly debatable. In Fowler, the Gators have an elite pass rusher. They’ve lacked that in recent years, but after Fowler put in a strong spring with consistent effort, the coaches believe this will be a massive year for the junior.

Without Fowler, the Gators would be in trouble on the defensive line. Will Muschamp has said multiple times that they’re comfortable with the first unit on the defensive line, and Fowler is a big part of that. However, there aren’t many other defensive ends that strike fear into the opponent. Heading into fall camp, Bryan Cox is likely the starter at the other defensive end position, but he hasn’t shown enough in games to demand respect.

Jonathan Bullard will alternate between end and tackle this year. If Fowler were to miss any time, it makes sense that Bullard would slide out permanently to defensive tackle, but the production would take a dip without Fowler. It’s imperative for him to stay healthy this year, and as long as that happens, Fowler will have a big year.

1. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves: The inexperienced Florida secondary has one known commodity -- Hargreaves. After that, there aren’t many proven pieces. The Gators lost Loucheiz Purifoy, Cody Riggs, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins from last year’s secondary and have to find a way to fill those holes. With both safety jobs and one cornerback job open, it’s Hargreaves that heads into the season with a secondary job locked down.

It might not be a smooth ride to determine who starts around Hargreaves. It looks like a freshman, either Duke Dawson or Jalen Tabor, could start at the second cornerback spot. Both are certainly talented and will be good players for Florida, but the inexperience could provide some bumps along the road. The safety position has a number of talented players, but only Jabari Gorman has extended experience at the position.

That makes Hargreaves the most irreplaceable player on the Florida roster. There are too many question marks around him. If the Gators had depth in the secondary, they might be able to get by without him. However, with so many question marks, taking away the steady play of Hargeaves would be the biggest blow for the Gators.


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