Time to trust the youth

As the Florida coaches search for answers and areas of improvement during the bye week, getting the young players involved would be a step in the right direction.

Florida coach Will Muschamp said in fall camp that he’d rather have talent over experience, but through the first three games of the season, the Gators still have more young players that could make a difference.

WIDE RECEIVER Ahmad Fulwood: We know what Quinton Dunbar can do. He’s a possession receiver that the Gators have used that way in recent years, and he’s still an important passing of this year’s passing game. Kurt Roper said in the preseason that Dunbar could slide inside and play the slot if necessary, and that would be a great way to get Ahmad Fulwood on the field as an outside receiver with Demarcus Robinson.

We’ve already seen what Robinson can do -- tying the school record with 15 catches -- in a game against Kentucky. Fulwood’s breakout hasn’t come through the first three games of the year. Robinson has the athleticism and makes everything look easy at receiver, but Fulwood was very productive as a downfield receiver in fall camp. That’s the exact area the Florida offense has struggled with the most during the first three games.

While quarterback Jeff Driskel has struggled with overthrowing deep balls, what better than a 6-4 target to make plays on the ball? This is where Fulwood, one of two sophomores on this list, made his mark in fall camp, showing the body control and ball skills to attack the ball at its highest point in the air over a defensive back. At worst, turn Fulwood into what Andre Debose was in 2011 and take at least two shots deep to him each game.

CORNERBACKS Jalen Tabor/Quincy Wilson: The coaches have gone back to the drawing board with the secondary, and Muschamp hinted at a change that makes sense. The nickel has been an issue for Florida, especially when Marcus Maye lines up at the position. The goal was to give Brian Poole a chance outside at cornerback, but this secondary is much better with him back at nickel. It also frees up Maye to move back to safety, where Jabari Gorman struggled at Alabama.

Poole going to nickel opens the second cornerback spot opposite of Vernon Hargreaves III. That’s where Tabor and Wilson come in. Both have played this season and produced like you would expect. They’re freshmen that are going to make mistakes, but their long frames allow them to play physical.

Muschamp admitted on Wednesday that they can be hesitant to play freshmen in the secondary if they struggle in practice, but his counterpoint to the mentality is that what the coaches are currently doing isn’t working. I think Tabor and Wilson start to see an uptick in snaps starting next weekend.

RUNNING BACK Brandon Powell: We’ve heard for the last two games that Powell would be involved. Will Muschamp said before the Kentucky game that they wanted to get him more snaps on offense, and he said after the Alabama game that there was a package in for Powell that the coaches never got to. That can’t happen anymore.

Powell gives the Gators a speed threat at running back that is desperately needed. For as good as Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor are at moving the chains, Powell can put six points on the scoreboard with any touch. His 12-yard touchdown run against Eastern Michigan came between the tackles, showing he had the vision to hit the right hole and doesn’t have to be used exclusively on the perimeter. Touches at running back are hard to divide with this much depth, but Powell has shown the skillset to deserve more.

QUARTERBACK Treon Harris: This isn’t me calling for Jeff Driskel’s job just yet, but regardless of how anyone feels about Driskel’s play, it’s time for Florida to start getting Harris more involved in the game plan. Muschamp said at the start of the season that the coaches wanted to get the backup quarterback involved to avoid a situation like last year where the backup had no experience, but the coach said on Wednesday that the game flow against Kentucky and Alabama kept Harris on the bench.

Next weekend’s game in Knoxville is the time to put Harris on the field for a series. Avoid the wildcat packages only, put him on the field with the normal offense and see what he can do. It’s time to see what the freshman can do, and while it might be ideal to wait until the October 11 game against LSU to put him on the field in front of the home fans, the Gators need to give him a shot and at least see what he can do in case Driskel continues to struggle.

DEFENSIVE LINE Gerald Willis/Alex McCalister: The cry for a better pass rush started early in the season. Dante Fowler is on his way to an All-SEC season and needs to continue to provide pressure, but he’s seeing double teams and is the focus of every offensive line he faces this year. Alex McCalister might seem strange to be on this list since he’s tied for the team lead with two sacks, but he still needs more time on the field. He’s having an effective season as a pass rusher.

The Willis predicament is a weird one. Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin both said during fall camp that Willis would be a player that would help the team this season as a true freshman. Through the first three games, he has only been on the field for snaps late in the blowout of Eastern Michigan. Muschamp said the issue in is his consistency in practice, but at some point, the pass rush will get to a level where the Gators need to just take a shot and see if the freshman can produce like he did in fall camp. That point could come next week in Knoxville.

OFFENSIVE LINE Rod Johnson: Offensive tackle is one position the Gators actually have a positive decision to make. The return of D.J. Humphries will likely push Rod Johnson to the bench, but is that what makes the offensive line the most effective? It’s at least worth considering.

Pro Football Focus graded Johnson as Florida’s best offensive lineman against Alabama. The redshirt freshman held up against a strong defensive line, and the Florida offensive line played well as a whole. Johnson could just return to the bench and provide depth between two upper classmen tackles in Humphries and senior Chaz Green, but if either of the two struggles, there shouldn’t be much patience before throwing Johnson back on the field.


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