Gators’ redshirts ready to break out

Florida will have a strong group of redshirt freshmen that will be counted on to contribute this fall.

Their roles will be figured out this fall in camp, but the Gators will need Taven Bryan, Khairi Clark, Will Grier, Thomas Holley and Andrew Mike to produce this year.

Defensive lineman Taven Bryan: Last season wasn’t supposed to end in a redshirt for Taven Bryan. The previous coaching staff planned on playing him, but strep throat kept him off the field and made him lose weight. Just as he was starting to regain the weight and look like he could be ready to play, strep throat struck again and Bryan was forced to take a redshirt.

He didn’t look like a redshirt freshman this spring, lining up at defensive tackle with the first team defense for a majority of the spring. The Wyoming native has a background in wrestling and uses his strength and flexibility to his advantage in the middle of the line. He makes sense as a starter at defensive tackle alongside Caleb Brantley, and the two could give the Gators a strong pairing up front.

Quarterback Will Grier: This is the most obvious choice on the list. If Grier ends up winning the starting quarterback job, there’s no question he will be a breakout candidate, not only for redshirt freshmen. He’ll be a trendy breakout pick of players across the Southeastern Conference. Grier is certainly good and looked to be in command of the offense during the open portions of spring practice, and a full fall to work with quarterback gurus Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier will only benefit him.

The problem comes in that it’s not clear Grier will be the starter. He’s still battling with sophomore Treon Harris, who started six games as a true freshman last year, for the starting job. McElwain admitted Grier was ahead in the battle during the spring, adding that it was only because Harris missed a week of practice because of a death in the family. Throwing them on an even playing field during the fall will be the matchup everyone is watching.

Defensive tackle Khairi Clark: The strength of this redshirt class at Florida is unquestionably in the middle of the defensive line with Bryan and Clark already listed and Thomas Holley up next. Clark didn’t look overwhelmed in open practices last fall but taking a redshirt to reshape his body was a good thing. He looked like a defensive tackle that could help the Gators this season when he was counted on for more time during the spring.

Clark was listed at 315 pounds during the spring and he doesn’t look like a player that will ever play under 300 pounds. He’s a run-stuffer in the middle of the line that the Gators could use to slow opposing run games.

Defensive tackle Thomas Holley: When you’re looking for the highest ceiling of players on this list, Holley is the one. He’s 6-3, 320 pounds and moves like a defensive end. The downside is there’s still a long way to go in his development, but all of the elite tools are there. He gets off the line of scrimmage quickly, has the strength to get into the backfield and has the size to play against the run in the middle of the defensive line in the SEC.

A hip labral tear from high school forced Holley to take a redshirt last year. More importantly than time in games, it cost him developmental time on the practice field. Now first-year defensive line coach Chris Rumph gets to mold Holley’s elite athleticism into a player that can create havoc for opposing offenses.

Offensive lineman Andrew Mike: There won’t be much of an option for Mike. He will have to contribute this year because the offensive line’s numbers are so thin. At 6-6, 302 pounds during the spring, Mike looked capable of helping the Gators up front this year. He now has the size to play an interior line position if the Gators need him there.

With David Sharpe, Martez Ivey and other talented players outside, it might make more sense for the Gators to use a player like Mike inside. But his versatility will be important for a Florida offensive line trying to find the best grouping this fall without many proven pieces.

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