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Former backups that need to step up for Gators

This is an important spring for the Florida Gator football program under Jim McElwain. The offense has been mired in less than mediocrity for several years now and the defense took some big hits in the off-season as several will be playing professional football in 2017. Here is a group of guys that are either primed to break out or need to for this squad.



Feleipe Franks or Kyle Trask… Most have Franks out front. That is the general consensus both in public and behind the scenes, but you won’t hear the coaches talk about that. Regardless, there is a battle going on and one of these two guys needs to step up and be big this year. Simply put it is the most important thing to happen for this football squad in quite a while. The other 10 players around the quarterback on offense should be stronger this year, they need the signal caller to a guy that can take control and make the offense work like it is supposed to.



Mark Thompson… Everyone expects Jordan Scarlett to take the lead and they very well should. Lamical Perine showed enough as a true freshman to know that he will be a difference maker again in 2017. Many were anticipating Mark Thompson to have a similar role in 2016 and while we saw flashes, there was a lot more we would have liked to see out of him. Then we get the big screen pass in the Outback Bowl against Iowa and we see just what Thompson is capable of. He needs to keep the ball off the ground and learn to not tip-toe at times. If he can do those two things and run to the hole hard, he has the speed and size to be big time in 2017. The Gators need at least three backs, probably four, to make it through an SEC season. One good thing about all the early substitutions last year is that they did stay healthy. Thompson needs to be more of a force for this squad in 2017.



Tyrie Cleveland got his feet wet in a big way in 2016. Suspended and injured to start the way, his year got off to a slow start, but once he was able to really participate on the practice field, the staff knew they need to get him involved. We saw flashes of brilliance, including the 98-yard touchdown reception in the big win over LSU. That is what they need out of Cleveland, an explosive play maker at receiver that the program hasn’t had enough of in about a decade. This spring is big for him, his first on campus. Last year he was limited on when he could get on the field because of knowledge of the offense. This year should be a whole different story.


Joshua Hammond had a solid rookie campaign and just like Cleveland will be expected to do more in 2017. He also has plenty of big play capability and is already having a really good spring. This will be his second spring on campus, so his knowledge of the offense should be exceptional by the time the season rolls around. Playing fast and not worrying about doing the right thing is going to go a long way in Hammond having a big season.



Nick Buchanan is in his third year on campus and is at a time where it is imperative that he steps up. While the Gators feel good about six or seven linemen now as opposed to all the questions of the last couple of years, they would like to add two to three more to the mix. Buchanan is one that is taking steps forward this spring and should really get in the mix this fall. He needs to push for one of the starting spots at guard and see where that goes, he is headed in the right direction so far this spring.


Brett Heggie will see his first spring on campus and be a redshirt freshman in the fall. Arriving on campus as a center, he spent all of his time there a year ago and the first week this spring. Heggie’s positive play early this spring has earned him a move up to the first team for the last couple of practices at left guard, moving Tyler Jordan over to right guard. Heggie plays with great strength and a nasty attitude. He’s a guy we pegged before the spring to make a move and that may becoming faster than expected. Expect some big things from him as a guy that can play both guard and center.



It is just time for redshirt juniors Khairi Clark and Taven Bryan to take their turn at the front of the defensive line and do their thing. Both have had plenty of game action and both have played pretty well for the Gators. Now they are both going to be asked to start and produce on a more consistent basis. There really is no choice here. The Gators really need these two to step up big in 2017.



With some of the guys out with injury this spring, a couple of linebackers that need to really hit it hard this spring are sophomore @Vosean Joseph and redshirt sophomore Kylan Johnson. The two got their feet wet in a big way last year because of injuries. Joseph has to play within himself more and don’t step outside the boundaries of the defense when on the field. Johnson has to do a better job of playing in traffic. Both are excellent athletes that can run and hit, now it is time to fine tune things to live up to the status of the NFL guys that played ahead of them.



He’s been asked to play a different position, but if the Gators are going to have a good year on defense, one guy that going to have to be big for them is sophomore Chauncey Gardner. Gardner was the MVP of the Outback Bowl as a safety, but with his physical ability and the exodus of NFL corners Teez Tabor and Quincy Wilson, he has started the spring at cornerback. We saw the wheels in the bowl game, he has the ability, but he has some huge shoes to fill and with all of the other new guys on defense, he will have to play at a high level.

Junior corner Chris Williamson needs to make his move this year. He’s been on campus for a couple of years now and hasn’t made an impact. With the numbers at the position, they need him to step up and be able to produce. This spring should be big for Williamson, who may get time at safety and nickel as well.

Joseph Putu came to Florida lacking any knowledge of playing defense at the SEC level. It kept him from getting on the field as really one of the more physically talented players they had at the corner position. This spring should do wonders for Putu, but he has to take advantage. He is one of the guys they really needs to have an impact on this defense in the fall and that starts this spring with an ability to really learn what he has to do in the back end of the defense. 

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