FOOTBALL: Top 10 True Freshmen of Influence

<img src= align=right>Last year, true freshmen were a necessity. The Gators needed them to contribute and in a lot of instances start. This year, for the most part, they need to fill in the gaps. The starters are somewhat set on the Gator roster, but the second team and depth has holes galore that will be littered with players from the 2004 freshman class. Pictured: Mike McIntosh

1. Mike McIntosh (WR) - Wide receivers are much more visible to the eye at practice, so he had a much better chance of getting noticed. He was superb from the first day. It's hard to imagine him cracking the starting lineup, but he displayed enough skill to warrant a good look at the 2-deep roster. That says a lot for one of the deepest positions on the team. McIntosh plays smooth and smart. He has speed and does a lot of the little things that young receivers aren't ready to do when they step on the field in college.

2. Drew Miller (OG) - The skill players are easy to get a bead on but the linemen are the hardest. With Drew's quick move to the second team, it was apparent that must have impressed the coaches. In Oklahoma drills he was excellent and he has the size and ability to compete in the SEC right now. He will be in the rotation this season and may allow for some flexibility up front if needed.

3. Kyle Jackson (FS) - All the free safety from Jacksonville did was lead the defense in interceptions in the preseason. He seems to have a keen awareness of where the ball is heading when in flight and almost always takes the right angle to get to the ball. When he gets there, he doesn't knock it away; he hauls it in. He can really run and is not afraid to hit anyone.

4. Brandon Siler (LB) - He improved leaps and bounds when Coach Zook announced they were starting to simplify the defense after everything was installed. He started covering the flat routes in coverage. He was making plays in the backfield. He is a smart player and is a shoe in for the two deep rotation with our lack of linebackers.

5. Markus Manson (RB) - From watching two-a-days, you can tell Markus runs very hard but, he has so much more. We saw glimpses in the scrimmage the other day. He broke through the hole, shimmied to the right and broke outside for a 23 yard gain, all in a flash. He ran 22 times in the first scrimmage, all against the first team defense. He took a pounding that day and kept going. Manson should be a great one here.

6. Tony Joiner (SS) - He made his appearance on the second team in about 5 days or so. He hasn't had the spectacular plays that Jackson has had, but he has been solid and a vocal leader. He is one of the best physically looking freshman safeties in a long time. He can run and when it comes time, he can hit. It caught my attention one day in the first week, when he was shouting out for another older player to get in the right position. He will play early and often.

7. Tate Casey (TE) - Before Darrel Carpenter was hurt, he was a sure candidate for a redshirt in my mind. With Carpenter hurt, Casey may be our best receiving threat at tight end. He is long and rangy and needs to put on some weight, but the kid is aggressive and can run. He goes over the middle fearlessly and laid the block of the pre-season on Javier Estopinan at one practice.

8. Javier Estopinan (LB) - He was put in a little hole by getting sick with mono at the start of practice. He was held out of a few drills while they let it subside. Still the coaches saw enough in him to keep him in the 2-deep and that is where he has been since the beginning. He plays aggressive and I have seen him make a few hits in the back field. His wrestling background has probably helped him put the weight back on from the illness and he looks ready to go.

9. Dawayne Grace (CB) - In my opinion, he made more progress over the 12 practices than any of the others. Early on he was tentative and stiff. As practices started going and he started understanding, he became a lot more loose and aggressive. He started making plays out there and getting in the receiver's face. He has good size and good agility. Right now he and Deshawn Carter are fighting for the 4th corner back spot.

10. Phil Trautwein (OT) - He is my biggest surprise so far. When watching Trautwein's film in the off-season, I could see a mover, but not a mauler. Phil has come out with a chip on his shoulder and an aggressiveness that has earned him a spot on the 2nd team offensive line at right tackle. He does have good feet. That was evident in summer workouts when he, Lance Butler, and Mike Degory all led the offensive linemen in running drills. The o-line position is as difficult as any to learn so he has his work cut out for him.

10(a).Dane Guthrie (TE) - Dane was the fastest improving freshman pre-season started. He may have the best combined size, speed, and aggressiveness of any tight end on the roster. He is big and strong enough right now to come in and compete at this level at the position. He runs well in traffic and is not afraid of contact. He might be near the top if this list had an ankle injury not sidelined him for most of the practices.

There were more freshmen that will play this year. Of the whole freshman class I would estimate that only 5 or so would red-shirt. This was truly a great haul.

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