LARRY VETTEL: Class of '02 vs. Class of '05, #2

After reading a number of responses to the first part of this analysis it seems I need to clarify my purpose in doing this. It is not my intention to criticize Ron Zook or Steve Spurrier. I do not intend to lower or raise expectations for Urban Meyer. I am simply trying to determine whether the perception that the Gators of '05 are significantly better than the Gators of '02, and if the optimism about the year ahead makes sense from a personnel standpoint.

With that, let's compare the teams on defense and in the kicking game.

Defensive Tackle

In '02 the Gators returned Ian Scott, Tron LaFavor and Brian Savelio. Of the three, only Scott was a major player, though LaFavor was solid. In '05 the Gators will start out with Marcus Thomas and Ray McDonald and Mike Hill has flashed some potential. Thomas and McDonald may be as good at the next level as Scott. Maybe not, but that's not the debate today.

Advantage: 2005

Defensive End

Bobby McCray and Darrell Lee were returning in '02 as the Gators prepared for life without sack leader Alex Brown. Next year's Gators have Jeremy Mincey, Steven Harris and Joe Cohen leading the way. While productivity from the previous season is fairly close, potential and depth is not.

Big Advantage: 2005

Linebacker

Three years ago this was the weakest unit on the team Ron Zook inherited. Specifically this was the area where the HBC felt the cupboard was "sorta bare." Well guess what? It's the weakest unit Urban Meyer inherits as well. While the '02 Gators had Mike Nattiel and Bam Hardmon the '05 Gators offer up Brandon Siler and Earl Everett. Both units have Todd McCullough, but one must assume he is better now than he was then, Depth is non-existent. In this war of attrition go with the best single talent of the bunch… and that's Siler.

Miniscule edge: 2005

Cornerback

Both starters were seniors in 2001, but that's deceptive. Keiwan Ratliff returned as did former starter Robert Cromartie, and one-time starter Marquis Westbrook. In '05 Florida has Dee Webb and Vernell Brown as the only guys with any experience. Dawayne Grace may make this a better unit than '02, but can't figure that into the discussion.

Slight edge: 2002

Safety

This is a pretty good battle. 2002 saw the Gators bring back Gus Scott and Todd Johnson, two of the team's top three tacklers. Next fall, the Gators will have Jarvis Herring, Kyle Jackson and Terrence Holmes. I believe this would be clear had Jackson played more early in the season, but still the upside already shown by Jackson and Tony Joiner is too good to ignore.

Slight edge: 2005

Kickers

Neither team returned a place kicker since Matt Leach punted in 2001. Eric Wilbur is a much better punter than Leach was.

Edge: 2005

The Bottom Line

In my view Ron Zook IS leaving behind a better team than he inherited, particularly on defense. But I don't believe Florida has gone from "bare cupboard" to "loaded for bear." The improvement would be more dramatic with the return of Crowder and Fason, but that aint happening. Another major plus for the Gators' future is that the best talent on hand is younger than the best talent returning in 2002, giving cause for more long-term optimism. But there are other reasons for being confident about where Urban Meyer can take this roster.

Meyer got a month head start on putting together a staff and recruiting (compared to Zook '02). And he picked up recruiting at a far better place than it was three years earlier. Ron Zook had a bunch of top-flight commitments already lined up. Plus, Zook and his staff have significantly improved Florida's relationships with high school coaches throughout the state and the Southeast. To me, that will be Ron Zook's most positive and long-lasting contribution to Florida Football.

See, it wasn't about beating a dead horse after all!

Keep those emails coming!

Don't forget to email me your questions and comments, but please do not include attachments! My email address is: vettel@gatorcountry.com .

I look forward to you joining me on the radio, Sunday nights from 6:00-to-8:00 on Gainesville's WSKY-FM 97.3 (877/975-9825 toll free)

Have a great week.


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