The overall roster as it stands now will have 79 players on it if no one is lost to attrition and every freshman shows up and is in school in July. This is six players below the NCAA limit of 85, something that will certainly be addressed by next year's recruiting.
Here is a look at the scholarship players who are presently available for the Gators for the 2005 season (Editor's Note: All players will be listed in the class they will be in this fall):
QUARTERBACK (4): The Gators have four quarterbacks on hand with two juniors and two freshmen. This is about as good as you can hope for. With junior Chris Leak and his SEC-best stats and junior Gavin Dickey, the Gators have two seasoned players to go along with redshirt freshman Cornelius Ingram and true freshman Josh Portis. Athletically the one player that is supposedly a question mark for the Meyer offense is the incumbent starter Leak. Meyer likes a quarterback who can run. Leak really hasn't had the chance to prove he's a capable runner so spring practice will show how well he can adapt his game. The other three quarterbacks come with great play making ability from their high school careers.
RUNNING BACK (4): The Gators wanted to sign one more this year. The roster has four running backs on it and sometimes two will see the field at the same time. Just two years ago, the Gators were down to their fifth back in a game against Arkansas due to injuries and fatigue. DeShawn Wynn --- if he's in shape --- will probably get the first chance at starting. The junior from Ohio has shown flashes of brilliance in his Gator career but they are few and far between. Junior Skyler Thornton has played well when he's gotten a chance. He is strong, fast and very capable of putting up good numbers. Redshirt freshman Markus Manson is one guy all the Gator recruitniks want to see. His high school highlights were phenomenal and he showed durability in early scrimmages last year when the injury situation gave him a chance to run the ball 20-plus times. True freshman Kestahn Moore brings his 200 pounds and 4.5 speed to a backfield waiting for someone to emerge. All four should play this year.
FULLBACK (2): The fullback position is somewhat of an unknown position at this point. Meyer has said the Gators will run exclusively from a one-back set. Junior Billy Latsko walked on at Florida and earned a scholarship as the starting fullback. He also played linebacker in high school and was the best linebacker at the Auburn camp in the summer before his senior season. People have been screaming for sophomore Eric Rutledge to move to linebacker since he was signed. I think both will get their chance this spring.
TIGHT END (5): This is another position where there are plenty of players on scholarship and it is a position which could see some players moved elsewhere. Senior Markell Thompson was passed on the depth chart by sophomore Tate Casey last season. Casey is a good fit to play tight end at the college level while Thompson may just be too big. He may have to move to the offensive or defensive line. Freshman Dane Guthrie would have been the starter at tight end as a true freshman last year if he had been healthy. The one-two punch of Casey and Guthrie is talented enough to occupy that position for the next four years. That could also mean that Brian Crum has to look for another position, perhaps linebacker. Freshman signee Brian Ellis has some work to do on his academics to make it into the class, but coaches are confident he'll get the job done. He gives the Gators another big, strong, player for the future.
WIDE RECEIVER (11): The wide receiver position at Florida may be the deepest it has ever been in terms of quality and quantity. The lone senior in the group is Dallas Baker, who could earn an extra year of eligibility if he graduates at the end of the 2005-2006 school year. There is a stockpile of talented juniors (Andre Caldwell, Chad Jackson, Jemalle Cornelius, Reggie Lewis and Kenneth Tookes). All have outstanding ability to be excellent receivers at the SEC level. There are no sophomores to be this year and five freshman in redshirt Mike McIntosh and true freshmen Nyan Boateng, Louis Murphy, David Nelson, and Eric Sledge. There are some rumblings that Lewis may be moved to defense where he is quite capable of seeing playing time at cornerback. Also, we expect Eric Sledge to move to defense early on.
OFFENSIVE LINE (15): The Gators will have five seniors on scholarship in the fall. Seniors Mike Degory, Randy Hand and Lance Butler are returning starters. Another senior, Tavares Washington, has a good chance to earn his way into the starting lineup with a good spring. Jonathan Marvin has never played a meaningful down for the Gators and we don't expect that to start now. Steven Rissler is the only junior who can expect a shot at playing time. We expect junior Todd Bunce to move from defense and be a part of the offensive line but it's unsure how well he will produce. There are three sophomores for next year in Carlton Medder, Phil Trautwein and Drew Miller. Miller will push for a starting job. Trautwein and Medder could both be capable back-ups and start in the future. Freshmen Jason Watkins and Jim Tartt will also push for playing time this year, giving the offensive line a pretty legitimate two deep. True freshmen Eddie Haupt, Ronnie Wilson, and Simon Codrington are all expected to redshirt this season.
DEFENSIVE END (9): This is another position where the Gators have numbers. Without signing a single defensive lineman this year, the Gators sport nine defensive ends on the roster. We think one or two of these guys will move. Junior Joe Cohen is said to be pushing 280-plus pounds and is a biscuit short of becoming a defensive tackle. I saw him eat the biscuit. Last year's other starter, Senior Jeremy Mincey, will start at one defensive end. Last year he was the best and most steady defensive lineman on the team. Juniors are Steven Harris, who came on at the end of the year, and little used McKenzie Pierre, who came into the fold as a project and is still one. Sophomore Javier Estopinan came to UF as a middle linebacker but he's sprouted to 275 so he's moving to defensive end. Tranell Morant has the size and strength, but has to learn consistency. He had occasional productive moments last year. Sophomores Julian Riley and Jarvis Moss hope to live up to their potential. The lone freshman defensive end is redshirt Derrick Harvey. He came to Gainesville highly touted. He'll have a chance to prove himself in the spring. If Cohen is moved to defensive tackle as expected, the Gators have eight defensive ends with three upper classmen.
DEFENSIVE TACKLE (6): Moving Cohen to defensive tackle would increase the numbers here to seven. Juniors Ray McDonald and Marcus Thomas return as starters. They have the potential to make big plays but they've yet to play consistently week in and week out. Four underclassmen will back them up in sophomores Michael Hill and Clint McMillan and freshmen Michael Brown and Brandon Daniel. Hill and McMillan got in the rotation last season. Hill has a lot of potential while the other three young guys have more to prove. With Cohen moved to defensive tackle, the Gators should be able to showcase a legitimate 2-3 deep at the position.
LINEBACKER (3): The linebacker position is the position of most need and was helped greatly by the last recruiting class. Coming into the spring, the Gators have three returning linebackers on scholarship. Senior Todd McCullough has shown he can play top flight ball when he's healthy but he's battled the injury bug. Junior Earl Everett has great physical tools to be an outstanding weak side linebacker. Sophomore Brandon Siler looks like he'll be all-world after a freshmen All-American season. The rest of the depth will be made up of position transfers and true freshmen. The Gators signed four freshman linebackers (Jon Demps, Ryan Stamper, Kalvin Baker, and Darryl Gresham) and all four could see playing time next season.
SAFETY (7): The safety position looks to be in good hands for a little while with depth and a good bit of youth. Senior Jarvis Herring will have the most experience of anyone in the secondary. Junior Terrance Holmes brings a nasty attitude to the safety position that could supply three people on the field at one time. Nick Brooks is the only other junior and he hasn't made a push for playing time in his three years on campus. Maybe a coaching change will give him that opportunity. Sophomores Kyle Jackson, Tony Joiner, and Reggie Nelson may be three of the most exciting players on the field next year. Nelson was the best junior college safety in the nation last year. Freshman signee Dorian Munroe has the speed to move from safety to corner where there is a greater need. Safety should prove to be a position of strength as the Gators have at least five or six players capable of playing.
CORNERBACK (7): Cornerback, much like linebacker, was a huge recruiting need, but the Gators signed only one so it's looking like there will be depth issues. That could necessitate some position changes. The Gators plan on playing a lot of man defense which requires a steady rotation. Vernell Brown and DeShawn Carter are the lone seniors at cornerback. Brown has started and plays hard but his size (5-8, 160) limits hat he can do. Carter hasn't lived up to his high school billing but will get his chance. Junior Dee Webb has all-star ability. Juniors Jermaine McCullom and Tremaine McCullom are special teams' dynamos who have to prove they can earn playing time in the defensive backfield. Freshmen Dawayne Grace (redshirt) and Avery Atkins along with any position transfers will be called upon to play a lot of minutes next year at the corner spot. Corner and linebacker are the positions of greatest concern.
KICKERS/PUNTERS (2): The Gators will have two kickers on scholarship and Coach Meyer talks about adding a long-snapper on scholarship. Junior Eric Wilbur is one of the nation's best punters. The coaching staff is placing a lot of faith in placekicker Jonathan Phillips, a true freshman who will get the first shot at winning the job.
SUMMARY: The Gators will have 79 scholarship players in the fall without attrition. Of the 79, 12 will be seniors and one (Dallas Baker) can get a fifth year by graduating. Almost half of the seniors (5) are offensive linemen. The junior class will have 25 scholarship athletes. The sophomores will have 15 and the freshman have 27 with 16 of them eligible to red-shirt. Tomorrow, we will try and project the signing class by position for 2006.