VETTEL: Five Who Must Stay Healthy

After a week of watching the 2005 Gators in action several things are clear about the upcoming season. Florida is a very talented football team that might struggle more on offense than most expect, but might be a lot better on defense than they were a year ago. The Gators also have some areas of depth, such as receiver and safety and they have some areas where depth is iffy like the offensive line and linebacker.

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We can all debate the top players on the team, but I think there are a dozen players who are good enough to be All-SEC players. No, I'm not saying Florida will have 12 All-Conference honorees, but they have that many guys who could do it. But who could Florida least afford to lose? Well here's one man's opinion of the five members of this team who simply would be most difficult to replace during the upcoming campaign.

Brandon Siler: There's a reason Urban Meyer called Siler his favorite player after just a few weeks on the job. Actually there are lots of reasons. This sophomore has more leadership qualities in his pinkie than most fifth-year seniors have in their entire bodies. He was an enthusiastic recruiter for the new staff and a he is critically important to this squad in the locker room and on the practice field. And, oh yeah, he is a superb middle linebacker who has no proven backup.

Chris Leak: I'm as impressed with Josh Portis as anyone. I know Gavin Dickey and Cornelius Ingram are gifted athletes who could perhaps get the job done. But this is clearly Chris Leak's team. The junior quarterback has a wealth of experience, excellent chemistry with his receivers and has grown dramatically as a leader. Sitting down with him last week I was quite impressed with how much more outgoing he is and how he is embracing the expectations his coaches have thrust upon him. He also already has over 5,000 passing yards and 45 TD passes in the bank.

Mike Degory: The Gators want their offensive guards to be "road graders" who can get great push. They want their tackles to be nimble and agile protectors of the quarterback who can help clear a path for runners. They want their center to be everything --- big, strong, physical, mobile, agile and hostile --- and extremely smart and competitive. Mike Degory is all of the above and more. A veteran with 38 consecutive starts Degory gives Florida a rock solid force in the middle of the line.

Dee Webb: Meyer and company are pleasantly surprised at the corner play early this fall and the competition to start opposite Dee Webb has been waged at a very high level. But let's not get confused here. Webb is good enough to join the discussion with Lito Sheppard and Fred Weary among the best corners in recent UF history. He makes other offenses think about which way to throw the ball. He makes other offenses think about which receivers they want to line up where. Add in he is Florida's likely punt return man and #15 needs to be there all year long.

Earl Everett: If you could sculpt the ideal weak side linebacker he'd look a lot like the junior from the tiny town of Webster. Everett has grown to 231 pounds on his 6-2 frame yet runs better than most safeties. He tied for the team lead in quarterback sacks last year and if they send him in there enough he may well do it again. His pass coverage is excellent and he'll hit you. Taking his skills in the context of Florida's thin linebacker corps and he has to be on this list.

So that's my list. What's yours?

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Have a great week.

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