Five "Young" Veterans to Watch

One of the challenges in rebuilding the Gators to SEC Champion contenders involved the development of the players on the team who have yet to show their wares in competition. No matter how high your opinion of the recruiting class may be, it's the players who have been on campus the longest who have the best chance of becoming difference makers in 2007.

Here are five guys who I think can and need to dramatically increase their contributions in the upcoming season. All but one is a redshirt freshman, but each is a potentially key player in what this Gator team can become.

Lawrence Marsh ----- For all the talk about the secondary, I view Florida's front four as issue number one entering the fall. Marsh is bound to claim one of the starting spots and he is a guy who can be a Ray McDonald type, contributing all over the line and making plays inside and out. Marsh has good size and strength, and I love the fact that he has a mean streak to go with it. His development will allow Florida to plug in freshmen a little more gradually. Whether he plays end or tackle as his primary spot may come down more to which freshen are ready to contribute. No matter what, though Marsh is a big part in rebuilding the defensive line.

A.J. Jones ----- He was one of the most impressive newcomers early last fall before an injury sidelined him. Jones (6-1, 211-pounds) is certainly not build like a typical "Sam" linebacker, but he sure can run and likes to hit. Florida is fielding an all-new linebacker corps, but at least Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe have seen significant playing time. Jones is the biggest mystery of the three, and if that mystery is solved the Gators should be in good shape.

Riley Cooper ----- He caught four passes as a freshman, including three for 82 yards and three touchdowns against Western Carolina. But that's not what Cooper is most remembered for in his rookie season. Instead, Cooper is in Gator lore for his kick coverage hit on LSU that caused a fumble that became a safety in Florida's 23-10 win. Cooper combined size (6-3, 215-pounds) with tremendous speed and toughness. With the kickoffs moving back five yards, those traits will be needed even more because the Gators plan to kickoff a lot in 2007. Look for Cooper to also emerge in the passing game. Word has it that he and Tim Tebow have quite a rapport going on.

Terron Sanders ----- The Gators search for a defensive tackle that can hold his ground and clog the middle could well end with the 6-1, 290-pound lineman from Bradenton Southeast. Sanders has that low center of gravity you love to see and could well do enough to free up middle linebacker Brandon Spikes. Look for Sanders to challenge the veterans from day one of camp.

Maurice Hurt ----- The main battle on the offensive line is at right guard, but it's a battle that needs to be won quickly. Big Mo has the lead on the Pouncey twins as the competition gets underway. The sooner that job is claimed, the sooner the Florida offensive line can start jelling as a unit. Hurt has the size and strength to be the kind of "road grader" the Florida offense needs its guards to be.

There you have it. Five returning guys who I think can and will be major parts of the Gators success this fall. Coming up tomorrow, we'll take a look at five true freshmen (not January enrollees) who bear watching in the first week of camp.

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