Top Five Gator Surprises

The Florida Gators seemed to have taken some positive steps forward in 2008 compared to the 2007 season. Most of those steps have been on defense, although the offense has had its moments and surprise personnel as well. Here is my look at the Gators top five surprises among players on the roster for the first half of the 2008 season.

The defense has made vast improvement over last year so it is no shock that most of the surprises on my list have come from the defensive side of the ball. It all starts up front, but the secondary has the biggest surprise contributors this season. Here is my list in reverse order.

5. Nose Guard Lawrence Marsh (SO) -- (19 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3 sacks, 1 quarterback hurry) -- Marsh has been disruptive and productive from the Nose position. The redshirt sophomore reluctantly moved inside after fighting it for two years and now finds himself as a main stay and likely a three year starter when he completes his college career. He isn't the mauling defensive tackle like a Gerard Warren, but he is disruptive and holds his own against the best competition. Marsh has been a Champion for most of the season and has been the defensive line's most consistent player all year.

4. Place Kicker Jonathan Phillips (SR) -- (9 for 9 on field goals, 28 for 29 on PAT's) -- Phillips gets the surprise mantra simply because he wasn't even supposed to be on the team this year. Now he is perfect on field goal attempts and would be the same on PAT's if not for a breakdown on protection. Phillips has probably now become someone Urban Meyer will rely on down the stretch to hit a big field goal and he has earned that in my opinion.

3. Running Back Jeffrey Demps (FR) -- (23 rushing attempts for 307 yards, 13.3 yards per carry average, 4 touchdowns all of 30 yards or more) -- Demps is this high on my surprise list because I was one that thought he would likely redshirt in 2008. Boy was I wrong. Demps has five rushes of 30 yards or more and all Gator running backs combined had three the entire season in 2007. He is the last true freshman UF running back to rush for back-to-back 100-yard games since Emmitt Smith. Demps hits the hole hard and gets himself to the second level of the defense faster than most of the Florida backs making himself more effective in this zone rushing scheme in my mind.

2. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins (FR) -- (22 tackles, 1 sack, 1 interception, 5 pass break ups, and 1 forced fumble) -- Jenkins may be the best prospect of the surprise group and the fact that he is playing well isn't as much of a surprise as much as how fast he has done so. For a true freshman to come out and play the way he has done, so aggressively and fearless, is plain remarkable. He is probably the best true freshman cornerback to wear the Orange and Blue in the last 25 years if not more. His interception and forced fumble against Tennessee were paramount in the Gators being able to play so conservatively on offense and walk away with a thrashing of Tennessee despite playing that way. His aggressive play against LSU caused a few missed catches for the Tigers and frustrated their big strong receivers.

1. Safety Ahmad Black (SO) -- (28 tackles 4th on the team, .5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 1 pass break up, and 1 blocked kick) -- Black is the least likely of the group to have pro scouts all over him, at the same time, he may juts be the best football player in the bunch. His 28 tackles is fourth on the team and he is rarely out of position on a tackle nor misses a tackle. Black was an afterthought even after a strong spring where he was the starter for most of the spring due to an injury to Major Wright. He stepped in again with the injury to Dorian Munroe and no slight to Munroe, but Black got the chance he needed and hasn't looked back. There may be a play or two this season that Black's speed made him a half step slow, but none have gone for touchdowns and he will make the tackle before that happens.

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