Gators Reload with Top Ranked Class

Florida coach Urban Meyer began an unspecified leave of absence the day after National Signing Day. Apparently, that uncertainty didn't impact recruiting. Florida's class of 28 players, including 11 that enrolled this January, is ranked No. 1 in the nation by both Scout.com.

Already, comparisons are being made to Florida's No. 1 national signing class in 2006, which netted receiver Percy Harvin and quarterback Tim Tebow. That class led Florida to two BCS titles in three seasons.

"I've gotten myself in trouble in the past by hyping up players who were not yet deserving of it," Meyer said. "In certain areas, it's the best we've ever done."

The strength of the class is on defense. Florida landed three five-stars players: safety Matt Elam, defensive end Ronald Powell and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd.

Elam, Powell and Floyd could get a chance to play right away on a Florida defense that lost seven starters, including underclassmen Joe Haden (cornerback), Carlos Dunlap (defensive end) and Major Wright (safety).

On offense, Florida scored big with four-star quarterback Trey Burton, five-star receiver Chris Dunkley and four-star running back Mack Brown.

Despite the additions, Meyer said the Gators have numerous holes to fill heading into the 2010 season. He's especially concerned about wide receiver due to the losses of seniors Brandon James, David Nelson and Riley Cooper.

"We lost five juniors to the draft and obviously lost some talented players on offense and defense," Meyer said. "I don't know if there's ever a rebuilding year, but if there was, this would be one for us."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Florida's defensive coordinator position remains uncertain because recently hired defensive coordinator George Edwards is leaving for the NFL to join Chan Gailey's staff with the Buffalo Bills. Edwards and secondary coach Chuck Heater were named co-defensive coordinators earlier this month.

--D.J. Durkin was hired to coach linebackers and special teams at UF. Durkin left Stanford, where he coached defensive ends and special teams.

--Former Florida running backs coach Stan Drayton has returned to UF after spending his previous two seasons at Syracuse and Tennessee. Drayton, who coached at Florida from 2005-07, replaces Kenny Carter, who left to join Charlie Strong's staff at Louisville.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

2010 LOOK AHEAD:
Florida faces an uncertain future after losing 12 starters, including five underclassmen that declared for the NFL draft. The biggest change will come at quarterback, where strong-armed junior John Brantley takes over for college football icon Tim Tebow. Brantley is less mobile then Tebow but possesses a stronger arm to throw the ball downfield. Look for Florida to run more traditional I-formation sets to take advantage of Brantley's strengths.

SPRING SNAPSHOT: Florida's spring practices will begin on March 17 and run through April 10. The spring game is scheduled for 1 p.m. April 10.

Florida's top priority this spring will be reconstructing a defense that lost seven starters last season. The strength of Florida's 2010 top-ranked recruiting class is on defense. That means several players, including January enrollees Matt Elam (safety) and Leon Orr (defensive tackle) could compete for starting jobs.

Florida quarterback John Brantley had a solid spring last season. But this time, Brantley, a fourth-year junior, will be gearing up for his first season as UF's starting quarterback. Receivers will need to emerge to replace departed seniors Riley Cooper, Brandon James and David Nelson.

PRO POTENTIAL:

--QB Tim Tebow -- Tebow had an up-and-down Senior Bowl, completing eight of 12 passes for 50 yards. He had issues taking snaps under center earlier in the week and during the game didn't show great arm strength on his corner routes. Tebow's leadership intangibles and running ability remain intriguing to some NFL teams, but he may have hurt himself more than he helped himself with his performance. He is currently projected to go anywhere from the third to seventh round in the NFL draft.

--WR Riley Cooper -- Cooper impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl with his speed and ability to use his body to shield defenders. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Cooper decided to give up a professional baseball contract with the Texas Rangers to prepare for the NFL draft. Scouts project Cooper as a second- to third-round pick. Cooper also is an excellent downfield blocker who doesn't shy from contact.

--OL Maurkice Pouncey -- Pouncey, who declared for the NFL draft on Jan. 11, has accepted an invitation to attend the NFL combine in Indianapolis. He's projected as a first- to second-round pick.

--S Major Wright -- Wright became the fifth UF underclassmen to declare for the NFL draft when he declared on Jan. 12. Wright finished his career with 165 tackles, 10 passes defended, eight interceptions, four forced fumbles and a fumble recovery in 41 games. He had 32 tackles and three interceptions last season. The 6-foot, 204-pound Wright is projected as a third- to fifth-round pick but will try to improve his stock at the NFL combine.

--DE Carlos Dunlap -- Dunlap, who declared for the NFL draft on Jan. 11, is considered an early to mid-first round pick despite his DUI arrest in December. Dunlap pleaded no contest to DUI charges and received one year's probation and had his driver's license suspended for six months.

--CB Joe Haden -- Haden is projected as a top 10 pick in the first round in April's NFL draft.

--TE Aaron Hernandez -- Hernandez, who declared for the NFL draft on Jan. 11, is projected as a late first- to early second-round pick.

ROSTER REPORT:

--OL Mike Pouncey decided to return to Florida for his senior season rather than join his twin brother, Maurkice, in the NFL draft. Pouncey is expected to move from right guard to center next season. With Mike Pouncey back, Florida returns four of its five starters on the offensive line (LG Carl Johnson, LT Xavier Nixon and RT Marcus Gilbert).


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