A look at the 2010 Roster

A month away from the start of spring practice and signing day has come and gone and we can start looking ahead to the 2010 season and just what this new Gator roster may bring. There is very little doubt that the battery between quarterback John Brantley and his receivers is the most important connection for the 2010 season. But, there are many more.

John Brantley has been groomed to take over for Tim Tebow once Tebow finished school. Now in his junior season, Brantley appears to be ready to take on the challenge. Blessed with a rocket arm and splendid accuracy, Brantley will be a totally different threat on the football field than the Gators' favorite son Tebow.

There will no doubt be some kind of change in philosophy for the offense heading into 2010 and maybe no one is more ready for that change on the staff than quarterback coach Scot Loeffler. It is not to say that Loeffler didn't enjoy the time he got to spend coaching Tebow, but Brantley's skill set is much more in tune with what Loeffler is accustomed to coaching.

Now it is time to put Loeffler's mind into Brantley's head and let new receiver coach Zach Azzanni prepare a group of receivers to run a bit of a different offense.

Mind you, Brantley will still be asked to run the ball some, but the 10-15 carries a game that Gator fans were accustomed to from Tebow will drop to less than seven a game, including scrambles and sacks.

Don't think Brantley can't run, he actually is pretty adept at doing just that. He just won't be gaining 700-800 yards in a season.

If there is one freshman that is most assuredly not going to redshirt in 2010 it is quarterback Trey Burton. Burton has more of a Tebow skill set, but he comes in as the only other quarterback in the spring and has to have himself prepared to play right away. The fact he is here this spring means he has a huge jump on fellow freshman Tyler Murphy that won't arrive until June with most of the rest of the freshman class.

The targets for the quarterbacks need to have a good spring as well. Talking to some of the coaching staff, they expect Andre Debose to be ready as well as Carl Moore. Both sat out last year with injuries and both should be penciled in as starters heading into the fall. Debose may be limited this spring, but he should practice. Moore is healthy and ready.

One influx of talent at a position should be noticed big time this spring at the slot receiver position. Brandon James took most of the snaps at the position all of last year but 2010 sees the addition of Debose, plus freshmen Solomon Patton and Robert Clark, both whom are already enrolled in the spring. I have also been told that Chris Rainey will work almost exclusively in the slot this spring to see if he can handle the chore. It is not a physical but mental thing for Rainey and the slot is a very natural position for him.

On the outside, Azzanni expects huge things from Deonte Thompson this year. I have heard from people talking to him that he has a lot of plans for Thompson that were not utilized in year's past.

One future surprise could be redshirt freshman Stephen Alli. I was told both Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins absolutely hated covering the monster receiver from New Hampshire while he was on the scout team last year.

Azzanni also loves his entire group.

"I am really excited with this group," Azzanni said late last week. I think people are lying and waiting to see and I think we have some real hungry kids. We really had four receivers leave if you include Aaron. There are jobs open and available now and they are all competing and they want to get better. There will be a lot of great competition in the spring, time. I can tell (they feel) it is a fresh start."

Azzanni understands how things can get burdened and a group can get caught in a rut under some leadership.

"I think change is always good...sometimes there are certain players that need a clean slate and need to start over," he said. "I think they got the feeling that this is a new start."

Azzanni also loves the group of receivers that the Gators just signed. They showed a great deal of maturity during the process, especially when their future coaching situation took a few turns. There was one word that he used to describe the group.

"Loyalty....they were all real loyal in the process," Azzanni said. "They could have gone a lot of different places when Coach Gonzales left. They could have said this guy is coming from Central Michigan but they did some research on me and found out this wasn't my first rodeo. I have had some good players and coached some great players and teams."

The bottom line was this group of recruited receivers learned to trust the man at the top.

"The credibility of Coach Meyer came into play," he said. "They respect Coach Meyer and knew he wouldn't just hire just anyone."

The Gators will have seven freshmen receivers on scholarship this year and that is before any positional changes. Some will have to play and that could be a scary proposition for a quarterback that is also getting most of his first real collegiate playing time.

Brian White has his hands full after coaching up all-American tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez left early for the pros and now White is left coaching four freshmen tight ends that have never played a down of college football.

White is ready for the challenge and believes he has a great group. Redshirt freshman Desmond Parks returns and is up 31 pounds to 236 from his reporting weight last year of 205. White likes his ability to get down field and the fact he continues to put on muscle and work hard.

"He will carry 255 and still be skinny," White said of Parks. "I think it will be a big spring for Des."

Quarterback Jordan Reed moved over to the position and White believes he has "a lot of ability and I think he could be an outstanding player for us."

It was important for Gerald Christian to report to school early this spring. White thinks if he can catch on mentally with his 6-3, 235 pound frame, he will do well because, "he is extremely strong and already has the physical ability to play at this level."

Not wanting to put a label on anyone, White loves what he gets from Mike McFarland but most observers think he will be a project. In the end though, the tight end coach thinks McFarland will be a "skinny 270 pound" tight end before he is done.

At running back, Stan Drayton returns to coach a group that is much more talented than the one he coached when he left. According to a source or two, Drayton is flat out giddy about the promise of this season and what the talent at his disposal lends.

He will lose Rainey in the spring to learn the slot position; in the meantime he gets Emmanuel Moody and Jeff Demps, both of whom he recruited to Florida in the first place. He and Moody have a great deal of trust in one another, something that may have been missing with the previous coach at the position. Demps is just easy to teach.

A source really close to the situation has told me that Drayton thinks Mike Gillislee is the best of the bunch and the extra playing time for the sophomore this spring will be critical in his development.

Add in Mack Brown, and this is as explosive and dynamic group as there is in the country. Drayton talked a bit about Brown and how he relates to the rest of the group. He believes brown can add a different dimension with size and power.

"I know these guys and he brings a great size potential," Drayton said. "He is already built low, with good size and strength in his legs. He is walking into the door at 204. Mack Brown still has game breaking speed, but as you can see from a size potential, that is different. He brings a physical stature along with his speed. He is a guy that we not only trust him with the football, but we trust him in pass protection."

All but one contributing player returns to the offensive line including four starters. Center Maurkice Pouncey is off to the pros, but brother Mike, a senior, is right there to take over the reins of the offensive line in his brother's absence. Sophomore left tackle Xavier Nixon becomes uber important now with the right-handed Brantley and having to guard his blind side. Seniors right tackle Marcus Gilbert and left guard Carl Johnson are the other two returning starters from a very good offensive line.

Junior James Wilson and senior Maurice Hurt will battle it out for the right guard spot in the spring. Both have started and could be considered a returning starter with as much experience as they bring to the table.

Behind them are a stable of quality linemen, mostly of the interior variety. An injured sophomore Matt Patchan along with true freshmen Ian Silberman and Chaz Green seem to be the only other true tackles in the bunch. However, sophomores David Young and Nick Alajajian will likely spend some time there and are quality backups.

The depth is better inside with freshmen Jonathan Harrison, Jon Halapio, Kyle Koehne and sophomore Sam Robey all quality personnel in the interior trenches.

It is a very talented and deep line that just needs to grow some depth at the tackle positions this year.

On defense, the Gators have their hands full replacing two starting defensive ends, their middle linebacker, and an all-American cornerback, but the talent on the roster seems to be there to do just that.

The Gators boast 10 defensive tackles on the roster right now. Every tackle that contributed returns and the Gators added three all-stars in the freshman class.

My pick to start in the middle on defense is sophomore Omar Hunter at the nose and junior Jaye Howard at the three-technique. Howard is explosive at the position and had he stayed healthy he would have started there most of the year. If Howard has a big year, expect him to be one that could go the NFL draft way in 2011.

The Gators have quality depth at both tackle spots with Sanders backing up Howard and Lawrence Marsh pushing hard to take Hunter's spot. Sanders and Marsh are both seniors and have started and played a lot in their careers.

Don't expect to get anything out of senior Edwin Herbert and the staff just has no idea what top expect out of senior Brandon Antwine. Antwine has been the victim of so many injuries but is absolutely a staff favorite and would be a huge player if he were healthy.

It is too early to call it a make or break spring for Gary Brown, but he has to get his head on straight, both on and off the football field. Right now he is not accomplishing much in either place.

I expect freshman Sharrif Floyd to play this season simply because of talent. He is too good not to get him in the mix. Dominique Easley would be in the same boat if he comes in with enough weight on him. Leon Orr is a special freakish athlete but will be raw as a defensive player and I expect him to redshirt.

At end, senior Justin Trattou should man the strong side spot backed up by senior Duke Lemmens and sophomore Earl Okine. Trattou is the relentless motor that just makes plays; Duke is consistent but not flashy. Okine is another that needs to have a good spring so they can finally figure out where he belongs and at what position.

On the weak side, junior William Green will start the spring on top. He will be backed up by junior Lerentee McCray and redshirt freshman Kedric Johnson. I fully expect freshman Ronald Powell to come in and push for a starting job and eventually win the job. He can be a big time player at this position and early in his career. Freshman Lynden Trail will likely redshirt so he can put some muscle on.

There is no doubt that it was a special group of defensive line recruits the Gators just landed. Defensive line coach Dan McCarney is giddy over the possibilities.

"When we started this whole thing and put the top defensive linemen on the board a year and a half ago, that group that we have coming in was way up on top of any board in the country," McCarney said.

One great thing about the group is that they have a great relationship with each other.

"They know each other, they text and stay in touch with each other," McCarney said. "They know about each other for a long time. I kept talking to all of them about there is no reason we can't put the best defensive line together here at Florida and the first step in doing that was signing day.

The group is also set apart by their own character. They all are spontaneous and outgoing.

"All of these linemen coming in have great personalities," McCarney said. "There isn't a church mouse in the bunch. I like guys that have some juice and energy and enthusiasm and passion, and they all have all of that. There is some maturity and real personality with these guys."

McCarney warns not to sleep on tackle Leon Orr who may be raw, but because of his excellent quickness and speed at his size, could play either tackle position. Orr is also recovering nicely from injury and will be prepared for the spring.

"He could play either one not sure which he will try out at first, should be able to play either one," McCarney said. "He will be ready with his injury for spring ball."

At linebacker the big difference in this unit and last year's stellar unit will be speed. Expect senior outside linebackers A.J. Jones and Brandon Hicks to start at the weak side and the strong side while sophomore Jon Bostic to man the middle. That is as fast of a group of linebackers as you will find anywhere in the country.

Redshirt freshman Jelani Jenkins will get a ton of playing time on the weak side and he also brings lightning fast speed to the table. I would say the trio of Jones, Hicks, and Jenkins are the best three players for two spots on the entire roster.

Don't sleep on senior Lorenzo Edwards, a player that can play an of the three spots on defense and who just may feel like he has a new lease on life with a new linebacker coach in D.J. Durkin. The same could be said for sophomore Brendan Beal who had a tremendous spring game with very little practice time last spring.

It will be interesting to see where Dee Finley fits in now that he has moved to linebacker. He will also be one of the fastest backers on the field and is a bona fide hitter as well.

The four freshmen linebackers are all physically talented enough to play right away on special teams and that very well could happen. One of the groups may grow out of his position, but Neiron Ball will start out on the strong side at linebacker.

"He came in and ran a 4.55," McCarney said of Ball. "Coach Meyer loves the thought of him on special teams. He will start out at linebacker, but if he goes to defensive end it will be a Fox. His brother is 6-6 and 250."

Senior Ahmad Black and junior Will Hill return as very experienced players at safety. They will start at the positions going in and sophomore Josh Evans will back them up. We have learned that in fact Dorian Munroe will appeal for a sixth year of eligibility, but we believe it is a real uphill battle in this case.

Defensive back's coach and co-defensive coordinator Chuck Heater calls Matt Elam, "a bigger version of Ahmad Black." Meaning he can tackle and plays sound football but has good size for the college game. Elam should get plenty of playing time as an early enrollee and already on campus learning his role in the defense.

The Gators also add freshmen Jordan Haden and Jonathan Dowling in the mix. At least one of them will also play in 2010.

The Gators return junior Janoris Jenkins at one corner and he will be moved back to the boundary corner position where he was a freshman all-American in 2008. On the opposite side, they will have to replace all-American Joe Haden and senior Moses Jenkins and sophomores Jeremy Brown and Adrian Bushell are the only three returning scholarship corners.

Bushell is my pick to get the nod, while if healthy Jeremy Brown could very well be the guy. All reports from the staff are that Brown is healthy and they are just waiting to see how he reacts after contact in the spring.

The Gators signed four freshmen corners and Jaylen Watkins and Josh Shaw have a leg up on the others because they are already on campus and trying to earn that other spot. Both guys are extremely athletic and if they catch on quick and are aggressive enough they stand a chance to earn that starting spot opposite Janoris. My money is on Watkins to move into position quicker.

The Gators return both senior punter Chas Henry and junior kicker Caleb Sturgis. Henry is backed up by walk-on David Lerner, a punter from local Buchholz High School and Lerner may be in line to take over for Henry when he is gone after the 2010 season.

In a nutshell, that is it for the 2010 season. The key for the season will be on offense and the way that John Brantley takes to the receivers...if the Gators can get that group going, it could be another special year in Gainesville.


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