Eleven Gators who must step up in 2011

By Adam Silverstein
March 3, 2011

With a few days until No. 14 Florida Gators basketball plays its final regular season game, OGGOA decided to allow our Twitter followers to choose a content topic for Thursday. Overwhelmingly, our readers wanted to read something – anything – about Gators football. So that is exactly what we present to you here, 11 Florida footballers who will be counted on to step up big-time next season.

Redshirt senior QB John Brantley
2010: 200/329 (60.8 percent) for 2,061 yards, nine touchdowns, 10 interceptions

There is plenty of hype surrounding freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel, but the fact of the matter is the Gators have the best chance of being supremely successful in 2011 with Brantley behind center. Say what you will about his struggles in 2010 – blame them on the coaching staff not adjusting the offense to suit his skill set, the offensive line doing a poor job in pass protection or Brantley simply not living up the billing he received before the season. No matter what you choose to believe, Brantley will be given a chance to start fresh in 2011. If he makes the most of it and pans out the way Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews have personally told us he will, Florida’s QB problems will be solved by the same player who was universally panned for causing them a year ago. Whether or not he will live up those expectations, however, remains to be seen.

Redshirt sophomore WR Andre Debose
2010: 10 receptions for 96 yards (long 26); 22 kickoff returns for 587 yards (26.7 average), two touchdowns

Like Brantley, Debose did not live up to the hype in 2010. Unlike Brantley, he was not given much of an opportunity. Debose is a dynamic athlete who is explosive in the open field, something blatantly obvious by the job he did in the return game last season. He was criticized by former head coach Urban Meyer for his inability to learn all of the offensive plays and was “rewarded” early in the season with some packages that utilized his abilities. Those packages seemed to disappear as the year went on, and Debose ended up getting injured for the second time in as many seasons (hamstring in 2009, ankle in 2010). Though the Gators have some hungry pass-catchers looking to win the job across from redshirt senior wide receiver Deonte Thompson, none of them will likely have the potential impact game-in and game-out that Debose can bring to the table.

Junior RB Mike Gillislee
2010: 58 rushes for 325 yards (5.6 average), seven touchdowns

The first thing new head coach Will Mushcamp said he wanted to implement at Florida was a pro-style offense. With senior running back Jeff Demps (5’8” 190 lbs.) a bit undersized to run between the tackles on a consistent basis, the onus will be on Gillislee (and to a lesser extent redshirt freshman RB Mack Brown) to carry the rock for the Gators in 2010. Listed at 5‘11” and 198 lbs., Gillislee can add some bulk to his frame and showed flashes in the limited playing time he received last season.

The real question for Muschamp, and more specifically offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, will be how the team can best utilize Demps and redshirt senior RB/WR Chris Rainey. Demps will likely be the kick returner once again, but the coaching staff must find a way to get him heavily involved in the offense without having him carry the ball a dozen times each game. He was the team’s best offensive weapon last year, and his absence (even when he played, he was far less than 100 percent) was one of the main reasons Florida struggled down the stretch offensively.

Starting tight end
2010: 20 receptions for 151 yards, two touchdowns

Someone has to start at tight end for the Gators in 2011…but who will win that job (or have an opportunity to compete for it) is currently unknown. Will it be redshirt junior Omarius Hines, who is more of a receiver even at 219 lbs.? Will redshirt sophomore Jordan Reed transition back to that position after trying his hand at QB again in 2010? Or will redshirt freshman Gerald Christian step up to the plate after spending a year getting ready to play in the Southeastern Conference? We’re leaning toward Reed and Christian both having a big impact in the year to come, but whoever is tabbed with the responsibility will be integral to the team’s success in 2011.

Redshirt junior left tackle Matt Patchan
2010: Sat out season with injured wrist

Patchan has barely played since spurning his family’s wishes and committing to Florida over Miami. Between off-the-field accidents and on-the-field injuries, he has struggled to stay healthy but had won over the former coaching staff with the talent he flashed in practice. With basically the entire starting offensive line having graduated, Patchan’s veteran presence and tremendous ability could help solidify a young unit quickly…as long as he can get on the field (which may not happen until the summer).

Sophomore SS Matt Elam
2010: 22 tackles (two for loss), sack, fumble recovery

Meyer was dejected when he learned Elam switched his commitment to Florida State over concerns about whether or not the coach who has known his family for years would be returning to the sidelines. When Elam switched back to UF, Meyer was elated because he realized how important he would be to the program not only in 2010 but for years to come. Though he got plenty of playing time as both a reserve safety and nickel cornerback, Elam will be starting in place of Ahmad Black next season and could very well be the determining factor of whether or not the unit is as successful as it has been the last three years. Confidence, ability and opportunity are not going to be issues for Elam, but he will have to pick up new schemes and assignments under Muschamp and new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. As long as he does, the tandem of him and senior CB Janoris Jenkins will be a nice foundation to build the unit on top of.

Sophomore DT Sharrif Floyd
2010: 23 tackles (eight for loss)

When we asked Terron Sanders and Justin Trattou to tell us who will make the biggest impact on the defense in 2011, both immediately pointed to Floyd. Why? Because in limited playing time against strong and nimble SEC offensive lines, Floyd showed flashes of dominance. In practice? The veteran offensive line wanted nothing to do with him. That’s a good thing. The Gators have had some talented and highly acclaimed men in the middle over the years, but Floyd has the chance to be truly special. Think Quinn’s excited? You bet he is.

Redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins
2010: 76 tackles (five for loss), two sacks, interception, fumble recovery

A five-star recruit two years ago, Jenkins got the opportunity to start last season and made the most of it (see above). His development will only continue in 2011 and, as you will read below, he could have plenty of extremely talented help in the middle of the field.

Sophomore DE Ronald Powell
2010: 25 tackles (three for loss), sack

Powell did not see extensive playing time as quickly as fans had hoped in 2010, but when he did, the flashes were there. Recruited as a defensive end, Powell was moved to linebacker last year mostly for depth purposes. He was expected to move back to the line in 2011, but with Muschamp and Quinn potentially implementing a 3-4 defensive scheme, he may be better off as an outside linebacker. He could also be a hybrid defender seeing time at both positions depending on the play call and personnel on the field.

Redshirt sophomore LB Chris Martin
2010: transfer season

Sitting out 2010 because he transferred from California after less than two months with the program, Martin is the defender to watch whom you have yet to hear about. Every player and football staff member we have spoken to has said the same thing about him: “Wow.” They universally raved about his dynamic ability, football IQ and immense talent. The top linebacker in his recruiting class, Martin – like Powell – can also play defensive end; the duo will likely be a formidable pairing no matter how they are used.

Freshman P Kyle Christy
2010: N/A

Whenever Florida’s offense put forth a poor showing or stalled on a series in 2010 (something that happened quite often), one thing the team could count on was the absurd consistency and dominance of punter Chas Henry. The Ray Guy Award winner is no longer with the team – he will be moving on to a long career in the NFL – and Christy will be expected to fill his kicking shoes. One of the top high school punters in the nation, Christy will immediately step in as the starter at one of the top programs in the country. Outside of practice, he will not have time to get adjusted or find his groove; Christy must succeed from the get-go.

Photo Credits: Kevin C. Cox and Sam Greenwood/Getty Images

48 Comments

  1. CH says:

    thank you, Adam. Needed a little football in my life today.

  2. scooterp says:

    Why is it just automatically assumed D Thompson wil be the starter? He can’t be our best option. Very unreliable hands and he hardly ever got any separation from defenders.

    • That’s a good point. Should not be assumed. That being said, I was not so much making an assumption as I was a projection. He does have seniority, works well with JB and practices great. So until he plays in games and doesn’t succeed, I have a feeling he’ll have at least one of the two starting jobs.

  3. Marc Mac says:

    Great piece.

    Side note: I saw Jeff Driskel at OIA this morning. The dude is big and filled out for a freshman. I wished him good luck in the Orange and Blue game and he seemed more excited to see how he does than I was. I hope enrolling early gives him enough of a head start that Brissett redshirts to save some eligibility for when Driskel is gone. If not, we might be watching Brissett lead Auburn to a NC in 5 years.

    • g8ter27 says:

      As long as Driskel leads us to two of the next 4 national championships I will gladly watch Auburn havbe one in 2016

    • Daniel M. says:

      Wow, did that make me Bristle!

    • Charles says:

      I’ll take the 2 championships to give Auburn one as well, but … I don’t think it would be Auburn, it would be Miami … and although I couldn’t be able to stomach all the U crap I’d still take the 2 for 1.

  4. Ken says:

    Is Martin considered a redshirt sophomore or redshirt freshman? He did not play last year, did he have to sacrifice a year of eligibility?

  5. SaraGator says:

    Needed this football fix… thanks, Adam!

  6. Will W says:

    Is Patchan the de facto LT? How can he be thought of as someone who needs to step up since we haven’t really ever seen him healthy? Who on the Oline must step up if Patchan can’t?

    • Patchan would have started at LT in 2010 if he was healthy. You’ve also never seen Christy or Martin play…so shouldn’t your comment also apply to them? “Step up” was not used in terms of “must/will improve” but rather “must/will play well.”

      • Nick says:

        Thanks for clarifying Adam. I was thinking along the same lines as Will, that you were referring to players “that needed to improve when I first read it. If that were the case, then guys like William Green, Jeremy Brown, Janoris Jenkins, Deonte Thompson, and all the remaining safeties not named Matt Elam would definitely be on it. Also, is it possible that Patchan’s wrist injury be career threatening as he has yet to show signs of improvement after 2 surgeries and several pushed back time estimates of return? Adam do think Rainey will probably end up primarily at WR considering he weighs about a 180 and the offense is switching to a pro style system?

  7. zurbo says:

    martin is gonna be sick

  8. jay d says:

    As long as the players/coaches and or team show that the florida gators are back on track in 2011 I will be happy…our record didn’t surprise me last year…it was our lack of adjusting throughout the season that did…I am very exciited 4 spring ball/ start the next chapter in florida football history!

  9. Zooker says:

    Martin will be all SEC next year for sure, where ever he plays… Any time you transfer from D1 to D1 you lose a year, hard but it fair

  10. Ken says:

    I think Easley had a wake up lesson in life last year, and expect him to step up as well

  11. GatorsFanLA says:

    Anyone else notice how Adam took a shot at us by asking for Football over b-ball?

    • How exactly did I take a shot? Do you follow us on Twitter? I asked our followers if they wanted to pick today’s content and that is how they responded. I was more than happy to write about football today. It was nice for a change.

  12. Andrew says:

    Was I the only one watching when Omarius Hines touched the ball last year. The guy is almost impossible to tackle, and good things happen when he gets the ball. I hope to see a lot of him next year.

    • gatorJacque says:

      I agree. There were so many times he stepped up and made that third down we so desperately needed. Go Gators!

      • tony smith says:

        Omarius Hines is an incredible player. Frankie Hammond is as well.

      • Joe says:

        Yes, Hines is already a man beast at the position. He reminds me of a young David Boston, except Hines has a natural build and good work ethic.

        He will definitely see playing time under this new regime. We have needed a powerful receiving core for a while and Hines seems to have the toughness to excel at the position.

        • David says:

          I have long said Hines can be a faster version of Anquan Boldin if he commits himself to route-running

  13. gatornutt says:

    Adam,

    Have you heard if spring practices are going to be closed this year?

  14. Daniel M. says:

    I don’t won’t to go all Hurricane here but man we have a very young team. I believe it will take a while for this mix of young players and new coaches to gel. There will definitely be growing pains and hiccups along the way in 2011.. But LOOKOUT in 2012!

    Adam, I really thought I was going to see Caleb Sturgis on the above list. The Gators will need some consistency at PK as It’s unlikely that they’ll be running away from teams like they did in the good ole Percy days. The missed FG at the end of regulation against Miss St. still grates on my last nerve. I’ve never ever heard so much bellyaching in the halls of BHG Stadium after a loss as that one. We badly need improvement at PK.

    • Thought about it but ultimately punting, to me, (especially replacing Henry) is bigger.

      • g8rgr8 says:

        Could not agree more Adam. That is the biggest neccesity to building a GREAT defense, it allows for predictability in feild position. It will give us the ability to scheme our defense. I think it is the most important gap to fill this year, out side of play calling…DEFENSE WINS CHAPIONSHIPS! Great article Adam, thanks for all you do

  15. cline says:

    This article just makes me remember how loaded with talent we are. If coach Blood and b-i-g b-o-i Weis utilize it right we should be good. I vote for Debose to break out on offense and Floyd on D.

  16. tony smith says:

    1. You didn’t mention Robey — the new center.
    2. Gillislee was absolutely under-utilized last year. Moody ran the ball so many times, but had a terrible year. Gisllislee will definitely do a great job. We have also have the number one fullback recruit — Hunter Joyer — on the team.

  17. John S says:

    Glad you mentioned Martin, I forgot all about him during the recruiting season. We have more depth there than I thought.

    Hopefully we’re decent on offensive line. I think they have the hardest transition in front of them.

  18. Joe says:

    So we could possibly have a young but talented starting LB core of Powell, Jenkins, Martin and Bostic. I will say this now, you can argue it if you want.

    There has never been a faster group of LB’s in the history of college football!

    The sideline to sideline defending and blitz packages of that LB core can be epic. If Floyd turns out to be the “blood clot” in opposing offenses then I see a lot of success for our front seven next year.

    As for our DB’s, we can only hope we avoid a similar relapse to that of 2007.

  19. Aligator says:

    I hope and pray to God that we utilize these amazing athletes to score some points and gain some yards instead of being decoys and running a bunch of trick play. I can tell you that Charlie Weis will make the most out of what he has and he will be one hell of an upgrade in an OC this year.

  20. tony smith says:

    Adam, I noticed that another Gator blog — a pay site — has recently published stories very similar to yours (which was published first). Also, an article was similar to one of the comments on this blog. Probably just a coincidence. 🙂

    • I’d appreciate it if you sent me an email to links of what you’re talking about. I’m sure it is just a coincidence. But I’d like to know for sure. Please shoot me a line. Thanks.

  21. Proud Poppa says:

    Wile I hope yesterday’s O&B Spring Game answered some questions about UF’s new punter, he’s still justmonths outta high school, so please give him a break if he does shank a punt now and then.

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