Over five days from March 5-9, OnlyGators.com has handed a guest editor role over to you, the loyal reader. This is the first in five Readers’ Choice posts covering topics you want to know more about concerning the Florida Gators athletics program.
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There is simply no hiding the fact that Florida has massive holes at two important positions on its roster entering the 2015 campaign, ones that will make it difficult for head coach Jim McElwain to turn things around in year one.
The Gators will enter spring practice with eight scholarship offensive linemen on the roster, two of which have NFL potential – sophomore offensive tackles Roderick Johnson (redshirt) and David Sharpe – and another with starting experience in redshirt senior left guard Trip Thurman. The other five have either seen limited action or never stepped on the field.
Though Florida has plenty of bodies immediately across the line of scrimmage on defense, the linebackers backing them up make for an even thinner position group. Returning for his senior season and leading the way is Antonio Morrison, and the steady improvement of junior Jarrad Davis should help mitigate some losses. The other four scholarship players have spent the vast majority of their time on special teams.
Where things differ along the offensive line and at linebacker for the Gators is the young talent set to join the program this summer.
While McElwain put tons of effort into filling up Florida’s 2015 recruiting class with offensive linemen – six were added to the fold including five-star OT Martez Ivey – the Gators only saw a single linebacker decide to join the program in three-star Rayshad Jackson.
So what exactly happened at these positions to put Florida in the hole?
The Gators lost five offensive linemen that started games in 2014. The departures of center Max Garcia, OT Chaz Green and guard Trenton Brown were all expected as each player exhausted his eligibility. Left tackle D.J. Humphries leaving early for the 2015 NFL Draft was a bit of a shocker as he did not grade out as a first-round pick, but he certainly seems to have made the right decision if recent comments from scouts are to be believed.
Three other unplanned departures also contributed to the problem as Tyler Moore, mostly ineffective during his time at UF, chose to declare for the draft with a year of eligibility remaining; he is not expected to be selected. The Gators also suddenly lost junior college transfer Drew Sarvary and true freshman Nolan Kelleher to retirement as injuries forced each player to give up football.
Linebacker has been more of a recruiting issue as Florida has signed just one – yes, one – in the last two cycles, combined. The Gators brought on four in 2013 – all of which are still with the program – and that coupled with Will Muschamp missing his top targets in 2014 and Florida’s continued downturn through last season all contributed to UF’s current position.
Aside from the aforementioned players (Johnson, Sharpe, Thurman, Morrison, Davis), all of which will most likely start the season opener for the Gators (barring injury), and holding off on the signees not yet on the active roster, let’s take a look at the other veterans Florida will be counting on in 2015.
Redshirt sophomore Antonio Riles: A third-year player, Riles (like Dillard) played in just four games in 2014 after redshirting as a true freshman. He moved from defensive to offensive line and is still learning the position but was a highly sought-after prospect out of high school, choosing Florida over a long list of top-tier programs.
Redshirt sophomore Cameron Dillard: Expected to be in the mix for a back-up job on the inside, Dillard saw just four games of action in 2014 after redshirting in 2013. He was a three-star prospect.
Redshirt freshman Travaris Dorsey: A three-star recruit, Dorsey took a redshirt season in 2014 and has played just one full season of football in the last three years after missing his junior year of high school with an injury.
Redshirt freshman Kavaris Harkless: Due to Florida’s depth of bodies on the offensive line in 2014, Harkless took a redshirt. He was a last-minute signee of UF, which pulled him from Louisville before National Signing Day.
Redshirt freshman Andrew Mike: Another late addition to Florida’s 2014 recruiting class, Mike also took a redshirt during his freshman season.
Junior Alex Anzalone: Picking up 14 tackles mostly as a special teams standout, Anzalone played in all 12 games las tyear and did see some action at linebacker. A former five-star prospect who flipped from Notre Dame to Florida, he was not expected to play as a true freshman but gutted it out through injury to see action in 10 games.
Junior Daniel McMillian: A former four-star prospect who struggled adjusting to the college game, McMillian has seen action in 15 contests over two seasons but did not truly shine until the Florida’s bowl game against East Carolina, when he picked up a career-high five tackles. McMillian may be turning a corner for the Gators.
Redshirt junior Jeremi Powell: After taking a redshirt as a true freshman, Powell has seen his next two seasons shortened due to injury but not soon enough for him to take a medical redshirt in either campaign. He has totaled just 10 career tackles in 14 games, spending most of his time on special teams. Powell has flashed but not yet put it all together.
Redshirt sophomore Matt Rolin: A four-star prospect who did not expect to play as a freshman after suffering an ACL injury in high school, Rolin re-injured the ligament in fall camp and took the redshirt as he planned to anyway. What he did not expect was the injury to linger through the 2014 season, as he once again did not suit up for the Gators.
So there you have it, a look at what Florida has combing back along the offensive line and at linebacker, per reader request. Be sure to check back soon for the second of six OnlyGators.com Readers’ Choice installments heading into McElwain’s introductory press conference for spring practice on March 10.