Image Credit: UAA
Though the names have not been major ones, the Florida Gators have seen the dreaded injury bug hit early and often during their fall practice sessions ahead of the 2016 season.
But let’s start with the biggest names. Redshirt senior linebacker Alex Anzalone and sophomore offensive lineman Martez Ivey, a pair of former five-star prospects, are both fully healthy entering the season. Both players are considered “limited” in practice, more so the coaching staff and trainers can limit their reps and ensure they’re as healthy as can be for the start of the season, but there’s no concerns at this point.
“Martez Ivey’s been doing really good. Don’t see anything [bad] on any of that. Really happen with Alex as well. Anzalone’s taking probably more [hits] than what we anticipated and yet his strength level is there. He’s actually been stronger,” explained head coach Jim McElwain last week.
That is not the same for the rest of the roster.
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Kalif Jackson and redshirt junior running back Case Harrison were left off the fall roster while “dealing with some injury-surgery things,” according to McElwain. Seeing as they could not practice anyway, they were left off the roster so Florida could fill their slots with additional walk-ons, but they will rejoin the team “when school starts.”
The Gators lost a pair of defensive linemen for good as Thomas Holley (the No. 77 player in the nation in 2014) and Andrew Ivie left the team before fall practice began and retired from football due to injury. Both received medical exemptions that will allow them to complete their degrees at Florida.
Since then, former four-star linebacker Matt Rolin, who has dealt with injuries and setbacks of his own, decided to retire from football.
“If you’re a recruit and you’re looking for a home far away from home.. I found you one. [Florida Gators] Thank you for everything,” he wrote on Twitter. “Just know I’m now a bigger gator fan than all of you people that follow me … I’ll be at every game … and no I will not continue my football career. My main focus is my degree FROM UF … Last thing. To all you [people] disagreeing [with] my decision. Talk to me when you get 8 solo [tackles] on the Heisman trophy winner in the SEC Championship.”
The Gators were already thin at linebacker in terms of talent, experience and bodies, and Rolin’s loss coming off a solid finish to 2015 certainly puts a dent in Florida’s defensive efforts.
“He just kind of lost the love of the game,” McElwain said. “He wasn’t really into it. At the same time, he was taking reps from some of the young guys that have been showing some promise.”
So, who else?
Redshirt junior offensive lineman Antonio Riles, a potential starter but likely a consistent rotation player, is out for the season with a knee injury that is reportedly a torn ACL.
Freshman defensive backs Quincy Lenton and C.J. McWilliams have both been shelved, too. Lenton “has kind of the same thing as Brandon Powell had in his foot, very similar,” according to McElwain, who never provided details about Powell’s injury either. The good news, per McElwain, is that doctors were able to place a screw in the foot hours after discovering Lenton’s injury. He will miss up to two months. McWilliams’s injury and time table was not specified other than McElwain saying “same deal.”
Senior WR Chris Thompson has been dealing with a hip issue.
Three freshmen have been bothered by hamstring injuries as WR Tyrie Cleveland, WR Rick Wells and DB Chauncey Gardner are getting as much treatment and therapy as possible.
Junior DB Quincy Wilson has recently been bothered with an ankle, while redshirt freshman LB Kylan Johnson (back spasms) and redshirt sophomore Kavaris Harkless (undisclosed) have also spent a couple days away.
So that’s 13 players of note dealing with something, including four players out for the season (three retirements, one year-long injury).
It’s far from dire straits for the Gators, but it’s also not the best start to a season where depth will be key across the board for a team still looking to rebuild its roster on both sides of the ball.