With the 2011-12 athletic season now in the books and the 2012-13 season about to begin, the focus has shifted to the return of Florida Gators football. For the second-straight year, OGGOA will take a look at every player of substance on the roster, counting down by jersey number, in this series: The Countdown.
9 – Josh Evans (Irvington, NJ)
6’2” 201 lbs.
Quick Bio: One of only five true seniors on the roster, Evans was a four-star recruit coming out of high school who appeared in 21 games over his first two seasons. He was forced into a reserve role because of the Gators’ extreme depth at safety but bided his time until his junior season.
Career Stats (34 games): 71 tackles (52 solo, 2.5 for loss), sack, fumble recovery, two interceptions, pass defense
2011 Season: Evans started eight games his junior year but played in all 13 contests, registering 51 total tackles including a career-high 11 against South Carolina. Arguably his best game of the season came in his last, the Gator Bowl, where he notched five tackles, a sack and a fumble recovery.
2012 Outlook: Evans made additional strides this offseason, according to defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, who said his communication and confidence has improved. Now making more plays than ever in the defensive backfield, he is once again listed as a starting safety and should hold down that position all year. “I think Josh has improved tremendously, and it has nothing to do with athleticism, it has to do with communication and being on the same page and anticipation. The safety position, a lot of it is anticipation for the communication,” head coach Will Muschamp said recently. “That’s where I think Josh has taken the next step, and he certainly has done that. And he’s been very good in camp, and he was very good throughout spring as far as taking the next step.”
8 – Jeremy Brown (Orlando, FL)
Redshirt junior cornerback
5’10” 184 lbs.
Quick Bio: A four-star prospect, Brown was sidelined by back problems for two full seasons and earned a redshirt as a freshman. He made it a point to rehab his back as much as possible during and after the 2009 season and sought to earn a starting role when Joe Haden declared early for the NFL. Brown succeeded in that goal in 2010, winning the job across from Janoris Jenkins and starting 10 contests. He missed the final two regular season games with a hamstring injury but played in the Outback Bowl.
Career Stats (11 games): 15 tackles (11 solo, one for loss), three interceptions, five pass defenses, touchdown
2011 Season: Brown suffered a knee injury right before the season began and was expected to only miss a few weeks of action. Many accused Muschamp of misleading the public as to the severity of Brown’s injury, but the coach explained in the spring that was not the case. “Our medical evaluation was he was going to be out for a week,” Muschamp said. “That’s what I was told. [...] Jeremy was a situation where he rehabbed, it didn’t work, we rehabbed a different way, it didn’t work. We continued to progress, we tried to work him back in practice as the season was going, and he just never responded to rehab, so eventually we had surgery.”
2012 Outlook: Returning to practice this summer, Brown fractured his wrist and had surgery on July 18. He was reevaluated on Aug. 28 to see if he could return to practice though the result of that check-up is not yet known. Brown would have had an opportunity to start at cornerback for Florida this season, but his injuries allowed four other players to jump ahead of him in the pecking order. He should see the field eventually if he can get back healthy but may have to focus on 2013 (his sixth and final season) to regain his starting job.
Check out 11 more players in this edition of The Countdown…after the break!
8 – Trey Burton (Venice, FL)
Junior running back
6’3” 228 lbs.
Quick Bio: A three-star quarterback recruit, Burton was never expected to spend a large amount of time at that position but wound up doing so as a freshman. He was a member of the 2010 SEC All-Freshman Team has a do-everything player who spent time behind center as well as at wide receiver, tight end, fullback and as a member of special teams on kickoff coverage. He ran for a team-high 11 touchdowns in 2010 and broke Tim Tebow’s school record with six touchdowns in a single game (Kentucky). Those six scores were also good for the second-most points scored in a game in SEC history. Burton also came up big against Georgia that year, totaling 145 all-purpose yards in an important victory for Florida.
Career Stats (26 games): 112 carries for 474 yards (4.2 yards per carry, long: 51), 14 touchdowns; 51 receptions for 359 yards (7.0 yards per catch, long: 21), two touchdowns; 8/12 for 99 yards, interception
2011 Season: The Gators’ most versatile offensive weapon, Burton again played a myriad of roles for Florida but suffered an extreme dip in production due to the overall ineffectiveness of Florida’s offense. He notched two touchdowns against Tennessee (one rushing, one receiving) and found the end zone in three consecutive games.
2012 Outlook: Burton will have his third offensive coordinator in as many seasons in Brent Pease, who like his two predecessors plans to use him all over the field as the starter at the F position. “I’m just trying to get on the field,” he said this week. “I told Coach Pease, I told Urban [Meyer] whatever they wanted me to do, just let me know and I’ll do it. It’s not really that I’m trying to find a role. I’m just trying to get on the field.” Muschamp also praised him this week. “Trey is very smart. He’s very intelligent. Football comes very easy to him,” he said. “He sees the big picture; he understands that part of it. [...] He takes to the game very well, so you’re able to put him in a lot of different spots.”
7 – Ronald Powell (Moreno Valley, CA)
Junior Buck linebacker
6’4” 244 lbs.
Quick Bio: Considered the No. 1 overall prospect coming out of high school by Rivals, Powell was a five-star recruit who played defensive end and tight end in high school. He played strong side linebacker during his freshman season and was just one of six rookies to appear in every game, finishing the year with 25 tackles and one sack.
Career Stats (25 games): 57 tackles (36 solo, 11.5 for loss), seven sacks, forced fumble, two pass defenses
2011 Season: Used over to Buck linebacker, the most important position on the defense according to Muschamp and Quinn, Powell got off to a slow start but steadily improved as the year went on. He started 12 of 13 games (missing one due to injury) and led the team in sacks with six on the season. Powell figured out how to affect the quarterback, a key talking point for the coaching staff, at the end of the season and began showing glimpses of how dominant of a force he can be for the Gators going forward.
2012 Outlook: Powell was having a fantastic spring before going down with a torn ACL during the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut in April. He has been rehabbing like a fiend ever since with the goal of healing quickly and still being able to make an impact this season. Powell has begun his last stage of rehab and hopes to be able to return to being a full participant in practice when his major evaluation takes place on or around Oct. 1. How much he will be able to contribute and when he will be able to return are questions that remain to be answered; however, Muschamp has been absolutely thrilled with his mentality and how hard he has been trying to get himself healthy. “Ronald Powell’s worth ethic has been off the charts. I mean, the guy has not taken a break all summer. He’s been in the training room. He’s done everything that’s been asked. Some people do heal quicker than others,” he explained. “I’ve said it all summer, the guy’s attitude and his approach to a tough deal has been amazing. He’s been a lot more mature than the rest of us about handling it, where he is with it and what he needs to do to improve himself.”
6 – Dante Fowler, Jr. (St. Petersburg, FL)
Freshman Buck linebacker
6’3” 277 lbs.
Quick Bio/2012 Outlook: A five-star prospect who Florida pulled away from Florida State on National Signing Day, Fowler is an Under Armour All-American who had his pick of almost any college in the country. He was convinced to join the Gators by Muschamp, Quinn and the presence of the Buck position, which many believe he was built to play. Fowler impressed the coaching staff so much in the offseason that he is already listed as the second-stringer at the position behind redshirt senior Lerentee McCray.
6 – Jeff Driskel (Oviedo, FL)
6’4” 237 lbs.
Quick Bio: An early enrollee and five-star recruit, Driskel left high school as the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Florida and was considered by most to be the top quarterback in the country. He earned an Under Armour All-American nod for his senior campaign in which he threw for 1,819 yards and 15 touchdowns and rushed for 1,333 yards and 20 more scores.
Career Stats (five games): 16/34 for 148 yards, two interceptions; 16 carries for 18 yards
2011 Season: Driskel entered the season as the second-string quarterback at least partially due to the fact that he had an extra semester of practice ahead of classmate Jacoby Brissett. He got spot work in the first two games of the season before taking over for an injured John Brantley during a home contest against Alabama. Driskel unfortunately injured his ankle during the game and was unable to start the next game, leading Brissett to start as a true freshman against LSU and the following week against Auburn. Driskel also played at Auburn but did not see the field again.
2012 Outlook: Having gone head-to-head with Brissett throughout the offseason, Driskel does not yet know what his role will be with the Gators this season. More mobile than his counterpart, he will split snaps with Brissett in the season opener, giving the coaches an opportunity to further evaluate the position and make a decision for week two.
5 – Marcus Roberson (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Sophomore defensive back
6’0” 178 lbs.
Quick Bio/2011 Season: One of the last players to join Florida’s 2011 recruiting class, Roberson was ranked as a four-star prospect and one of the best players at his position in the country. He started right away as a true freshman but only played in 10 games during his rookie season as he suffered a serious neck injury against South Carolina.
Career Stats (10 games): 22 tackles (17 solo, 0.5 for loss), fumble recovery, interception, two pass defenses
2012 Outlook: Roberson is one of four players set to start at cornerback for the Gators this season but is likely the most polished and should see the most man-on-man action out of the bunch. Muschamp said recently that Roberson has not suffered any mental blocks or setbacks coming back from injury and looks like his normal self in practice. He is also Florida’s first-string punt returner.
4 – Andre Debose (Sanford, FL)
Redshirt junior wide receiver
5’11” 189 lbs.
Quick Bio: Hailed as the “next Percy Harvin” (a moniker he detested) before even committing to Florida, Debose was a five-star recruit and one of the most explosive players in the country during his time in high school. After injuring himself running track during his senior year he had surgery and redshirted the 2009 season. Finally healthy in 2010, Debose struggled to pick up Meyer’s offense and did not receive much playing time at his natural position. He played in certain packages and picked up 96 yards on 10 receptions but made his greatest impact as a kick returner, fielding 21 balls for a total of 587 yards including two touchdowns (one a 99-yard return at home against LSU).
Career Stats (22 games): 26 receptions for 528 yards (20.3 yards per catch, long: 80), four touchdowns; 40 kickoff returns for 1,082 yards (average: 27, long: 99), three touchdowns
2011 Season: Debose was the Gators’ best receiver last year but that is not saying much considering he only caught 16 balls for 432 yards and four touchdowns. However, his 27.0 yards per catch was the highest average in the SEC and third-best in the nation (minimum 10 receptions), which certainly put him in a unique category. He registered 65-yard touchdown catches in consecutive games and had three returns of 50+ yards on the season including a 99-yard return touchdown in the Gator Bowl that earned him most valuable player honors for the game.
2012 Outlook: Counted on to be a starter for Florida in his fourth season with the team, Debose is still struggling with his consistency and is listed as one of two receivers at the X wide receiver position behind redshirt senior Frankie Hammond, Jr.. He should still see plenty of action at wideout and could play his way back into a starting role if he can figure out how to be more reliable in practice and games. Debose also returns as the starting kick returner though a new NCAA rule moving up the kickoff tee could limit his effectiveness in that role.
4 – Damien Jacobs (New London, CT)
Junior defensive tackle
6’3” 284 lbs.
Quick Bio: A four-star JUCO prospect, Jacobs played the first two seasons of his college career for East Mississippi Community College, which went undefeated in 2011 and won the NJCAA national title. He had committed to Florida State before being forced to go the junior college route but decided to play for Florida instead this year.
Career Stats (two JUCO seasons): 47 tackles (eight for loss), two sacks, two fumble recoveries
2012 Outlook: Jacobs is already listed as a second-string tackle behind junior Sharrif Floyd, and the coaching staff has expressed their optimism that he will be able to contribute to the team right away. “I think he really changed his body over the summer and how hard he worked,” Quinn said recently. “Now you can really see his quickness come out, and I think he adds another inside rusher for us. That’s a role that I’m anxious to see him develop over the course of the first couple of games.” Added redshirt senior DT Omar Hunter of Jacobs: “He’s got that old-man strength, not that weight-room [strength], but the old-man strength. It’s weird man; it’s very weird. You might bench more than him but on the football field he’s just strong, crazy strength.”
3 – Jelani Jenkins (Madison Heights, MI)
Redshirt junior Will linebacker
6’0” 237 lbs.
Quick Bio: A Under Armour All-American, Jenkins was a five-star recruit and the No. 1 player at his position as a high schooler when he committed in 2009. He dressed for all 14 games as a true freshman but only participated in two as he took a redshirt while making the honor roll off the field. Jenkins stepped into a starting role as a redshirt freshman, notching a career-high 11 tackles against South Carolina and 76 overall on the season, good enough for second on the defense and most by a freshman.
Career Stats (27 games): 153 tackles (90 solo, 11.5 for loss), four sacks, forced fumble, fumble recovery, two interceptions, seven pass defenses, touchdown
2011 Season: Jenkins started all 12 games in which he played and concluded the campaign third in tackles (75) while also registering two sacks, a forced fumble and a pick-six. He led the Gators in tackles in three different games and put together a dominant performance against Furman. For as many times as he got in front of passes over the course of the season, Jenkins’s interception total should have been much higher; he was plagued by drops and failed to get the ball securely in his hands on numerous occasions.
2012 Outlook: Still the starter at Will linebacker, Jenkins could very well be in line for a breakout season if he can put everything he has learned over his first three years with the team together. He is an on- and off-the-field leader for Florida and is one of two linebackers – along with senior Jon Bostic – who can really help set the tone for the defense this season as a dominant force in the middle of the field.
2 – Dominique Easley (Staten Island, NY)
Junior defensive lineman
6’2” 280 lbs.
Quick Bio: Another five-star recruit from the Gators’ amazing 2011 class, Easley struggled during his freshman season as he dealt with bouts of homesickness while also reportedly displaying some immaturity. The No. 2 defensive tackle prospect did not see the field much but showed flashes when he did get the opportunity to get in the game.
Career Stats (18 games): 41 tackles (18 solo, 7.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks, blocked punt
2011 Season: Easley, who perhaps should have been playing more defensive end than he did last year, started all 12 regular season games for Florida at defensive tackle partially due to the questionable season with Floyd early in the season. Notorious for having a quick first step after the ball is snapped, Easley was successful in affecting the quarterback and registered a career-high nine tackles on the road at LSU. He tore his ACL in the regular season finale against Florida State and missed the bowl game.
2012 Outlook: After sitting out for all of spring practice, Easley returned in the fall energized and ready to contribute. The coaching staff has limited his snaps purely as a precautionary measure though he will be full-go as a starting defensive end from the first game on. Easley was moved back outside due to Floyd shifting to the interior of the defensive line though he will still see some time at tackle in certain packages this season. “We’ve played him at what we call a base end and a nickel tackle, and it’s been good inside,” Quinn said recently. “It’s been a new move for him but I guess for him, he learns it pretty fast. He’s a guy that gets a pretty good understanding of football and gets it pretty quick.” Muschamp said that his strength and conditioning has been fantastic.
1 – Quinton Dunbar (Miami, FL)
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver
6’1” 189 lbs.
Quick Bio: A four-star prospect, Dunbar saw action in his freshman season against Miami (OH) and LSU but took a redshirt after barely playing in those games.
Career Stats (13 games): 14 receptions for 216 yards (15.4 yards per catch, long: 40), two touchdowns
2011 Season: Dunbar was reportedly explosive during offseason practice and was expected to be a major playmaker for Florida last year. He started five of the 12 games in which he played but only managed just over a dozen catches partially due to the Gators’ overall ineffective offense. Dunbar registered touchdowns in consecutive games to end the regular season but followed those performances up with one-catch performance in the bowl game.
2012 Outlook: Listed as the starting Z wideout and one of two new players to don the No. 1 jersey this season, Dunbar has really progressed this offseason and “has continued to be more mature than he was a year ago,” according to Muschamp, who added that “he understands what it takes down-in and down-out, the consistency in this league that it is going to take to be successful.” Also singing his praises is sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who called him the best receiver in camp. “He’s fast. He’s got good hands, and he can get open,” he said.
1 – Jon Bostic (Wellington, FL)
Senior Mike linebacker
6’1” 246 lbs.
Quick Bio: A four-star recruit who was a U.S. Army All-American, Bostic was ranked as the fifth-best player at his position nationally and seen as a high-character player who led his team both on and off the field. He has carried that over to Florida, where he has played every season since he joined the team in 2009. Bostic served as a reserve (and played on special teams) as a freshmen, leading his class with 18 tackles. He then started six of the 13 games he played as a sophomore and ended his second year third on the team with 57 tackles and eighth in the nation with three interceptions.
Career Stats (38 games): 169 tackles (110 solo, 12.5 for loss), 4.5 sacks, forced fumble, three interceptions, five pass defenses
2011 Season: Bostic became a full-time starter and unquestionable team leader as a junior, leading the Gators with 94 tackles including 10.0 for a total loss of 57 yards. His best came come of the season came at the most important time for Florida as he notched a career-high 13 tackles, a sack and a pass defense on the road at LSU.
2012 Outlook: Having the respect of the entire coaching staff as well as his fellow players, Bostic is the straw that stirs the drink that is the Gators defensive unit. He enters the season once again as the starting Mike linebacker and is as deserving of the No. 1 jersey as anyone on the team. Like Jenkins, Bostic could truly have a breakout campaign and knows he must do so in his final year with Florida in order to help the Gators win and improve his stock in the eyes of NFL scouts.