Florida Gators 2014 season-opening depth chart

Though things will undoubtedly change for the Florida Gators throughout the 2014 season, likely even before its season-opener against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday at 7 p.m. inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, head coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday released the team’s first official depth chart in nine months.

OFFENSE

QB: 6 Jeff Driskel, 3 Treon Harris
RB: 21 Kelvin Taylor OR 24 Matt Jones OR 33 Mack Brown
F/B: 41 Hunter Joyer, 25 Gideon Ajagbe
TE/B: 88 Clay Burton, 83 Jake McGee
WR (X): 1 Quinton Dunbar, 11 Demarcus Robinson, 89 Alvin Bailey
WR (Z): 5 Ahmad Fulwood, 4 Andre Debose, 85 Chris Thompson
WR (Y): 9 Latroy Pittman, 10 Valdez Showers, 14 C.J. Worton

LT: 70 D.J. Humphries, 78 David Sharpe
LG: 63 Trip Thurman, 73 Tyler Moore, 71 Antonio Riles
C: 76 Max Garcia, 72 Drew Sarvary
RG: 74 Trenton Brown OR 73 Tyler Moore
RT: 75 Chaz Green, 55 Roderick Johnson

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Gators will go as far as QB Jeff Driskel takes them

Most quarterbacks that go 11-2 in their first season as a starter – and follow up that campaign by throwing for more yards in a single game against an FBS opponent than his school has seen in four years – would likely be surrounded by Heisman Trophy buzz.

As has been obvious for the last 18 months, Florida Gators redshirt junior Jeff Driskel is not most quarterbacks.

Instead of fans and critics looking at what Driskel has accomplished despite playing for two now-fired offensive coordinators in pro-style systems he was not originally recruited to run, the focus has been on his numerous failings.

In those two losses during his sophomore campaign, Driskel completed just 55 percent of his passes. He threw for just one touchdown, tossed four interceptions (including a pick-six in the opening moments of the 2013 Sugar Bowl against Louisville) and fumbled thrice (twice in the red zone, one of which began the Georgia game on a sour note).

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Keanu Neal, young defensive linemen emerging; Gators evaluate each other before season

About a dozen Florida Gators players met with the media over the last couple weeks to discuss fall practice and how the team is coming together ahead of the season. With less than a week until the start of the 2014 campaign, OnlyGators.com is cleaning out its notebook and present you with a bunch of their thoughts.

TWO SECONDARY STARTERS

When head coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday afternoon unveils the team’s first depth chart since last November, one position group that will draw some of the most attention in the secondary. A unit full of talented starters that was ravaged by defections (graduations, early departures, a transfer), the secondary currently only has two players that have locked down roles at this time – sophomores cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and safety Keanu Neal.

Hargreaves, after a stellar freshman campaign, is already a known quantity. Neal, on the other hand, earned his job during training camp after impressing with some big hits during the 2013 season.

“Just my effort [has improved],” he explained. “This year seems like everything clicked versus last year. My recognition on plays and things like that is a lot better.”

Muschamp singled out Neal early in fall camp as the best safety on the roster, locking him into a starting role early and never backing off from that stance. Suffice to say, the player was flattered.

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8/18: Muschamp on depth chart, competition heating up as season approaches

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to kick off his team’s final few days of practice before preparation finally begins for the team’s first opponent on Saturday, Aug. 30.

INJURY UPDATES

The Gators were dealt their first notable injury blow this season as Muschamp announced that freshman defensive tackle Thomas Holley, who was already dealing with scar tissue on a sports hernia he had repaired in high school, also had an undetected torn labrum in his hip and was scheduled for surgery on Monday. Holley will take a redshirt.

Senior offensive guard Trenton Brown (foot contusion), redshirt sophomore defensive back Marcus Maye (hamstring) and freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe (ankle) were all injured in practice this week, though all are expected back soon. Brown will return to practice on Tuesday, while Maye and Sharpe are scheduled to get back onto the field next Monday after a week on the sideline.

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8/15: Muschamp updates injuries, evaluations and competitions after Florida’s 15th practice

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday following his team’s second-to-last open practice of the offseason. The Gators are now 15 practices deep and will spend Saturday only wearing helmets during a one-hour Fan Day showing.

INJURY UPDATES

Freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe, who worked his way into being the fourth option at his position, suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice Friday morning and is currently day-to-day.

“We need to get him back. He’s a really good football player,” Muschamp said. “He’s very athletic, 6-foot-6, 330 pounds. He moves his feet extremely well. [He's] a guy that’s going to help us this year.”

The news is better for some other players. Junior running back Matt Jones (knee swelling) and redshirt junior guard Trip Thurman (shoulder) will return to action on Saturday. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox, Jr. (shoulder) could already be back in practice but will instead return on Monday after spraining his AC joint.

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8/13: Fowler breakout, Leak coaching, Jones ready

A handful of Florida Gators met with the media on Tuesday to discuss both how fall practice is going and how the team is coming together ahead of the 2014 season. Others met with the media last week to discuss similar topics.

BREAKOUT TIME

Junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. had his share of moments during his sophomore campaign. He looked strong at times and explosive at others but had little help around him to stop the double teams and allow him to be truly dominant.

With 2014 now approaching, Fowler has the opportunity to step up and be the dominant name on Florida’s defense, even more so than sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. According to some of his teammates, he’s on his way to earning that type of recognition.

“He’s been relentless,” said sophomore safety Keanu Neal. “Effort, that’s what he’s bringing. He’s bringing a lot of effort and continuing to work on his technique to get better.”

Fowler has also taken over Dominique Easley’s role as a leader on the Gators’ defense. That baton was ceremoniously passed when Easley relinquished his Chucky doll and allowed Fowler to be the adoptive father. Fowler tried to fill in for his role model last year, but even with Chucky in tow, he had a ways to go. This year, it seems he is putting it together on the leadership front.

“He’s one of my best friends. Me and him were roommates last semester, so we’re pretty close. Every time I’m on the field with him it’s like playing next to one of my good friends. He pretty much brings me up, tells me to work hard. He’s definitely a good guy, definitely a good role model,” explained sophomore defensive tackle Joey Ivie.

Fowler is doing all of this without Chucky in the locker room, at least for now.

“I haven’t seen the doll yet. I don’t know if I will,” redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor said. “I wasn’t scared of it; it was just a matter of fact that you got a little doll that kills people in movies. Besides that, no, I haven’t seen it. We might see it soon, but I don’t know. We’ll have to see at the first Gator Walk.”

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The Silver Lining for Wednesday, August 13

SEC Network debuts on Thursday

Though fall practice for the Florida Gators is in full swing and there is plenty of football to discuss, let’s start this week’s TSL with a quick look at the SEC Network, which debuts nationwide on Thursday.

The list of cable and satellite providers is long. The talent signed to broadcast games, events and studio shows is strong. And the fact that the SEC Network will air three football games every Saturday, not to mention a ton of contests from the dozen other sports played by Southeastern Conference teams, means most of the time you tune in, there will be something exciting going on.

There are some that think the channel will fail to live up to its hype but there is not much to support that assertion. The SEC Network is better positioned to succeed than any of the other conference-only channels have been at the time of their debut. It has the strongest partner possible in ESPN and enough unique programming to give it some substance at launch.

All of that, coupled with the tremendous amount of live sports programming it will carry (especially in the spring during basketball and baseball season), gives the SEC Network every chance to be a major success right out of the gate.

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Are Florida’s receivers finally ready to break out?

It has been four years since the Florida Gators have seen one of their wide receivers get drafted by an NFL team, an especially jarring statistic when one considers that the program had 19 total selected in the 17 drafts the league held from 1994-2010.

Combining poor recruiting with lackluster development, inconsistent quarterback play and overall uninspiring offenses, Florida has been unable to get the necessary production out of the position to win football games and propel players to the next level.

As the 2014 season fast approaches, it appears to be unanimous around the team that the Gators possess more firepower at the position than they have since the 2009 campaign.

Florida does, however, face a couple of obstacles on its way to having the position perform as well as head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper both expect with Roper’s newly-installed offense.

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