Readers’ Choice: Lack of depth at offensive line, linebacker could hurt Florida Gators in 2015

For six days from March 5-10, OnlyGators.com has handed a guest editor role over to you, the loyal reader. This is the first in six 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.

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OT Fredrick Johnson commits to Florida

The Florida Gators doubled up on offensive line commitments Saturday as three-star offensive tackle Fredrick Johnson (West Palm Beach, FL) ended his recruitment by making a verbal pledge to the program.

Johnson (6-foot-7, 301 pounds), a former Virginia Tech commit, took an unofficial visit to UF over the weekend and subsequently chose Florida over Miami, though he also had committable offers from Nebraska, Tennessee and VT. LSU and Penn State were among the late-arriving parties interested in his services.

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Lone survivor Mike Summers is enthusiastic about retention, new Florida Gators staff

A 34-year coaching veteran, it takes a lot to get Mike Summers excited these days. But that is exactly the emotion he said he felt when new Florida Gators head coach Jim McElwain asked him to be the lone holdover from Will Muschamp’s coaching staff.

“I’m extremely excited to be retained and be a part of Coach Mac’s staff, to move into a new era of Florida football. Certainly the opportunities, the energy, the excitement that’s around the program right now is something I can really feel. I sense it from the players. I sense it myself, my energy, there’s pep in my step as I walk around. Everyone is excited about where we are and looking forward. Certainly that involves me, and I’m very excited to be a part of this,” he said last week.

Summers was far from the longest-tenured member of Florida’s staff – in fact, he was one of three new coaches to join the program ahead of the 2014 season – but he was perhaps Muschamp’s best hire last offseason.

He pieced together an offensive line that lost three starters to graduation ahead of the season, created versatility among the players he had (including a number of injured upperclassmen) and was even forced into tough mix-and-match situations during games, tasks he seemingly took on with ease. Perhaps his most impressive work was molding fifth-year lineman Max Garcia not only into the Gators’ starting center but one who did so well playing the position for the first time in his career that he earned an invitation to the 2015 Senior Bowl.

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Update: Gators’ Humphries undecided on future

Updated on Thursday at 10:40 a.m.

On Wednesday night, Zach Abolverdi of The Gainesville Sun reported that Florida Gators junior left tackle D.J. Humphries would forgo his remaining eligibility and enter the 2015 NFL Draft.

Thursday morning, Humphries vehemently denied the Sun‘s report, insisting via his Twitter account that he has not yet made a decision about his future.

“I have NOT made my decision on leaving for the NFL … Careful what you read . . . Thanks a lot Gainesville Sun!!” wrote Humphries.

Humphries, should he eventually declare, would be the fourth Gators underclassmen to leave for the draft. Juniors defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and running back Matt Jones and redshirt junior offensive linemen Tyler Moore are Florida players that have already decided to the program before their eligibility has expired.

Humphries still has a decision to make, as do juniors defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard and linebacker Antonio Morrison, who planned to submit their paperwork to the NFL to gauge their draft stock before making decisions.

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Friday Final: Gators aim to take back The Swamp; game could be the last for Muschamp, Spurrier

In this week’s edition of Florida Football Friday Final, OnlyGators.com takes a look at the Florida Gators (5-3, 4-3 SEC) as they prepare to ride their momentum against the South Carolina Gamecocks (4-5, 2-5 SEC) on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. The game will kick off at noon and air live on the SEC Network.

THIS WEEK ON ONLYGATORS.COM

Story: Freshman QB Treon Harris leading turnaround effort
Notebook: Will Muschamp breaks down Florida entering South Carolina game
Notebook: Kurt Roper pleased with Harris, offense’s balance
Story: Max Garcia emerging as one of the game’s best thanks to great coaching
Story: DL Jonathan Bullard’s sacrifices, team-first mindset paying off for Gators
Story: QB Jeff Driskel says benching was “tough,” but he’s happy to contribute

ONLY GATORS GET OUT ALIVE

Head coach Will Muschamp kicked it off on Monday, noting that he has made it a theme this week for the Gators to “take back The Swamp,” which is “what we need to do this coming Saturday.” Muschamp and Florida’s players understand that the team has let down its home fans during his tenure with the program. UF is just 17-7 at The Swamp over the last four seasons with a 9-6 record against SEC opponents and Florida State.

A number of players addressed what a victory in front Gator Nation would mean on Saturday. Check out what each of them had to say about it.

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Florida-Vanderbilt post-game and Twitter Chatter: Gators take in a dominant road win

Looking to win consecutive league games for the first time in a year, the Florida Gators (5-3, 4-3 SEC) rolled into Nashville, Tennessee, and proved to be the dominant team from the third series onward, upending the Vanderbilt Commodores (3-7, 0-6 SEC) on Saturday night at Vanderbilt Stadium.

Muschamp met with the media after Florida’s 34-10 win to discuss his team’s latest victory. A number of former Gators also took to social media before, during and after the contest to provide there thoughts on the game.

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Florida is now 36-10-2 all-time against Vanderbilt; the series between UF and VU dates back to 1945 with games being played annually since 1992. The Gators are 17-7-1 when playing the Commodores in Nashville with 12-straight road wins since 1990.
» The Gators are now 22-6 against unranked opponents under Muschamp and 13-4 against unranked SEC teams during his tenure after losing to LSU and Missouri – at home – in consecutive weeks this season.
» UF is still just 5-10 since Oct. 6, 2013, sporting the worst win-loss record in the SEC during that period.
» The Gators are second nationally and first in the SEC in red zone scoring, converting 29-of-31 chances. However, only 62.1 percent of those scores are touchdowns (18).
» Florida is now +4 in turnover margin this season after being even entering the Vanderbilt game. The Gators are now +11 in their six wins and -7 in three losses. UF has a 23-4 record under Muschamp when winning the turnover battle in a game.
» Freshman quarterback Treon Harris averaged 16.5 yards per completion, third-most under Muschamp and the highest for Florida since Nov. 19, 2011 (vs. Furman).

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9/29: Muschamp talks injuries, support, secondary

Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators (2-1, 1-1 SEC) met with the media on Monday as his team begins preparations for the Tennessee Volunteers (2-2, 0-1 SEC). Florida will look to extend its nine-game winning streak against Tennessee on Saturday at noon when the Vols will host the Gators at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee.

INJURY UPDATES

While Florida’s injury issues are nowhere near as bad as they were in 2013, the team is certainly dealing with some injured Gators one-quarter of the way through the season.

Redshirt senior defensive tackle Leon Orr (meniscus) will be sidelined for Saturday’s game as expected, though Muschamp hopes he will be able to return against LSU. Junior Jonathan Bullard will take many of his snaps on the interior.

Florida’s defense may also be without redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor (knee swelling), who is listed as “questionable-to-doubtful” this week. Freshman running back Brandon Powell (hamstring), who has not played since the opener against Eastern Michigan, received a similar designation from Muschamp on Monday.

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9/24: Muschamp hopeful off week will help Gators; changes in secondary but not at quarterback

Updated at 2:45 p.m.

Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators (2-1, 1-1 SEC) met with the media for the first time this week on Wednesday with his team currently in the middle of its first off week of the 2014 season. He discussed issues on both sides of the ball and updated Florida’s injury list 10 days ahead of the program’s next game on Oct. 4 at Tennessee.

INJURY UPDATES

The Gators could be without two starting defensive front seven players next week as redshirt seniors defensive tackle Leon Orr (meniscus) and linebacker Michael Taylor (knee swelling) were both listed as questionable by Muschamp on Wednesday. Orr had a knee scope on Monday and has a minor tear in his meniscus (along with a bone bruise), though Muschamp said he was walking around on Tuesday and looked to be recovering well. Taylor is dealing with a bothersome bone bruise as well.

Junior left tackle D.J. Humphries (ankle) remains on track to return to practice on Monday and play next week after missing two games, Muschamp said, though he is not the only banged-up offensive lineman the trainers are keeping track of during the off week. Redshirt senior Chaz Green and senior Trenton Brown, who both suffered ankle injuries against Alabama, are “going to be fine” and were listed as probable for next Saturday.

The Gators are also dealing with injuries to two of their running backs. Junior Mark Herndon tore his ACL during a kickoff on Saturday and will be out for the season. Freshman Brandon Powell tweaked his hamstring during an unspecified practice and will likely be sidelined for a couple more days.

Muschamp also clarified Wednesday what injury sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was dealing with on Saturday, noting that Hargreaves was dealing with a bruised Achilles that swelled up on him after it had been kicked previously.

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