2014 Florida Preview: What You Must Know
Florida DE Dante Fowler, Jr.
Preview 2014 - What You Need To Know About Florida (Getty Images)
2014 Florida Preview
What You Need To Know...
2014 Depth Chart & Unit Rankings To Come This Summer
What You Need To Know About The Offense: It was absolutely awful, but there's an excuse. QB Jeff Driskel broke his leg in the third game of the season, top RB Matt Jones hurt his knee, and there were just enough injuries and issues to take an already challenged attack and put it right into the tank. However, everyone who matters is back, including Driskel and Jones, but there's a new offensive coordinator and a few tweaks that should make a bit of a difference.
Kurt Roper isn't going to stray away from the tough ground attack that actually worked over the last few years when everyone was healthy, but he's going to do more for the midrange passing game by opening things up just a bit. The veteran receivers are in place, but they have to be far more dangerous when they get their chances. The O line should be fantastic with a little more time to jell, and the backfield is deep and tough with three excellent running backs who can handle the work. Can Driskel be more than just a guy whose main job is to keep from screwing up? As long as he's controlling the clock and managing the game, he'll be fine.
What You Need To Know About The Defense: Lost in all the problems of 2013 was a defense that finished eighth in the nation total D and 15th in points allowed despite getting zip-a-dee-doo-dah help from the offense. Look for the line to be even more dangerous in the backfield from all four spots, especially if Dante Fowler, Jr. can be the devastating must-figure-out pass rusher many think he can become. Michael Taylor and Antonio Morrison should be among the best 1-2 linebacking tandems in the SEC, Vernon Hargreaves III is the best corner in the conference, and there's speed and skill ready to shine though at safety and in the rotation in the front seven. The concern is the second corner spot with true freshmen fighting it out for the job, but there's a good rotation and lots of options across the board to play around with. The D will do its part, but the O has to help, too.
Players You Need To Know
1. CB Vernon Hargreaves III, Soph.
Getting superstar recruits is nothing new for Florida, but to get the best cornerback prospect in the country and have him immediately come through with a superior true freshman season is special. The 5-11, 192-pound true sophomore is smart, tough, and a fantastic hitter in the open field with blow-up tackling ability and the instincts to always sniff out the play a half step before it happens coming up with a team-leading three interceptions, 11 broken up passes and 38 tackles. The stats won't be nearly as strong this season with everyone staying away from him and going after the green starter on the other side, but he'll still come through as a lockdown defender on everyone's No. 1 target.
2. DE Dante Fowler, Jr.
The Buck is supposed to be the star pass rusher position on the Florida defense, and Fowler has the potential to be an even better Ronald Powell with great size and a next-level burst off the ball. Considering a top defensive end prospect, he's more of a true lineman than a tweener, but he can make plays in the open field coming up with 50 tackles with 3.5 tackles and a team-leading 10.5 tackles for loss. The team's best pass rusher last season, he should be in the mix for All-America honors with 6-3, 261-pound size and fantastic athleticism. He'll have to be used to being keyed on more than last year, and he's going to have to get ready to handle the double team, but when he's on, he'll change games by himself.
3. LB Antonio Morrison, Jr.
The 6-1, 230-pound veteran can play just about anywhere in the linebacking corps, but he's at his best on the weakside where he's able to use his tremendous range and big-hitting ability when he gets room to move. Now he has to come back from a knee injury that cut his season short after shining as the team's leading tackler throughout the first part of the season finishing with 56 tackles with two quarterback hurries. He didn't do anything against the pass, but he's outstanding against the run with a tireless, aggressive attitude that makes him one of the statistical leaders of the front seven.
4. LB Michael Taylor, Sr.
The team's leading tackler with 62 stops and 3.5 tackles for loss, the 6-0, 227-pound man in the middle is extremely active with fantastic range and outstanding physical skills when he's lined up on a runner. Able to play anywhere in the linebacking corps, he's a pure athlete who came up with ten stops against LSU on his way to an even bigger season before suffering a MCL sprain late in the year and keeping him out of the Florida State loss.
5. DT Leon Orr, Sr.
A true run stopper, the 6-5, 302-pound Orr is a huge body who clogs things up making 21 tackles while doing a bit more to get into the backfield making 2.5 sacks and 4.5 tackles for loss. A superstar prospect when he hit campus in 2010, he gets blocked a bit too easily and has to move a bit better, but he has the bulk and the experience to be an anchor for a top run defense. If everything works according to plan, he'll hold the interior and let all the speedsters around him operate.
6. QB Jeff Driskel, Jr.
He's not Johnny Manziel in terms of excitement, and he's not the next Tim Tebow,
but he's a tough, 6-4, 230-pound top recruit who came up with a decent 2012, doing a great job of moving the chains and coming up with key third down plays on a regular basis. Last year he completed 69% of his passes for 477 yards with two touchdown passes, but he threw three picks with two killers in the loss to Miami. The year ended in the third week against Tennessee with a broken leg, but on the plus side, it happened early enough in the year to give him time to heal. He'll have to start pushing the ball down the field a little bit more, and he has to start taking a few more chances, but for what the Florida offense does, his tough running ability and midrange arm keeps things going. He has the size, and the arm isn't a question, but he has to do more with his tools and he has to improve as a leader. Not exactly the fiery type, he leads more by example and his play than by screaming and yelling, but that's fine. As long as he's moving the chains, there's absolutely no problem whatsoever.
7. DE Jon Bullard, Jr.
The 6-3, 270-pounder might not be flashy and he might not get too much recognition, but he's a strong, tough run stopper who came up with 33 tackles with 1.5 sacks. He'll generate pressure every once in a while, and he's just quick enough to get behind the line and get off the ball in a hurry, but his real worth is as a tough tackler who holds his own against the more physical teams.
8. OT D.J. Humphries, Jr.
The offensive line should be a strength as long as everyone is healthy, and the 6-5, 290-pound Humphries should be the leader of the pack. He has the size and the feet with good athleticism as a pass protector, but this is it for his weight and bulk, having to work way too hard to get to his current frame. Now he has to come back from a knee injury that knocked him out in the middle of the season but when he was fine, he was growing into the promise that made him one of the nation's top tackle prospects out of high school.
9. RB Matt Jones, Jr.
Did he really just have a meniscus tear in his knee? It was enough to keep him out of spring ball, but if he's back and ready, and if he doesn't get pushed out by sophomore Kelvin Taylor or senior Mack Brown, he should be exactly what the offense needs with his 6-2, 226-pound size and pounding ability able to keep control of the ball and grind out drives. Quick, physical and tough, he ran for 339 yards and two scores including 176 and a touchdown against Kentucky, but he was knocked out for the year against LSU. He should be ready to roll by the start of the season.
10. WR Quinton Dunbar, Sr.
Is this finally the time when Dunbar opens up the offense? Expected to grow into a dangerous deep threat for years, it hasn't happened yet catching 39 passes for 528 yards averaging 13.54 yards per play, but he didn't score. A great recruit in the epic 2010 class, he has No. 1 target ability with 6-1, 194-pound size with good deep speed at the X. Consistent more than spectacular, he's a deep receiver with upside, but that's been the situation for years. Now he has to be more explosive.
- 2014 Florida Preview