A position-by-position breakdown of the Florida Gators football team ahead of the 2018 season.
Quarterbacks | C+
The uncertainty surrounding Florida’s quarterback situation followed it from the end of last season through the spring, and it has continued into camp. The team has seen action from a trio of quarterbacks, all of whom have shown some bright spots but have struggled with showing consistency and leadership. Feleipe Franks has the experience and will likely win the starting position. The redshirt sophomore has proven his arm strength and mobility. But Franks struggled with decision making last season, and the question of how well he works under pressure still remains. His success will depend on how he grasps Mullen’s system and how comfortable he is with the offensive line. As for Kyle Trask and Emory Jones, they both have their individual strengths but still have a lot to learn.
Running Backs | A
Florida will find a plethora of explosive assets in its running back core. The return of Jordan Scarlett, who missed the 2017 season in the credit card fraud case that resulted in nine players being suspended, will add experience, elusiveness and speed to complement Malik Davis and Lamical Perine. Scarlett and Perine are versatile backs who can catch the ball, and Davis was proving himself last season with 526 yards on 79 carries before suffering a season-ending injury against Georgia. Add Perine’s run-blocking and help from Adarius Lemons and Dameon Pierce, and the Gators potentially have the strongest overall ground attack in the SEC.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends | A-
If its playmakers can stay healthy and available this season, Florida will have reliable weapons down the field in Tyrie Cleveland, Freddie Swain, Josh Hammond and Kadarius Toney. Cleveland is an obvious deep threat who led the team last year with 410 yards. He also had the memorable 63-yard game-winning hail mary against Tennessee. But he suffered a high ankle sprain and battled a hamstring injury this spring. Toney fought injuries as well during his 152-yard season but has an advantage in the open field if he can stay out there. The additions of Ohio State transfer Trevon Grimes and Ole Miss transfer Van Jefferson have proven in camp to be a valuable spark for Gators’ offense. At tight end, the Gators will have Lucas Krull, a former baseball player, to join veterans C’yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens.
Offensive Line | C-
This has been one of the weakest links of Florida’s unstable offense in the past few seasons, and much like the quarterback position, the state of the O-line is blurry. The Gators will rely on the chemistry and experience of Martez Ivey, Fred Johnson, Jawaan Taylor and T.J. McCoy, who have all played at least two seasons with the team. Ivey started the first nine games of 2017 at left tackle and the last two at left guard, and Taylor started the first nine at right tackle and the last two at left tackle. The tandem has the experience but lacks the consistency. McCoy at center started nine games last season before suffering a season-ending injury at South Carolina. Johnson has size but has failed to show consistency as well.
Defensive Line | A
Headlined by Cece Jefferson, Jabari Zuniga, Khairi Clark and Tedarrell Slaton, Florida’s D-line is probably the highlight of the defense. Jefferson led the team in tackles-for-loss (13.5 for 38 yards) and sacks (4.5 for 14 yards) last season, and not too far behind was Zuniga’s eight tackles-for-loss and four sacks. The duo provides consistency and reliability on the outside. The Gators also have a veteran on the inside in Clark, who knows how to get it done at the nose position. Slaton, who started 11 games with 11 tackles as a true freshman last year, will add some strength at the nose position as well. The Gators will also find strength in Jachai Polite, who’s a solid pass rusher, Antonneous Clayton and, potentially, grad transfer Adam Shuler II.
Linebackers | B+
David Reese led the team in tackles last season with 102 and was second in tackles-for-loss with 10. As one of the leaders of the defense, Reese will elevate the game of those around him, especially given the young core of linebackers. Reese will also provide a big body on the inside alongside Jeremiah Moon. Moon is a solid man on the outside with his versatility, but he’s battled ankle and hamstring injuries. Vosean Joseph at outside linebacker registered 55 tackles, four tackles-for-loss and one interception last season, and he’ll be a big factor against the run.
Secondary | A
Florida appears to be set at this position as well with Chauncey Gardner-Johnson at the nickel and Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson on the corners. Gardner-Johnson is an all-around guy who can be anywhere on the field. He ended last year with six tackles-for-loss and two interceptions. The duo of Wilson and Henderson was the real deal last year and looks the same heading into this season. As true freshmen, they combined for 56 tackles, 14 pass breakups and four interceptions. Their cover skills will be a problem for opposing receivers and offensive coordinators. Jeawon Taylor, who registered 34 tackles and an interception last season, could be in the mix as well if he stays healthy. And Shawn Davis and Donovan Stiner add even more depth.
Special Teams | B-
With Eddie Pineiro and Johnny Townsend both kicking for the NFL’s Oakland Raiders, the Gators no longer have that same cushion of a kicker with a booming leg and a punter who could flip the field when the offense stalled. But Florida does have Townsend’s younger brother, Tommy, who’s also a punter, and it has a kicker in Jorge Powell who got experience kicking for the team in 2015. Powell is 2-for-3 on field goals for his career with a long of 31 yards and is 10-for-11 on extra points. The Gators won’t get the same powerful kicker in Powell that it had in Pineiro, but he’s proven to be accurate enough to get it done.
Coaching | A-
New head coach Dan Mullen inherited a team that finished 13th in the SEC in total offense last season. But he’s returning to a program that he had a hand in helping win two SEC and BCS National Titles (2006, 2008) during his four-year stint with the Gators from 2005-2008. The Gators will open the 2018 season with an entirely new coaching staff that includes eight coaches that previously worked with Mullen at Mississippi State. Among those new faces are new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, offensive line coach John Hevesy, running backs coach/special teams coordinator Brian Johnson and defensive line coach Sal Sunseri. They’ve all coached in the SEC before and have at least 20 years of coaching experience under their belts.
NOTE: The Miami Herald is now offering a digital sports-only subscription for $30 per year. This is unlimited access to all Herald sports stories, thus allowing you to comment in the section below as many times as you wish. Click right here to get started immediately.