Once again the Florida Gators will look to several freshmen to make an immediate impact. The 2012 recruiting class ended up being ranked #3 or #4 in the country with its class of 22 signees. Although the official depth roster has not been announced, we can expect some of the 5-star and 4-star freshman to get immediate playing time instead of redshirts. Some of these baby Gators, such as OG Jessamen Dunker, OT DJ Humphries, Buck Dante Fowler, SDE Jonathan Bullard, TE Kent Taylor, TE Colin Thompson, and ILB Antonio Morrison, were named All-American high school football players by Parade, Rivals, ESPN or USA Today. Some of those key players may be in position to make an immediate impact due to injuries to veterans, lack of performance at those positions in years past, or demonstrated performance in practice.
Dante Fowler will see plenty of action at the Buck position due to Ronald Powell's injury. Lerentee McCray is favored to get the starting role, but unlike Dante Fowler this is an unfamiliar position for him. On top of that, McCray is coming off repeated hamstring injuries. If Dante can grasp the Gator defense early, look for him to possibly start a few games at the Buck until Ronald Powell returns. Even as a back-up, he is projected to see plenty of action.
- WR - Latroy Pittman
- RB - Matt Jones
- OLB - Jeremi Powell
- OG - Jessamen Dunker (4*)
- DT - Jafar Mann
- SDE - Quinteze Williams
- CB - Willie Bailey
- TE - Colin Thompson
- CB - Brian Poole (4*)
- K - Austin Hardin
- SS - Rhaheim Ledbetter
- FS - Marcus Maye
- ILB - Antonio Morrison (4*)
- OT - DJ Humphries (5*)
- TE - Kent Taylor (4*)
- DT - Damien Jacobs
- SDE - Jonathan Bullard (5*)
- SDE - Bryan Cox Jr.
- WDE - Alex McCalister
- QB - Skyler Mornhinweg
- WR - Raphael Andrades
- WDE/LB - Dante Fowler Jr. (5*)
Jonathan Bullard is a 5-star recruit and the top defensive end coming out of high school. With Shariff Floyd shifting back inside to his more natural position at defensive tackle, look for Bullard to compete for the starting role at strong-side defensive end.
With the entire Gator Nation seemingly screaming for more Mike Gillislee, running back Matt Jones will probably not be an immediate starter, but he will likely get meaningful carries. Matt is one of only two highly touted running backs playing at his natural position. Omarius Hines and Trey Burton will see time at running back in various formations, but at 6'3", 225 lbs, Matt Jones is predicted to be the #2 guy behind Gilly as a workhorse RB in a downhill running scheme.
Given the beating that the offensive line took last year, with frequent injuries and repeated position switches, the Gators are looking for consistency and depth on both sides of the line of scrimmage. 6'6", 315 pound OL Jessamen Dunker packs the right combination of size and strength to hopefully beat back imposing SEC defensive linemen. Dunker will likely see plenty of time at right guard, but with injuries to DJ Humphries, there may be other shifts in the lineup once Humphries returns from surgery in late September.
Antonio Morrison has been progressing well in adapting from inside linebacker and may look to fill in at the Sam (strong outside linebacker) position as other linebackers and defensive ends are shifted around to fill in at Buck. As a strong hitter and tackler, look for Antonio to get plenty of action lining up over opposing SEC tight ends and swallowing up those massive opposing running backs. Coach Dan Quinn has been moving players around between Mike (middle or strong inside linebacker) and Will (weakside linebacker). More than likely, Antonio will see plenty of playing time behind Jelani Jenkins at Will, with occasional shifts to Sam and Mike. (If he does not see a lot of action at Sam, then we can assume that Neiron Ball has recovered well from his health scare.)
After being rated the #2 cornerback in the country, Brian Poole will look to make his mark at right safety opposite of Matt Elam. Senior Josh Evans is the starter on that side, but Coach Muschamp will likely want to give Brian some time as a reward for hard work and impressing the coaches this early.
Without any standout wide receivers on the anemic Gator offense last year, Latroy Pittman will have plenty of opportunity to make his mark this year. As an early enrollee, he gained an advantage in practice and has shown Coach Pease that he can run crisp, clean routes and make the necessary catches. Latroy has made strong showings at Friday Night Lights 2010, the Under Armour and US Army All American combines, and in practice. He caught two passes for 51 yards in the Orange and Blue Debut, easily beating his defender on a 3rd and 8 for 43 yards on one play. Given the state of this offense, the Gators will need Latroy to duplicate those kind of plays in live SEC competition. Look for him to challenge Frankie Hammond at the Y-receiver (slot) position. Unless Quinton Dunbar steps it up, we may actually see Pittman challenge Solomon Patton as the Z-receiver backup.
Kent Taylor should make an immediate impact as one of the few healthy players whose natural position is tight end. Factor in the injuries to fellow freshman tight end Colin Thompson and recent injuries to projected starter Jordan Reed, I would expect a few snaps for Taylor.
Dante Fowler, Jonathan Bullard, and Antonio Morrison will be welcome additions to an already formidable defense that returns most of its starters from a unit that finished in the top 10 in 2011. Latroy Pittman and Matt Jones have their work cut out, but should have plenty of opportunity to make in impact in Coach Brent Pease's first year as offensive coordinator.
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