- Jeff Barlis, College Football
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's no secret the Gators are planning something big for 2014, something like turning a 4-8 team into a contender for the SEC East.
To do that Florida needs several players to step forward. Unknowns need to become contributors. Depth players need to become starters. Standouts need to become stars.
Here are five Gators who have to step up on offense in 2014.
QB Jeff Driskel: Florida's official website lists him as a redshirt junior, which means Driskel is taking a medical redshirt for his disastrous 2013 season when he made two starts with a 1-1 record before breaking a bone in his leg. Driskel has produced very uneven results in starting 15 of 20 games in his career. He has the size (6-foot-4, 239 pounds) and athleticism to be an NFL prospect, but his instincts and decision-making in the passing game have not been consistently good enough to pull the Gators offense out of the ranks of the nation's worst. One of the top reasons Florida coach Will Muschamp hired Kurt Roper as offensive coordinator was for his work with quarterbacks. Roper will design an offense that plays to Driskel's strengths -- short passes and zone-read option plays with the tailback. It's entirely up to Driskel to show that he can grasp the principles, and more importantly the timing throws in the intermediate passing game in order for Roper to expand the offense into one that can be dangerous. Without a hint of understatement, the Gators' hopes of a bounce-back season likely depend upon Driskel's growth as a passer.
LT D.J. Humphries: It's no coincidence that everyone on this list struggled in 2013, either with injuries or performance or both. Humphries came to Florida with such pedigree, such advanced technique that he was never supposed to be the kind of player singled out in this manner. But he definitely fell into the third category as he struggled on the field before succumbing to an injury. Humphries started the first six games of his sophomore season before being taken out of the starting lineup against Missouri in Week 7. A sprained MCL cost him the final five games of the season. Now the Gators need Humphries to shake off the memories from those last couple of games and be the stalwart left tackle who protects Driskel's blind side. Humphries should devote his spring and fall practice sessions to polishing his technique, but at 6-5 and 285 pounds, he would benefit greatly from an offseason at the training table and in the strength program to add another 20 pounds and improve his upper-body strength.
WR Andre Debose: After a tearing his ACL in preseason last fall, the senior is expected back for his sixth season of eligibility. As many times as exasperated fans have thought "it's now or never" for Debose, the 2014 season really is it. Debose has teased Florida with his talent throughout a career filled with peaks and valleys. He was the nation's No. 2 receiver in the Class of 2009 and prompted then-coach Urban Meyer label him the "next Percy Harvin" before he ever put on cleats. Debose missed that first season with a knee injury and has just 29 career catches for 543 yards and four touchdowns. He's never started more than four games in a season, but he did prove to be an excellent kickoff returner. He's also a solid deep threat in the passing game, as all four of his career touchdown catches went for 64 yards or longer in the 2011 season. Now, more than ever, the Gators are desperate for a reliable veteran who can make plays at receiver. Debose has never impressed his coaches with his work ethic, but perhaps another long season on the sideline has helped mature a player who is obviously gifted.
OL Chaz Green: The Gators return just five offensive linemen with starting experience. With 19 career starts, Green is one of the most battle-tested of the bunch. But he's struggled with injuries throughout his otherwise productive career. Like Debose, Green suffered a season-ending injury during preseason camp last August when he torn the labrum in his shoulder. At the time, Muschamp said Green was "playing his best football" and had solidified his spot as the starting right tackle. But at 6-5, 300 pounds, it's possible Green could shift inside while one of his replacements last season, 6-8, 361-pound Trenton Brown, stays at right tackle. Either way, Florida needs Green to stay on the field more than anything.
WR Demarcus Robinson: Several receivers have come to UF in the last few years as the next big thing. It's almost become a running joke that a freshman emerges every spring looking the part of an instant contributor, if not a starter. Rarely has it carried over in games that count. Robinson did just that last year, following in the footsteps of previous spring stars like Latroy Pittman and Frankie Hammond Jr. and then finishing 2013 with five catches for 23 yards. Along the way, there were questions about his maturity and consistency. But there's no questioning Robinson's size, speed and hands. For Florida wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, the extra attention he'll pay to Robinson this offseason could pay big dividends if he can put it all together in his sophomore season.
In coming up with this list, two positions stood out for very different reasons -- no running backs or tight ends were included.
Florida has a stable of capable tailbacks it can turn to this fall. Sophomore Kelvin Taylor got plenty of experience in 2013. There's a reliable senior backup in Mack Brown. Former starter Matt Jones is a wild card looking to return from last season's knee injury. And redshirt freshman Adam Lane is a promising prospect.
The tight end position, however, is a sore spot that produced all of four catches last season. Florida relies on two former defensive linemen in Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton. Colin Thompson looks the part but has seen his career plagued by a nagging foot injury. Florida's best hope might be an early entry freshman in DeAndre Goolsby.