Florida Gators: max staver
And for a Florida program that suffered through seven straight losses to finish a miserable 2013 season, a win is somehow more than a win. It's validation. It's hope.
The Gators put a bow on their fine 2014 recruiting class on Wednesday, and the feeling on campus was like a return to happier times.
Here's a position-by-position breakdown of the Gators' class with a grade for each.
Florida needed to replace two transfers after junior backup Tyler Murphy and freshman Max Staver left, and the Gators did so with aplomb. Will Grier, one of the centerpieces of the class, is a gifted passer with plenty of athleticism to run. Adding Treon Harris gives the Gators a talented athlete who is a proven winner with two state titles as evidence. Harris flipped on signing day from Florida State because he felt Kurt Roper's offense at UF would be a better fit. Now Roper has to get both QBs ready for action.
Losing one of the top tailbacks in the country, Dalvin Cook, was a big blow. Losing him to Florida State hurts even more. Cook would have been a perfect complement to UF's already-strong backfield. But Florida recovered quickly and flipped ESPN 300 athlete Brandon Powell from Miami. Like Cook, Powell is an early enrollee, which helps. He does a lot of the same things as Cook and likewise see early playing time.
Again, Florida lost one of the best prospects in the country, Ermon Lane, to FSU, which will sting when the schools square off in their annual grudge match. And again, the Gators recovered with a flip of their own. Ryan Sousa, a four-star prospect, switched from FSU to Florida. The Gators also got a signing-day boost from former FSU commit C.J. Worton. Both project as slot receivers and are good fits for an offense that will feature more spread elements.
It's been a rough ride at this position since Jordan Reed's departure. There's really nowhere to go but up. The Gators are excited about all three signees. DeAndre Goolsby is already on campus as an early enrollee. Moral Stephens is a playmaker who profiles more as an H-back. And despite being less well-known, C'yontai Lewis caught the coaches' eyes during summer camp as a big target (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) with good hands.
Florida desperately needed help here and got it in the form of six signees. The big prize is Jacksonville, Fla., offensive tackle David Sharpe, the nation's No. 2 offensive tackle prospect. But this group offers plenty more in the way of immediate impact and depth. Guards Drew Sarvary and Nolan Kelleher have the size to contribute this fall and are already on campus. Offensive tackle Kavaris Harkless will also benefit from being an early enrollee. Travaris Dorsey gives UF a rock-solid prospect on the interior line. Big, rangy offensive tackle Andrew Mike was a late addition, flipping from Vanderbilt to UF the night before signing day.
This might be the strength of the class, a group that Florida recruiters might someday pound their chests over. It started with three prospects on whom the coaching staff is extremely high -- DE Taven Bryan, who is on campus now, burly DT Khairi Clark and DE Justus Reed, a quick and explosive athlete. Then Florida added two huge pieces in pulling DL Gerald Willis III out of New Orleans and flipping DT Thomas Holley from Penn State. Both are among the finest D-line talents in this class.
Florida didn't have a serious need after signing a fine class of four linebackers last season. They went after some big names, like Christian Miller (a one-time commit), Raekwon McMillan, Jacob Pugh and Nyles Morgan but didn't settle for lesser talents just to fill space. We'll give this position and incomplete grade.
This could have been a home run had Florida signed Adoree' Jackson. Instead, it was a stand-up triple. The Gators have lost four starters in a backend that typically starts five in the oft-used nickel formation, but Florida has recruited well here for years. The 2014 class was no exception. UF desperately needed a signee who can compete right away as a starting cornerback and got its man in five-star Jalen Tabor. Keeping J.C. Jackson in the class and signing fellow ESPN 300 talents Duke Dawson and Quincy Wilson was huge. Deiondre Porter, a late flip from South Florida, is an intriguing project who played quarterback in high school.
The Gators met every one of their biggest needs -- a corner who can start, talented depth for the offensive line, a future starting quarterback (or two), fresh blood at tight end, and some explosive playmakers in the slot on offense. Not enough can be said of the job this coaching staff did to finish with the No. 6-ranked class in the nation after a 4-8 season. It speaks volumes about the resilience of the Florida brand name as well as the recruiting ability of Will Muschamp and his coaches.
It hurts even more to lose a player on signing day, when there is no tomorrow and no other players on the big board to turn to.
Under coach Will Muschamp, Florida has had its share of wins on the recruiting trail. It's also had some impactful losses.
Here's a look at some of the top players the Gators missed on in recent years.
ESPN class rank: No. 12
But the head coach and his staff did have several weeks to take the recruiting baton and try to close with a couple of uncommitted gems from the state of Florida. The Gators were considered frontrunners at one time for DT Timmy Jernigan and LB Curt Maggitt, who ended up at Florida State and Tennessee, respectively. In both cases, Muschamp was unable to capitalize on his reputation for defense and lost the two prospects to offensive-minded head coaches.
ESPN class rank: No. 4
The Gators suffered a painful loss in January when DE/LB Jordan Jenkins picked Georgia. He was a top priority and the UF coaching staff had put a lot of time and effort into his recruitment. The bad news foreshadowed what can only be described as a signing day nightmare, as Florida struck out with eight uncommitted recruits and another who made his decision shortly thereafter.
Desperate for help at receiver, Florida was spurned by two of the top prospects in the nation, Nelson Agholor (USC) and Stefon Diggs (Maryland), who have already shown flashes of brilliance on the field. The Trojans were also the beneficiary of defensive tackle Leonard Williams, who said he made up his mind on the morning of signing day. Florida was a painfully close second, and Williams made an instant impact as a freshman starter.
Muschamp also felt good about keeping offensive lineman Avery Young in his home state, but he ended up at Auburn, where he started on last season's national runner-up. Another Floridian, the nation's No. 1 cornerback, Tracy Howard, was considered a lock for the Gators until he took a visit to Miami on the last weekend before signing day and changed his mind.
And who could forget the gripping saga of No. 1 outside linebacker prospect Josh Harvey-Clemons? He announced his decision to go to Georgia in the morning on ESPNU's signing day show. His family was shocked. They wanted him close to home in Valdosta, Ga., and thought he would choose UF. The situation turned surreal when his grandfather and legal guardian refused to sign the letter of intent. It took a full day to sort out, but Harvey-Clemons faxed his letter of intent to attend Georgia the morning after signing day.
ESPN class rank: No. 2
The headline in the local newspaper was "Muschamp set up for stress-free signing day". Indeed, most of the drama took place in January when Florida signed eight early enrollees, including three top-rated players who flipped to Florida late in the process. It was a strong rebound for a coach who took some criticism with the way he closed out his class the year before.
But there were some misses, recruits who could have played a big role for the Gators in what turned out to be a woeful 2013.
Cornerback Jalen Ramsey and defensive lineman DeMarcus Walker, both top-40 prospects in the ESPN 300, picked FSU over Florida. Walker, from Jacksonville, Fla., originally committed to Alabama over UF. When he wavered many thought the Gators would be the beneficiary. Instead he flipped to the Seminoles just before enrolling in January. Ramsey, who had been committed to USC for months, changed his mind when Trojans coach Lane Kiffin came under fire. Instead of choosing the Gators, where his high school teammate QB Max Staver was committed, Ramsey ended up at FSU and made a huge impact as a starter on the Noles' national championship team last season.
Offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, ranked No. 1 at his position and No. 5 overall, was another tough loss. Like Jernigan two years before, Florida was a frontrunner at one time. Both prospects went to the same high school in Lake City, Fla, just 45 minutes north of Gainesville. Tunsil ended up at Ole Miss, where he started all but four games as a true freshman.
Florida announced that six offensive players -- sophomore tight end Kent Taylor, true freshman quarterback Max Staver, redshirt freshman fullback Rhaheim Ledbetter and offensive linemen Quinteze Williams, freshman offensive lineman Trevon Young, and junior offensive lineman Ian Silberman -- will transfer.
On the surface, that's a lot of players, especially for a team that has struggled so much offensively in the last two seasons. It doesn't help that one of those players, Staver, was a quarterback, which is a position that still has a lot of questions surrounding it entering the 2014 season.
Taylor arrived at Florida with a load of hype surrounding his name, as he was ranked as the nation's No. 1 tight end. But in his two seasons with the Gators, he caught just two passes for 5 yards and a touchdown. Both of those catches came last year, as he struggled to get any real time on the field at all this season. When you talk to people around the program, it sounds like Taylor's heart just wasn't in it in Gainesville, as he spent most of his time on the practice squad.
The loss of Staver might not hurt Florida's depth as much as it seems. As bad as the play became at quarterback this season, Staver, a pro-style passer, remained on the sideline in order to preserve his redshirt. But even with the quarterback position likely up for grabs next spring and fall, Staver probably saw the writing on the wall with the Gators moving to a new offensive scheme that will add more tempo and likely utilize more runs from the quarterback.
Jeff Driskel, who missed most of the season with a broken fibula, will return and will have two more years of eligibility if he gets a medicial redshirt. Florida also returns Tyler Murphy, who replaced Driskel last year, and Skyler Mornhinweg, who eventually replaced Murphy.
Not to mention, the Gators will welcome four-star ESPN 300 quarterback Will Grier in January. Four quarterbacks on the roster should be enough for Florida.
While losing players can unnerve people, Florida shouldn't hurt too much from the loss of these six players. Florida's offense had myriad issues last season, but chances are these guys weren't going to be the ones to help turn things around. That will come with a new offensive coordinator and an offensive identity.
Tyler Murphy has to stay healthy: With Jeff Driskel going down with a broken leg that will end his 2013 season, the Gators now turn to fourth-year junior Tyler Murphy. He entered the game with no official passes on his résumé and left with fans chanting his name. He passed for 134 yards, rushed for another 84 and had two total touchdowns. But it's very important that Murphy stay upright going forward. If you thought Florida's quarterback depth was bad when Driskel was playing, it's even worse now. Neither Skyler Mornhinweg nor Max Staver have any college experience. Murphy played well, but he has to stay healthy or the Gators' offense could truly be sunk. That means the scrambling quarterback will have to get used to sliding when he takes off.
There's a battle at running back: Matt Jones entered the season as the Gators' starting running back, but coach Will Muschamp said after Saturday's game that he plans to play the hot hand at running back going forward. Right now, junior Mack Brown has the hot hand. He carried the ball a game-high 24 times for 86 yards and had a touchdown. He was more effective in between the tackles and was able to break free from tackles more often than Brown, who rushed for just 49 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.
Florida's secondary is full of depth: Injuries and an ejection didn't stop the Gators' secondary from having another solid outing. Starting cornerback Marcus Roberson was out with a knee injury, while fellow starter Loucheiz Purifoy left the game early with a leg injury. Brian Poole was ejected in the fourth quarter after being called for targeting. Still, the Gators held Tennessee's two quarterbacks to just 154 yards and a touchdown on 14 of 34 passing. Florida also recorded four interceptions. Coaches were able to move guys all around the secondary, too. Freshman corner Vernon Hargeaves III had another impressive outing, registering three pass breakups. Florida gave up a touchdown pass late on a blown assignment, but the secondary really showed it's quality depth inside the Swamp Saturday.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger underwent an appendectomy just before the 2006 season began and missed only one game. He had surgery on Sept. 3, four days before the Steelers' season opener on a Thursday night, and played in the second game of the season on Sept. 18. Former Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel played 11 days after having his appendix removed in 2010.
Muschamp said the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Driskel has improved his footwork, comfort in the pocket, and ability to recognize the need to change pass protection schemes. Those were the three areas in which Driskel needed the most improvement after his first season as the Gators' starter. He's been able to get better in those areas because he has essentially gotten twice the practice time and reps because he is no longer splitting reps while competing with Jacoby Brissett for the starting job.
However, missing two weeks will set him and the offense back a bit. The issue will be the chemistry he needs to develop with the receivers, especially four of the five incoming freshmen. Demarcus Robinson enrolled in January and participated in spring practice. The Gators' passing offense ranked 114th nationally last season, and getting better receiver play is the biggest key to the unit's improvement in 2013.
Redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg will likely split the first-team reps. Driskel's surgery highlights just how important it is for him to stay healthy this season. Murphy and Mornhinweg struggled during spring practice and neither is really an adequate option to replace Driskel should he be out for any significant length of time during the season.
The Gators do have four other quarterbacks on the roster: walk-ons Ryan McGriff, Jacob Guy and Chris Wilkes and incoming freshman Max Staver. UF is planning on redshirting Staver. Wilkes is intriguing because he's a 23-year-old former professional baseball player who chose to sign with the San Diego Padres after signing with Ole Miss in 2008. He enrolled in May and has little experience in the offense, but he at least has appeared in pressure-packed environments.
If Driskel is able to return after two weeks, which would roughly be Aug. 14, he would still have 18 days to prepare for Florida's season opener against Toledo on Aug. 31.
No. 6 Jeff Driskel
One of the most significant bits of news to come out of the final practice was the fact that running back Matt Jones carried the ball only once because he had been so good throughout the spring that he had clearly won the starting job.
Here are some other observations from last Saturday’s open practice.
There were some surprises that came out of spring practice, too. The Gators also left spring with several pressing issues that must be solved before the season begins.
In other football news, defensive line coach Bryant Young resigned on Thursday because of personal reasons. Young was assisting Brad Lawing along the defensive line so the Gators could hire a special teams coordinator to take his place on staff.
On the recruiting trail ...
The Gators had a big recruiting weekend, which started when they picked up a commitment from ESPN Watch List running back Dalvin Cook (Miami/Central) after the final spring practice. UF also picked up a quarterback when former professional baseball player Chris Wilkes, a 2008 Ole Miss commit, told UF coach Will Muschamp he planned on enrolling in May. Wilkes, who had been playing in the San Diego Padres system, will compete with Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg and Max Staver for the backup spot to starter Jeff Driskel.
GatorNation's Derek Tyson provided a list of key recruiting dates, which includes Friday Night Lights being tentatively scheduled for July 26. He also answers your questions in a recruiting mailbag.
The Gators are also after another Matt Elam -- this time it's a defensive tackle from Elizabethtown (Ky.) John Hardin.
For you hoops recruiting fans, Dave Telep and Paul Biancardi break down the SEC recruiting classes.
In a story that alleges a culture of rule breaking, drug use, and other issues at Auburn that was posted on the web site Roopstigo.com, former Tigers safety Mike McNeil said Muschamp gave him $400 after he had a bad practice in 2007. Muschamp denied the charges in the story written by former Sports Illustrated and New York Times writer Selena Roberts.
He was more emphatic about his denial when he made his first public appearance since the story broke last Wednesday.
"I’ve already responded to that and really there’s nothing to dignify any other response other than exactly what you read," Muschamp said. "Exactly what you read."
Muschamp was not quoted in the story. He denied the allegations through a school spokesman.
UF picks up a QB
The Gators added some help at quarterback on Saturday when former professional baseball player Chris Wilkes told Muschamp that he would be attending UF.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pound Wilkes said via text message that he plans on enrolling in May. He will not be on scholarship.
The 23-year-old Wilkes signed with Ole Miss in 2008 out of Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips, but instead chose to sign a contract with the San Diego Padres. Wilkes, who was a 22nd-round draft pick, never advanced past the Double-A level. He went 16-13 with a 3.57 ERA in five seasons as a right-handed pitcher.
The Gators will have six quarterbacks on the roster in the fall. Jeff Driskel, Tyler Murphy, Skyler Mornhinweg and Max Staver will be on scholarship. Wilkes and Jacob Guy will be walk-ons. Wilkes is expected to compete with Murphy and Mornhinweg to back up Driskel. Staver is likely headed for a redshirt.
UF added five receivers, seven defensive linemen, and four linebackers to address the Gators’ most critical areas heading into the 2013 season. But now it’s time to look ahead.
Where do the Gators need the most help in 2014 and 2015? In what areas should Muschamp concentrate while on the recruiting trail?
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driverag17: Signing day is coming, and obviously we are all really excited to see how everything turns out. However we all know sometimes the recruits wait longer to sign their LOI. Do you see any of our targets going past signing day on their decisions?
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Two-deep: Junior Jeff Driskel is the unquestioned starter heading into the 2013 season. Redshirt junior Tyler Murphy, who has only appeared in three games and never thrown a pass, is the backup.
High-profile commits: Max Staver (Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy), whom ESPN ranks as the No. 19 pocket passer, is the only quarterback commit the Gators have right now.
Additional targets: UF has made a late push for junior college QB Tanner McEvoy (Hillsdale, N.J./Arizona Western College), who is scheduled to visit Florida this weekend.
Looking into 2013: This is a big offseason for Driskel, who threw for 1,646 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions as his first season as the Gators’ starter. Now that he’s not competing for the starting job he can get the majority of the first-team reps. He needs to use that time to improve his footwork and accuracy and stop holding onto the ball as long. Those are issues with which most young quarterbacks struggle, so he’s not behind in his development. It’s also imperative that Driskel avoid injury because the Gators don’t have a quarterback on the roster who will have thrown a collegiate pass. That’s why UF is going after McEvoy. He at least has some game experience and likely would be the player the Gators turned to if Driskel were unable to play for whatever reason.
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Jacoby Brissett’s decision to transfer leaves Florida with zero experience behind Driskel. Tyler Murphy, who will be a redshirt junior next season, has appeared in three games in his career in a mop-up role and has never thrown a pass. Skyler Mornhinweg will be a redshirt freshman in 2013.
The other quarterback on the roster is expected to be Max Staver, a 6-foot-6, 238-pound four-star recruit from Brentwood, Tenn./Brentwood Academy who has pledged to sign with Florida next month.
That means the Gators have virtually no options if Driskel doesn’t get better after his first season as a starter. The 6-4, 237-pound junior-to-be was solid in 2012, completing 63.7 percent of his passes for 1,646 yards with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. But he struggled with holding on to the ball too long, staring down his receivers and making progressions.
Those are things with which nearly every young quarterback struggles, so it shouldn’t be alarming that Driskel did. Plus, he didn’t get a ton of help. The offensive line was inconsistent in pass protection, and the receivers -- other than TE Jordan Reed (team-high 45 catches), who announced he’s leaving early for the NFL -- are below-average.
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