Florida Gators: Justus Reed
Stout defense has been the identity of the Florida Gators under coach Will Muschamp. It has carried the team and its dysfunctional offense for years. But something was off in 2013.
Florida fielded its usual dominant pass defense, allowing just nine TDs through the air (second-fewest in the country). But the run defense slipped from a No. 4 ranking in 2012 to No. 33 last season (allowing 47.5 more rushing yards per game), including an embarrassing loss to FCS Georgia Southern in which Florida gave up 429 yards -- all on the ground.
But after a week of picking on the offense in identifying the five position groups that have room to improve, the final installment of this series has to focus on the defense.
Because everything starts up front, we'll look at the defensive line. It had plenty to do with the run defense getting worse in 2013, and it had its worst season in years in terms of applying pressure to quarterbacks.
Florida had 19 sacks in 12 games last season, down from 30 in 13 games the year before and continuing a downward trend since recording 39 sacks in 14 games in 2009.
Battling for No. 1: Florida has solid bookends in buck linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. and strong-side end Jonathan Bullard. Their talent is undeniable, but the production just does not match it. One or two splashy games a season isn't good enough. But UF's ends also need more help from their interior linemen. When Florida lost senior DT Dominique Easley to injury, the threat of a push up the middle was gone. The starters at defensive tackle this fall are likely to be seniors Leon Orr and Darious Cummings, but unless they show dramatic improvement in disrupting opponents, Florida is going to need contributions from some newcomers.
Strength in numbers: Muschamp said the Gators are excited about three defensive tackles who redshirted last season -- Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley and Antonio Riles -- saying each has "the athleticism and the girth to play the position." Florida could also get a contribution from Joey Ivie. He was the only D-lineman who didn't redshirt in 2013 and can play inside or outside. At defensive end, Bryan Cox Jr. and Alex McCalister stepped forward as backups last season. It's important for either of those two, or redshirt freshman end Jordan Sherit, to take the next step and improve Florida's pass rush this fall.
New on the scene: The Gators signed a terrific defensive lineman class in 2014. Gerald Willis III, a 6-foot-3, 275-pound prospect ranked No. 42 overall in the nation, can play end or tackle and could make an immediate impact. Tackles Thomas Holley and Khairi Clark are highly touted but raw talents who could redshirt but have the bodies to play immediately. Early enrollee defensive end Taven Bryan has already drawn raves from Muschamp, who said, "he's explosive. He's got really good flexibility in his lower body. He's got a great motor, a great work ethic. We are extremely pleased." Florida also signed buck linebacker prospect Justus Reed, an ESPN 300 talent with potential who is likely to redshirt while he adds bulk and strength to his 6-3, 215-pound frame.
The Gators signed all 13 of their commits with no drama and added two more for a total of 24. UF moved up one spot to finish at No. 6 in ESPN's class rankings, just missing a third consecutive top five class.
We've already looked at Florida's nine early enrollees in this class. Here's a breakdown of the 15 who were added on Wednesday.
David Sharpe | Scouting report
Jacksonville, Fla./Providence School
Height/Weight: 6-foot-6, 288 pounds Ranking: No. 20 overall, No. 2 offensive tackle
How he fits: After splitting time between football and basketball in high school, Sharpe will focus solely on offensive tackle, where he has tremendous potential. "He's got great feet," Muschamp said. "You can't coach that." Sharpe is a terrific athlete who will play a position of great need at Florida, but there's a good chance he'll redshirt considering how much he still has to learn and grow.
Gerald Willis III | Scouting report
New Orleans/Edna Karr
Height/Weight: 6-3, 275 Ranking: No. 42 overall, No. 2 defensive tackle
How he fits: One of UF's recruiting prizes, Willis will have a chance to play right away because of his mature game and versatility. Like Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley, Willis can play inside or at strong-side end. "He really uses his hands very well," Muschamp said, "better than most high school defensive linemen."
Thomas Holley | Scouting report
Height/Weight: 6-4, 303 Ranking: No. 51 overall, No. 3 defensive tackle
How he fits: A basketball player for much of his high school career, Holley is a raw talent but one with perfect measurables to be a dominant presence inside. The Florida coaching staff loves the idea of developing an explosive athlete with Holley's size.
J.C. Jackson | Scouting report
Height/Weight: 6-0, 185 Ranking: No. 79 overall, No. 11 athlete
How he fits: With four upperclassmen gone, there is a lot of opportunity at cornerback. Jackson stuck with the Gators in order to take advantage of it. An explosive athlete with good size, Jackson also has a chance to contribute as a special teams return man.
Treon Harris | Scouting report
Miami/Booker T. Washington
Height/Weight: 5-11, 186 Ranking: No. 163 overall, No. 7 dual-threat quarterback
How he fits: With Kurt Roper bringing the spread and option back into UF's offense, it was imperative that Florida add to its QB depth with an athlete. Harris is that and more. Not the most-polished passer, he sometimes looks like a scatback when plays break down. But his instincts and ability to improvise could put him in the mix to compete for backup minutes this fall.
Moral Stephens | Scouting report
Perry, Fla./Taylor County
Height/Weight: 6-3, 200 Ranking: No. 201 overall, No. 27 wide receiver
How he fits: Much like Jordan Reed and Aaron Hernandez, Stephens has the look of a playmaker at tight end and H-back once he fills out a bit. The coaches were quick to add him to the class after a spot opened up when Kent Taylor transferred.
Khairi Clark| Scouting report
Height/Weight: 6-2, 329 Ranking: No. 211 overall, No. 16 defensive tackle
How he fits: A bull in the middle, Clark moves very well for his size. He might need a redshirt year to develop his technique, but there's no doubting his potential as a run-stuffing, lane-clogging tackle.
Justus Reed | Scouting report
Clearwater, Fla./Central Catholic
Height/Weight: 6-3, 215 Ranking: No. 285 overall, No. 25 defensive end
How he fits: Muschamp called Reed "a very explosive guy" and a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end who probably needs to redshirt to add about 20 pounds.
Quincy Wilson | Scouting report
Fort Lauderdale, Fla./University School
Height/Weight: 6-1, 197 Ranking: No. 292 overall, No. 15 safety
How he fits: With a good blend of size and speed, Wilson could play some cornerback. But Florida typically fields elite athletes there, so Wilson could bring his skills to the safety position, where the Gators have good depth.
Ryan Sousa | Scouting report
Orlando, Fla./Lake Nona
Height/Weight: 6-0, 177 Ranking: No. 47 wide receiver
How he fits: Another prospect who benefited from the Roper hire, Sousa flipped from FSU as soon as the Gators offered. He's smart, plays fast and was ultra-productive in the slot and outside. If he can do the same in Roper's offense, he'll get on the field quickly.
Travaris Dorsey | Scouting report
Height/Weight: 6-3, 314 Ranking: No. 26 offensive guard
How he fits: He has the size to play in the trenches right away but could use some time to refine his technique. There's no doubt the physical attributes are there, as Muschamp cited Dorsey's "really good lower body, punch and power" as well as his long reach.
Andrew Mike | Scouting report
Height/Weight: 6-6, 278 Ranking: No. 32 offensive tackle
How he fits: Muschamp admitted Mike was "a guy that we kind of lucked into" after Florida jumped into his recruitment very late and got a commitment the night before signing day. Still, the size, reach and athleticism scream SEC lineman after a redshirt year.
C.J. Worton | Scouting report
Homestead, Fla./South Dade
Height/Weight: 6-1, 171 Ranking: No. 77 wide receiver
How he fits: He's another signee in whom Florida's interest shot up after Roper took the reins of the offense. The coaching staff loves his competitiveness, and as usual, Florida has a tremendous need for playmakers at receiver. Like Sousa, he'll get a chance to work in the slot.
C'yontai Lewis | Scouting report
Height/Weight: 6-4, 230 Ranking: No. 15 tight end/H-back
How he fits: Lewis earned his scholarship last summer when he came to UF's camp and showed off great hands and athleticism. The coaching staff is excited about his potential to grow into the position, as he's already put on at least 20 pounds since then.
Deiondre Porter | Scouting report
Tampa, Fla./Thomas Jefferson
Height/Weight: 6-1, 167 Ranking: No. 50 pocket-passing quarterback
How he fits: Porter will get his first look in the defensive backfield. The coaching staff loves his speed and smarts, so he could stick as a corner or safety. He could also find a home at receiver or even play some quarterback in a pinch.
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.
Considering all seven of those departing players were from the offensive side of the ball, it's obvious where much of the Gators' recruiting efforts are focused.
Florida has 23 scholarships available with cornerback Louchiez Purifoy forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
Here's a breakdown of Florida's biggest needs in restocking its roster with talent.
The numbers are obviously low with just two scholarship QBs on the roster, but help is on the way. Florida expects Will Grier, the nation's No. 2-ranked quarterback, to enroll in early January. Now that Murphy has departed, expect the Gators to add a second quarterback to their 2014 class. A dual-threat QB who can bring a more athletic dimension and schematic flexibility to the position makes the most sense. Coach Will Muschamp will let his new offensive coordinator find the right fit.
Offensive line: Florida graduated three starters and lost reserve Ian Silberman to transfer along with two others who were buried at the bottom of the depth chart. That's six departures -- a lot for any season. Muschamp likes to have at least 15 offensive linemen on his roster, so expect a handful of newcomers. Offensive line has been a sore spot for the last two seasons, and injuries decimated Florida in 2013. The Gators return five players with starting experience, but depth must be created as only four other scholarship linemen remain. With so few bodies, at least one of the incoming prospects can expect to make the two-deep roster.
Florida needs the most help on the edges, which is why the headline OL commitment is David Sharpe, the nation's No. 2-ranked offensive tackle prospect. The Gators recently signed Drew Sarvary, a 6-foot-6, 310-pound juco OT who could also play inside. Of all the newcomers, he'll have the inside track to play first. Florida also has pledges from three of the nation's top-30 guard prospects in Nolan Kelleher (6-5, 310), Travaris Dorsey (6-3, 314) and Dontae Angus (6-5, 310).
Offensive skill positions: Florida's QBs haven't had much time to develop in the passing game in recent years, and some of the blame can be directed at the offensive line. But nothing is more obviously missing in the Gator offense than playmakers at the wide receiver and tight end positions. The Class of 2013 saw five talented freshmen WRs join the program, three of whom saw action. But with two senior starters leaving, it's imperative that UF continue to add talent and numbers to its receiving corps. The Gators' top wide receiver commit for 2014 is Ermon Lane, the No. 2 WR prospect in the country. Keeping him in the fold is a top priority.
UF also has pledges from former FSU commit Ryan Sousa and Moral Stephens. At 6-3 and 200 pounds, Stephens would give UF a prospect with some size who could play H-back or grow into a full-time role at tight end. Florida has just three scholarship TEs on its roster, but has commitments from DeAndre Goolsby and C'yontai Lewis, both three-star prospects. The Gators have plenty of talented options returning at tailback but lack a game-breaking home-run hitter who can gain the edge. That's why it's so important they hang onto the commitment of Dalvin Cook, the nation's No. 4 RB prospect. Coaches presume he would have a role as a true freshman in 2014.
Defensive line: Florida is in good shape with 10 returning scholarship players. But Muschamp's multiple-scheme defense, which uses 4-3 and 3-4 alignments up front, puts a heavy emphasis on defensive linemen making plays and disrupting the opponent's offense. Florida has three commitments -- DT Khairi Clark, DE Taven Bryan and DE Justus Reed. Bryan could end up on offense, so the object of much of Muschamp's hard work on the recruiting trail is adding another difference-maker who can rush the passer.
Cornerback: The Gators graduated two cornerbacks and are losing Purifoy to the NFL. If he is joined by fellow starter Marcus Roberson, who is projected as a first-round pick in ESPN Insider Todd McShay's first mock draft, there will likely be immediate playing time available. That's Muschamp's sales pitch. It's also why Florida is trying to load up on DB prospects. The nation's No. 10 athlete, J.C. Jackson, is committed, as are Chris Lammons, Quincy Wilson and Duke Dawson. Wilson and Dawson could end up at safety, so Florida must close strong in adding at least one more pure cornerback with the talent to contribute right away. Florida hit the jackpot last year in signing All-SEC first-team CB Vernon Hargreaves III. Few prospects enter the college ranks as technically skilled and prepared as he, but the Gators are hoping another recruiting bounty will keep the pipeline of impact cornerbacks flowing.
Each year college coaches prioritize their recruiting needs. Whether it's offensive or defensive linemen or skilled positions, there always seems to be an area that needs more attention than others. Here's a closer look at the most important position for each SEC team in recruiting this year.
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Alabama continued its recruiting dominance by adding an ESPN 300 wide receiver and several SEC commits had huge games to start off the 2013 high school season. Here's a look at the biggest storylines over the weekend.
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The 6-foot-3, 215-pound athlete chose the Gators over offers from Florida State, Louisville, Ohio State and Miami among many others.
Reed, the No. 262-ranked player in the country, said he has always been a Florida fan.
"It's been my dream school since I was a little kid," Reed said. "I just felt it was right and the right time to do it. I feel really confident and happy about my decision. I just felt it was the right time to do it.
"Just being a Florida boy and growing up around here, there are a lot of people in my area that are big Florida State fans, but after Florida won those two national championships, I've been a really, really, really big fan of theirs and have always dreamed of playing there."
Reed said Muschamp was excited to learn of his decision.
"He was really excited -- he was happy for me," Reed said. "He said they were recruiting me as a defensive end/outside linebacker and all that. He told me he was really excited. He pretty much just welcomed me to the family."
As for what kind of player the Gators are getting, Reed said he will be a beast on the field.
"I'm fast, smart and I'm going to get a lot bigger," he said. "He told me before my freshman year I should be at 245, so I have to put on a lot of weight. I will be a good student off the field and a beast on the field."
If he does continue to add weight, he could be a force on the next level.
"Reed needs to keep filling out his frame but is a good DE prospect with the tools to be a productive college defender," his ESPN scouting report said. "With added size he can be a tough run defender and disruptive pass rusher."
The Gators now have 12 verbal commitments, including seven that are in the ESPN 300.
Record-setting quarterback Will Grier dropped eight slots from No. 45 to No. 53, but will have a chance to improve his ranking with a strong performance at the Elite 11 camp at the end of the month.
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But after a week-long summer camp loaded with talent and chocked with big-name visits, UF has firmly regained recruiting momentum and the faith of those frustrated fans.
The first day of the camp set the tone as the Gators got a commitment from ESPN 150 athlete J.C. Jackson (Immokalee, Fla./Immokalee) less than a week after he decommitted from FSU. Three days later, Florida landed a pledge from DE Taven Bryan (Casper, Wyo./Natrona County).
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Reed showed up for the afternoon session, warmed up with a couple hundred other campers and did position drills under the watchful eyes of Florida head coach Will Muschamp and defensive line coach Brad Lawing.
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