Florida Gators: Solomon Patton

SEC's lunch links

March, 18, 2014
Mar 18
12:15
PM ET
Three SEC teams begin spring practice on Tuesday, and there's a host of news and nuggets, including a bit of the off-the-field variety, in today's lunch links:

Rain drenches Florida pro day

March, 17, 2014
Mar 17
4:30
PM ET
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There hasn't actually been a dark rain cloud hovering above the Florida program for the last year. It's only seemed that way as the Gators slogged through more injuries and losses than they've seen in decades.

So what else would you expect but heavy rainfall throughout Monday's pro day with more than 50 representatives from all 32 NFL teams in attendance?

[+] EnlargeLoucheiz Purifoy
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsLoucheiz Purifoy was one of several defensive backs drawing attention at Florida's pro day.
"You kind of feel sorry for these guys working out in these conditions," said Pittsburgh Steelers defensive backs coach Carnell Lake, who was there to watch three Florida cornerbacks who are expected to be picked during the NFL draft on May 8-10.

After lifting in the weight room, the event shifted to the track inside the Stephen C. O'Connell Center. The three cornerbacks -- Marcus Roberson, Loucheiz Purifoy and Jaylen Watkins -- drew a lot of attention.

Roberson and Purifoy, two of UF's top prospects, each posted disappointing 40-yard dash times of 4.61 seconds at the NFL scouting combine. They were able to show slight improvement Monday with unofficial times of 4.59 and 4.53 seconds, respectively. Watkins, who is still recovering from a sprained Achilles tendon, did not run the 40-yard dash (he posted a 4.41 at the NFL combine) but did participate in drills.

"I think all three will translate very well to the next level,” coach Will Muschamp said. “Jaylen's a guy that can play multiple positions. He can play safety, he can play nickel, he can play dime, he can play corner. He's a core special-teams guy for us over the years. So, a guy that can do a lot of things for you. Marcus is a guy that's got really good instincts in coverage, especially in man coverage. He can get his hands on people, which in the NFL the rules are a little different. But you've got to win on the line of scrimmage, and he can do that. He's a guy that's got really good ball skills down the field. Loucheiz is a guy that can give you some special teams, a really good kickoff coverage guy, a guy that's got some return skills, but another guy that can win on the line of scrimmage and has got great, long speed down the field. So I think each player gives you a little something different of what you're looking for."

Another Florida prospect who could be selected in the early rounds, defensive tackle Dominique Easley, was on hand but did not participate as he continues to rehabilitate a torn ACL he suffered early last fall.

"He's going to work out [at UF] on April 18," Muschamp said. "Now we've not set that date. He and I talked this morning and didn't feel like he was ready. I told him, 'If you're not ready, don't work. You wait until you're ready to go cut it loose and give them a good day's work.' So I want to say April 18, but that's not been totally decided yet."

DE/LB Ronald Powell, OG Jon Halapio, C Jonotthan Harrison, WR Solomon Patton, TE Trey Burton, DL Damien Jacobs, OL Kyle Koehne and LB Darrin Kitchens also took part in the drills.

Halapio, who missed the first two games of his senior season with a torn pectoral muscle, said he is healthy and proved it in front of scouts by benching 225 pounds 32 times, which would have ranked among the top 10 for offensive linemen at the combine.

"People really underestimate what he did this past year," Muschamp said. "There's a lot of young men that would have probably taken a redshirt and had surgery. We gave him several options and he just said, 'I'm going to tape it up and play.'”

Patton is a prospect who might be slightly off of the radar of some teams, as he wasn't invited to the NFL combine. Monday at UF, he ran an unofficial best of 4.31 in the 40 and performed well in drills, catching most passes in the rain away from his body.

Muschamp believes Patton will make an NFL roster.

"There's no question he's going to find a role," Muschamp said. "[He's] a guy that can play in the slot and has return skill, big-time kickoff return and great special-teams guy -- one of the better kickoff cover guys I've been around."

Overall, the soggy conditions did not put too much of a damper on Florida's pro day.

"We play football in the rain," Muschamp said with a grin. "I think those guys got a lot of comments from coaches and scouts about how our guys going out and competing. They didn't bellyache about it. They go out there and compete, and that's what you want to see."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Spring has sprung in the state of Florida, which means a much-needed football fix is almost here.

We're getting you ready for the Gators' spring practice with a look at five key position battles to watch when practice gets started on March 19.

This weeklong series opens with a look at the much-maligned wide receivers corps.

[+] EnlargeDunbar
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesQuinton Dunbar provides reliability and experience.
Returning starters: Senior Quinton Dunbar (40 catches for 548 yards) is a solid possession receiver who has improved every year. He had his best season in 2013, setting a school record with at least one catch in 28 consecutive games to break Carlos Alvarez's record of 25 straight games. Dunbar is a consistent, reliable target and will be counted on to bring veteran leadership this fall.

Departures: Senior Solomon Patton had a breakthrough season with 44 catches, 556 yards and six touchdowns -- all team-leading numbers among receivers. Senior Trey Burton had his best season as a pass-catcher with 38 receptions for 445 yards and one TD. Both are hoping to find a place in the NFL, which leaves the Gators with a very inexperienced group of receivers.

Returning reserves: Senior Andre Debose, who missed last season with a torn ACL, has applied for a medical hardship to return for a sixth season. Although he has been wildly inconsistent, Debose has the ability to be the big-play deep threat Florida desperately needs to scare defenses. Rising sophomores Ahmad Fulwood (17 catches, 127 yards), Demarcus Robinson (five catches, 23 yards) and Chris Thompson (two catches, 13 yards) got experience as true freshmen in 2013 and will be counted on to fight for starting jobs. It's now or never for rising juniors Latroy Pittman (two catches, 18 yards) and Raphael Andrades (no catches in two games).

Newcomers: Alvin Bailey and Marqui Hawkins are redshirt freshmen hoping to make a splash in their first spring practices. Both are talented four-star ESPN 300 prospects. Florida also signed a pair of three-star prospects, Ryan Sousa and C.J. Worton, who will arrive this summer and have already been designated as slot receivers for fall camp.

What to watch: Like Florida's offense in general, the wide receiver position has been in disrepair since 2009. The Gators are determined to climb out of the cellar of FBS offenses, and the passing game is clearly the biggest area for improvement. A big factor in Florida's favor is the presence of wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, who returns for his second year to give much-needed continuity. Phillips is a well-seasoned offensive coach with a solid track record of producing wideouts. In 2014, it will be time for everyone involved to take their games to another level, and that begins in earnest on March 19. Dunbar must be a leader on and off the field this spring, as Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel needs a go-to receiver. But Dunbar will need at least one sidekick. In fact, Florida has enough talented wide receivers that the coaching staff is hoping for a true star to emerge and perhaps surpass Dunbar. Will Debose finally be healthy and consistent? Will either of UF's immensely talented sophomores, Fulwood and Robinson, seize a starting position? Or will we see another spring star flash (only to disappear in the fall) like Pittman did two years ago? There are question marks everywhere you look when it comes to this group of receivers. Given the talent the Gators have been recruiting, surely it's just a matter of time before they truly strike gold and find a wide receiver who brings some fireworks back to the offense.

UF spring players to watch: D. Robinson

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
10:00
AM ET
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- With the Class of 2014 recruiting cycle in the rearview mirror, the long college football offseason is well under way. But fear not. Spring football is just around the corner.

We're here to get you ready with a look at the top five Gators to watch when practice gets started on March 19.

This weeklong series continues with a look at one of the most talented wide receivers on the team.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Robinson
AP Photo/John RaouxDemarcus Robinson enrolled early but it didn't translate into a breakthrough freshman season in 2013.
WR Demarcus Robinson
Sophomore
6-foot-2, 201 pounds

Credentials: Robinson arrived at Florida a little more than a year ago as a much-anticipated early entry freshman. He was the No. 7 wideout in the nation and the No. 53 overall player in the ESPN 300. He got a head-start by going through spring practice and playing in the spring game, but expectations for his freshman season went through the roof after Robinson was a standout in fall practice.

How he fits: The tools Robinson brings are obvious. He has great athleticism to go along with good size, two much-needed traits in a wide receiver corps that has fallen far short of expectations since 2009. That's a long time that the Gators and their fans have been waiting for a big-time talent to emerge. Robinson has that kind of talent, but he couldn't get on the field consistently as a freshman and had just five catches for 23 yards. His work ethic and maturity were called into question, and he was suspended twice. Not a good start, but Robinson is clearly worth whatever extra attention the coaching staff is giving him.

Who he's competing with: It's not like Florida's entire wide receiver corps is devoid of talent, but the unit is very unproven and it lost two starters from 2013 in Solomon Patton and Trey Burton. Patton was a speedy jitterbug and as much of a deep threat as there could be in Florida's dysfunctional offense. But Burton was a possession receiver, so there's definitely playing time available for a big guy like Robinson who is capable of making plays all over the field. The Gators return starter Quinton Dunbar, another possession guy. Sixth-year senior Andre Debose will also be in the mix coming off a torn ACL last year. But Robinson's biggest competition might come from Ahmad Fulwood, another rising sophomore who outplayed and passed Robinson on the depth chart last fall. By the end of the season, true freshman Chris Thompson was also garnering playing time. Redshirt freshmen Alvin Bailey and Marqui Hawkins will go through their first spring practices. While two other holdovers, Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades, typify UF's situation at receiver -- there's depth and talent but little in the way of a proven threat. There's clearly opportunity for someone -- anyone -- to step forward and grab.

What needs to happen this spring: The Gators desperately need an explosive threat at wide receiver, someone they can get the ball to in space and then sit back and watch the fireworks. It has been a long time since Percy Harvin did that for Florida, but the bar isn't necessarily that high. UF coaches will settle for reliable pass-catchers who understand the scheme and can get open consistently. Robinson has to win people over this spring. If he can show the maturity he was lacking last season, he'll have plenty of chances to shine on the field. So if he can stay focused and learn the playbook, Robinson could be that breakout wide receiver Florida so badly needs.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Urban Meyer's last complete recruiting cycle at Florida, the Class of 2010, was astounding on paper.

On the field, it hasn't quite lived up to such lofty billing.

The Gators signed 27 recruits in 2010, a class that ranked No. 1 in the nation. Seventeen players were among the top 150 prospects in the nation, 14 in the top 81.

[+] EnlargeSharrif Floyd
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSharrif Floyd was one of too few gems to come out of Florida's top-ranked 2010 recruiting class.
Much was expected of such an impressive array of top-rated players, but instead of playing for championships, this class became better known for falling short of those goals.

Still, the class produced a few obvious stars and a sizable group of starters and role players. It clocks in at No. 4 in our weeklong series looking at Florida's most impactful recruiting classes in the last decade.

The stars: Defensive linemen Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam were rated among the top 25 prospects in the nation and lived up to the hype at Florida. Floyd and Easley quickly proved to be dominant forces at defensive tackle, and Elam showed elite instincts as a playmaker in center field. Floyd and Elam were first-round picks in the 2013 NFL draft. Easley has suffered some setbacks with two torn ACLs and chose to forgo a fifth season of eligibility at Florida to enter the NFL draft this May.

The contributors: Ten players rode out the transition from Meyer to Will Muschamp to make their mark as starters. Several others found useful roles. Defensive back Jaylen Watkins and wide receivers Solomon Patton and Trey Burton all avoided redshirts, grew into starting roles and made significant contributions on and off the field. WR Quinton Dunbar, OL Chaz Green, DT Leon Orr and LBs Michael Taylor and Neiron Ball return as likely starters in 2014.

The letdowns: One could argue that Ronald Powell belongs in this group because he was the No. 1 overall prospect in the Class of 2010 and was expected to be a star. In four years he overcame two ACL surgeries on the same knee, had a fantastic attitude and was productive when he was on the field. It's easier to look for letdowns among the 11 players in this class who transferred. Safety Jonathan Dowling, the No. 10 overall recruit in the nation, transferred after he was dismissed for violating team rules. Josh Shaw, the No. 3-ranked cornerback prospect, started out well at UF but transferred closer to home in the Los Angeles area and has played well for USC. Gerald Christian (No. 2 TE prospect in 2010) and Chris Dunkley (No. 7 WR) were two other high-profile transfers. QB Tyler Murphy, CB Cody Riggs and OL Ian Silberman recently transferred after spending their first four years at Florida.

The results: When crowning Florida's 2010 recruiting class as No. 1 in the nation, ESPN called it one of the best classes ever. Everything clicked in 2012, when the Gators went 11-1 in the regular season and played in the Sugar Bowl. But sandwiched around that were 7-5, 6-6 and 4-8 regular-season records in 2010, 2011 and 2013. The class produced two high draft picks in Floyd and Elam. Easley is likely to be a second-rounder this spring, and Watkins could go anywhere from the second through fourth rounds. But after those four, there aren't any sure bets in the NFL. That's surprising for a class that was so highly touted.

Reviewing Florida's Class of 2010

January, 29, 2014
Jan 29
11:00
AM ET
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Every year on signing day, Florida coach Will Muschamp takes a moment to throw a jab at the media.

The circus surrounding college football recruiting has grown to epic proportions, and he clearly bristles at the thought of ranking classes or players before they don cleats.

"You judge a recruiting class after it’s been on your campus for two or three years," he's said. "Everybody wants to judge it in February and rank them and say this class is great. That’s ridiculous to be able to rank a class in February when these guys haven’t even stepped on campus yet and been through a spring practice and been in fall camp.

"I’ve been around a lot of guys who were two-stars who ended up playing in the NFL for a really long time. They were really good players. And I’ve been around some five-stars who couldn’t play."

With that sentiment and the passage of four years, we review Florida's 2010 class.

It ranked No. 1 in the nation with four five-star players, 15 four-star recruits and 17 players from the ESPN 150 (including 11 of the top 50). ESPN called it "simply one of the best classes ever."

The stars

[+] EnlargeSharrif Floyd
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsSharrif Floyd became everything the Gators hoped he would when they signed him in 2010 and was Minnesota's first-round pick in 2013.
Sharrif Floyd (No. 3 DT prospect in the nation): He just about embodied the blueprint for how you'd like a top prospect to go through school. Floyd grew into a dominant force in the middle for Florida, was a leader and became a first-round NFL draft pick after his third season.

Matt Elam (No. 2 ATH): Like Floyd, Elam played right away and became a team leader at safety for the Gators, starting every game of his final two seasons. And like Floyd, Elam was a first-round pick after three years in college.

Dominique Easley (No. 1 DT): Easley's flame burned bright on and off the field. His magnetic personality made him a team focal point right away, and his ability to torment offensive linemen made him a standout on the field. If it weren't for two surgeries on torn ACLs in each knee, Easley would be a lock for the first round of the NFL draft this May.

The contributors

Ronald Powell (No. 1 ATH): The No. 1 overall player in the country, Powell was the headliner for Florida's vaunted class. But he never truly lived up to the hype, compiling modest stats and suffering two torn ACLs in the same knee. After a healthy season as a fourth-year junior, Powell hopes to be picked in the middle rounds of the upcoming NFL draft.

Mack Brown (No. 4 RB): He was supposed to be the first premier running back then-coach Urban Meyer had ever recruited, but it took Brown time to adjust to the college game. He finally contributed as a junior and will be a key reserve in 2014.

Chaz Green (No. 4 OT): Started nine games as a redshirt freshman and 10 games as a sophomore before missing last season to injury. He's expected to be a key member of UF's O-line in 2014.

Jaylen Watkins (No. 5 CB): He never got the hype of some teammates, but Watkins quietly had a solid career at UF. He started 28 of 48 games played in four seasons at cornerback and safety.

Cody Riggs (No. 7 CB): Like Watkins, Riggs has proven to be a versatile member of the Gators secondary. After redshirting the 2012 season due to injury, he'll be back as a senior this fall.

Leon Orr (No. 8 DT): Returns for his senior season after finally breaking through as a starter last season.

Michael Taylor (No. 12 OLB): Became a starter in 2013 after two seasons as a backup. He'll return for his final year.

[+] EnlargeSolomon Patton
AP Photo/John RaouxIt took time for him to develop but WR Solomon Patton made an impact in his senior season.
Solomon Patton (No. 17 WR): Had a standout senior season after toiling in anonymity the previous three.

Gideon Ajagbe (No. 23 OLB): Never a factor at linebacker, he finally saw action last season after switching to fullback.

Neiron Ball (No. 28 OLB): A quiet contributor, he made seven of his nine career starts in 2013 and will be counted on this fall.

Trey Burton (No. 30 ATH): Played every skill position on offense during his four seasons and was a consummate leader.

Quinton Dunbar (No. 42 WR): Has been a solid starter for most of the last two seasons and looks to do the same as a senior.

Darrin Kitchens (unranked LB): Was a valuable reserve for the last four years.

The transfers

Jonathan Dowling (No. 1 S): Was kicked off the team and transferred to Western Kentucky, where he became a two-time first-team All-Sun Belt selection. He's skipping his senior year to enter the NFL draft.

Josh Shaw (No. 3 CB): Played in 10 games with one start as a redshirt freshman before transferring to USC. He emerged last season, finishing third on the Trojans with 67 tackles and four interceptions.

Gerald Christian (No. 2 TE): Played eight games for UF after redshirting, then transferred to Louisville and caught 26 passes for 401 yards and four TDs last fall.

Chris Dunkley (No. 7 WR): Redshirted, then transferred to USF. He finally got playing time in four games last fall after being plagued by suspensions.

Ian Silberman (No. 3 OT): Never rose above the level of reserve in three seasons at UF. He graduated in four years and transferred to Boston College.

Chris Martin (No. 10 DE): After an arrest for marijuana possession, he transferred to two junior colleges, then transferred to Kansas and was dismissed after an arrest for an alleged robbery.

Jordan Haden (No. 44 S): Enrolled early but transferred before his first season. Haden has played the last two seasons for Toledo.

Robert Clark (No. 48 CB): Played two seasons before transferring to Louisville, where he caught 23 passes for 209 yards and one touchdown in 2013.

Tyler Murphy (No. 54 ATH): Started six games at QB as a junior in 2013, graduated, then transferred to Boston College for his final season.

Lynden Trail (No. 63 DE): Redshirted and saw no action in 2011 before transferring to Norfolk State.

Michael McFarland (unranked TE): Redshirted, then transferred to USF, where he's worked his way up the depth chart. Was second on the team with 23 catches for 288 yards and two TDs in 2013.

Season report card: Florida

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
12:15
PM ET
It was a very rough season in Gainesville in 2013, and Florida's final grade reflects that:

OFFENSE: F

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFlorida coach Will Muschamp was left searching for answers after a 2013 season that saw losses to in-state rivals Miami and Florida State, as well as a loss to FCS Georgia Southern.
The Gators never really got their offense going last season and struggled all year to find consistent playmakers. A plethora of injuries, including a season-ending leg injury to quarterback Jeff Driskel, didn't help, either. Injuries at quarterback, running back and the offensive line left Florida with the SEC's worst total offense (316.7 yards per game) and scoring offense (18.8 points per game). Florida ranked 12th in the league in passing (170.9) and 13th in rushing (145.8). Florida watched backup quarterback Tyler Murphy leave late in the year with a season-ending injury, and the Gators failed to score more than 20 points in its final seven games (all losses).

DEFENSE: A-

The Gators were as good as anybody in the SEC on defense the first month of the season, but injuries took their toll, particularly when defensive tackle Dominique Easley went down for the remainder of the season after tearing his ACL in practice in late September. Cornerback Marcus Roberson also missed several games. And to be fair, Florida's defense wore down some after having to carry a woeful offense all season. The Gators still finished eighth nationally in total defense (314.3 yards per game) and 15th nationally in scoring defense (21.1 points per game). They didn't give up more than 21 points in their first six games, but gave up 34 or more in three of their final six games. Cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was one of the best true freshmen in the country, and sophomore end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. also had a big season with 10.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C

It was a mixed bag for the Gators on special teams, which has typically been one of their strengths. Solomon Patton was seventh nationally in kickoff return average and led the SEC. He took one back 100 yards for a touchdown against Missouri. Florida also led the SEC in kickoff coverage. Otherwise, there wasn't a lot to like on special teams. The real mystery was Kyle Christy, who was a finalist for the Ray Guy Award in 2012 as the country's top punter, but was inconsistent this season and ultimately benched in favor of a freshman. The Gators finished 10th in the league in net punting and also struggled on field goals. They used three different place kickers and were a combined 12-of-22 (13th in the SEC) on field goals, including two that were blocked.

OVERALL: F

It's rare that a team with the caliber of defense like Florida's is as bad as the Gators were, but they were an absolute train wreck on offense and went into every game with no margin for error. It didn't help any that they were 12th in the SEC in turnover margin. There's no question that injuries gutted this team, but there's no excuse for losing to Georgia Southern or being as limited as Florida has been on offense, really, for the past two seasons. It all caught up to the Gators in 2013 and resulted in their first losing season since 1979. The pressure is squarely on Will Muschamp to turn it around next season ... or else.

Past grades
Auburn
Arkansas
Alabama

Season wrap: Florida

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
9:30
AM ET
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- By the end of a dismal 4-8 season, Florida's first losing season since 1979, few could recall the Gators actually opened with plenty of promise and a No. 10 ranking. It was the first time in 22 seasons that Florida didn't play in a bowl game, snapping the nation's longest active streak.

Injuries spoiled UF's season, which started 4-1 before spiraling with seven straight losses. The Gators lost 15 players, including 10 starters, to season-ending injuries. An inept offense that scored an SEC-low 226 points (18.8 PPG) was the biggest weakness and resulted in the firing of offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis.

Offensive MVP: Solomon Patton made the most of his senior season, exploding as a playmaking wide receiver. He led Florida with 44 catches for 556 yards and six touchdowns, all team highs among receivers. He also set a school record on kickoff returns, averaging 29.2 yards, which ranked first in the SEC and seventh in the nation.

Defensive MVP: True freshman Vernon Hargreaves III was a revelation. In a loaded backfield, he made 10 starts at cornerback and led the Gators with 11 pass breakups and three interceptions. He garnered first-team All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman Team honors.

Best moment: It's not saying much when your best win came at home against a Tennessee team that went 5-7. So, let's face it, 2013 was just miserable. The best moment probably came as the clock struck zero against Florida State to signal a merciful ending to a very bad season.

Worst moment: There were many to choose from, but the easy answer is the worst loss in school history: a 26-20 head-scratcher to Georgia Southern at home. It was Florida's first loss to an FCS program. UF gave up 429 yards rushing to a team that didn't complete a single pass. The Gators watched the Eagles celebrate on their field.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's new offensive coordinator, Kurt Roper, is known for his ability to adapt his offense to his players. It's one of the biggest reasons he was hired.

Will Muschamp is a head coach who needs results right away, and the Gators are expected to try just about anything to achieve them -- uptempo, no-huddle, spread, zone read. You name it.

After three years of a pro-style offense that had a heavy emphasis on downhill running, there will be changes.

Practice time will be at a premium, but Roper has a plan.

He'll start with incumbent quarterback Jeff Driskel and find what he does best. Then Roper will do the same with his offensive line and skill positions.

"I think you’ve got plenty of time through spring practice and through fall practice to make those decisions," he said. "So you get 15 opportunities in spring practice to make those decisions, and then you get 29 practice opportunities in the fall to keep making those decisions and finalizing going into fall camp.

"So everything moves fast, but you've got to figure those things out."

Here are some keys to Florida's offense next year.

Run, Driskel, run

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Matthew Stockman/Getty ImagesIt seems likely that Jeff Driskel will run more in Florida's new offense in 2014.
The majority of Roper's success has come in the passing game, but this season at Duke proved he can succeed calling plays in a much more balanced spread offense. Blue Devils quarterback Brandon Connette, who started three games this season, has 13 scores on the ground. He and starter Anthony Boone have combined to score 17 of Duke's 25 rushing TDs.

Look for the read-option to come back at Florida in 2014. It won't take Roper long to see that Driskel's best success as a college QB came mostly on the ground.

One of former offensive coordinator Brent Pease's goals for 2013 was to get Driskel comfortable as a pocket passer, but it didn't happen in his injury-shortened season. In his two full games, Driskel ran 17 times for just 38 yards (2.2 yards per carry). Then he was hurt a few minutes into Game 3. It was a lost season. But if those first two games were any indication, the Gators weren't planning to use as much of the read-option that Driskel had good success with in teaming with tailback Mike Gillislee in 2012.

Look for Florida to turn Driskel loose, hope he stays healthy and not worry about redshirting incoming freshman Will Grier or a possible second QB signee who would likely be a dual-threat athlete.

Pray for the offensive line

This is where it all starts, and there's no doubt Florida has a lot of room for improvement. With D.J. Humphries, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore, Chaz Green and Trenton Brown, Florida has the makings of a capable line. But only one of those five -- Garcia -- played a full season in 2012. The injury bug hit the OL as hard as any position, so it will be critical for this group to miss as little time as the injury gods will allow. There is some size and talent on the bench, but zero starting experience.

Changing to more of a spread offense should benefit this unit more than any other on the offense, as it struggled mightily in pass protection throughout the last two seasons. The comparative simplicity of zone blocking will also help more of Florida's inexperienced players get on the field sooner. The Gators redshirted three offensive linemen in 2013 and hope to sign four or five more this year.

Another technique -- cut blocking -- could be incorporated next season, depending on Roper's scheme and the yet-to-be-hired offensive line coach. After Florida lost to Georgia Southern in November, Muschamp lamented how the cut block "negates talent" of the defense. In 2014, the Gators might prefer to be on the other side of that equation.

Any receivers who can get open?

This has been one of the most confounding problems at UF since Riley Cooper and Aaron Hernandez thrived as Tim Tebow's favorite targets in 2009. There are plenty of decorated recruits on the roster. The wideouts have had proven position coaches such as Pease and Joker Phillips mentoring them. In steps Roper, who has produced 1,000-yard receivers in four of six seasons at recruiting-challenged Duke. It's time for some of Florida's talented youngsters to step forward and demand the ball, and there is at least one starting job available.

[+] EnlargeKelvin Taylor, Shaq Wiggins
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesKelvin Taylor showed plenty of promise as a freshman.
The freshmen who played the most in 2013 -- Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson -- have the size to create mismatches. Another freshman who burned his redshirt late in the season, Chris Thompson, has plenty of speed. With all of the WR screens Roper likes to call, the Gators will miss senior Solomon Patton, a speedy jitterbug who could have thrived in the new offense. Perhaps a replacement can be found in freshman Alvin Bailey, who redshirted in 2013.

The tight end position took a huge step backward when Jordan Reed left early after a solid 2012 season. Florida lacked any semblance of a down-the-middle pass-catching threat in 2013, as Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton combined for four catches. The Gators have commitments from three TE/H-backs, so don't be surprised if a freshman emerges.

Bigger-play running backs

Tailback is one position that won't keep Roper awake at night, as the Gators have a bevy of talented runners. Florida entered the 2013 season expecting Matt Jones to become one of the SEC's best running backs. And while hopes are still very high for Jones, the Gators believe they found another featured back in Kelvin Taylor after Jones was lost for the season with a knee injury. Mack Brown gives UF a reliable backup, and the coaching staff is excited about the potential of Adam Lane, who redshirted last season.

Where Florida's tailbacks can improve is in hitting more big plays. Taylor averaged 4.6 yards a carry and Brown averaged 3.7. But explosive plays are more likely to come from Jones or little-used Valdez Showers, who averaged 8.6 yards per carry. The Gators are also hoping to sign a speed back who could play right away and complement the group of grinding runners already on the roster.

Ten SEC surprise players in 2013

December, 20, 2013
12/20/13
11:40
AM ET
Today, we're looking at 10 players who surprised us in the SEC.

These are players who didn't enter the season with a ton of hype, weren't big-time recruits in the 2013 recruiting class or made big splashes after pedestrian 2012 seasons.

There were a lot of names that could have made it onto this list, but we put our SEC brains together and came up with these 10:

1. Serderius Bryant, LB, Ole Miss: Heading into the season, Bryant was listed as a reserve behind Denzel Nkemdiche. But after Nkemdiche injured his knee in the season opener, Bryant went on a tear for the Rebels. He started nine games and is tied for the team lead with 70 tackles, leads the Rebels with 10.5 tackles for loss and is second with three sacks.

[+] EnlargeSammie Coates
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesSammie Coates emerged as a playmaker in Auburn's high-scoring offense.
2. Sammie Coates, WR, Auburn: Before the season, no one was quite sure who would be catching the brunt of passes in Auburn's offense. Well, Coates took the lead and went from six catches in 2012 to a team-high 38 with 841 yards and seven touchdowns. The Tigers didn't throw a lot, but when they did, Coates was usually the top target.

3. Mike Davis, RB, South Carolina: Everyone knew he was going to be the guy to replace Marcus Lattimore, but Davis looked like a seasoned veteran on the field this season, rushing for 1,134 and 11 touchdowns. He was also very good in the passing game, catching 32 passes for 342 yards.

4. Leonard Floyd, LB, Georgia: Fellow linebacker Jordan Jenkins was supposed to be the star on defense, but Floyd looked like the Bulldogs' best pass rusher at times. The former prep schooler led Georgia with 6.5 sacks and finished the year with 8.5 tackles for loss and 47 total tackles.

5. Markus Golden, DT, Missouri: After registering just 10 tackles last season, Golden was one of the Tigers' most active defensive players. He got tons of push up the middle and was second on the team with 13 tackles for loss and had 6.5 sacks. He also took an interception 70 yards for a touchdown.

6. Nick Marshall, QB, Auburn: The former Georgia defensive back was one of the nation's biggest surprises. He wasn't asked to do a lot with his arm, but made some big-time throws and got more comfortable with his arm as the season went on. Marshall passed for 1,759 yards and 12 touchdowns, but did most of his damage with that deadly read option, rushing for 1,023 yards and 11 more scores on his way to leading Auburn to the VIZIO BCS National Championship Game.

[+] EnlargeSolomon Patton
AP Photo/John RaouxWR Solomon Patton was one of the few bright spots in a down year for the Florida offense.
7. Solomon Patton, WR, Florida: Like Auburn, no one knew who would be the top pass catcher in Gainesville. But after spending most of his career as a role player and more of a gimmick guy, Patton was Florida's most dangerous receiver and the go-to guy for whichever quarterback lined up under center. He was a big-play threat and finished the season leading the Gators with 44 catches, 556 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He also registered 642 yards and a touchdown on kick returns.

8. Dak Prescott, QB, Mississippi State: In a year in which the Bulldogs spent a lot of time rotating guys in at the quarterback spot, Prescott came up big when he was in. A reserve in 2012, Prescott led Mississippi State with 1,657 passing yards and seven touchdowns. Where Prescott really did his damage was on the ground, where he bullied his way to 751 yards and 11 touchdowns.

9. Greg Robinson, OT, Auburn: Last year, Robinson started in 11 games last year, but he exploded in 2013. Helping to protect the nation's best running game, he pushed his way to being an All-American, All-SEC member and someone who could be an early pick in the 2014 NFL draft if he decides to leave school.

10. Michael Sam, DE, Missouri: He was easily the biggest surprise of the league for most of the season. A year after starting nine games and recording 3.5 sacks, Sam took the SEC by storm with 10.5 sacks and 18 tackles for loss. Both led the SEC. The consensus All-American was named the Associated Press' SEC Defensive Player of the Year and was a finalist for both the Bronko Nagurski Trophy and Rotary Lombardi Award.

Week 13 helmet stickers

November, 24, 2013
11/24/13
9:15
AM ET
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It was hard enough two weeks ago to award stickers after the Gators' loss to Vanderbilt. It doesn't get any easier this week after a shocking loss to FCS Georgia Southern. But alas, here are the Gators' standout performances from that historic 26-20 loss to the Eagles on Saturday:

Solomon Patton, WR: Not only is he Florida's only home-run threat, but Patton has become a leader by example in his senior year. Despite his diminutive stature (5-foot-9, 177 pounds), he fights as hard as any Gator for extra yardage. On Saturday, Patton had a 54-yard kickoff return late in the third quarter that helped set up a field goal. He also caught his fifth and sixth touchdown passes of the season, which is the most for any Gator since 2009. Consider that Florida has scored only 10 TDs through the air this season to discover Patton's true value in this offense.

Kelvin Taylor, RB: The true freshman ran 22 times for 95 yards, including a 33-yard gallop in the first quarter that set up Florida's first points. Taylor has established himself as Florida's workhorse tailback. He was ESPN's No. 1-ranked running back in the Class of 2013, and he has lived up to that pedigree. Even with Matt Jones and Mack Brown returning as upperclassmen next season, Taylor has gained enough experience to be guaranteed an important role in 2014.

The fans: You might say a lack of individual accolades has prompted a search for anything that is sticker-worthy. You might say this is blatant pandering. But the Florida fans who showed up (and stayed) in the Swamp on Saturday deserve some recognition. It wasn't a capacity crowd, but it was fully engaged and vocal throughout the game. Sure, there was a smattering of boos here and there. But for the most part, the fans encouraged their Gators right up to the last play.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
12:00
PM ET
We’re 24 hours away from opening kick in Week 10, so let’s take one last look around the SEC in Friday’s edition of the lunch links.
Here are five matchups to watch when Florida has the ball in Saturday's game in Jacksonville:

Florida's running game vs. Georgia's front seven: This is perhaps the most important matchup on this side of the ball. Florida's offensive identity is built around pounding the run and controlling the clock, and it made hay in that department with Mike Gillislee toting the rock an SEC-high 244 times for 1,152 yards last season. The results have been highly uneven this year with quarterback Jeff Driskel and running back Matt Jones sidelined by season-ending injuries. Georgia native Mack Brown (99-359, 3 TDs) is Florida's leading rusher, but he is not the Gators' scariest ball carrier. That honor goes to freshman Kelvin Taylor (28-172, TD), the son of Gator great Fred Taylor. Kelvin has played more recently. The problem is that, like most freshman, he is a liability in pass protection. Until he becomes a more consistent blocker, defenses know what Florida likely intends to do when he lines up in the backfield.

Georgia pass rushers vs. depleted Florida line: The Bulldogs' defense hasn't had much to brag about this season, but they have actually applied fairly consistent pressure against opposing quarterbacks. Georgia is tied for third in the SEC with 19 sacks -- many of which have come from the revitalized defensive line. Defensive end Ray Drew leads the team and is tied for fourth in the SEC with five sacks. Outside linebackers Leonard Floyd (four) and Jordan Jenkins (three) are just behind him. Florida has struggled with its pass protection this season, and it could be an even bigger issue on Saturday now that left tackle D.J. Humphries is out of the picture for the next few games. The Gators have allowed 17 sacks this season -- only Ole Miss and Vanderbilt (19 apiece) have allowed more among SEC teams -- so their injury-depleted line needs to raise its level of play or Florida's offense might have difficulty moving the ball on Saturday. Jarvis Jones, who wreaked havoc against Florida in each of the last two meetings, is no longer on the roster, but Drew, Jenkins and Floyd are good enough to give the Gators problems.

Tyler Murphy on the edge: Driskel's replacement under center, Murphy, started out well enough, leading the Gators to wins against Tennessee, Kentucky and Arkansas in his first three games. But Murphy took a pounding in the last two games, both losses, and Florida's offense was barely able to generate any scoring punch. He is most effective as a run-pass threat -- Murphy ran 10 times for 84 yards after taking over against Tennessee -- but his Total QBR numbers have fallen off a cliff since his strong start. According to ESPN Stats and Information, Murphy posted an outstanding Total QBR of 93.8 in the first three games, completing 72 percent of his passes, but he averaged an 8.9 QBR against LSU and Missouri -- including a 3.0 against Missouri, the lowest QBR by a Florida starter in the last decade. He'll have to make some things happen with his legs for Florida's offense to be effective Saturday, as he leaves a lot to be desired as a pure drop-back passer.

Containing Florida's receivers: The Gators have pretty much stunk in the passing game over the past few seasons, and 2013 has been no different (12th in the SEC in passing at 175.4 ypg). The speedy Solomon Patton (28-426, 4 TDs) -- whom Georgia safety Shawn Williams bulldog tackled just before he reached the first-down marker on a run last season, knocking Patton out of the game -- has been one of the Gators' only consistent receiving weapons. Otherwise, Florida's receiving corps has been a train wreck this season. Andre Debose is out for the year with an injury. Trey Burton (29-336, TD) has the most catches on the team, but hasn't been particularly consistent. Quinton Dunbar (22-301) is the only other Gator with more than 46 receiving yards. Georgia's secondary has been subpar this season -- the Bulldogs rank 11th in the SEC in pass defense (253.4 ypg) -- so the matchup between its defensive backs and Florida's mediocre wideouts pits two weaknesses against one another.

Burton as wild card: Think back to Florida's 2010 win in Jacksonville. Florida utility man Burton might have been the most effective quarterback on the field that day. Operating out of Florida's Wildcat package, Burton ran for 110 yards and two touchdowns, led the team with five receptions and completed two passes for 26 yards. He still operates out of the Wildcat at times, so keep an eye on the versatile senior, who is capable of impacting the game in a variety of ways.

Midseason report: Florida

October, 15, 2013
10/15/13
9:30
AM ET
After winning 11 games in 2012, the Gators this year look eerily similar to the team that made its first BCS bowl berth since 2009 last year.

That's both a good thing and a bad thing for No. 22 Florida (4-2, 3-1 SEC). The good news is that the defense has been stellar thus far, ranking first in the SEC and third nationally in total defense (235.3 yards per game). Even after losing wealth of talent to last spring's NFL draft -- and potential All-American defensive tackle Dominique Easley to a season-ending ACL injury -- the Gators' defense has been clicking each week.

Florida's defense is also first in the SEC in rushing defense (83.3 yards per game), passing (152 ypg) and second in scoring (13 points per game). After losing to LSU 17-6 this past weekend, the Gators have gone 13 straight SEC games without allowing 20 or more points. The Gators have an all-star cast in their secondary, headlined by corners Vernon Hargreaves III (a true freshman) and potential first-round draft picks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson. The defensive line is headlined by Buck end/linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., while Antonio Morrison leads a talented linebacker corps.

While Florida has given up more than 100 rushing yards in back-to-back games, no one produced more than 66 rushing yards through the first four games of the season.

Then there's the offense. Like last year, it's a major issue again. Florida lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel to a broken fibula against Tennessee in Week 4 and have had to throw longtime backup Tyler Murphy into the fire. After three solid outings, Murphy crumbled under the pressure forced by LSU's defense last week. What didn't help was the lack of a consistent running game. In losses to Miami and LSU, Florida averaged just 2.8 yards per rush.

The weird thing is that Florida is one of three SEC teams to have three players with more than 300 receiving yards, but if the Gators are going to make any sort of push toward Atlanta for the SEC championship, the offense has to get going. The problem is that with running back Matt Jones out for the season, the Gators are still looking for that hammer-type running back like Mike Gillislee was last year.

Offensive MVP: Solomon Patton, WR, Sr.: After spending three years as more of a jet-sweep guy, Patton leads the Gators with 380 yards and four touchdowns on 22 catches. He has become a deep threat, an underneath threat and a threat out of the backfield.

Defensive MVP: Dante Fowler Jr., DE/LB, Soph.: After a slow start, Fowler has been one of the Gators' best players, registering a team-high seven tackles for loss and three sacks. He also has three quarterback hurries, 22 total tackles and has forced two fumbles.

Five things: Florida at LSU

October, 12, 2013
10/12/13
7:00
AM ET
It will be a battle of wills when LSU and Florida meet in Death Valley at 3:30 p.m. ET. The Tigers have a powerhouse offense while the Gators sport one of the top defenses in the country. So who gives? We'll find out soon, and in the meantime, here are five things to watch in Baton Rouge, La.:

1. Revenge factor: LSU watched its hope of an undefeated season end swiftly and soundly last year, when it lost a heartbreaker to Florida on the road. Mike Gillislee ran for 146 yards and two touchdowns and Zach Mettenberger barely moved the needle at quarterback for LSU, throwing for 158 yards, no touchdowns and an interception. But that offense seems like a distant memory now as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has breathed new life into LSU's passing game. With largely the same personnel on offense as a year ago, it's safe to assume that Mettenberger & Co. will look at this game as a statement of just how far they've come.

2. Slowing LSU's offense: Will Muschamp and the Florida staff have an unenviable task ahead of them. Do you double team Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry and risk not having a safety near the line of scrimmage? Or do you play man, pull down an extra defender in the box and try to stop Jeremy Hill? Truthfully, there may not be a right answer, not while Zach Mettenberger is throwing the ball like he is. But Florida might have the best chance to solve the riddle of LSU's offense thanks to its depth at cornerback with Loucheiz Purifoy, Vernon Hargreaves and Marcus Roberson.

3. Time for Tyler: Tyler Murphy wasn't supposed to be in this situation, but here he is. When Jeff Driskel went down, it looked like Florida's hopes went down with him. The offense was already stagnant and Murphy was so green under the collar. But Murphy has played well since taking the reins. He's completed 77.5 percent of his passes and has thrown four touchdowns and just one interception in his last two games. But those defenses he's faced, Kentucky and Arkansas, don't have the talent of LSU's. On the road, the challenge will be even greater.

4. But who will he throw the football to?: The Gators' lack of playmakers at wide receiver has been well documented. And if Florida is hoping to change that narrative, it will have to come today against an LSU secondary that has shown some vulnerability. Trey Burton has seen time at almost every position on offense, yet he still leads the team with 22 catches. But he'll need help from speedsters such as Solomon Patton, who has a team-high 348 yards and four touchdowns receiving.

5. Will LSU's defense finally arrive?: LSU coach Les Miles can hang his hat on a three-point second half against Mississippi State all he wants, but it's impossible to ignore the nearly 500 yards of offense the Bulldogs picked up on his defense. While nobody is questioning the talent of LSU's defense, led by tackles Ego Ferguson and Anthony Johnson, the unit as a whole is showing too many of the tell-tale signs of youth. Missed assignments and poor execution have plagued the Tigers, who are allowing an average of 367 yards and 24.7 points per game.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Scene and Heard: Top 10 Predictions
In a conversation with ESPN's Antonietta Collins, national recruiting reporter Gerry Hamilton breaks down the recruiting momentum building at Auburn and offers predictions for where the top 10 recruits will commit.Tags: Trenton Thompson, Kerryon Johnson, Jeffery Holland, Martez Ivey, Torrance Gibson, Cece Jefferson, ESPN 300, RecruitingNation, high school football recruiting, Gerry Hamilton
VIDEO PLAYLIST video