Florida Gators: Thomas Holley

Editor’s note: We’re breaking down the Gators’ two-deep depth chart every day for the next two weeks. We’ll cover every position as well as offer a glimpse into the future. You can read the whole series here.

DEFENSIVE LINE

[+] EnlargeFowler Jr
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida is expecting junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. to be a terror off the edge.
The starters: Junior ends Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler Jr., senior tackles Leon Orr and Darious Cummings

The backups: Sophomores ends Bryan Cox Jr., and Alex McCalister, redshirt freshmen tackles Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick

The rest: Sophomore Joey Ivie, redshirt freshman Jordan Sherit and true freshmen Taven Bryan, Thomas Holley, Khairi Clark, Justus Reed and Gerald Willis III

The lowdown: The Gators' defensive line has lost proven commodities such as Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley to the NFL in the last two years, but the turnstiles keep moving as more talent emerges. The focal point in 2014 will be Fowler, a hybrid DE/LB who combines power and quickness to provide some serious pass rush from the edge. Coach Will Muschamp is hoping Fowler will command doubleteams and allow the rest of the line to flourish as well. While Fowler dominated spring practice, the coaching staff experimented with Bullard moving to defensive tackle on passing downs. That move gives more opportunities to Cox, who made a move up the depth chart. At defensive tackle, the Gators are looking for improved play from Orr and Cummings, two seniors who haven't done much more than stuff the run and occupy blockers. Overall, there is a big gap between the first and second units, as Muschamp complained on more than one occasion about the stamina and motors of backup tackles Brantley and Bostwick. He's hoping the next wave of high-level talent coming this fall pushes for playing time. Willis and Holley, the nation's No. 2- and 3-ranked defensive tackles, respectively, have a chance to step into backup roles immediately.

The future: With so many freshmen and sophomores already poised to play in 2014, the future is rock solid. Florida is likely to redshirt at least two of its five DL signees from the 2014 class. But the line is an area where top prospects can make a huge difference. In Muschamp's three seasons, the Gators have ranked No. 8, No. 5 and No. 5 nationally in total defense, and they did it without a consistent pass rush. The 2015 class has the potential to push UF into a defensive stratosphere with so many elite prospects in the state of Florida. The Gators already have a commitment from DL Andrew Ivie, Joey's brother. The top targets are DE Byron Cowart and DL CeCe Jefferson, two of top 10 overall players in the country.

Replacing the Gators: Defense

May, 13, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The NFL draft is over, so it's time to talk about the next wave of Gators.

Florida only had four players selected last weekend, but three were from the defensive side of the ball.

Here's a look at who will replace the Gators on defense who were drafted or signed as undrafted free agents.

DT Dominique Easley
First-round pick, New England Patriots
Florida already has experience in dealing with the loss of Easley, who tore his ACL in practice after Week 3 and left a huge void in the defense for the rest of the season. Easley was a heart-and-soul leader with a relentless motor and a lightning-quick first step, attributes that are in rare supply in college football. Leadership and passion aside, finding a defensive tackle who can disrupt the running and passing game is a huge task. Florida will turn to Leon Orr and Darious Cummings, two seniors who are solid starters but have yet to make a consistent impact. Much of Orr's production in 2013 came after Easley's injury, and he does have good tools to work with at 6-foot-5 and 302 pounds. Cummings looked quicker, more confident and more disruptive in spring practice. However, the Gators ultimately might need one of their talented freshmen to emerge and bump one of those seniors to a backup role.

[+] EnlargeBrian Poole
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesBrian Poole has played cornerback, nickel corner and safety for Florida.
DB Jaylen Watkins
Fourth-round pick, Philadelphia Eagles
Another Gator who will be hard to replace, Watkins was a steady performer at cornerback, nickel corner and safety in his last couple of seasons. Florida is counting on some of its young defensive backs to give them that same kind of versatility. Heading into his junior season, Brian Poole has played all three of those positions but didn't grab a hold of the starting cornerback job that was available in spring practice. He could end up back at nickelback, where he made the first six starts of his career last season. At safety, Florida has steady senior Jabari Gorman and a host of talented youngsters. Sophomore Marcus Maye could get first crack based on the experience he gained last year in 12 games and two starts. Coaches are also very high on sophomore Keanu Neal and redshirt freshmen Marcell Harris and Nick Washington.

LB Ronald Powell
Fifth-round pick, New Orleans Saints
Powell, who played a mix of buck linebacker and strongside linebacker in his final season, brought some pass rush off the edge and flashed the ability to play in space. Dante Fowler Jr. took over at the buck position last season and eventually pushed Powell to outside linebacker. Fowler has the pass-rushing potential to give the Gators a big upgrade. At the SAM linebacker spot, Florida has senior Neiron Ball, who at 6-3, 235 has a similar build to Powell. Ball is more fluid in coverage but needs to be more consistent in stopping the run and rushing the passer.

CB Marcus Roberson
Undrafted free agent, St. Louis Rams
The Gators employ more man coverage than most college defenses, and as a result they attract some terrific prospects. Roberson was one such player, who used his instincts to thrive in one-on-one battles. With two junior cornerbacks forgoing their senior seasons at UF, the numbers are now thin, but coaches can rely on star sophomore Vernon Hargreaves III to lead the secondary. There is also plenty of enthusiasm for Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson, two freshmen who enrolled in January. They competed throughout spring practice, showing plenty of skill and the ability to learn on the fly. At 6-1, 188, Tabor is effective in using his long arms to blanket receivers. Dawson, at 5-11, 190, is just as good in coverage but plays a more physical style.

CB Loucheiz Purifoy
Undrafted free agent, Indianapolis Colts
One of the best athletes on Florida's recent rosters, Purifoy made an impact at cornerback, as an elite-level gunner on special teams and even in limited time at wide receiver. Aside from Tabor and Dawson, Florida coaches are also very high on true freshman J.C. Jackson, who will enroll in June. Jackson is an explosive offensive talent, but his future could very well be at cornerback where he'll start his college career. Jackson could also make an impact right away as a kick returner.

LB Darrin Kitchens
Undrafted free agent, Buffalo Bills
Kitchens was a valuable reserve linebacker, who was fundamentally sound and solid against the run. Florida appears set on its first unit with Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis. Senior Michael Taylor will also get plenty of playing time. Behind those three, Florida is hoping its young talent will emerge in 2014. Sophomore Daniel McMillian showed improvement throughout spring practice. The Gators also could get a lift from two bigger linebackers in Alex Anzalone (6-3, 239) and Matt Rolin (6-4, 227), each of whom missed the spring with injuries but are expected to push for playing time this fall.

DT Damien Jacobs
Undrafted free agent, Buffalo Bills
Another solid backup, Jacobs stepped up after Easley's injury and was a solid run-stuffer. Florida has three young linemen it is counting on in 2014 to become a part of the rotation at tackle -- sophomore Joey Ivie and redshirt freshmen Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick. Coaches are confident in all three when it comes to ability but are looking for more maturity and consistent effort. Three more exciting freshmen prospects -- Gerald Willis III, Thomas Holley and Khairi Clark -- arrive in the summer, and Florida won't hesitate to burn a redshirt if any of them prove he is ready to contribute right away.

Post-spring questions for Florida

April, 29, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Soaring temperatures and a lack of football tells you that spring is over in Florida. It's time for the long days of summer.

The Gators will work out in the weight room, delve deeper into playbooks and conduct drills with each other. Fifteen signees are expected to enroll in June, several of whom come with legitimate hopes for immediate playing time.

With more than three months before Florida practices again, there are still several questions that must be answered. Here are a few:

[+] EnlargeMornhinweg
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSkyler Mornhinweg will try to hold off a couple of true freshmen for the right to back up Jeff Driskel.
1. Who's the backup QB?

Jeff Driskel is entrenched as the starter, but with his history of injuries, the Gators must prepare their backups like never before.

When Driskel was lost for the season last September, whole sections of the UF playbook went with him. That can't happen again, and it doesn't seem that it will, because Florida has more depth at quarterback than it has had in a long time.

True freshman Will Grier split reps throughout the spring with third-year sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg, and true freshman Treon Harris will enter the fray in August. The prevailing thought is that Grier is more talented and athletic than Mornhinweg and got a leg up on Harris by enrolling early.

But overlooking Mornhinweg, who started the last three games of 2013, would be a mistake. The coaches valued his experience and decision-making enough to cut into Grier's development this spring, and Mornhinweg rewarded them by showing improvement in the passing game.

He doesn't have Grier's arm or Harris' mobility, but Mornhinweg could easily be Driskel's primary backup.

2. What happens if the injury bug strikes again?

Injuries devastated Florida's 2013 season, but 2014 has yet to be a whole lot better.

Seven scholarship athletes missed all of spring recovering from injuries. Two others were limited to just a few days of practice in non-contact jerseys. Six more players got hurt during practice and missed time.

The good news? Every one of those players is expected to participate fully in fall camp. The bad news? Florida still hasn't developed enough depth to overcome losses at key positions such as quarterback, defensive tackle or cornerback.

One big injury could hurt in more ways than one, so other than simply having some better luck this fall, the Gators will need their young backups to prove they can handle larger roles.

3. Will UF finally have a dangerous receiver?

It's a stunning statistic, but Florida hasn’t had a receiver record 600 or more yards in a season since 2009 when wideout Riley Cooper had 961 and tight end Aaron Hernandez had 850.

A lot will depend on the new scheme, Driskel's improvement in accuracy and decision-making, as well as the offensive line's ability to pass block. But if all of those things happen, the Gators believe they finally have the wide receivers to make hay.

Senior Quinton Dunbar, a solid possession receiver, is the leader on and off the field. A trio of sophomores -- Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson -- brings size, speed and much-needed athleticism. Andre Debose, back for a sixth year of eligibility after a torn ACL in 2013, is a talented wild card.

The numbers might not match those of Cooper or Hernandez, but Florida will be thrilled with even one pass-catching threat after four years of going without.

4. What can the Gators expect out of the backups on both lines?

If you listened to the coaching staff, the answer after spring was not much. A familiar refrain from head coach Will Muschamp and Co. was that there was "a huge drop-off" in effectiveness between the first and second units on the offensive and defensive lines.

That wasn't a motivational ploy. It's a real problem.

On the offensive line, the Gators have one backup -- junior Trip Thurman -- they appear comfortable with. Given the injury histories of the starters, a lack of depth here could be the biggest concern on the team. Florida will need reserves Drew Sarvary, Cameron Dillard and Kavaris Harkless to improve rapidly. Redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson and true freshman Nolan Kelleher must come back from the injuries that cost them the entire spring, or the O-line could see another revolving-door season.

On the defensive line, Florida needs more from redshirt freshmen DTs Jay-nard Bostwick and Caleb Brantley, who showed flashes of talent but little consistency. This could be an area where UF benefits from some heralded true freshmen who arrive in June. Gerald Willis III, Thomas Holley and Khairi Clark could all be in the mix on the D-line in fall camp.

5. Will there be enough carries for all of the running backs?

The players say yes, but that was during a spring that didn't include former starter Matt Jones and true freshman Brandon Powell, both out with injuries.

Sophomore Kelvin Taylor looks to be the starter, senior Mack Brown is a reliable backup, and redshirt freshman Adam Lane emerged as another weapon. But none of the three has breakaway speed. Although they run with similar styles, UF's backs believe they will all play. Duke's offense in 2013 supports that notion, as offensive coordinator Kurt Roper employed four tailbacks throughout the season.

"Our offense is definitely not stingy and we're going to pass the ball around and use each other in different situations," Lane said. "I wouldn't say it's really roles, but in some situations some fit better."

Still yet to be resolved is where Powell and Jones fit. Powell has speed and wiggle and could be a change-of-pace back. Jones will get a look at the B position (typically manned by tight ends and fullbacks), where he could do damage as a pass-catcher and get more playmakers on the field at the same time.

"But he's going to play the running back positon as well," Muschamp cautioned.

Ultimately, the Florida offense will still be predicated on running the ball, so it's possible five backs could share the load.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In keeping with tradition, Florida concluded a month of practices with a feel-good scrimmage in front of thousands of fans and called the spring a success.

Coming off of a terrible 2013 season, the Gators desperately needed changes and positive feelings. They got that and more.

Florida satisfied head coach Will Muschamp's top priorities by installing a new offense, developing confidence, discovering some new players and rehabilitating some old ones.

Here's what else happened this spring:

[+] EnlargeWill Grier
AP Photo/Phil SandlinFreshman Will Grier showed a quick release in Florida's spring game.
Quarterbacks in command: From the opening of the first practice, it was obvious the QBs had studied hard and grasped the no-huddle spread offense. They led the installation process and made enough progress with fundamentals and basic principles to add wrinkles throughout the spring. Junior Jeff Driskel clearly separated himself as the starter in camp and had the strongest arm. He got into a good rhythm in the spring game and showed what the offense can do (against much of Florida's first-team defense). The battle for the No. 2 quarterback spot was a draw. Sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg improved as a passer throughout the spring and split reps with true freshman Will Grier. The much-anticipated prospect didn't disappoint, as Grier showed he has an extremely quick release and a bright future.

Deeper at receiver: The Gators have been painfully short of playmakers on offense in recent years, but the numbers are tilting in their favor. Florida will lean heavily on senior starter Quinton Dunbar and three talented sophomores who gained valuable experience last season in Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson. The three combined for 13 receptions in Saturday's spring game. Robinson led the way with five catches for 53 yards, including a 31-yard, highlight-reel touchdown. The biggest proof of concept for the offense was that it did what everyone promised it would -- get the ball to players in space.

Still some concerns: After years of departures to the NFL, Florida has a very young secondary. There's plenty of talent, but it appears likely that at least one of the true freshman cornerbacks -- Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson -- will start either at corner or nickel. There will also be two new starters at safety, with an open spot still up for grabs opposite senior Jabari Gorman. ... The issue Muschamp harped on the most throughout the spring was a "huge" drop-off in ability from his first team to the second team on the offensive and defensive lines. Mental and physical stamina is part of the problem. ... Florida still isn't getting much offense from its tight ends and fullbacks. "We’re still looking for that consistent playmaker at the B-position," Muschamp said Saturday. He did single out true freshman DeAndre Goolsby for praise. ... Though there weren't any major injuries this spring, the bug still looms. Florida on Saturday held out two key starters on defense in defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. There was no reason to expose them to risk, and can you blame a team that lost one of its best players in Ronald Powell to a torn ACL in the spring game two years ago?

Kick in the pants: Muschamp said he's talked to a lot of mental conditioning coaches to try to help place-kicker Austin Hardin iron out his mechanics. Hardin, who struggled mightily in his first season as UF's kicker, made all four of his field-goal attempts in the spring game and won his coach's praise for achieving some consistency. Hardin will still have to fight off a few walk-ons who will try to take his job.

Position changes: Senior offensive tackle Trenton Brown moved inside to guard, performed well as a starter in the spring game and will stay there. At 6-foot-8 and 361 pounds, the Gators love his ability to be a people-mover in the running game. ... Florida gave junior Trip Thurman a long look at guard throughout the spring before giving him second-team snaps at center in Saturday's game. ... Redshirt freshman Antonio Riles moved from defensive line to offensive guard midway through spring. Florida coaches like his athleticism and said he looked natural on the O-line, but the real reason for the move might have more to do with three highly touted defensive line signees who are coming this summer: Thomas Holley, Gerald Willis III and Khairi Clark. ... Redshirt freshman Marqui Hawkins wasn't making much of an impact at wide receiver early in the spring so he was moved to safety, where he played some in high school. Florida felt good about its numbers at receiver and needed more help in the secondary.

What's next: The Gators are on their own as far as workouts, as veteran players typically organize drills throughout the summer to stay sharp. Driskel said he plans to throw a lot and work on timing with his receivers. Muschamp said it best in outlining the next phase for his players: "Still got a way to go, 112 days until we report. Our older players understand the importance of this time of year. Understanding in all three phases, taking the next step schematically, being in shape, being ready to go and understanding what it’s going to take to be successful and win in this league."

Gators need more from their D-linemen

February, 14, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's hard to find fault with a defense that ranked No. 5 in the nation last season.

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.

[+] EnlargeDante Fowler Jr.
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFormer ESPN 300 defensive end Dante Fowler Jr., who had 3.5 sacks in 2013, needs to be more consistent.
Those numbers, however, still indicate some blame for the Florida offense. Opponents in 2013 typically kept the Gators off the scoreboard, built up a lead and then ran out the clock. So UF's defensive stats are skewed.

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.

SEC's lunch links

February, 13, 2014
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OK, all this snow and cold weather was fun, but it's time for some spring weather to come in and stay. Thanks, Mother Nature.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp was all smiles on signing day, officially announcing his fourth recruiting class.

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
Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln
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
Immokalee, Fla./Immokalee
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
Hollywood, Fla./Chaminade
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
Jacksonville, Fla./Raines
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
Tucson, Ariz./Sabino
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
Tuscaloosa, Ala./Northridge
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.

Grading the Gators' 2014 class

February, 6, 2014
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Signing day is one of those rare times in which every college coach celebrates a win.

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.

Quarterback
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.

Running back
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.

Wide receiver
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.

Tight end
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.

Offensive line
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.

Defensive line
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.

Linebacker
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.

Defensive back
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.

Overall
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.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Head coach Will Muschamp didn't get every player he wanted in Florida's recruiting class of 2014. No one ever does. But still, Muschamp was beaming with pride and excitement on Wednesday.

He and his coaching staff reeled in the nation's No. 6-ranked class. Quite a feat, considering the Gators were coming off a 4-8 season.

"We're really pleased," Muschamp told ESPN.com. "We went through a really difficult fall [season], and any time that happens it creates a lot of negativity around your program. We've got three new coaches in Kurt Roper, Coleman Hutzler and Mike Summers, and I thought our staff did a great job of coming together and coming out with a top-10 class. Not that the ranking is important, but we signed some really good football players in this class."

[+] EnlargeTreon Harris
John Albright/Icon SMILanding QB Treon Harris (5) was nice for the Gators, but the fact he was a Florida State commit before flipping to Florida made it that much better.
That remade Florida coaching staff is celebrating what was a very smooth signing day. All 13 of their commitments signed and faxed in national letters of intent to join nine early enrollees. Before mid-day, the Gators added two key prospects to finish the class with 24 recruits.

Wide receiver C.J. Worton, a former FSU commit, picked the Gators over West Virginia on Wednesday morning. Then, UF flipped Treon Harris from the arch-rival Seminoles. Harris, the nation's No. 7-ranked dual-threat QB prospect, had been committed to FSU since last July.

Both recruits embodied the Gators' new approach to recruiting for Roper's offense, which is expected to make use of spread and option elements.

"At the quarterback position, we needed to be able to be more mobile at that position, to [have] a dual-threat guy that can throw it and run," Muschamp said, adding that Florida also wanted to recruit "more of a slot receiver, a true slot that can win in some matchups inside.

"So being able to have [Roper] certainly helped solidify things with Ryan [Sousa] and get C.J."

There's just as much excitement over the rest of Wednesday's haul. Florida scored big in signing three of the nation's top prospects at positions of great need.

David Sharpe is the No. 2 offensive tackle in the nation, while Gerald Willis III and Thomas Holley are respectively ranked the Nos. 2 and 3 defensive tackle prospects.

Another key recruit, ESPN 300 athlete J.C. Jackson, provided some of the only real drama of the day. Rumors had been swirling that he was considering Miami and FSU.

"It's amazing," Muschamp said. "I don't really follow the Internet much, but there's so much hearsay and as much information as there is out there, in my opinion, there's a lot of misinformation. I get tons of phone calls about, well, I heard this, I heard this. I mean I can't keep up with all the what-I-heard stuff. ...

"I know he looked at some other places, no different than a lot of kids do, and I encourage kids to go make sure they're making the right decision, to go take a look at another place. We never felt it was that much in the balance, maybe as what a lot of people seemed to think. We never felt that way."

Jackson ultimately had a drama-free signing day, quietly sending his paperwork to UF early in the morning.

There were also some high-profile letdowns, as the Gators came up short in recruiting top-50 prospects like Adoree' Jackson, Lorenzo Carter and Damian Prince.

But the end result is a class full of potential, which fits well with Florida's general theme of renewal and cleaning the slate.

"I think our staff has done an outstanding job," Muschamp said. "At the end of the day it's still the University of Florida. It's a top-10 public institution. It's a bigtime degree. You're going to get a great education. It's one of the few places in the country  and I tell parents this and I tell recruits this  where you can realistically win a national championship on and off the field. ...

"We had a rough fall, but being here and building those relationships with some of these young men for two years, two and a half years, they also saw us win 11 games the year before. They understand that and they are close to our program. I think they kind of understand where we're headed with the program and they're excited about our future."

The bright future, the highly ranked class, the good vibes -- it all made for a light-hearted and jocular head coach.

"Y'all know me," Muschamp said with a laugh. "I don't get overly concerned with [rankings]. I was watching ESPN this morning and somebody said Tom Luginbill was the No. 1-ranked junior college player when he came out.

"I intercepted Tom Luginbill, so that'll tell you how important those rankings are. And I texted him this morning just to remind him of that."

Biggest flips: SEC 

February, 3, 2014
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As expected, with the plethora of commitments followed by decommitments and second and third verbal pledges, it's no surprise that the hotly contested Southeast and SEC feature a number of impactful flips in 2014.

The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a daily dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: Michigan State has never recruited top-10 classes but has produced on the field, but now more doors might open for it with the Rose Bowl victory; Kansas State’s loss is about to be UCLA’s gain; and it’s been a good few days for the Florida Gators’ 2014 class.


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videoOn Wednesday, Under Armour All-American defensive tackle Thomas Holley (Brooklyn, N.Y./Lincoln) switched his commitment from Penn State to Florida. Read below to see how our scouts feel Holley fits into the Gators' plans:


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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- A year ago in the Under Armour All-America Game, Florida fans were treated to a satisfying showcase of their top two recruits -- cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and running back Kelvin Taylor.

Neither disappointed as a freshman this past fall. Hargreaves was named first-team All-SEC and Taylor showed promise after taking over as Florida's primary ball-carrier just before midseason.

After going 4-8 in 2013, Florida needs impact freshmen more than ever. Here's a look at what to watch for in Thursday's UA Game (4 p.m., ESPN, complete roster).


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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Michael O'Connor will never forget New Year’s Eve 2013. It was the day his life was turned upside down.


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Weekend recruiting wrap: SEC 

December, 16, 2013
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The dead period in recruiting is now upon us and official visits will shut down until after the holidays. College coaches have done all they can as far as in-home visits and setting up and hosting official visits until after the dead period is over. Here is a closer look at some of the important in-home and official visits that have taken place recently.


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Florida Athletics Director Jeremy Foley called into The Paul Finebaum Show to discuss the Florida football program, including their new coach.
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SEC SCOREBOARD

Monday, 12/22
Saturday, 12/20
Tuesday, 12/23
Wednesday, 12/24
Friday, 12/26
Saturday, 12/27
Monday, 12/29
Tuesday, 12/30
Wednesday, 12/31
Thursday, 1/1
Friday, 1/2
Saturday, 1/3
Sunday, 1/4
Monday, 1/12