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June 23, 2014

20/14 of 2014: What can Brown do for Florida?

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With the 2014 off-season quickly dwindling away, Inside the Gators will count down the 20 veterans and 14 youngsters most critical to Florida's success during the 2014 season. Players are ranked in terms of their importance in the Gators' upcoming season, not pure talent, and ordered into two categories - established returning players and players who are no further along their sophomore seasons and haven't really contributed as of yet.

This 10-part series will give you an idea of who Florida simply can't live without come August.

TOP 20 MOST IMPORTANT RETURNING PLAYERS

No. 20
MACK BROWN
Position: Running back
Class: Redshirt Senior
Size: 5-foot-11, 209 pounds
Lithonia (Ga.) King
2013 season: 148 carries for 543 yards (3.67 ypc) and four touchdowns, 11 catches for 57 yards
  • Why he makes the list: Though he has generally been a constant string of on-field disappointment during his time at UF, Brown has shown promise in the last two years. With Kurt Roper's offense not quite dedicated to a feature back role and Matt Jones coming back from injury into more of a hybrid position, there's a real chance for Brown to be second in line for carries. That could mean a heavy work load on a team that will still be based heavily around the run.
  • Questions to be answered: Is he explosive enough for an offense that will pride itself on getting its best playmakers in space? Brown was productive at times in 2013, but no one confused him with being a home run threat. If Brown doesn't give Roper the edge he's looking for, he might settle for testing less experienced backs.
  • Best case scenario: Brown fully grasps the dire nature of his fifth college season after once being a sought-after high school prospect. He distances himself from a talented but young crop of backup running backs and becomes the logical No. 2 to Kelvin Tayor. Because the Gators plan to use a ton of two-back sets, this means lots of on-field time and a chance to finally make a name for himself.
  • Best guess: He'll be pushed (heavily) by a couple of first- and second-year players, but the staff likes him and will give him his carries unless he proves he doesn't deserve them. After years without a role, Brown has turned into something of a locker room favorite.

VOTE: HOW MANY YARDS FOR BROWN IN 2014?

No. 19
LATROY PITTMAN
Position: Wide Receiver
Class: Junior
Size: 6-foot, 208 pounds
Citra (Fla.) North Marion
2013 season: Two catches for 18 yards
  • Why he makes the list: Roper's best Duke offenses all had a reliable slot receiver capable of putting up big numbers despite not always having the most ideal attributes. Athletically, Pittman is an upgrade over those players but still has a nearly blank resume going into his third season as a Gator. During the spring, he seemed to finally find his niche and was rewarded with becoming a first-team receiver in the slot.
  • Questions to be answered: Is Pittman ready, both on and off the field, for a contributing role? A new coordinator brings new opportunities but doesn't necessarily wipe away all the problems of the past. Pittman dealt with a suspension and could barely find the field as a sophomore. A productive season would be a giant turnaround. Maybe unrealistic.
  • Best case scenario: Pittman looks like he did during the spring this fall and gives the Gators a solid third piece at wide receiver in the starting 11. He's a more polished receiver than former defensive back Valdez Showers, so Pittman's emergence would give Florida its best possible receiving corps.
  • Best guess: It's difficult to say with confidence that someone who has been mostly invisible for two years is going to suddenly become a key player. But Pittman is hardly the only player with an unproven past Florida will be counting on this fall. The Gators will count on Pittman in the passing game. It will be up to him to deserve it.

VOTE: HOW MANY CATCHES FOR PITTMAN IN 2014?

TOP 14 MOST IMPORTANT NEWCOMERS (THOSE WHO HAVE YET TO MAKE A MAJOR CONTRIBUTION)

No. 14
WILL GRIER
Position: Quarterback
Class: True Freshman
Size: 6-foot-2, 190 pounds
Davidson (N.C.) Davidson Day
2013 season: He completed 314-of-446 passes and in one game he threw for a national record 837 yards on his way to 4,989 passing yards and 77 touchdowns as a senior. Geier was a Rivals100 member and participated in the US Army All-American Bowl.
  • Why he makes the list: No one signed more autographs this spring than Grier, which is to say no one without a single college snap under his belt will draw more attention this fall than Grier. The Parade National Player of the Year is built for the spotlight but probably needs to spend his first year in Gainesville avoiding it.
  • Questions to be answered: Is he physically ready for college football? Grier is hardly the thinnest college quarterback to throw on shoulder pads, but his current size will bring durability questions whether they are warranted or not. The actual necessity of Grier is another question, whether or not he should be positioned as a possible contributor on this team in 2014.
  • Best case scenario: Jeff Driskel makes it through an entire season healthy for the first time in his college career, and Florida's backup quarterback situation never becomes more than sports talk radio fodder. There's no need to push Grier into the fire this early. Allow him to redshirt and develop.
  • Best guess: Grier is likely Florida's most all-around capable No. 2 quarterback, but he won't be forced into action unless Driskel somehow goes down with major season goals left on the table. The Gators have other options, but none of them have the combination of talent and spring experience that Grier currently has.

VOTE: WHAT IS GRIER'S ROLE IN 2014?

No. 13
ADAM LANE
Position: Running back
Class: Redshirt Freshman
Size: 5-foot-7, 222 pounds
Winter Haven (Fla.) Winter Haven
2013 season: Redshirted after requiring surgery.
  • Why he makes the list: There is a certain fascination with running backs of Lane's physique. Football fans have seen Maurice Jones-Drew and Doug Martin register big NFL seasons in recent years and immediately draw comparisons to someone like Lane. With carries open in the backfield, he'll have his chance to prove the comparisons relevant.
  • Questions to be answered: How complete of a back is Lane? The biggest concern in a spread offense that runs numerous plays out of fairly similar looks is the possibility of having a player who telegraphs the upcoming play when he is in. If Lane is physically unable to effectively block or catch passes, his snaps will go down in flames.
  • Best case scenario: Lane does enough as a secondary tailback to force Roper into more of a "committee" approach to carries behind Taylor. The Gators have the talent to create a unique stable at running back and balance out repetitions.
  • Best guess: This is the kind of player who is exciting to watch and one hopes Florida finds a way to utilize. There was a time during his recruitment where the Gators were as high on him as any running back in the state - during a time when Derrick Henry, Taylor, etc., were all on the table.

VOTE: HOW MANY YARDS DO YOU EXPECT LANE TO RUSH FOR IN 2014?



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