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June 25, 2014

20/14 of 2014: Time for Morrison to return to form

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20/14 OF 2014 COUNTDOWN: I | II

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. 16
MICHAEL TAYLOR
Position: Inside linebacker
Class: Redshirt Senior
Size: 6-foot, 227 pounds
Atlanta (Ga.) Westlake
2013 season: 62 tackles (3.5 for loss), one pass breakup
  • Why he makes the list: Florida's linebacker corps will not be discussed going into fall camp as much as the defensive line or the secondary. But that doesn't mean a certain trio of inside linebackers will not be in the spotlight. Taylor was the most consistent of an underachieving group in 2013 and will be trying to push to the forefront at his position.
  • Question to be answered: Is Taylor still a prevalent contributor if Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis step up? There is certainly a certain role that Taylor holds, and he should be commended for how he played in 2013, But there is also a sense that we've now seen his ceiling and younger players with better attributes can surpass him if they live up to their own potential. This is especially the case with the two players he shares a depth chart slot with.
  • Best case scenario: Taylor uses his expansive knowledge of Will Muschamp's defenses, does all the little things right and forces himself into a starring role at linebacker. His presence gives the Gators a much-needed veteran leader in the middle of the defense and helps stabilize the linebackers that had a rough go in 2013.
  • Best guess: Last season was something of an unlikely breakout year for Taylor, nearly doubling his tackles total from each of the previous two seasons. There might not be another player in the locker room teammates look up to more, and his character is certainly to make him at least a notable on-field personality for the Gators in 2014. While there are certain physical limitations, expect Taylor to once again have a prominent role.

VOTE: WHAT TYPE OF SEASON DO YOU EXPECT FROM TAYLOR IN 2014?

No. 15
ANTONIO MORRISON
Position: Inside linebacker
Class: Junior
Size: 6-foot-1, 222 pounds
Bolingbrook (Ill.) Bolingbrook
2013 season: 56 tackles (one for loss)
  • Why he makes the list: Morrison simply has to be better than he was one year ago if the Gators are going to be formidable at linebacker. His life was certainly made more difficult by lackluster defensive tackle play, but Morrison simply wasn't able to hold his own or play disciplined football in what had once been a hyped sophomore campaign. Florida needs him to play like the kind of impact contributor he showed flashes of becoming during his freshman season.
  • Question to be answered: Was 2013 an anomaly or the norm? There was a lot going on in Morrison's world coming off a summer in which he found himself in legal trouble twice. A clean slate is needed and that's what Morrison has gotten this offseason as he has tried to keep 2013 in the past. His fortune on the field needs to change drastically to get his UF career back on track.
  • Best case scenario: There is no denying what Morrison can do when he is on his game. He possesses the instincts, quickness and hard-hitting ability of an All-SEC linebacker. If we're drawing up the best possible season for Morrison, it'd be a pretty damn impressive one. Think a lot more than one tackle for loss and mass improvements in coverage when necessary.
  • Best guess: Morrison will not be Florida's best linebacker in 2014. That prediction is saved for a little later on in the countdown. But he has no choice but to improve with depth developing at linebacker beyond what it was in 2013. He'll be a quality asset but he has a long way to go to prove the hype he received immediately following his freshman year was appropriate.

VOTE: WHAT TYPE OF SEASON DO YOU EXPECT FROM MORRISON IN 2014?

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

No. 10
MATT ROLIN
Position: Outside linebacker
Class: Redshirt Freshman
Size: 6-foot-3, 223 pounds
Ashburn (Va.) Briar Woods
2013 season: Redshirted after requiring surgery on his knee
  • Why he makes the list: D.J. Durkin had plans in mind for Rolin before he went down with a torn ACL during the early part of fall camp. The Gators saw him as a possible asset specializing in outside pass rush from a hybrid standpoint in specific packages. His rehab went incredibly well - he was walking around without a brace or noticeable limp before season's end - and there's no reason to believe those plans will be scrapped this go-round.
  • Question to be answered: Will injuries continue to be an issue? Rolin's ACL tear was the second in his left knee in less than a year. There's no way around it: that's a major concern as his football career moves forward. Few players rebound from two ACL injuries and a third could have dramatic consequences. His spirits are high and his work ethic strong, but Rolin has serious red flags at the moment.
  • Best case scenario: Rolin appears to be full-speed as fall camp gets underway and he carries that momentum into the season where his presence allows the Gators to be more flexible at outside linebacker, a previously seldom-used position. Rolin's speed off the edge can be a serious weapon for a team desperate for help in pass-rush.
  • Best guess: It's cringe-worthy when a football player as young as Rolin goes through the kind of injuries he has had to deal with in the past 18 months. Coaches love his upside and there's reason to believe we'll see why if his speed and agility has not been hampered by two serious setbacks.

VOTE: WHAT IS ROLLIN'S ROLE IN 2014?

No. 9
MARCELL HARRIS
Position: Safety
Class: Redshirt Freshman
Size: 6-foot-1, 208 pounds
Orlando (Fla.) Dr. Phillips
2013 season: Redshirted after requiring surgery
  • Why he makes the list: When he first signed with the Gators, Harris appeared destined to have an opportunity to contribute as a freshman. But a lingering injury kept him off the practice fields for a majority of last fall and the transition was never possible. There was noticeable rust this spring, but Harris is still very much in the conversation of who is going to play safety for the Gators. Two new starters must be chosen.
  • Question to be answered: Is it all rust or has Harris lost something? Harris has seldom looked like the kind of player he was in high school since arriving at Florida. He had Will Muschamp stapled to his ear throughout spring and generally appeared lost too often. That's understandable for a period of time, but Harris has to pick it up come fall camp.
  • Best case scenario: Harris fights through fall camp, picks up a starting job at safety and becomes the big-body enforcer type who can roam the secondary and hit like a linebacker. There's another second-year name on the roster who will push him for that exact title, but Harris should have the ability to make the position battle interesting.
  • Best guess: Just because Harris isn't a favorite to land one of the two starting safety jobs at the moment doesn't mean he won't see extensive playing time this fall. The Gators have a tendency to heavily rotate on defense and that should play into Harris' favor assuming he doesn't make any glaring mistakes. Special teams is also an option.

VOTE: DO YOU EXPECT HARRIS' ROLE TO BE IN 2014?



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