With the 2010 season fast approaching, GatorBait.net will stop to take a look at the 20 returning players and the 10 incoming freshmen most important to Florida's
GBN will count down two returning players and one incoming freshman in each part of this 10-part series, finishing with the most important players for Florida in the 2010 season.
TOP 20/10 FOR 2010
TOP 20 MOST IMPORTANT RETURNING PLAYERS
Position: Defensive Tackle
Class: Redshirt Junior
Size: 6-3, 295
Apopka (Fla.) Jones
2009 season: 29 tackles & 1.5 sacks in 12 games (4 starts)
Why he makes the list: Florida has some questions on the defensive line, particularly when it comes to generating a pass rush. After losing two multi-year starters at defensive end, the Gators will have to find a new way to get to the quarterback. Howard offers Florida one of its best pass-rushing options on the interior of the defensive line in the past few years.
Questions to be answered: It's still not a certainty that Howard will line up as the starter at defensive tackle. With both Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders coming back from injuries, Howard could have to fight for a starting role. Can he continue to develop as a force inside? Can he win the starting job and give Florida its first legitimate pass rusher at defensive tackle since Marcus Thomas, Joe Cohen and Ray McDonald?
Best case scenario: Howard continues to develop at his current rate and becomes one of the biggest surprises in the SEC. He has the size and explosiveness to be an extremely disruptive defensive tackle. He takes advantage of that skill set and makes life easier for defensive line coach Dan McCarney by occupying double-teams on the interior of the defensive line while also providing a consistent pass rush.
Best guess: Howard will win the starting job and continue to impress as a guy who can get through opposing linemen. He will lead the Gators in sacks early in the season and quickly become the focus for opposing offensive lines. That will free up some of Florida's other players to get to the passer on obvious passing downs.
Position: Offensive Guard
Class: Redshirt Senior
Size: 6-5, 360
Durham (N.C.) Southern
2009 season: 14 starts
Why he makes the list: Johnson is one of the most experienced offensive linemen on a unit that promises to be among the best in the country. He has assumed a vocal leadership role on the offense and will help to dictate the tempo and attitude of the game along with center Mike Pouncey.
Questions to be answered: After missing some time in the spring with an injury, Johnson has to get healthy again. He projects as the starter at left guard. He plays better at the guard position than the tackle spot, so he should remain in that role throughout the year. Can Johnson continue to provide great run blocking, while also improving his pass protection?
Best case scenario: Johnson continues to improve his footwork in the offseason and becomes a star along the offensive line. He sets himself up to be a high NFL Draft pick after a great season. The Gators' offensive line proves to be one of the best in the nation and Johnson is a big reason why.
Best guess: The Gators will continue to roll on the offensive side of the ball courtesy of a great offensive line. Johnson and Pouncey become a force on the interior of the offensive line, opening holes for an interior running game to replace the loss of quarterback Tim Tebow.
TOP 10 MOST IMPORTANT INCOMING RECRUITS
Class: True Freshman
Size: 6-0, 189
2009 season: 50 tackles, 2 FR, 2 blocked kicks & 1 INT as a senior
Why he makes the list: After losing cornerback Joe Haden to the NFL, the Gators must replace one of the best lock-down corners in the country. Shaw certainly fits the bill physically, as he offers Florida a guy who can match up with some of the biggest receivers on the field, while not giving up much in terms of speed.
Questions to be answered: While Shaw was impressive during the spring, his body type would seem to indicate he might be better off at safety. With Florida's needs at cornerback, can Shaw be good enough there to merit early playing time? Will he continue to improve over the fall and play like he did during the spring?
Best case scenario: Shaw will build on his great performance in the spring game and challenge Jeremy Brown for the starting job at cornerback. The two battle for the starting job early in the season and Shaw eventually wins it due to his size and Brown's rustiness. Shaw then goes on to have a great season as the latest true freshman starter for Florida at cornerback.
Best guess: He won't win the starting job, but he'll certainly make a case for playing time. He will become an impact player on special teams early in the season and be ready to step in at cornerback should Jeremy Brown go down with an injury. He will also see time in some of Florida's nickel and dime packages and will rack up some impressive stats in games against inferior opponents.