20/14 of 2014: Cummings manning the middle

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20/14 OF 2014 COUNTDOWN: I | II | III | IV | V | VI | VII
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.
Position: Center
Class: Redshirt Senior
Size: 6-foot-5, 294 pounds
Norcross (Ga.) Norcross
2013 season: Started 12 games at left guard and left tackle
Why he makes the list: Garcia was a rare bright spot on an otherwise putrid offensive line in 2013. His play at left guard was the most consistent Florida got, and his knowledge of the game made coaches comfortable with moving him to center to replace Jonotthan Harrison. How the transition goes is vital to the success of a new offense. Garcia has to be sharp to anchor new starting guards on each side of him.
Question to be answered: How will his snaps look when games matter? The decision was made when the Gators hired Kurt Roper to switch to an offense that runs primarily out of shotgun. It fits all of Florida's personnel better than the previous approach but also puts additional pressure on someone playing center for the first time. Snaps were an issue for Garcia throughout spring practice, though he appeared to be much-improved by the Orange and Blue Debut.
Best case scenario: Garcia continues to be a staple of consistency and production, now in the middle of Florida's offensive line. He works seamlessly with Jeff Driskel and becomes physically comfortable with the demands of a center. His role is not flowery or always recognizable, but Garcia is one of the major forces that keeps the offense running.
Best guess: There will be an initial learning curve on fall Saturdays that cannot be simulated in practices or scrimmages. Remember the early growing pains at the position for Mike Pouncey in 2010. The move will not be easy but it is one Garcia is more than capable of making.
Position: Defensive tackle
Class: Senior
Size: 6-foot-1, 294 pounds
Titusville (Fla.) Astronaut
2013 season: 15 tackles (three for loss), one sack, one forced fumble, one interception, one pass breakup
Why he makes the list: The jump from junior college to the SEC wasn't enough of a step-up to render Cummings useless in 2013. Tossed into an expanded role after Dominique Easley went down, Cummings showed flashes of what he is capable of doing. Most notably, he was quick off the line and developed a powerful first move. Now he'll have to improve on that, finish more plays and sustain all of it over the course of entire games with starter snaps.
Question to be answered: Can he become a finisher? Watch tape of Cummings' 2013 season and you'll see a lot of almost-great plays. His take-off bordered on special, and Cummings often found himself in position to make an impact. Closing out the effort was far less certain. There are big shoes to fill for a playmaking interior lineman in Gainesville. Cummings has the skill to fill that role bust has to improve his instincts and pursuit.
Best case scenario: Cummings has the ability to stand out as Florida's best defensive tackle in 2014. He is not Easley, but he does have some similar traits and the potential to blow up plays in the same mind-numbing way Easley did from time to time. Like Easley, Cummings' success may not come in his numbers as much as what his disruption does for other players; most notably, Florida's edge rushers.
Best guess: He'll be Florida's most disruptive interior lineman in 2014. The level at which he does it may not be first-round caliber as those before him, but anyone expecting an Easley or Sharrif Floyd to come around every year is going to go through life extremely disappointed. Cummings will be one of the SEC's more pleasant surprises this fall.
Position: Cornerback
Class: Freshman
Size: 6-foot, 193 pounds
Washington (D.C.) Friendship Collegiate Academy
2013 season: Five-star on
Why he makes the list: Florida badly needs to figure out who its starting outside corner opposite Vernon Hargreaves III will be. Heading into spring, Tabor - a mega prospect coming out of high school - seemed like a given to fill that role. He's still certainly in the mix, but his position is less definitive thanks to a player we'll discuss tomorrow. Still, Tabor is a special talent who will no doubt be a big player with the Gators this season and in the future.
Question to be answered: Is he a starter? Because of Florida's reliance on nickel and dime packages, Tabor will play in his first year. But there is a big difference between being a rotational role player and getting the nod to start on Saturdays and line up across from the best wide receivers the SEC has to offer.
Best case scenario: Tabor takes part in a healthy competition against a myriad of other freshmen for the second starting cornerback job. He comes out on top and gives the Gators a lengthy cornerback with top-tier athleticism and elite range. Because Hargreaves has one side of the field locked down, Tabor ends up being the UF cornerback with big numbers.
Best guess: The answer to a cornerback opposite Hargreaves could end up being more open than direct. There are a number of qualified candidates for the job but each lacks experience, given Brian Poole being a better fit inside at nickel. This could mean Tabor finds himself in a rotation based on coverage responsibilities and the game at hand.