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.
Article Continues Below
TOP 20 MOST IMPORTANT RETURNING PLAYERS
Position: Defensive end
Size: 6-foot-3, 270 pounds
Shelby (N.C.) Crest
2013 season: 33 tackles (2.5 for loss), 1.5 sacks
Why he makes the list: It's time for Bullard to move on from being the talented young defensive end with a world of upside. As Will Muschamp would say, potential is a bad word sometimes. If the word is still being used to describe Bullard in 2014, Florida's defensive line will be a shell of what it can be. He'll have a variety of roles, playing outside but also moving to tackle in nickel rush situations. After a spring of playing defensive tackle, he should be ready for anything.
Question to be answered: Can he take his game to a new, more explosive level? Bullard's role is not the same as someone like Dante Fowler Jr., so his production is not always made to be as sexy or exciting. But his numbers and big plays should also be better than they have been in his first two years. The Gators need Bullard to be an elite run defender and a factor in creating quarterback discomfort. He has not been as big of a factor as he should be to this point.
Best case scenario: Bullard emerges as a key piece in Florida' run defense and creates big plays in the backfield on a weekly basis. He is an All-SEC candidate and a perfect complement to pass-rush specialist Fowler. While playing inside, he takes full advantage of his athletic advantage over interior offensive linemen.
Best guess: I'm expecting a big year for Bullard, who needs just that if he is going to start being taken seriously as a major prospect at the next level. The attributes and work ethic are there. The more comfortable he becomes with his inside role, the more he will flourish in a defense that relies heavily on its nickel packages.
Position: Wide receiver
Class: Redshirt Senior
Size: 6-foot-2, 195 pounds
Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington
2013 season: 40 catches for 548 yards
Why he makes the list: He's the elder statesman at wide receiver, and once can assume an improved passing game would be at least partially reflected in his personal numbers at the end of the season. The good news is he has at least one catch in 28 consecutive games, a school record. The bad news? He hasn't scored a touchdown since Nov. 24, 2012 - a 13-game drought.
Question to be answered: Will he be Florida's leading receiver in 2014? Though he seems to be the No. 1 target, a lot can change throughout the course of a season. Tight end Jake McGee could be a target Jeff Driskel gravitates toward, and there is an army of young receivers ready to breakout behind Dunbar. The ability gap is closing, and Dunbar will have to improve if he is going to maintain his position in the pecking order.
Best case scenario: Dunbar becomes more of a finisher who can make plays with the ball in his hands. This is what it will take to gain confidence from the new offensive staff and assure his status as one of Driskel's go-to guys. He can improve on his yardage numbers from one season ago while also becoming tough enough to be more of a red zone threat.
Best guess: He'll be locked in a tight inner battle all year with McGee for Florida's leading receiver. That's a good problem to have as it makes the passing game less predictable and creates more options for Driskel.
TOP 14 MOST IMPORTANT NEWCOMERS (THOSE WHO HAVE YET TO MAKE A MAJOR CONTRIBUTION)
Position: Defensive tackle
Class: Redshirt Freshman
Size: 6-foot-3, 294 pounds
Port Saint Lucie (Fla.) West Centennial
2013 season: Rivals100 member as a high school senior
Why he makes the list: Florida is heading into fall camp only confident in two defensive tackles if you do not include the hybrid Bullard. That's simply not going to work. Darious Cummings and Leon Orr need series off and the only way to make that happen without losing significant production is to get depth ready. Bostwick seems to be the most obvious option, but a disappointing spring left coaches scratching their heads.
Question to be answered: Can he continue to develop? It seemed like Bostwick was always on the cusp of being used in 2013, but the trigger was never pulled to put him on the field. Still, coaches raved about his strength and readiness; which is why it was puzzling when Bostwick failed to impress during spring and didn't make noticeable strides from the year before.
Best case scenario: The spring was just a few bad weeks of practice for Bostwick, and he is able to reenergize the affection coaches once had for him come fall camp. Having to play a first-year tackle in meaningful snaps is a giant step for an SEC team, and getting Bostwick ready to fill in for Cummings and Orr seems like the best way around having to do that too often with Thomas Holley.
Best guess: Competition will be thick with Holley and Caleb Brantley, who has woefully underachieved to this point. But Bostwick should come out of camp as the Gators' third tackle and a key piece in the defensive front rotation. He doesn't have to be exciting or glamorous. He just needs to hold off-series together.