20/14 of 2014: Gorman ready for his turn
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
Position: Defensive end
Class: Redshirt Sophomore
Size: 6-foot-3, 260 pounds
Ft. Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas
2013 season: Five tackles, two sacks
Why he makes the list: Florida's pass rush was abysmal in 2013. Only Tennessee was worse and Ole Miss as poor. While most fingers will point to Dante Fowler Jr. to change that, the Gators badly need a second threat off the edge. Cox needs to at least be in the conversation, as Jonathan Bullard has a different skillset.
Questions to be answered: How prominent will Cox's rotational role be? His extensive playing time during spring had everything to do with Bullard moving inside while Leon Orr nursed a fractured wrist. But the Gators do like Bullard inside, especially in nickel rush situations, which could lead to Cox and Fowler manning the ends on sure passing downs.
Best case scenario: Cox gives the Gators a solid edge rusher to match up with Fowler when they are in their most common 4-2-5 alignment on passing downs. This keeps Florida from having to get more creative with less-proven players like Alex McCalister or Matt Rolin - tinkering with a 3-3-5 - in these situations. Cox does not have to be a superstar, but simply a player edge blockers have to account for.
Best guess: With the Gators needs obvious up front and depth fairly thin, Cox will see the field much more than your average rotational lineman. He appears ready for the jump, though game action will obviously be the telling sign.
Size: 5-foot-10, 184 pounds
Miami (Fla.) Monsignor Pace
2013 season: 48 tackles (2.5 for loss), one interception
Why he makes the list: Florida has two safeties on its roster who have ever started a collegiate game, and one of them essentially spent the vast majority of the 2013 season benched after a bad outing against Miami. The other is Gorman, whose five starts in three years are hardly the sign of a weathered veteran. But he is still the elder statesman of a wide-open position and a player who finally has his turn to stand out.
Questions to be answered: Is he an SEC-caliber starting safety? Gorman has spent time watching behind multiple NFL safeties. Whether it was all their talent or his own limitations holding him back will soon be perfectly clear. If Gorman earns a starting job, there will no longer be any room to hide behind more established names.
Best case scenario: The Gators might have more talented options at safety than Gorman, but they likely need him to win a starting job if for no other reason than to be an on-field coach for a young secondary. Gorman proves he is reliable enough to hold that role, helps younger players develop and makes some plays in the meantime.
Best guess: Gorman is the closest thing to a safe bet at safety right now, due in large part to Keanu Neal missing a large part of spring to injury. He'll play a significant role and possibly even develop into a fringe NFL prospect.
TOP 14 MOST IMPORTANT NEWCOMERS (THOSE WHO HAVE YET TO MAKE A MAJOR CONTRIBUTION)
Position: Running back
Class: True Freshman
Size: 5-foot-9. 177 pounds
Deerfield Beach (Fla.) Deerfield Beach
2013 season: 141 carries for 1,339 yards (9.5 avg) with 20 touchdowns
Why he makes the list: Enrolling early got Powell nothing more than an extra semester of class and playbook study. A foot injury kept him out all spring but did not damper Will Muschamp's opinion of him. Muschamp believes Powell will make an impact in some way and see the field this fall. That could mean a number of things.
Questions to be answered: Where does Powell fit? Florida - at least by current standards - is fairly stacked at offensive skill positions. With other options in place, one has to wonder how many carries there will be to go around. Powell could be a special teams contributor, but return spots appear mostly gobbled up as well.
Best case scenario: Assuming it is worthwhile for Powell to play as a freshman, he could fit perfectly into a situational change-of-pace role coming out of the backfield as both a ball-carrier and pass-catcher. His presence gives Kurt Roper plenty of speed to put in space.
Best guess: This could easily be one of those statements that Muschamp doesn't carry through with once fall rolls around. Then again, Powell could easily impress during fall camp and leave Florida no choice but to include him in its plans.
Class: True Freshman
Size: 5-foot-11, 180 pounds
Miami (Fla.) Booker T. Washington
2013 season: The No. 69 rated prospect on the Rivals100
Why he makes the list: As strange as it sounds on a roster that includes Will Grier, Harris might be the freshman quarterback with the best chance of playing for the Gators this season. That's not necessarily because of an advantage in ability, but rather the presence of certain abilities that can more directly help Florida in 2014.
Questions to be answered: Will the Gators devise specific packages for Harris? The general thought process for those who expect Harris to play in 2014 is that Roper will draw up an array of packages special to Harris that Florida will be able to run to limit the running demands on Jeff Driskel, who badly needs to stay healthy the entire season. Arriving in the summer, Harris will have limited time to grow comfortable.
Best case scenario: Harris is used as an occasional read-option run threat, making plays while allowing Driskel to take less hits. The balance has to be knowing when to put Harris in and avoiding momentum-killing substitutions like the Gators often dealt with when trying to run the Trey Burton wildcat.
Best guess: Expect Harris to be given a situational role during his freshman season. There is little harm in utilizing his athleticism. It not only serves as an asset to the team from a contributor standpoint but also helps preserved the health of Driskel and a redshirt year for Grier.