20/14 of 2014: Will potential turn into production
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 tackle
Class: Redshirt Senior
Size: 6-foot-5, 305 pounds
New Port Richey (Fla.) Gulf
2013 season: 21 tackles (4.5 for loss), 2.5 sacks, two fumble recoveries
Why he makes the list: Interior disruption is critical if Florida's defense is going to live up to the standard it has created for itself under Will Muschamp. Pass rush has to improve, and Dante Fowler Jr. can't do it on his own. Florida needs consistent play out of Orr, who has never proven to be much more than a small role player in his UF career. There's nowhere for him to hide in the shadows of NFL prospects this go-round.
Question to be answered: Have we already seen the best Orr has to offer? That's not a sunny question when his best season came during a 21-tackle outing in eight starts during the 2013 season. But it is realistic. We generally know what to expect from a player by his fifth year, and Orr has given little reason to believe he is fully ready for the expanded role he will now find himself in.
Best case scenario: Orr proves he is ready for the opportunity and gives the Gators a big, powerful starter inside who can play on any down. Alongside Darious Cummings, this makes for a big-time duo that only needs the backing of one or two rotational pieces to be one of the more fierce defensive tackle groups in the division.
Best guess: He'll benefit from the disruptive play of Cummings, but it would take a lot of blind faith to say Orr will be the kind of defensive tackle who transforms Florida's defensive front in 2014. The fact Florida's defense could change for better or worse depending on his production makes him an incredibly important piece. It's just difficult to say he'll live up to the billing.
Position: Left tackle
Size: 6-foot-5, 290 pounds
Union (N.C) Mallard Creek
2013 season: Started six games at left tackle, missed remainder of season with an MCL injury
Why he makes the list: If Jeff Driskel is going to embrace Kurt Roper's offense the way the Gators hope he does, he is going to need to feel comfortable with his offensive line. Florida's tackles have been a punching bag in recent years. In charge of Driskel's blind side, Humphries has to be in control of some of the best pass rushers the SEC has to offer. If he is not, it could be another long season for the Gators.
Question to be answered: Can he be the kind of tackle Florida believed it recruited in 2012? There was exactly one high school prospect ranked higher than Humphries in the 2012 signing class and he was a wide receiver. Needless to say, expectations were grand and this is the season in which coaches should see the returns on those expectations.
Best case scenario: Humphries is the freak athlete stalwart left tackle everyone expected him to become when he was signed. Driskel never has to worry about his blind side and the rest of the offensive line remaining healthy allows roles to remain the same and the Gators to not have to test the shaky depth at every position.
Best guess: This is a make-or-break year for Humphries, as many will write him off as the second bust coming of Xavier Nixon if he does not excel. Expect him to understand that and take full advantage of his opportunity. The biggest concern is his health and whether or not the 2013 injury was a fluke or a sign of the added weight he has put on at UF affecting him.
TOP 14 MOST IMPORTANT NEWCOMERS (THOSE WHO HAVE YET TO MAKE A MAJOR CONTRIBUTION)
Size: 5-foot-11, 194 pounds
Cross City (Fla.) Dixie County
2013 season: Four-star on Rivals.com
Why he makes the list: The hard-nosed local prospect looked the part from the time he showed up on the first day of spring camp. He played the part too, which is why he had a better spring than the more-hyped Jalen Tabor and fought his way into consideration for the starting cornerback job opposite Vernon Hargreaves III. It seems clear a freshman will start at the position, and Dawson seems as good a bet as any.
Question to be answered: Will the spring success transition to the fall? Dawson would hardly be the first freshman to rile everyone up during spring drills and then put on a more realistic display for his experience level during fall camp and game action. The competition will not slow down. It will only increase, and Dawson has to evolve with it.
Best case scenario: Dawson puts on a show reminiscent of what he was able to do throughout spring camp except with an obvious expanded knowledge of the defense and his full responsibilities. There is a serious chance the corner who starts opposite Hargreaves will get an opportunity to put up serious numbers given most teams' desires to stay away from the Gators' best player.
Best guess: This was discussed in the Tabor entry, but there is a strong chance the spot opposite Hargreaves won't be as much of a clear starter as it will be a rotation of talented, young defensive backs based on the situation at hand. The Gators' nickel and dime packages will give all these corners more than enough opportunities to see the field and make an early name for themselves.