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With the start of the 2013 football season just two weeks away, here is a look at five freshmen who could start the season opener against Toledo.
Class: 2012 (redshirt)
When Josh Evans was asked in January who to keep an eye out for at safety in 2013, the first player he mentioned was Maye, who impressed his teammates and the coaching staff during practice in preparation for the Sugar Bowl last December. After missing the entire 2012 season while recovering from meniscus surgery, Maye entered spring practice as a back-up at safety but pulled even with junior Jabari Gorman by the time the spring game rolled around. By all accounts, Maye is the man being pegged to line up next to redshirt junior Cody Riggs, who has all but been named a starter at safety.
"He's really come on and done some things for us. Been very pleased with his progress," head coach Will Muschamp said last week. "He's been a guy that's been very productive and playing athletically and communication and doing a nice job." Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin concurred on Wednesday. "Marcus Maye has had an unbelievable camp. That guy has the talent. He's as good as anyone around," Durkin said. "His thing, like any other guy, was learning the defense and all that. He's proven he's done that. The strides he's made from the spring to now have been great. He's doing a great job for us."
Position: Wide receiver
With the media and fans in attendance, Robinson flashed his talent in a big way during Thursday's open practice, proving that the Gators will be hard pressed not to put him in the starting lineup when the season begins on Aug. 31. Robinson's combination of size, speed, natural talent and playmaking ability cannot be understated, even if he has only shown it on the practice fields thus far. Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel needs all the help he can get on offense, and Robinson is the game-breaking receiver that Florida fans have been waiting for over the last few seasons. Simply put, he may very well be UF's best offensive option.
"To be blunt, Robinson was the best and most dangerous wide receiver on the field at all times," ITG's own Bryan Holt opined after watching Thursday's scrimmage. "Robinson had no trouble getting open throughout the night and became Driskel's go-to target when pressure picked up later in 11-on-11 drills. He was able to match the physicality of Florida's press-happy cornerbacks and use his speed against them."
Class: 2012 (redshirt)
The Gators are still looking for a starting kicker and while senior Brad Phillips undoubtedly has the seniority, Hardin appears to be gaining traction as Florida's best all-around option at the position. He was the primary kicker during open practices on Thursday and Saturday, appeared to be more accurate and certainly has the stronger leg (both on kickoffs and field goals).
Hardin, unanimously considered the best kicking prospect in the country in 2011, has not missed a field goal inside 50 yards (during a game, of course) since at least 2010.
Position: Kick returner
Since the day redshirt senior WR Andre Debose's ACL tear was announced, I have contended that it would be a mistake for the Gators to throw junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy - who is already playing his home position, wideout and gunner on special teams - out on the field for even more plays, especially some that are arguably the most dangerous in the game of football. The same goes for redshirt junior WR Quinton Dunbar, UF's most reliable veteran pass catcher. So who exactly is left to return kicks for Florida now that Debose is out of commission for the season?
Enter Taylor and Thompson, a pair of young, athletic playmakers that could help mitigate the loss of Debose if the coaching staff feels that either or both deserve the opportunity. Taylor, a shifty and hard-to-tackle running back, will see some carries as a true freshman though how many depends on the health of sophomore Matt Jones and production of redshirt junior Mack Brown. Thompson is unlikely to play much receiver as a true freshman but could certainly help the Gators by using his sub-4.4 speed to blow past would-be tacklers on special teams.
With two weeks to go until the season opens, Taylor and Thompson are competing with a couple other players for the starting role and either could go out and win the job with some impressive practices.
Hargreaves is extremely talented, but he's not about to supplant Purifoy or junior CB Marcus Roberson for one of the top two starting jobs (especially as he is dealing with a shoulder ailment at the moment that may keep him out of action for about a week). However, by the time the season rolls around, Florida may very well start its opener with five or six defensive backs on the field against Toledo's high-powered offense, and Hargreaves could most certainly be in as a nickel or dime back. Should the Gators start with the ball first and put Purifoy out on offense, Hargreaves may even play the first series at cornerback across from Roberson.
While these are technicalities, the point is that Hargreaves is one of the most talented freshmen on Florida's roster and will undoubtedly see plenty of playing time in 2013. He's in line to become the next great Gators cornerback and should certainly turn some heads during his first year in Orange and Blue.
"Vernon is doing a great job. He'll be playing for us this year. You'll be seeing him out there," Durkin said last week. "I can't say he's a 'pleasant surprise' because we're not surprised. That was our plan on him going in. He has lived up to the expectations of him coming in here. We think he's a phenomenal player."