Five on the Spot: Jean will need to step up

Five on the Spot

by Rafael De Los Santos
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Please Read: Welcome to the new-look Inside the Gators

Here are five Florida Gators football players who are in the spotlight, and on the spot, to perform this week against Vanderbilt.

Andy Jean

Last Saturday was one to forget for Florida as they lost the game, their ranking, and their secondary receiving weapon in Caleb Douglas.

The silver lining? True Freshman wide receiver Andy Jean is now set to have an increased role following Douglas’ lower-body injury that will sideline him for 4-6 weeks.

After not playing in the Gators’ season opener against Utah, Jean appeared in three of Florida’s next four games, recording a career-high 30 snaps against Kentucky in week five.

Head coach Billy Napier addressed the availability of his receiving room following recent injuries to Douglas and Eugene Wilson during his Monday press conference.

“Obviously his role will grow,” Napier said about Jean following Douglas’ injury. “We get [Marcus] Burke back. Burke was banged up last week. I think that could help, but Andy’s role will definitely grow here.”

Though Wilson should eventually return from the collarbone injury that has sidelined him since early in the Tennessee game, watching Jean in space is exciting for Gators fans as Florida gets glimpses into this offense’s long-term future thanks to its underclassman playmakers.

Kingsley Eguakun

Florida lost the game on both sides of the line of scrimmage in Lexington undermining Napier’s promise to make Florida one of the nation’s most physical programs when he took over nearly two years ago.

A season ago, Napier’s decision to bring O’Cyrus Torrence with him from Louisiana helped the Gators play physical football on the offensive line, even if Patrick Toney’s defense never lived up to their end of the bargain.

Since then, Florida’s 2023 O-line has lacked high-end talent with experience outside of tackle Austin Barber and All-SEC center Kingsley Eguakun, who has been battling a high ankle injury.

Last time out, the Wildcats’ front seven lived in the Gators backfield all game, recording nine tackles for loss and sacking Graham Mertz three times. Sophomore Deone Walker seemed to get the best of Eguakun as he finished the game with a sack and a tackle for loss, holding Florida to a mere 69 rush yards.

As great as it is to have two running backs as talented as Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne, if you can’t consistently block for them, you are playing with one arm tied behind your back.

T.J. Searcy & Kelby Collins

Whether it was Andy Jean’s career-high 30 snaps, TJ Searcy and Kelby Collins playing 17 apiece in the second half, when Florida was markedly better against the run, youth continues to be served in Gainesville.

Sure, it leads to youthful mistakes and missed tackles, but per participation rate, Florida is the youngest team in the SEC while remaining competitive on the field.

On one hand you have Collins who has emerged as a key rotational piece on the edge of Florida’s defense with double-digit defensive snaps in each of UF’s Weeks 2-5 matchups.

The true Freshman out of Gardendale, Alabama has recorded eight tackles, half a sack, seven run stops, eight quarterback pressures, and a batted pass so far. Per PFF, he’s one of Florida’s most effective edge rushers against both the run and pass through five games.

On the other hand, his fellow defensive line partner, T.J. Searcy.

Searcy has almost immediately claimed a spot in Florida’s defensive front with 15 snaps in Week 1 and no fewer than 16 in a game since. In Austin Armstrong’s defense, he’s primarily deployed as a run-stopping edge rusher, with seven rushing stops to his name, including three quarterback pressures.

The bottom line? The Gators are young, but Florida’s staff is building a foundation for the future by continuing to play their kids. If there’s one thing that should continue no matter the stage or atmosphere, or results, it’s that.

Jalen Kimber

Jalen Kimber’s message during the Monday press conference was clear: “We have to take ownership of what happened. It was unacceptable, and we’re going to put our heads down and keep working to move forward.”

And what else can be expected from one of the more relatively experienced players on Florida’s young defense. Who can blame Kimber for wanting to forget his performance at Kentucky quickly? Kimber was on the wrong end of every play Ray Davis made towards the right hash including a bulldozing of Kimber for Kentucky’s first touchdown.

While Kimber isn’t expected to be a dominant force in stopping the rush, the Georgia transfer will hope to give the Gators more of the cast-wearing interception-making Kimber they saw last year.

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