20/19 for 2019: Gamble takes over at tight end

Jun 13, 2019 | 0 comments


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The summer is flying by and the Florida Gators 2019 campaign is approaching quickly. As the players and coaches prepare for their August 24 kickoff against Miami, here at Inside the Gators we take stock of the roster to break down our list of “20/19” players for the 2019 season.

It will go like this: the 20 most valuable returning players with considerable game experience and then the 19 most valuable players who have yet to appear for the Gators and/or make a significant contribution in game play to this point. These are not necessarily the best players but the most valuable in relation to the team this season.

This is a 10 part series that will take a look at two returning players along with one to two upcoming players each time. Today we dive in with players 13-14 from our Top 20 list and players 12-13 from our Top 19 list.

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20 MOST VALUABLE RETURNING CONTRIBUTORS

No. 14-KADARIUS TONEY

  • Position: Wide Receiver
  • Class: Junior
  • Size: 5-foot-11, 190 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Blount High (Mobile, Ala.)

Why He’s Important: The lightning-quick Toney is a weapon all over the field for the Gators. He’ll line up in the slot, out wide, at quarterback and maybe even in the backfield. He’s scored touchdowns rushing, receiving and passing in his first two seasons. He was Florida’s primary kick returner in 2018 and averaged 22.2 yards on six returns. He’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball from anywhere on the field. His tendency to zig and zag across the field rather than follow the design of plays frustrates coach Dan Mullen sometimes but his style is very difficult for defensive coordinators to prepare for. He averaged 10.9 yards on his 46 combined rushing attempts and receptions in 2018. Gators fans have wanted him to be more involved in the offense since the day he arrived in Gainesville, and it looks like they may get their wish in 2019.

Questions to be Answered: Most of Toney’s touches last season came in a special package that consisted of screens and designed runs as the wildcat quarterback. While he was effective in this role, Mullen would like to see him become a more polished wide receiver so they can get him the ball in their normal offense instead of basically telling the defense what they’re going to do before the ball is snapped. When he arrived at Florida in 2017, Toney, a high school quarterback, struggled with imprecise route-running and drops. He appeared to make strides in these areas in the last few games of 2018 and in spring practices. How much progress remains to be seen. Will Toney be more of a threat in the normal flow of the Gators’ offense in 2019, and what does that mean for his production? Also, despite his speed and agility, he’s only scored three touchdowns in two seasons. Will he find pay dirt more often this season?

Projection: Toney will be much more involved in the offense as a wide receiver and not just as a gimmick. Don’t be surprised if his catch total jumps from 25 to about 35 or 40. Mullen will continue to use Toney as a wildcat quarterback, and he’ll almost certainly attempt at least one pass. He combined for 500 rushing and receiving yards in 2018. With better route-running and catching, he can raise that total to over 700 yards this season.

No. 13-KEMORE GAMBLE

  • Position: Tight End
  • Class: Redshirt Sophomore
  • Size: 6-foot-3, 246 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Miami Southridge High (Miami, Fla.)

Why He’s Important: Gamble, the heir apparent at tight end, could allow Dan Mullen to dive even deeper into his playbook this season. Last season’s starter, C’yontai Lewis, was an effective run blocker, but he made just nine catches for 128 yards. Mullen prefers big, athletic tight ends that can split out wide on occasion and make plays as a primary target and not just as a check-down. Gamble fits this mold. Despite limited playing time in 2018, he almost matched Lewis’ production with seven receptions for 58 yards. He was a four-star prospect in the Class of 2017, and he’s put on nearly 30 pounds from his listed weight in high school. He’s had two years to develop, and this year could finally be his time to shine. Defenses are certain to put a lot of emphasis on UF’s plethora of weapons outside, so the middle of the field could have plenty of green grass for Gamble.

Questions to be Answered: Blocking was the biggest question surrounding Gamble when he arrived at Florida, and it remains so entering this fall. While he’s put on weight in his two years in the program, his only significant playing time has come against teams like Charleston Southern and Idaho. There’s only so much you can do in practice to become a better blocker with all of the limitations on physicality. While Lewis wasn’t much of a threat in the passing game, he was a huge force in the running game because of his blocking ability. It’s important that Gamble become at least a serviceable blocker, especially if the rebuilt offensive line continues to struggle. Will Gamble pick up some of the slack in the blocking department following Lewis’ departure?

Projection: Gamble will be a consistent threat in the passing game. Don’t expect monster numbers, but 30 catches figures to be an attainable benchmark. He’ll mostly hold his own as a blocker, although there will likely be a couple of noticeable whiffs. He could be a candidate to have a huge season in 2020.

19 MOST VALUABLE WHO HAVE YET TO CONTRIBUTE SIGNIFICANTLY

 

No. 13-ZACHARY CARTER

  • Position: Defensive End
  • Class: Redshirt Sophomore
  • Size: 6-foot-4, 277 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Hillsborough High (Tampa, Fla.)

Why He’s Important: Jabari Zuniga is firmly entrenched as the starter at strong-side defensive end, but the Gators are looking for depth. Carter enters the fall as the top reserve, and his combination of size and athleticism should allow him to defend either the run or the pass. He appeared in eight games in 2018 and made eight tackles, one tackle-for-loss, two pass breakups, a quarterback hurry and a blocked field goal. His role should increase drastically in 2019, as defensive coordinator Todd Grantham likes to rotate players to keep everyone fresh. Even without taking injuries into consideration, Carter’s probably looking at about 20-25 snaps per game. He needs to play well and provide quality depth.

Questions to be Answered: Carter was a top-150 recruit, but he redshirted in 2017 and saw only mop-up duty in 2018. Is he ready to take on an important role in 2019? He seems to have all of the physical qualities to be a top-notch defensive end, but without significant playing time, who knows what the Gators will get out of him? As one of the older backup ends on the team, what kind of role will he have? Will they use him as strictly a strong-side defensive end, or do they move pieces around and put him on the field in a pass-rushing package?

Projection: Carter’s biggest contributions likely won’t show up in the stat sheet. He’ll get a couple of sacks and five or so tackles for losses, but his biggest value will be the rest he provides to Zuniga. He’ll play well enough that the coaches won’t have to play Zuniga 50 snaps a game. This will pay dividends in the second half of games and the back half of the season. It could be the difference between Zuniga recording eight sacks and double figures. Carter could be an unsung hero for Florida’s defense this season.

No. 12-JOHN HUGGINS

  • Position: Defensive Back
  • Class: Sophomore
  • Size: 6-foot-1, 206 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Mainland High (Deltona, Fla.)

Why He’s Important: With Chauncey Gardner-Johnson off to the New Orleans Saints, the Gators are searching for a new starter at ‘star,’ their version of a nickelback. Sophomore Trey Dean was moved to star in the spring, and he appears to have locked up the job. However, Huggins stood out throughout the spring and will provide key depth in the fall. He returned an interception 80 yards for a score in the spring game. He’ll provide Todd Grantham with options. Cornerback Chris Steele transferred in May, and Brian Edwards’ status is uncertain following his arrest in May for misdemeanor battery. Should something happen to one of UF’s starting corners, Grantham could opt to move Dean back outside, where he played as a freshman, and insert Huggins at star. Or, Dean could be moved to safety if needed. Huggins’ emergence frees up Grantham to move Dean around to get his best five or six defensive backs on the field.

Questions to be Answered: Huggins came to Florida as a safety and played there in eight games in 2018. With only 15 spring practices at his new position under his belt, is Huggins ready to perform under the bright lights? Florida struggled to cover athletic tight ends in 2018, particularly against Georgia. UF’s linebackers were too slow to stay with them, and its safeties weren’t physical enough and got overpowered. Could Huggins be the solution to this problem? Will he continue to impress at the start of fall camp, or will he regress as he continues to adjust to a new position?

Projection: Huggins will be the backup to Dean at star, and he’ll be substituted in when the Gators go into their dime package. Odds are, somebody’s going to get injured in the secondary and have to miss a game, which means Huggins will start a couple of games. He’ll pick off a couple of passes against inferior opponents and set himself up for a potential starting role in 2020.

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