FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
With just a few days remaining until fall practice begins, Inside the Gators gives you a look at what to watch for over the next month.
In this Take Five, we’ll break down five players who could emerge, five players who could sink or swim and five freshmen to watch.
Five Players Who Could Emerge
1. Andrew Chatfield
With the younger David Reese expected to miss the season with an Achilles injury he suffered in offseason workouts, Chatfield suddenly finds himself in the mix for playing time at ‘Buck’ behind Jonathan Greenard. He’s a bit undersized at just 6-foot, but he was a top-300 overall recruit in 2018. He played in just two games last season and redshirted. With a year in the Gators’ strength and conditioning program, he’s up to 245 pounds and should be prepared for the physical grind of the SEC. He could earn a big role for himself as a situational pass-rusher.
2. Kyle Pitts
Florida is loaded at wide receiver, but 6-foot-6, 246-pound targets don’t grow on trees. Pitts played tight end as a freshman last season and caught just three passes for 73 yards and a score. To make better use of his pass-catching potential, they moved him to wide receiver in the spring. His combination of size and speed makes him a potential matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Put a linebacker or safety on him, and he’ll run past him. Put a corner on him, and he’ll out-muscle him. If he can refine his route-running and catching in practice, he could become a valuable member of UF’s offense.
3. John Huggins
Huggins impressed in the spring as Trey Dean’s backup at ‘Star.’ He returned an interception 80 yards for a score in the spring game, and he’s a hard-hitter who seeks out contact. His blend of coverage skills and physicality makes him an ideal nickelback. With the third corner and safety spots still up for grabs, Dean could get moved around and leave Huggins with an opportunity to earn a starting job. If he continues to play well in practice, he might leave defensive coordinator Todd Grantham with no choice but to play him.
4. Zachary Carter
Carter was a top-150 recruit in 2017, and he’ll get the opportunity to prove the experts right this season. He redshirted in 2017 and totaled just eight tackles in 2018. He’s transformed his body under Nick Savage, and he just looks like a monster SEC defensive lineman now. He’s the top backup to Jabari Zuniga at the strong-side end position, but Grantham loves to rotate, so he’ll see plenty of action. He was unblockable at times during the spring. If that continues in fall practices, he’ll set himself up for a potential breakout season.
5. Kadarius Toney
As soon as the Gators’ roster was released and fans saw that Toney has been awarded the jersey No. 1, speculation became rampant on social media. Dan Mullen had said previously that you have to be a special player, a “baller,” to don the No. 1 in the orange and blue. So, Mullen must have huge expectations for him, right? Toney’s always been a dynamic athlete, as evidenced by his 10.9 yards-per-touch in 2018. But, his deficiencies as a route-runner and pass-catcher have limited his role in the offense. He seemed to make some strides in these areas late in 2018 and in the spring. Might his being awarded the No. 1 jersey be a sign that Mullen feels he’s progressed enough to where they can feature him more in the offense? If he continues to run crisper routes and catch the ball consistently in fall camp, he could become one of the SEC’s biggest rising stars.
Sink or Swim
1. Kemore Gamble
By no means is it to time to give up on the former top-300 recruit, but the tight end position will be deeper and more talented this season than it’s been in maybe a decade. Gamble made just seven catches for 58 yards last year as the third-string tight end. While he enters the fall as the presumed starter at the position, that could change quickly. Lucas Krull is a freakish athlete, and he’s only going to continue to get better as he re-acclimates himself to the sport after a junior college baseball career. Keon Zipperer was the No. 2-ranked tight end prospect in the country, and Pitts could still get some snaps at the position as well. This has the feeling of a make-or-break year for Gamble. He’ll either become a big weapon for the Gators over the middle of the field, or he’ll be passed up by Krull and/or Zipperer.
2. Donovan Stiner
As mentioned in the position battles section, Stiner started 12 games in 2018 but was inconsistent. He’s in a three-way battle with Shawn Davis and Jeawon Taylor for the starting spot next to Stewart. Stiner had a long leash last season because Davis and Taylor were both working their way back from injuries. Entering this fall, both of them are fully healthy and ready to go. If Stiner doesn’t improve his consistency, he’ll find himself playing primarily on special teams.
3. Tyrie Cleveland
If Trevon Grimes, Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney break out as expected this season, somebody’s playing time is going to have to suffer, and Cleveland is the best candidate. He led the Gators in receiving yards in 2017 but was a non-factor for most of last season. He’s tall and fast, but he struggles to run crisp routes and create separation against man coverage. If he doesn’t step it up in fall camp, he could be passed up by the brigade of young receivers.
4. Jeremiah Moon
It’s now or never for Moon. Every year, it seems like the storyline is the same with him: “this is finally the year that he breaks out and has a huge year because of x, y and z.” For whatever reasons, it hasn’t worked out for him yet. Moon has the physical attributes that you look for in an edge rusher: he’s 6-foot-6, 232 pounds and has a quick burst. But, they haven’t translated from the practice field to games. Now a redshirt junior, this is his best chance yet to realize his potential. All of the other reserve edge rushers behind Johnathan Greenard are young and inexperienced. If he doesn’t step up and claim the backup role in fall camp, the Gators might move on from him for good.
5. C.J. McWilliams
Despite the Gators’ best efforts to create more depth at cornerback this offseason, McWilliams enters the fall still in the mix to receive significant playing time. His top competitor for the No. 3 corner job, Kaiir Elam, just arrived on campus a couple of months ago. McWilliams has a major opportunity to earn this job and change fans’ perceptions of him. Or, he could get passed up by Elam, Jaydon Hill and Chester Kimbrough and find his Gator career all but over.
Five Non-Early-Enrollee Freshmen to Watch
1. Kaiir Elam
Elam was a top-50 prospect and the highest-rated member of the Gators’ 2019 class still on the team following Steele’s departure. He’s a long, physical corner with good speed and athleticism. He’ll have a chance to win the No. 3 corner job in fall camp and set himself up for a big freshman season.
2. Khris Bogle
When Bogle announced his commitment to Alabama at the All-American Bowl in January, the Gators were thought to be a distant third, behind Miami. One month later, he was a Gator. As the most surprising member of the freshmen class, he’ll look to surprise everyone and contribute immediately. He needs to put on some weight – he’s listed at just 209 pounds – before he’ll be ready to be an every-down defensive end/outside linebacker. But, Todd Grantham loves rushing the passer, so perhaps Bogle’s length and speed will allow him to see some action as a situational pass-rusher. It’ll be interesting to see how much stronger he looks after going through the summer strength and conditioning program and how his athleticism translates against the backup offensive line.
3. Ty’Ron Hopper
Other than Elam, Hopper might have the best chance to contribute early among the freshmen. The Gators are perilously thin at linebacker, so, even though he didn’t arrive until Summer B, he should still get an opportunity to contribute right away and not just on special teams. He started his high school career at cornerback, so his speed and coverage skills are a much-welcomed addition to a linebacking corps that has lacked both in recent years. The one knock on him in high school was that he was underweight and would struggle to stop the run early in his college career. His 247Sports profile listed him at 197 pounds, but UF’s roster lists him at 215 pounds. So, it appears that he’s worked hard in the weight room over the summer. He was viewed as more of a long-term project type of player, so it’ll be interesting to see if he looks game-ready this season.
4. Jaelin Humphries
The Gators need depth at defensive tackle, and, with TJ Slaton and Elijah Conliffe struggling at times last year. Humphries was the only defensive tackle Florida signed, so might he get a chance to earn a reserve role? At 6-foot-4, 314 pounds, he has the size to play right away. He suffered a knee injury in his senior year of high school, so that’ll be something to watch. If he’s healthy and plays with a high motor, he could be a factor this season.
5. Ja’Markis Weston
Weston was one of UF’s lowest-rated signees, but Mullen sounded very giddy when speaking about him on signing day. It appears that Mullen thinks he got a steal in the 6-foot-3, 212-pound receiver. With the Gators’ depth at the position, he’ll likely only play in a few games this season and redshirt, but it’ll be interesting to watch him practice. Will he show us signs of why Mullen was so high on him, or will he look like an average three-star recruit?