Florida Football Preseason Roundtable

Aug 30, 2021 | 0 comments


Finally, after months of talk and speculation about what the 2021 Gator football team will look like this season, it's time for the team to put on the pads and hit the field.

We thought we'd take one last stab at some of the top questions facing Florida before they begin the season this Saturday with another edition of The Round Table.

Inside the Gators’ staffers, Topher Adams and Mark Wheeler are joined by an Anonymous Florida Football player to take a look at some of the issues surrounding the team as they answer four burning questions heading into the 2021 season and offer their predictions for the final regular-season record.

FOUR BURNING QUESTIONS

1) In your opinion, heading into the season, which area of the team do you feel best about and which concerns you the most?


Adams: The front seven looks like one of the best in the SEC. Getting Zach Carter back gives the Gators an All-SEC, All-American level end to lead an otherwise talented group. Gervon Dexter is a freak and will hopefully take the next step this season, Brenton Cox and Khris Bogle are great edge rushers, and Ventrell Miller is back to lead a strong linebacker core. It’s a young group in a lot of spots but getting graduate transfers Daquon Newkirk and Antonio Valentino will give the defensive line some needed experience. 

On the flip side, the secondary is still the most obvious hole on the team. It was bad last year, multiple starters are gone, and Jaydon Hill is now out for the season. Kaiir Elam can lock up any receiver in the country, but outside of him, there’s a lot of question marks. 

Anonymous Player: I feel the strongest about our defensive line. Adding two veteran transfers along with the depth we already have, the defensive line should have a big season. There's not a whole lot of areas that concern me at all much less the most because I am confident in our abilities. I will say I am interested to see how the receivers and new quarterbacks sync up against live competition when the heat is on. Will our offensive line give them enough time or will Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson be running for their lives?  They had some times in practice that they looked like they could dominate, but they had some rough times too. If they are consistent, I really don’t see a hole on the team.

Wheeler: Entering the season Florida’s running back room is easily the most talented it has been in the Dan Mullen era and one of the best groups in college football. Maybe too good. There are five capable backs, but only one ball. However, if anyone can take advantage of an abundance of offensive weapons, I have faith that it is Mullen.  There are several areas of concern such as the secondary and finding Mr. Dependable at receiver. But the biggest issue is – once again – the offensive line. There is some talent there, but man for man, the Gators don't possess elite-level talent across the line and there isn’t a single starter who is a sure thing. Perhaps someone such as Richard Gouraige or Jean Delance can make a Stone Forsythe like jump this year. Remember, entering last season, he was seen as a liability and then turned in one of the better seasons UF has seen from a left tackle in the last decade.

2) What is the biggest obstacle to Florida once again representing the East in the SEC Championship game?

Adams: It’s that secondary, especially when it comes to beating Georgia. The East is most likely going to be a two-horse race once again, and the Bulldogs look to have an actual quarterback this time around in JT Daniels. If Georgia is what people expect them to be, that’s a brutal matchup for an inexperienced defensive backfield. I think Florida has a good shot at beating out Georgia for the division title, but until the secondary levels up, the Dogs are the favorite. 

Anonymous Player: The biggest obstacle for us is ourselves. We have enough talent as a whole to play really good football and there's not a lot of things can stop us besides our own mistakes or a lot of injuries. We are back to where we were the first two years where we spent the offseason focusing on being responsible, and taking care of the small things. All of us being together all these months where we know we can trust in each other should help us. 

Wheeler: The simple answer is to state that Georgia is the biggest obstacle to Florida winning the East once again. I have a feeling that early on Florida has more than enough talent up-front to help mask a young but talented secondary, and once they gain more experience, as long as they can keep injuries to a minimum (after already losing Jaydon Hill and Kamari Wilcoxson), they will get better as the season progresses. There are still a lot of question marks on offense, especially with Emory Jones being thrown to the wolves behind a so-so offensive line. But is there any other coach in the college game other than Mullen that you would rather have calling plays to overcome those offensive issues?

3) Who are the two or three most important players on the team?

Adams: Ventrell Miller is crucial to what Florida does defensively. He’s a rangy, athletic linebacker who serves as a primary communicator and leader defensively. Even last year, the Gators were a good run defense, and get Miller back will be pivotal to staying stout against the run, while also helping to organize and lead a largely inexperienced defense.

Stewart Reese must be a tone setter on the offensive line. He thrived in a physical run with Mississippi State, and that needs to translate in Gainesville. As the senior most lineman, it’s up to him to fill in for Brett Heggie as the leader on the line and if he can be a physical beast in run blocking, that’ll allow Florida to best use their offensive weapons. 

Anonymous Player: This isn't basketball where it's a one-man show. I wouldn’t say anyone is more important than someone else. Everyone has a critical role on this team to help win games. The leaders/captains enhance that which make them stand out but everyone helps win games from the top down each week. 

Wheeler: There are a lot of question marks on offense, meaning there are a lot of important players whose success or lack of it could define the season. The easiest answer here though is Emory Jones. Because he is able to improvise and create with his legs, he doesn't need the line to be as sturdy as someone like a Kyle Trask did. The fact that he can hurt an opponent equally through the air or on the ground makes him even more important. On the other side of the ball, I’ll make the defensive transfer tandem of Daquan Newkirk and Antonio Valentino my picks. It all starts with stopping the run, getting opposing teams in passing situations and then releasing the hounds. If Florida can stay ahead of the chains on offense and the defense can force teams to play from behind the chains, it could be a special season.

4) There's been a lot of speculation, but what do you expect the offense to look like now that Kyle Trask, Kyle Pitts and Kadarius Toney have left for the NFL?

Adams: Florida might’ve lost three elite players, but the guys waiting in the wings are so enticing. Obviously, with Emory Jones taking over as QB1, things will look a lot different than 2020. More designed quarterback runs and more running the ball, in general, should be expected with Jones and the talent in the running back room. Even with an emphasis on the running game, this team has pieces in place to hit in the vertical passing game as well. 

Jacob Copeland and Justin Shorter were both deep threats last year, and Emory Jones has shown the arm talent to stretch the field. Obviously, those guys will do more than go long – especially Copeland who’s taking over for Toney – but the talent is there to be dynamic in the passing game. This is all contingent on how well the offensive line performs and whether they can assert themselves in the run game, unlike last season.

Anonymous Player: I know fans couldn't watch us, but we did a lot of the same things in practice that we did last year, so I don’t expect much to change. Losing those playmakers is tough but those who will play this year got to learn from those guys. Our quarterbacks are phenomenal playmakers which leave doors open for success in the offense. 

Wheeler: While Mullen and Company did a great job in adjusting the offense to fit Kyle Trask, the truth is he isn't a pass-happy head coach, or at least he hasn't always been. He prefers a power running game complemented by utilizing more deep passing routes than he did the last two years. That will mean a lower passing completion percentage due to more deep shots down the field, and more rushing attempts overall split more evenly between the quarterbacks and running backs.

QUICK HITTERS

Who is your surprise player on offense and defense?

Adams: I’m a little biased — he went to my high school when I was there — but Jordan Pouncey could be a quality contributor as a slot receiver if he gets the opportunity. 

This isn’t really a surprise, but Mohamoud Diabate needs more hype. The guy’s a big-time playmaker. 

Anonymous Player: My surprise player on offense is Ja'Quavion Fraziars and on defense, Mohamoud Diabate. They were both impressive in camp and don’t get talked about enough. 

Wheeler: I don't know of how much a former five-star can be considered a surprise, but I expect Justin Shorter to have a standout season. On the other side of the ball, and keep in mind the question asks for a surprise, I'm going to go with the recently renamed Dante Zanders. There were times last year when he didn’t look like he belonged on the field for an SEC team, but he improved near the end of the season and UF is moving him around the line, where he has good get off for someone who is now approaching 300 pounds.

Which player is unlikely to live up to the expectations of the fans?

Adams: Demarckus Bowman is a super talented, potentially game-breaking player, but even with his ability and five-star pedigree, I don’t think he’ll see enough touches to make a serious impact this season. 

Anonymous Player: *I will not answer this question*

Wheeler: There are a couple that comes to mind, not because they aren’t good or even very good players, but because fans have built them up so much that the expectations are unreasonable – especially for this season. Bowman has already been mentioned, so I'll go with Diwun Black. We were told that he is playing Star in Florida’s Heavy Package – not that at 230 pounds he is lining up against and being asked to cover regular slot receivers. 

Considering his level of play and who else is on the roster, which player is all but irreplaceable?

Adams: If Kaiir Elam goes down, this secondary might go down with him. A true shutdown corner and experienced leader gives so much freedom to the rest of the defense. 

Anonymous Player: We have enough depth everywhere for guys to step in and make plays without much of a drop-off if someone is hurt. But, not only by his play but because of his leadership, Ventrell Miller is hard to replace. 

Wheeler: While many thought that when it came to Stewart Reese and Josh Braun one would start at guard and the other would be the center, as we first reported in our Practice Insider after the first couple of fall practicesKingsley Eguakun was getting rave reviews lining up with the first team at center. When you look at what is available after him, UF needs Eguakun to stay healthy. 

Name one freshman to watch out for this season

Adams: Cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. is the most hyped freshman on the team with probably the clearest path to the field with Hill’s injury. 

Anonymous Player: Just by looking at him you wouldn’t even know that Jason Marshall is a freshman. He works hard and is more confident than any cornerback we have besides Kaiir Elam. He is going to have a great year.

Wheeler: I’ve would have also said Marshall, but since I have the luxury of reading the other two responses first, I’ll change it up and go with tight end Nick Elksnis. I wouldn’t be surprised if he led the tight ends in catches by the time the season is over. 

Finally, what is Florida's final regular-season record and why?

Adams: 10-2. I’m confident the Gators are better than every team on this schedule sans Georgia and Alabama, and even then they have a good shot at pulling the upset. 

Anonymous Player: I won’t predict our final record because I expect us to win them all. I’ll say I am optimistic for every game, but humble enough for each one that I don’t want to get ahead of myself and say we’re going to win.

Wheeler: The final regular-season record range should be from 8-4 to 12-0 – with a 9-3 or 10-2 being the most realistic. In his first three years at Florida Dan Mullen is 2-6 against SEC teams who regularly out recruit the Gators. Three such teams – Alabama, Georgia, and LSU – appear on the regular-season schedule. I’m going to say UF pulls one upset, but then loses one you wouldn’t expect them to for a 9-3 finish.

Tags: Sport

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