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20/19 for 2019: Is Forsythe ready to hold down the left side of the line

July 1, 2019
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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 3-4 from our Top 20 list and players 2-3 from our Top 19 list.

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20 MOST VALUABLE RETURNING CONTRIBUTORS


No. 4-DAVID REESE II

  • Position: Linebacker
  • Class: Senior
  • Size: 6-foot-1, 248 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Farmington High (Farmington, Mich.)

Why He’s Important: Reese is the Gators’ starting middle linebacker and the heart and soul of the defense and perhaps the entire team. He earned respect from his teammates in 2017 when he called them out for not playing their hardest in his postgame press conference following a blowout loss to Missouri, UF’s first game after Jim McElwain was fired. Reese is the type of guy that when he speaks, everybody listens. On the field, he is a tackling machine. He led the team with 102 tackles in 2017 and was second with 10 tackles-for-loss. He led UF in tackles in 10 of 11 games and became just the third linebacker since 2007 to post 100+ tackles in a season (Brandon Spikes and Antonio Morrison 2x). Last season, he finished second on the team with 77 tackles despite missing the first three games with an ankle injury. He struggles in coverage, but he’s a tough, physical run-stuffer, much needed qualities on a defense otherwise built on speed and athleticism. He helps everyone get lined up correctly before plays. The rest of the linebacking corps is young and inexperienced, so the Gators need him to be the glue that holds everything together. The defense looked lost and soft in the three games without Reese in 2018. They need him healthy and manning the middle for the entirety of 2019.

Questions to be Answered: The Gators have more speed at linebacker than they’ve had in quite some time, with players such as Amari Burney, James Houston IV, Ventrell Miller and Tyron Hopper. With this speed, will the Gators take Reese off the field more in obvious passing situations, or will he continue to be a three-down linebacker? Reese has dealt with injuries in each of his three seasons. He missed the bowl game following his freshman season with two injured wrists. He had surgery on both wrists, causing him to miss the entire offseason prior to his sophomore season. And then there was the ankle injury last year. Can Reese avoid the minor, nagging injuries this season?

Projection: Reese will see his role reduced a little bit because of his limitations in coverage, but he’ll still record his second 100+ tackle season to lead the team in that category. He’ll continue to be a team leader and help bring along the younger linebackers. He won’t win any All-SEC honors, but an NFL team will take a shot on him in the sixth or seventh round.

No. 3-NICK BUCHANAN

  • Position: Offensive Line
  • Class: Redshirt Senior
  • Size: 6-foot-3, 291 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Dunwoody High (Dunwoody, Ga.)

Why He’s Important: This isn’t a countdown of the best players on the team, but rather the most important. Buchanan is the only returning starter on the offensive line. As the starting center for all 13 games last season, he helped the Gators rush for 213.2 yards per game, fourth in the SEC. UF quarterbacks were sacked just 18 times, third fewest in the conference. Buchanan didn’t really stand out a whole lot throughout the season either positively or negatively, usually a good sign for an offensive lineman. For Florida’s rushing and sacks statistics to be as impressive as they were a year ago, he needs to take the next step from being a solid, dependable player to the leader of the unit and one of the top performers. The Gators will almost certainly try various combinations at the other four spots during fall practices and early season games as they try to piece the unit together. As the veteran, they need Buchanan to be the rock in middle, both from a blocking standpoint as well as communicating calls with his line mates.

Questions to be Answered: A year ago at this time, Buchanan was in a battle with T.J. McCoy to be the starting center. He won the job and became the only new starter on the line. A year later, he’s the veteran of the group. With just one season of meaningful playing time, is he ready to take on the leadership role that will be expected of him? Left guard Brett Heggie has been in the mix at center the past couple of seasons, but injuries forced him into a backup guard role. If he’s fully healthy, will he finally get his crack at center, and what would that mean for Buchanan? Buchanan’s a little undersized for an interior offensive lineman, so how will he hold up against nose tackles that have 30-40 pounds on him?

Projection: It’ll be more of the same from Buchanan in 2019. He’ll start every game, but you’ll barely notice him. He’ll become more vocal and help bring his inexperienced teammates along. The Gators will rush for more than 200 yards per game, and the quarterbacks will be sacked fewer than 25 times.

19 MOST VALUABLE WHO HAVE YET TO CONTRIBUTE SIGNIFICANTLY

 

No. 3-AMARI BURNEY

  • Position: Linebacker
  • Class: Sophomore
  • Size: 6-foot-2, 222 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: Calvary Christian High (St. Petersburg, Fla.)

Why He’s Important: Burney enters the fall as the starting linebacker next to Reese. He came to UF as a safety and played in 12 games last year, primarily on special teams. He recorded 11 tackles for the season and picked up his first sack against Michigan in the Peach Bowl. He has a chance to be a dynamic playmaker on defense and one of the SEC’s rising stars this season. Burney is very athletic for a linebacker, as he played defensive back and wide receiver in high school. His speed and quickness should allow him to excel in coverage and chase down ball-carriers on the perimeter. Because of his receiver background, he might have the best hands of any linebacker in the SEC. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham can get creative with Burney. He can drop him into coverage, blitz him or keep him in the box in run support. Burney should be one of those players who just seems to have a nose for the football. He could be the defense’s biggest playmaker in 2019.

Questions to be Answered: As a former defensive back, Burney hasn’t been exposed to the physical grind that comes with playing linebacker in the SEC. Sure, he can cover tight ends and running backs and stuff perimeter runs, but what happens when a powerful team like Georgia decides to run right at him three plays in a row? Will he wear down as the season goes on? How is his tackling technique? If one of the Gators’ starting safeties were to get injured, would Grantham consider moving Burney back to the secondary?

Projection: Burney will live up to all of the offseason hype and become a star player for the Gators. He’ll record about 75 tackles, seven tackles-for-loss, three sacks, two pick-sixes and a fumble return for a touchdown. He’ll be named All-SEC and enter the 2020 season as a potential high draft pick.

No. 2-STONE FORSYTHE

  • Position: Offensive Line
  • Class: Redshirt Junior
  • Size: 6-foot-7, 323 pounds
  • High School/Hometown: West Orange High (Winter Garden, Fla.)

Why He’s Important: In his first three seasons at UF, Forsythe started just three games, all at right tackle. Now, he’ll be tasked with protecting Feleipe Franks’ blindside against some of the nation’s premier pass rushers as the Gators’ starting left tackle. While there are three other new starters on the offensive line, Forsythe is perhaps the biggest mystery. He’s massive and has gained three years of seasoning. However, he was ranked just the 976th overall recruit in the country according to the 247Sports Composite, and he’s done nothing in games to prove that ranking wrong. His length can be a huge weapon in pass protection; once he gets his hands on a defensive lineman, the battle’s over. Most pass rushers simply don’t have the length or power to escape him. His size also gives him plenty of upside as a run blocker. For the Gators’ offense to reach its full potential, Forsythe needs to be a stonewall on the left side of the line.

Questions to be Answered: Though Forsythe is huge, he doesn’t have that mean streak you like to see in an offensive lineman. He plays soft and reactionary at times instead of being the aggressor. Can Forsythe obtain that physical mindset, or is that just not in his DNA? When he gets his hands on linemen, he’s very difficult to beat, but that be a challenge at times for him. Like a lot of taller linemen, he doesn’t always have the foot speed or agility to stay in front of really good speed rushers. Can he improve in this area and become a consistent pass blocker? How long will the leash be on him if he struggles early? His top backups are young and even more inexperienced than he is, but they’re probably more talented. Can a guy like Richard Gouraige unseat Forsythe, or will Florida ride or die with him?

Projection: Forsythe will start every game, and he’ll be serviceable but not spectacular. Some of his softness issues will show up against the better defensive lines on UF’s schedule, but Dan Mullen and offensive line coach John Hevesy will find ways to scheme around his deficiencies like they did with Martez Ivey last season. This will be a prove-it year for Forsythe, as the young linemen are only going to get better. Forsythe will find himself in a tight battle with Gouraige heading into the 2020 season.

20/19 for 2019: Is Forsythe ready to hold down the left side of the line

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