Had I written a roster post for Florida last year, it would have made this one heck of a lot easier. I could just copy and paste it, delete the sections on Percy Harvin and Louis Murphy, and then be done, right?
Well, yes and no.
Of course Florida has a lot of guys back from last year. That's where the whole "consensus preseason No. 1" stuff comes from. Seven offensive starters return, and the top 22 from the defense come back. Some will say top 21 and point to the transfer of DT Torrey Davis as the missing one, but I'd ask you when you were taking the depth chart snapshot. He registered all of five tackles before the bowl and spent much of the year in the coaches' doghouse.
The quarterbacks are set. We know that. Tim Tebow is starting with John Brantley backing him up. About the only thing worth mentioning here is that Urban Meyer says Brantley has a package of plays and will get spot work in meaningful situations. I doubt he'll do as much as Tebow did in 2006, but he's going to get non-garbage time minutes.
Speaking of 2006, that leads to the receivers.
They are the biggest question mark on the offense, what with Harvin and Murphy gone. The unit is probably going to approximate the one that Meyer had in his first championship year down to the man. David Nelson will be Dallas Baker, the tall guy. Deonte Thompson will be Andre Caldwell, the speedy guy. Carl Moore will be Jemalle Cornelius, the possession guy. Freshman Andre Debose will be Percy Harvin, the slash guy. Aaron Hernandez will be Cornelius Ingram, the receiving tight end. Riley Cooper will be, well, Riley Cooper.
The biggest difference is that Hernandez is a known quantity from the beginning, a playmaker waiting to break out. Ingram was still adjusting to being a tight end, having come in as a quarterback, but Hernandez will be ready from Day 1.
The running backs are in much better shape this time around compared to '06 though. Jeff Demps, when he's not moonlighting in the Percy Position, will probably be the primary back. He's fast and hits holes with authority despite his size. Chris Rainey is exciting with his ability to make people miss, but he dances around too much to be the top guy. Emmanuel Moody will be the biggest beneficiary from the new I-formation sets, but he's not guaranteed to get many carries. It'd be a big boost if he could be the big back playmaker that Florida has lacked since the time of Ciatrick Fason, but he hasn't put it all together yet.
Moody and Rainey also tend to get hurt, which further solidifies Demps in the top spot. Return man extraordinaire Brandon James and freshman Mike Gillislee are in the mix as well, but I don't know how many balls there will be to go around.
The offensive line will be the key to everything. The Gator offense didn't take off last year until it gelled around the fourth quarter of last year's game with Arkansas. Three fifths of it are rock solid with Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey, and Carl Johnson back from starting in 2008.
After that, some combination of redshirt sophomore James Wilson, sophomore Matt Patchan (who played defense last year, like Mike Pouncey did in '07 before moving back to offense in '08), and redshirt junior Marcus Gilbert will fill the other roles. Redshirt freshman Sam Robey made some noise in the spring, and true freshman Xavier Nixon has impressed in fall practice. All of those guys except Robey were four or five star recruits according to Rivals, so it's likely that no matter which five take the field, it will be a good group. It better be, if UF is to repeat as champs.
The defensive line is in flux a bit, as it has been every year since most of the excellent 2006 line graduated. All the starters are back, but only Jermaine Cunningham looks set in his job. Tackles Terron Sanders and Lawrence Marsh are getting pushed hard by Jaye Howard, and this may be the year that Carlos Dunlap gets the starting role over Justin Trattou. Dunlap led the SEC with 9.5 sacks last year, but uneven effort kept him behind Trattou on the depth chart.
The linebackers are two thirds set. Brandon Spikes and Ryan Stamper are every bit the senior leaders and performers that any team would want. The final spot is currently a revolving door of A.J. Jones, Brandon Hicks, and, when he gets back from suspension, Dustin Doe. All three of those guys have started games, so whoever ends up there for good (if anyone) will be quality. Young bucks Jon Bostic and Brendan Beal are pushing for playing time as well.
The secondary is perhaps the strength of the entire team, something that would seem impossible during 2007's burnfest. The corners are right now Joe Haden and freshman All American Janoris Jenkins, a formidable duo. Wondy Pierre-Louis, Markihe Anderson, and Moses Jenkins are good enough as backups. The one to watch though is redshirt freshman Jeremy Brown, who missed last season to injury. Meyer has lamented that at the time of his injury, Brown was actually ahead of Janoris Jenkins on the depth chart.
The safeties are loaded. The two starters are back, the big hitting Major Wright and the ball hawking Ahmad Black. Wright struggles in coverage though, and Black can't lay the wood. As a result, sophomore all-everything recruit Will Hill has been impossible to keep off the field since the spring. Also in the mix are senior Dorian Munroe, who missed last season due to injury but has played well in the past, and newcomer Dee Finley.
The special teams will look exactly the same. Dangerous return man Brandon James is back (his last year I promise, Tennessee fans), and so are P Chas Henry and K Jonathan Phillips. Phillips missed just one field goal and one extra point (the fateful blocked one against Ole Miss) in all of 2008, but his longest made FG was only from 40 yards. The big-legged Caleb Sturgis might get a chance to kick the longer ones. The tradition of key players contributing on special teams will continue as in past years, most notably with the addition of Demps as the gunner on punt coverage.
The depth across the board is much to Florida's advantage, and the coaches are delighting in the ability to replace underperformers in practice with another quality guy. If you want to nit pick about the receivers, two O-linemen, and the third linebacker go ahead, but just about any coach in the nation would trade his roster for this one.
LATER TODAY: Coaching Changes