Florida position analysis
Published: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 8, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
· The combination of Chris Leak's passing and Tim Tebow's running has been very effective this season. Leak is the starter and is charged with managing the games, but when tough yards, or a change of pace is needed, Tebow has performed well. Leak is finally hitting his stride as a senior, and this is the first time in his Gator career he has been in the same offense for two years. Tebow usually gets a few series every game and has a package of plays designed to fit his power running ability.
· The offensive line was a big question mark coming into the season, having to replace four starters from last season. Only guard Jim Tartt had started a game at his current position, and center Steve Rissler was replacing Mike Degory, who started a Florida-record 50 games. They have given up less sacks (22) than in 2005, and by playing at a high level for an entire season have erased concerns about experience. Depth remains a question, however.
· DeShawn Wynn is Florida's leading rusher with 630 yards, and is averaging 5.1 yards per carry. He is a big back and has shown the ability to pick up tough yards when called on, but injuries have been an issue. Fullback Billy Latsko is a big body who can open holes by himself. The Gators' second and third leading rushers are quarterback Tim Tebow (430 yards) and wide receiver Percy Harvin (406 yards). This shows that in the Gators' spread offense they also like to use wide receivers and quarterbacks to run out of the backfield.
· The Gators' spread offense makes the receivers a commodity, using them out of the backfield as well as threats down the field. Dallas Baker is one of Leak's favorite deep targets because of his size, but Jemalle Cornelius and Andre Caldwell are equally as dangerous because of their speed. Baker has 56 receptions for 897 yards and nine TDs on the year, Caldwell is in second with 55 receptions, 571 yards and five touchdowns. Florida also likes to find receivers open short and let them make a big plays once they get the ball.
· The Gators' two biggest setbacks on the defensive line were due to off-field issues. Tackle Marcus Thomas was kicked off the team at midseason for team violations stemming from a failed drug test, and end Jarvis Moss was suspended for one game for a team policy violation. Florida had to shuffle its line scheme late in the season and find new playmakers. The emergence of Derrick Harvey (8 sacks) has allowed Florida to maintain the pressure and penetration it had earlier in the year. Ray McDonald and Steven Harris provide consistency in the middle. Throughout their setbacks, the play of the defensive line has been instrumental in allowing the Gators to be ranked 6th in the nation in rush defense.
· Linebacker is one of the positions at which Florida has the most experience. Brandon Siler is a junior but has played all three years. Earl Everett and Brian Crum are both seniors. Their depth has also been an asset. With Siler and Everett being injured at times during the season, backups have shown the ability to come in and play at a high level. Everett leads the team in tackles with 78 and Siler is second with 73.
· With All-America Reggie Nelson at safety and second-team All-America Ryan Smith at cornerback, the Gators have a quality pass defense. Quarterbacks try to keep these two accounted for, as Smith has eight interceptions on the year to complement Nelson's six. Cornerback Reggie Lewis and safety Tony Joiner add to Florida's experience in the secondary, giving them one of the best in the nation.
· While Chris Hetland gets much of the special teams attention for going 4-of-13 on field goals this season, as a whole they have been a point of emphasis and pride for the Gators this season. The kickoff and punt coverage teams have shown the ability to change games, and Brandon James gives the Gators a dangerous return game. Punter Eric Wilbur has had an effective year also, averaging 42.2 yards per punt.
— Jon McDonald
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