Freshmen look to make impact for 2007 Gators


Published: Thursday, March 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, February 28, 2007 at 3:30 p.m.
On paper, it is the No. 1 recruiting class in America. In less than a month, we'll start finding out just how good it is on the field.
Florida's highly decorated incoming freshman class will have a chance to start making its first contributions on March 21, when nine early enrollees open spring practice with the rest of the Gators.
The coaches are expecting several of the newcomers to have an immediate impact in the spring, including quarterbacks Bryan Waggener and Cameron Newton, wide receiver/athlete Joe Haden, tight end Aaron Hernandez, cornerback Ahmad Black and offensive linemen James and LaShawn Pouncey.
Waggener and Newton are vying to be the No. 2 quarterback behind sophomore Tim Tebow, while Black will have an opportunity to compete for a possible starting role at the depth-shy and experience-shy cornerback positions.
In August, the Gators will be counting on more members of this recruiting class to fill valuable roles, much like last year's consensus No. 2 recruiting class did.
In UF's drive to the national title in 2006, the true freshmen played a significant role, with 12 of them seeing important playing time. The Gators may need that number (possibly more) to emerge from the 2007 class as UF begins making the transition from a senior-laden team to one dominated by sophomores, redshirts and true freshmen.
With national signing day now in the rearview mirror and spring practice fast approaching, we take an in-depth look at this No. 1 recruiting class and how it might impact the 2007 season: Quarterback
  • The players: Cameron Newton, John Brantley, Bryan Waggener.
  • The stud: Newton is one of the nation's top dual-threat quarterbacks and he's already in school.
  • The sleeper: Word is Waggener has some major skills and could be an immediate factor this spring.
  • The skinny: The Gators filled a huge need with one of the nation's top quarterback classes. Newton and Waggener will battle for the No. 2 role in the spring and Brantley will have a chance to join the competition in August. Newton's ability to run and throw make him an intriguing prospect in the spread offense, while Urban Meyer has said Brantley reminds him of Alex Smith.
  • Should play in 2007: Waggener and either Newton or Brantley.
    Running back
  • The players: Bo Williams, Chris Rainey.
  • The stud: Rainey is a fast, big-play guy who can also line up at receiver and return kicks.
  • The sleeper: After a so-so junior season, Williams emerged as a top prospect this past season and has a considerable upside.
  • The skinny: Rainey can do some of the same things Percy Harvin does and he figures to get some touches (mainly as a slot receiver) as a true freshman. Williams will have some catching up to do after missing the spring recovering from shoulder surgery.
  • Should play in 2007: Rainey.
    Receivers
  • The players: Deonte Thompson, Joe Haden, Aaron Hernandez, Paul Wilson.
  • The stud: Thompson has the sheer speed and playmaking ability the UF coaches are looking for in their wide receivers. His late fax on national signing day wrapped up UF's mythical national championship in recruiting.
  • The sleeper: Wilson caught only 15 passes his senior season at Lakeland, but he was a major player (60-plus catches) in his junior season when the Dreadnaughts had a throwing quarterback.
  • The skinny: In securing speedy playmakers Thompson and Haden, Meyer and his staff moved one step closer to their goal of making the Gators the fastest team in the nation.
  • Should play in 2007: Thompson, Haden and Hernandez.
    Offensive line
  • The players: James Wilson, James Pouncey, LaShawn Pouncey.
  • The stud: Wilson was a dominant player at Ponte Vedra Beach Nease and was the consensus No. 1 guard prospect in America.
  • The sleeper: LaShawn Pouncey wasn't rated as high as his twin brother, but he possesses the same kind of ability and competitive drive.
  • The skinny: The Gators would have liked to sign at least one more (a tackle), but they're certainly pleased with the three they signed. The Pounceys are already in class and are expected to be factors in the fall. Wilson also could see immediate playing time in 2007.
  • Should play in 2007: Wilson and the Pounceys.
    Defensive line
  • The players: John Brown, Torrey Davis, Carlos Dunlap, Jerry Howard, Duke Lemmens, Justin Trattou.
  • The stud: Davis has the physical ability to be a dominant player. There is no question his work ethic will become more consistent under defensive line coach Greg Mattison.
  • The sleeper: Lemmens was overshadowed by some of his high school teammates (quarterback Jimmy Clausen, in particular), but the kid runs like an outside linebacker and can play.
  • The skinny: This is, arguably, the best defensive line class in the nation. For it to stay that way, Davis and Brown are going to have to make up ground academically. If they fail to qualify, the Gators would have basically struck out at defensive tackle, a huge position of need.
  • Should play in 2007: Brown, Davis, Dunlap, Howard and Trattou.
    Linebacker
  • The players: Lorenzo Edwards, Brandon Hicks, John Jones, Steve Wilks.
  • The stud: Edwards played safety in high school, so he brings excellent speed to the outside linebacker positions. He was one of the most impressive defensive players at the Army All-American Game.
  • The sleeper: Jones played wide receiver and defensive end in high school and was a great pass rusher coming off the edge. He has a chance to grow into a big-time middle linebacker in the Brandon Siler mold.
  • The skinny: With a lack of depth at linebacker, the goal was to sign four and that's exactly what the Gators did at a critical position of need. Edwards and Hicks likely will see the field (at least on special teams) in 2007.
  • Should play in 2007: Edwards and Hicks.
    Secondary
  • The players: Major Wright, Ahmad Black, Jerimy Finch, Moses Jenkins.
  • The stud: Wright and Finch have two of the most impressive highlight tapes you'll ever see. Both are big-time hitters and intimidators who seem to make a lot of their plays near the line of scrimmage. Wright may be the biggest hitter in this impressive defensive class.
  • The sleeper: Jenkins is another guy with an impressive highlight tape. The coaches saw him at the UF camp last summer and obviously think he's a player.
  • The skinny: The Gators certainly took care of their need at safety with the signing of Wright and Finch. But UF failed to meet one of its most pressing needs at cornerback, where the Gators will be low in numbers this season. Wright is so physical and so good playing near the line of scrimmage, he could conceivably grow into an outside linebacker (in a hurry).
  • Should play in 2007: Wright, Black and Finch.
  • One that got away: DeMarcus VanDyke committed to Miami, then to UF, then signed with the Hurricanes.
    Special teams
  • The player: Chas Henry.
  • The skinny: Despite family ties to Tennessee, the nation's No. 1 punter, according to Scout.com, decided to come to Florida, where he's expected to compete for the starting role in the fall. Henry is an excellent athlete who also was the starting quarterback on his high school team. He averaged more than 45 yards a punt for his junior and senior seasons.
  • Should play in 2007: Henry.
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