Gators in 2010: Reloaded


Mike Pouncey (55) is ready to take over at center for his twin brother, Maurkice (56).

Brian W. Kratzer/Staff photographer
Published: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 7:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 at 5:45 p.m.
The Florida coaches were in a little bit of a panic after the 2006 national championship game when four top juniors, all on defense, decided to leave early for the NFL. That's because the Gators didn't have the players to adequately replace them, especially in terms of experience. A drop-off was expected, and that's what the Gators got.

Three years later, UF finds itself having to replace five top juniors who are off to the NFL. But there's no panic now because the Gators have guys lined up and ready to step in. It is the result of consistently strong recruiting on the part of Urban Meyer and his staff. Veteran football beat writer Robbie Andreu takes a look at replacing the departing juniors:

CORNERBACK

The departed: Joe Haden, who emerged as one of the nation's elite defensive players this past season.
The next in line: Sophomore Adrian Bushell is probably the guy, although he'll face stiff competition from Jeremy Brown (if his back is 100 percent) and highly rated incoming freshman Joshua Shaw, an early enrollee who will participate in the spring.
The skinny: Haden is a tough guy to replace because he was so versatile and so reliable, but the Gators have some talented guys ready to give it a shot. Bushell has impressed the coaches with his play on special teams, and Brown has a huge upside if he can get his back in shape. Shaw has all the tools. If he has a strong spring, he could do what Haden did: start as a true freshman.

TIGHT END

The departed: Aaron Hernandez, a major mismatch problems for opposing defenses who caught 68 passes for 850 yards and five touchdowns in 2009.
The next in line: Redshirt freshman Desmond Parks showed impressive receiving skills as a true freshman but needed a year to get bigger and stronger, which he has. Incoming freshman Gerald Christian, an early enrollee, also has some of those Hernandez-like skills as a receiver.
The skinny: Parks and Christian will not create the mismatch problems Hernandez did, at least not yet. But they have the ability to keep the tight end involved in the UF passing game, which should broaden with John Brantley at quarterback.

CENTER

The departed: Maurkice Pouncey, a dominant interior offensive player who won the Rimington Award as the nation's top center this past season.
The next in line: Maurkice's identical twin, Mike, a standout guard who will make the transition to center, a position he's played at UF in the past. Redshirt sophomore Sam Robey has also shown he's ready to be an every-down SEC center.
The skinny: Mike Pouncey decided to return for his senior season after he projected as a third-round NFL Draft pick. He has a chance to improve his NFL stock with the move to center, where he should be a player similar to his brother. Robey also gives the Gators the option of playing Pouncey some at guard if needed.

DEFENSIVE END

The departed: Carlos Dunlap. Despite some character and work ethic issues, this dominant defender is projected by most to be among the top 15 players taken in the draft.
The next in line: True junior William Green has played a great deal the past two seasons and the coaches think he has a huge upside. He may not have Dunlap's size, but he has the chance to be a strong pass rusher with his speed, athletic ability and relentless work ethic. Another guy who could have an impact is incoming freshman Ronald Powell, the nation's No. 1 overall recruit, according to Rivals.com.
The skinny: In retrospect, the Gators did miss Dunlap in the SEC Championship Game. But Green has a chance to grow into a big-time pass rusher between now and the start of next season, and Powell's potential appears limitless.

FREE SAFETY

The departed: Major Wright, a three-year starter and one of the hardest-hitting and most intimidating safeties in the SEC.
The next in line: Some might argue the Gators will actually be upgrading at the position with junior Will Hill in the starting role. He's been contributing (and starting at times) since his true freshman season, and free safety is his natural position. Incoming freshman Matt Elam, an early enrollee, will push Hill this spring, and could see immediate playing time in the secondary.
The skinny: Wright's leadership and hitting ability will be missed, but Hill is faster and has a chance to be UF's next great safety. Elam falls into the same category.

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