Adding four scholarship players to a college football roster may not seem all that significant. But, in Florida’s case, it probably is.
Adding four, including the former starting tailback and two players at a position of huge need, is big for a team whose overall scholarship numbers have been down and dwindling since the start of last season.
So, the Tuesday night return of suspended players Jordan Scarlett, Rick Wells, James Houston and Ventrell Miller is viewed as more positive news for a program that seems to be building momentum under Dan Mullen and the new coaching staff.
Here’s a look at the four returning players and the potential impact they could have:
Jordan Scarlett, running back
Scarlett took over as the starter in the second half of the 2016 season and led the Gators in rushing with 889 yards and six touchdowns.
He appeared primed to take his game to a new level in 2017 after a strong spring that saw him further distance himself from the competition at the position. But then he was suspended the week before the opener and missed the season.
Now, he must work his way back up the depth chart this spring. But it is not a very deep depth chart at the moment. Malik Davis is still recovering from knee surgery, leaving Scarlett and only four other scholarship players at the position — junior Lamical Perine, sophomore Adarius Lemons and true freshmen early enrollees Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement.
If Scarlett knocks off the rust and eventually returns to his late 2016 form, he’ll have a chance to regain his starting role by the start of next season. Either way, his addition and Davis’ return would make running back one of the deepest, and most talented, positions on the team.
Ventrell Miller and James Houston, linebackers
Linebacker was a huge recruiting need a year ago, and the Gators filled it by signing four. But three of the four missed the 2017 season. Nick Smith injured his knee during summer workouts and had season-ending surgery, while Miller and Houston were suspended in the credit card fraud case.
The addition of all three eases a lot of the concerns about depth at linebacker. All three will have a chance to work their way into the playing rotation, especially with UF expected to go to a 3-4 defense under new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.
Had Miller and Houston not been reinstated, the Gators would have had only seven scholarship linebackers on the roster this spring. Now UF has nine, a much more comfortable number, although not quite a perfect one.
Rick Wells, wide receiver
Wells has had a tough go of it in his two years at Florida, with his latest setback being the 2017 season-ending suspension for credit card fraud.
His problems started in the summer of his freshman season, when he pulled a hamstring during workouts. The injury lingered and the decision was made to redshirt Wells in 2016. But once he did become healthy that fall, he made quite an impression on the coaches with his performances on the scout team against the No. 1 defense.
During the Gators’ final scrimmage before the Outback Bowl, he was named the MVP. So, it was obvious to everyone that Wells was really coming on and would be a factor in 2017.
Then, another setback. He sustained an unspecified leg injury and missed the spring. He recovered and was having a strong summer, then came his indefinite suspension the week before the opener.
If Wells can stay healthy and get his game back to where it was at the end of the 2016 season, he’ll have a chance to get in the playing rotation at wide receiver. He’s a big, strong, athletic receiver with good hands and the ability to win 50-50 battles for the ball.
UF’s numbers are much better at wide receiver with the addition of the two transfers — Van Jefferson (Ole Miss) and Trevon Grimes (Ohio State) — but the Gators still have a lack of proven playmakers at the wide receiver spots. Wells will have an opportunity in the spring to help upgrade the Gators at wide receiver.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.