Back in the day under coach Steve Spurrier, Florida’s preseason camp was an endurance test even for the media boys (and girls) because all the practices were open and we felt compelled to watch from warmups to finish under the summer sun. Those days, of course, are gone. Other than for just a few minutes early in selected practices, we, like you, are locked out.
But I’ve seen enough and heard enough to form an opinion about two players who I think are going to surprise a lot of people — and opponents — this season, one on offense, one on defense.
Offensive surprise: Sophomore running back Malik Davis.
The preseason talk has been all about Lamical Perine and Dameon Pierce, mostly Perine. So, it appears, many have fallen asleep on Davis. I say it’s time to wake up and remember how rapidly — and impressively — he was emerging as an electrifying runner as a true freshman in 2017. He was becoming the go-to guy in the running game before he injured his knee early in the Georgia game and missed the rest of the season.
He came back last season and sustained a season-ending foot injury in the third game and has not been seen since (except in practices and the spring game.).
Davis is bigger, stronger and faster than he was in 2017 — and even more dynamic, according to running backs coach Greg Knox, whose eyes lit up last week when he was asked about Davis. He said he has a chance to be special. And he will be.
Dan Mullen likes to keep his ground game running on fresh legs, so that means Davis will get his opportunities. And he’s going to make some plays, some big plays. That means his carry total will go up, up, up as the season goes along. So, he’s my offensive surprise.
Defensive surprise: Junior defensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton
Just like Davis, Slaton pretty much disappeared last season after showing so many flashes as a true freshman in 2017. Slaton fell off the map after blowing an assignment and giving up a 44-yard run in the early loss to Kentucky that got him benched. He played in seven more games, but his role grew smaller as the season went along.
Slaton is serious about breaking out this season. So serious that he lost 25 pounds in the offseason, while growing stronger and quicker. And apparently more determined. He’s defensive tackle Kyree Campbell’s surprise defensive player, too. The two are roommates, and Campbell knows the kind of work Slaton is putting in to reach his immense potential as a disruptor up front.
“Slaton has progressed a lot,” Campbell said last week.. “He has down pat his technique and I’m 100-percent sure you all are going to be very surprised (by what he does) this season. He is taking it seriously. I can see that he has really bought into the program now. He is always with me and he is always asking questions. I believe that he wants it.”
And he’s going to get it.
So, there you have it, my two surprises for the fall.