Florida’s three injured stars — wide receiver Kadarius Toney and defensive ends Jon Greenard and Jabari Zuniga — are going to practice this week with the expectation that they will play in Saturday’s showdown with SEC East rival Georgia.
“A good bye week,” UF coach Dan Mullen said Monday. “We had a chance to get guys healthy. We’ll see where we are at practice today. Kadarius practiced a little last week. The other guys we kind of rested a lot last week, but he was a guy who practiced.
“We’ll see how everybody does at practice. We expect the guys who have been banged up (to play Saturday). We’ve talked to the training staff and we expect to have the guys back, which will be a big help.”
Toney, one of the Gators’ most explosive playmakers, has missed the last six games after injuring his shoulder in the UT Martin game Sept. 7. Zuniga has missed the last five games with a high ankle sprain, while the same injury has sidelined Greenard for the last two games.
Their status for Saturday’s game will be evaluated later in the week.
“That’s for the trainers (to decide whether they are cleared to play). We’ll see,” Mullen said. “I’ve got to see. We haven’t practiced yet, so we’ll see. We’re not going to rush them back. We’re going to get them ready for Saturday, but we expect both of those guys (Zuniga and Greenard) to be ready to go Saturday. Toney looked pretty good running around. No-contact, obviously. We just had him running around a little bit.”
With Tony out, the Gators have rotated players at his slot position, playing Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain and redshirt freshman Jacob Copeland. All three have made plays from Toney’s spot, but he is considered one of the biggest offensive home-run threats as a receiver and a runner on jet sweeps.
“It’s great to have KT back,” Hammond said. “He brings a whole different aspect. He’s going to be a different receiver than the rest of us because of the things he can do with the ball in his hands.
“It will be interesting to see what other tricks and packages that Coach Mullen will put in for him. We’ll be able to use him in a lot of different ways to throw defenses off. Not only this week, but in the future as well. It’s definitely a great addition to have him back. We’re excited to have him back, and he’s excited to get on the field.”
Toney’s return would give quarterback Kyle Trask yet one more potential go-to guy in a passing game that features multiple playmakers among the wide receivers and tight ends.
“KT is a playmaker,” Trask said. “Anytime you get him the ball in space, he is going to make a play. I think it’s going to help our offense a lot this week, just having him back as a weapon, going against a great defense like Georgia has.”
The return of Greenard and Zuniga could have an even bigger impact on defense. In their absence, the Gators have had some problems stopping the run and the pass rush has lacked consistency.
Greenard and Zuniga could play a potential game-changing role against a Georgia offense that leads the SEC in rushing with 237.1 yards a game and 6.1 yards a carry.
When Greenard and Zuniga have been on the field at the same time this season, opponents have averaged only 1.6 yards a rush. When one or both is missing, foes are averaging 4.2 yards a carry.
“Obviously, huge (getting them back),” Mullen said. “You look at teams, to have a successful season you’re going to look at injuries. I think we’ve done an unbelievable job as a coaching staff this year and our players of next guy stepping up.
“Very few teams I don’t think in the country could have dealt with the injuries we’ve had and be in the position that we’re still in. That’s a tribute to our guys, next guy stepping up, and our coaches getting guys ready to play. When you start taking star players away from teams in big games and see what happens — a lot of them don’t win.”
Note: Mullen said UF is still “working with the NCAA” on defensive player Brenton Cox’s eligibility waiver. Cox transferred in from Georgia before the season.