Heeeeeere comes the future!
Gator fans have not had an easy time of the last two weeks. Understandable, after facing the top two teams in the nation, but some took the two routs particularly hard because of all the positive vibes generated right up through Florida’s short-lived 7-0 lead against Alabama. After all, Florida fans were united behind passionate new coach Will Muschamp and respected offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. The program got off to a roaring start in recruiting and then got the team off to an 4-0 start to the season.
Then Alabama sucked the life out of The Swamp.
UF was exposed by Bama and then LSU in a variety of key areas — offensive and defensive lines, tight ends blocking ineffectively at the point of attack, linebackers making tackles six yards down the field and defensive backs having an even harder time with tackling and routes to the ball-carriers.
But all is not lost, Gator fans! There is still plenty of season left for Muschamp and his prestigious coaching crew to turn things around and make a dent on the SEC East. And then there’s the regular-season finale against Florida State.
Florida fans can take some measure of comfort in seeing the struggles of their in-state arch-rival, a team that definitely doesn’t look as “back” as so many observers thought when the ‘Noles were ranked No. 6 in the Associated Press preseason poll.
After a 35-30 loss on the road to Wake Forest, the Seminoles dropped to 2-3 with three straight losses and their only wins coming against Louisiana-Monroe and Charleston Southern. Now the ‘Noles are paying the price in recruiting, as five of their most prized verbal commitments — DE Mario Edwards, QB Jameis Winston, DT Justin Shanks, RB Mario Pender and WR Marvin Bracy — are publicly wavering. Don’t forget DE/LB Dante Fowler, whose commitment can only be described as soft.
Florida, on the other hand, has a very unified recruiting class. And things are poised to heat up, as four-star defensive tackle Carlos Watkins is planning to reveal his pledge on Friday. A couple of weeks later, Kent Taylor, the nation’s No. 1 pass-catching tight end prospect, will reveal his commitment. Three-star tight end Kurt Freitag may not be far behind.
Sticking with the most pressing matter — Watkins — we’ll start this week’s questions with one about Clemson, which is one of his finalists along with Florida.
How is Clemson doing this to us every year? Sammy Watkins, Stephone Anthony, C.J. Spiller … on and on. Is someone passing out money? — @DontAskMeYo via Twitter
It is uncanny how well Clemson has recruited for several years now. Finally, the Tigers are seeing that translate on the field with a 6-0 record and a No. 8 ranking after years of mediocrity with said talent. Clemson has a lot going for it — a small, southern college town that’s centrally located, great fans and facilities, a chance to win the ACC every year and a coaching staff that consistently makes prospects feel like close family. There’s no great shame in losing prospects to Clemson. Sure, the three you mention hurt Florida quite a bit. Spiller was in UF’s backyard and would have fit the spread-option offense perfectly. Some folks are still scratching their head over that one. Anthony was a much-needed big, rangy linebacker who jumped off the Gator bandwagon when the wheels fell off following Urban Meyer’s departure. And Watkins, the half-brother of Florida sophomore cornerback Jaylen Watkins, just plain liked Clemson better and wanted to go his own way. I don’t think money is involved.
Will Carlos Watkins be another one that got away? It’s very tough to call even just a couple of days before the big reveal. The Gators can feel good that he is making a decision so soon after taking an official visit to Gainesville for the Bama game. He certainly could see firsthand Florida’s need for a big defensive tackle. Carlos has also visited UF two other times with friends and family. His interest is strong. The primary question is how much would he prefer to stay closer to home. Watkins is from Forest City, N.C., which is less than two hours from Clemson.
I know you all want a bold prediction, but unless I get some more information in the next couple of days I just have to flip a coin. Here goes … tails it’s Clemson. Sorry.
Who (at this early juncture) is Florida’s best recruiter? — gatormike via blog comments
This is a toss-up between linebackers coach D.J. Durkin and defensive backs coach Travaris “T-Rob” Robinson. Both have hauled in some key verbals from their territories. Durkin has had great success recruiting North Carolina, while T-Rob has done well in the Atlanta area as well as in-state. If I had to chose right now, I’d go with the guy who didn’t get chewed out on national television by his head coach last week (that would be Durkin after LSU’s fake punt). It’s unrelated to recruiting, I know, but that just looked bad all around.
Honorable mentions to three of Florida’s most committed pledges — Matt Jones, Mike Davis and Colin Thompson. All three are regularly pushing the orange and blue on other top prospects they want to see join the class. Jones has the Tampa Bay area blanketed. Davis is working on Josh Harvey-Clemons, a big-time linebacker in Valdosta, Ga. And Thompson says he’s talking to five-star defensive prospects Noah Spence and Darius Hamilton. If any of these high schoolers help the Gators reel in even on big fish, he might win the prized title of best recruiter.
Are we recruiting any QBs? If Tyler Murphy were to transfer, we’d only have two on scholarship next season, right? — @SternAlex via Twitter
There are rumors of Murphy transferring, but as of this blog posting those are still just a matter of message board speculation. Sure, it would make sense for Murphy to transfer, but it’s pointless to predict anything. In fact, Weis just dispelled the rumor on Tuesday when he noted that Murphy spent five hours with him in practice. Weis said “it would be news to me” if Murphy were transferring.
But hey, I’m happy to play what-if in order to give some sort of answer to your question, Alex. Yes, if Murphy were to leave, the Gators would have just two scholarship quarterbacks, given the impending end of John Brantley’s collegiate career. But I think it’s safe to say that Florida is not planning for Murphy to leave because the Gators haven’t given out but a handful of offers to 2012 QBs. I know of just four offers, in fact. One of them, interestingly enough, is for Denver, Colo., four-star Cyler Miles, a 6-foot-4, 215-pounder who picked Washington over Florida on June 3. I say interesting because the very same Miles happened to show up with the other prospects in the south end zone for the Florida-Alabama game. He was decked out in orange and blue, head to toe.
The lack of pash rush the past two weeks is very concerning. What is coach Muschamp’s main priority in helping us solve this problem in the recruiting area this year and next? — Allen via blog comments
Recruit better pass-rushers. Seriously. Muschamp has uber-confidence in himself, Dan Quinn and Bryant Young as teachers. A big part of the problem is that Florida players are having trouble adapting to the 3-4 part of the multiple schemes. It’s a lot to learn in a few months, and it’s hardly a surprise that players are more comfortable and making fewer mistakes in the 4-3. Still, as always, the coaching staff can spin this with big-time recruits as an obvious opportunity for early playing time.
Florida will push hard for Spence and Hamilton when they take official visits. Spence is planning to come after the season, while Hamilton just announced he will be in town during the bye weekend next week. Other pass-rushing specialists could come in the form of Jordan Jenkins, who is known as “The Freak” for all of the things he can do with his supreme athleticism, and Tyriq McCord, a wonderful pass-rusher who could probably add to his 6-3, 220-pound frame and still be a force at outside linebacker.
Each year we seem to pick up a couple of big recruits that most fans weren’t expecting (Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd). What are your thoughts on that happening this year? — John Dorrell via email
John, maybe casual fans weren’t expecting Easley and Floyd to be in the Class of 2010, but die-hard recruitniks were certainly tipped off when the two made their announcements on national TV in January 2010. Maybe you are referring to the surprise factor when they picked Florida? OK, I’ll assume that’s what you mean. So here’s a short list of some very talented players still strongly considering Florida and where most folks think they will end up …
• DE/LB Jordan Jenkins — Alabama
• DT Carlos Watkins — Clemson
• DL Darius Hamilton — Rutgers
• OT Kyle Murphy — somewhere in the Pac-12
• DT Ellis McCarthy — see Murphy, Kyle
Any one or two of these surprises would really bolster Florida’s Class of 2012.
I look at Coach Muschamp’s stint at Texas, and it had to include visiting players and coaches in Texas. Yet I don’t see where we are going after any players from Texas. — scooby321 via Gatorsports message board
It’s true, Florida is not recruiting anyone in Texas during this cycle. Maybe it’s because Muschamp knows you don’t mess with Texas. He knows how the game works in the Lone Star State. Recruiting leftover scraps can be pretty lonely for schools as far away as Florida. Muschamp has made it clear that when devotes resources to recruit a prospect outside of the southeast region, he would prefer there to be some sort of school, family or friend connection involved.
That’s why Florida is a legitimate player for 2013 offensive lineman Jake Raulerson, of Celina, Texas. He’s a 6-5, 250-pounder with at least 20 0ffers already, including one from UF. Raulerson camped at Florida in June to keep his personal streak alive. He camped at UF five straight years under Urban Meyer. He calls himself a Gator fan and has grandparents who lived in Gainesville before moving to Jacksonville. Sound like your typical Texas prospect? No, and that’s why Muschamp is going after him. Raulerson said he enjoyed taking an unofficial visit to see Florida-Alabama on Oct. 1, where he got to talk to Muschamp and offensive line coach Frank Verducci. He also said he wants to come back for Florida-FSU this year. Raulerson says Florida and Texas are recruiting him the hardest, so this ought to be one instance where Muschamp is willing to mess with Texas.
It’s obvious over the past couple years what Florida is missing is the power tailback! Even though Tim Tebow was a quarterback, he was our power running game like Trent Richardson is to Bama! Florida was unstoppable when we had the power running game and the speed running game working together! OK, that being said, my question is when are we going to get back to that? Is Matt Jones or Mike Davis the answer to the power running or do we have have a young back on roster to fill that void? Next is since Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are gone after this year who is going to fill the speed void? Do we still have a shot at landing Keith Marshall? — evansams4 via email
Wow! I like the enthusiasm, evansams4! I’m going to stop using exclamation marks now! OK?! OK.
I believe Florida is in the midst of discovering that Mike Gillislee can give them some more power and balance in the running game. He will be a senior next season. Also set to arrive next year are Jones and Davis, and Florida is giddy for the exact reasons you describe. Jones, at 6-3, 220, will be expected to provide the thunder, and Davis, at 5-10, 190, the lightning in a perfectly conceived backfield. It was very important to the UF coaching staff to get those two commitments so early in 2011. Now, Jones isn’t a mauler in high school, but he’s got great instincts and can be taught to make the best use of his frame once he gets to Gainesville and gets into the weight room. Davis doesn’t have Rainey’s or Demps’ top-end speed, but few players do. Weis’ plan for his running backs does not require elite speed. He will prefer to bludgeon opponents with Gillislee, Jones and Davis. And who knows, maybe there will be a Mack Brown sighting? He was a coveted four-star prospect once upon a time.
Marshall is a bit of a wild-card right now. His interest in Florida is real, even though everyone had him pegged for Georgia just a few weeks ago. The Dawgs’ feature back, freshman Isaiah Crowell, may just swing Marshall to Florida. Marshall can now see himself in a backfield with Jones and Davis. They all bring different attributes. Marshall just has it all. At roughly the same size as Davis, he has more speed. Both have terrific vision and wiggle and both have been extremely productive thus far in their senior seasons.
Are there any offensive linemen or tight ends on the board that can make a difference in 2012? — @RudeBoyBrewing via Twitter
Absolutely. Florida has some serious needs at both positions. I saw Humphries and fellow UF commit Jessamen Dunker in the south end zone a couple of weeks ago for the Alabama game. At first glance from a distance I thought they might be basketball prospects. They’re huge! Dunker has the bulk to be a serious road-grader in college. Humphries looks like a left tackle should — lean and athletic. They may not play right away, but look for Florida’s depth to greatly improve next season. Avery Young is a target who is atop Florida’s wish list. At 6-6, 280 he could also challenge for a backup role.
Tight end is a position where I think the Gators are struggling. Redshirt sophomore Jordan Reed, the starter, only converted from quarterback recently. At 6-3, 239 he showed a weakness in blocking at the line of scrimmage against Alabama and LSU. Granted, those are tough assignments, but the rest of the pickings are slimmer and younger. Sophomore Gerald Christian (6-3, 245) hasn’t been very involved in the game plan since Kentucky. Fourth-year junior Omarius Hines (6-2, 220) is a converted wide receiver. A.C. Leonard (6-4, 244) is a true freshman who made two big freshman mistakes on the road at LSU last week. And true freshman Clay Burton (6-4, 258) was recruited as a defensive end and moved to tight end to provide depth. He’ll likely redshirt this season.
It’s no wonder Florida would like to add three tight ends to the Class of 2012, and the thinking has to be that it will help to bring in some big bodies that have played the position throughout their high school careers. Thompson clearly has the size at 6-5, 255, to help at the point of attack. And if Florida is able to land Kent Taylor in a couple of weeks, he would bring a 6-5, 215 frame that could use some bulking up. Taylor would be more a pass-catching tight end, but one who should at least be competitive on the line of scrimmage. The other Gator target is Kurt Freitag, who at 6-3, 230 could add bulk and give UF another solid blocker on the edge of the line.
Welp, that’s another smash-mouth Outbox. I look forward to your questions next week. Here’s how you can reach out to me …