A rudderless ship?

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Heading into the season, one of the biggest unknowns about this young Florida football team had to do with leadership. With so few seniors, who were the leaders going to be and where was the leadership going to come from?

Following senior strong safety Tony Joiner’s arrest Tuesday morning for breaking and entering, the leadership issue is a bigger question mark than ever.

If Joiner is a team leader (a role he seemed to embrace last spring) then the Gators are in trouble. A true team leader is supposed to set an example for his teammates. He’s supposed to be there to lean on after a tough loss. He’s supposed to do the right thing and be a positive influence on the young guys.

He’s not supposed to get arrested three days after a heartbreaking loss to Auburn. He’s not supposed to make a stupid mistake when his team really needs him. He’s not supposed to create this kind of distraction the Tuesday before this young team has to travel to Baton Rouge to play the nation’s No. 1 team on Saturday.

But he did.

Joiner screwed up big time when he decided to break into a towing company early Tuesday morning to retrieve his girlfriend’s car. How hard would it have been to wait for the company to open, pay the fine and then drive away? That’s the obvious choice, the easy decision. For some reason, Joiner didn’t think it through and he went ahead and made a dumb mistake. If he were a freshman, this wouldn’t seem so bad. But he’s a senior team captain on a team full of freshmen and sophomores, so this seems almost unforgiveable.

Joiner has let his teammates down before the biggest game of the season. The guy he probably disappointed the most is sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow, who happens to be Joiner’s roommate and close friend. Before he made the decision to break into the towing company, why didn’t Joiner ask himself: What would Tim Tebow do? Joiner would have known the answer and done the right thing.

Because Bobby Bowden isn’t the coach at Florida, it’s safe to assume Joiner will be suspended from Saturday night’s game ” and maybe longer. That means Florida’s young secondary has grown even younger and less experienced.

Sophomore Dorian Munroe probably will take Joiner’s place at strong safety. That means the secondary will be composed of two true freshmen (Joe Haden and Major Wright), a true sophomore (Wondy Pierre-Louis) and a redshirt sophomore (Munroe). Talk about young. It might be the youngest secondary in nation.

Munroe is a good enough player to minimize the loss of Joiner. But that’s not the point. The point is Florida is a team that’s hurting in the leadership department when it really, really needs strong leadership.

Even though there’s still a great deal to play for this season, maybe it’s time to turn this team over to Tebow and the other young players and start building toward next year.

The Gators need to find some leaders that their teammates can trust.