5-star players starting to shine

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At his signing day news conference in February, Florida coach Will Muschamp let everyone know how he feels about one aspect of recruiting (and recruiting services).  He does not believe in counting stars. Just because a recruiting service rates a prospect a five-star recruit, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s going to be a five-star player, Muschamp said. Or a player the Gators will actively recruit.

He rates recruits based on his and his staff’s evaluations. A one-star recruit on Rivals might be considered a five-star prospect by Muschamp.

But here’s something I think the recruiting services and Muschamp would agree on: Rivals and Scout and all those other recruiting services got it right when they attached five stars to the names of Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam.

Those five-star prospects have shown signs of making the transition to five-star players this spring on the Florida practice field. These four true sophomores have emerged as rising stars on the Florida defense.

Powell has been dominant in his new hybrid role as the Buck linebacker, a combination defensive end/outside linebacker. He’s been lining up at end and rushing the passer, dropping back into coverage and chasing down plays all over the field. After a relatively quiet start to his UF career last fall, he’s been one of UF’s best defensive players this spring. Offensive guard Jon Halapio calls Powell a beast. Powell said he’s just more comfortable now than he was a few months ago as a true freshman.

“I love the Buck position. It gives me more freedom, allows me to do a lot of different things and frees me up to make a lot of plays,” he said.

Powell and the three other five-star recruits in last year’s class are very close. Powell said earlier this week that they all talked about coming here together during recruiting, and now they’re all here and plan to stay together, even Easley, who left the team for a day last fall and seemed at times to have an indifferent attitude.

Easley has bought into what the new coaching staff is demanding, and he’s become perhaps UF’s most dominant defensive lineman this spring, slightly ahead of Floyd. Powell and others on defense rave about Easley’s lightning first step off the ball, which has helped him penetrate the offensive backfield throughout the spring. Easley says his attitude is good, and he says this feels like home now after experiencing some homesickness last fall. His upside appears to be tremendous.

Of the five-star defensive recruits in last year’s class, Floyd is the one who came closest to playing like one last fall. His playing time increased over the course of the season and he made some big plays from his defensive tackle position. He’s lost some weight, gained strength and is one of the most mature players on the defense (on the whole team, actually). He has the look of a future (possibly as early as this season) All-SEC defensive tackle.

Elam also showed flashes of his five-star talent last fall, playing in nickel situations and seeing playing time behind Ahmad Black at strong safety. By all accounts (including his own), he’s much more comfortable now and playing more instinctively than he was last season, when he was still learning what to do.

“I’m playing more natural now. It feels real good,” he said.

Like Powell, Easley and Floyd, Elam has emerged as a defensive playmaker this spring.

“Matt Elam has really made a lot of plays,” Muschamp said. “I think he’s had a really good spring. I want his leadership ability to step up. He’s a guy who can provide more of that. But he’s really made some nice plays in coverage and in run support.”

As we all know, those recruiting services don’t always get it right. But it sure looks like they did when they put fives stars next to the names of Ronald Powell, Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd and Matt Elam. These guys could/should be the heart of the Florida defense for the next few seasons.

32 COMMENTS

  1. If defenses win championships and 5 star recriuts playing like All-SEC/America, gives us some ray of hope. These four, plus both Jenkins make up over half of the defense. Then add another 5 star Chris Martin. The talent is there and the coaching talent has returned to Charlie Strong levels. I think its going to be a fun year.

  2. I could have sworn that is exactly what Powell was doing in the second half of last season as well.

    He does NOT need to be doing anything other than rushing the opposing QB. What are we doing wasting him away in coverage like a defensive back or something?? He needs to be our DeMarcus Ware. Line him up head down after a QB play after play after play.

  3. gatorboi- last year he was a beast in coverage. I can think of a few plays in the Outback Bowl where he chased down a RB and a WR and made the tackle. He’s in a position to do very positive things for this Gator team.

  4. gatorboi – I think I’ll go with Muschamp/Quinns judgement over yours. Coaches, who actually evaluate talent for a living. Powell is more of an athlete than an every down D-lineman and the more freedom you give him where to line up – the more problems he can create for an opposing offense. The “buck” role sound taylor made for his 6-3 245lbs frame.

  5. I DON’T WANT TO BE UNKIND TO ANYONE IN THE GATOR NATION,BUT I THINK IT IS ABOUT TIME FOR THE FOOT BALL GATORS TO RESUME THE PLAY THAT HAS MADE MY ALMA MATER THE GREATEST FOOTBALLPROGRAM IN THE NATION. I HAVE BEEN WAITING OR THT RESURRECTION OF OUR TEAM TO ITS RIGHTFUL PLACE AS THE BEST AND GREATEAT FOOTBALL TEAM IN THE SOUTH, IF NOT THE WHOLE COUNTRY. NOTHING LESS IS ACCEPTABLE TO MEOR ANYONE OF MY FELLOW ALUMS WHO HAVE LIVED AND LOVED THIS TEAM FAR TOO LONG!!!!!

  6. Amenth creek gator ! we just got to coach up one of QBs & we’ll be OK.
    (not so sure bout brantley (but then who is?) but we should have somebody
    who can handle the job when the pocket gets hot ! brantley had all season to show he could , but actually regressed along the way so I’m sure this massive upgraded coaching staff is “big time” addressing our needs at that position..
    looks like an exciting year… that bama game is big.. whip those boys and…..
    WOW !! shock em Gators ! ! ! ! !

  7. If Powell turns out to be the “beast” everyone is making him out to be, then Lawrence Taylor maybe on the verge of a rebirth. I think the gator “D” has a chance to be very special this year and if the offense comes around has many expect that it will under good ole Charley then this could be a special and surprising year.

  8. With Powell, his flexibility allows him to show one thing and do another (e.g. look like he is going to rush the QB but jump a screen pass instead). This will make the offense be unsure as to how to scheme against it. The element of surprise and the flexibile fronts (3-4, 4-3) will make the D tough to plan for.

    Go Gators

  9. Defense wins championships, but the offense has to win a couple of games along the way as well. Hopefully, Johnny B has/will regain his confidence, and we can move the ball down the field without sputtering as much as we did last season. If we can score more than 17 points a game and control field position, we should have a great shot at winning if the defense is as good as hoped.

  10. The coaching staff is as good a group that Florida has ever seen on paper. My question is? Has Mushchamp, Quinn or Weiss ever won a title coaching college kids? It is a great look for recruits to have all the NFL experience, but can these guys motivate students who are juggling classes and sports? We’ll see!!! Go Gators…. Keep working Johnny B, we are still behind you!

  11. Tim T, good point…there are a number of five stars on offense too…hopefully Rainey, Thompson, Dubose and others will do the same, meet those expectations. There are 16 Scout rated five stars on the team (if you include Dunkley) split evenly on the O and D. Again, the talent is there!

  12. Typically, when installing a new system, the D picks it up more quickly than the O. If that’s the case, and these youngsters come along as expected, we’ll be in fine shape. Word I’m hearing is Brantley is taking control and making his teammates believe he can run the O. That bodes well for the O side; if the team has confidence in the QB, they tend to play better and don’t panic as quickly. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people. While I don’t know that I’d throw money on the table and bet that we’re going to the ATL, but if it happens. I will not be surprised.

  13. What a difference a year makes. Nobody could have predicted three years ago that we would hire a defensive minded head coach and had as much or more going on defense than offense (at least at this stage). Muschamp has made all the right moves so far. If he is as good a game coach as he is at everything else to this point the Gators should be good enough to win the
    East and then some.

  14. Encouraging news about the D-line, but does raise questions about the strength of who they’re practicing against so far…how strong of an O-line will we have this year? I think Brantley could be great under Weis, but he needs protection.

  15. As I’ve previously stated this team has TALENT! And with the refreshed energy and experience the coaching staff is bringing to the table I’m willing to say we should have at least 9 or 10 wins this coming season! I also expect Debose to run alot of kick returns back this year…dude has AMAZING speed lol but then again that’s basically the majority of the team.

  16. Any “word” anyone has heard on Brantley is the same PC talk we heard last year. Brantley is a beast in practice and great when your up by 20+, but he doesn’t seem to have the steel nerves to deliver when it matters most. He hesitates, he second guesses, and he’s inaccurate when the pressure is on. Plus, he can’t scramble to buy time when he needs it. That alone will account for one down every possession. With our young O-line, I believe Brantley will be the most sacked QB in the SEC this year. I’m pumped about the Defense, but there’s no way we’re getting close to an NC this year. Maybe we get lucky and make it to Atlanta, because we play in the East, but we’re not going undefeated. Not without a decent QB who can do what needs to be done. I mean, did any of you see flashes of a decent QB last year? I don’t care how bad the system fit Brantley, I would expect to see something that would make me believe: leadership, excellent accuracy, ability to read defenses, anything? Now compound his ineffectiveness with a new, unfamiliar system. If Brantley is an effective QB in the SEC next year, it will be nothing short of a miracle and Charlie Weis should win assistant coach of the century. I believe this a throw away year anyways, so why not throw one of the freshman in and let him get his feet wet, so we can win it all in 2012.

    I know, I’m not a real fan because I don’t blindly believe. I don’t have enough blind faith to be a real gator fan, I know, I know. Trust me, no one wants to be wrong more than I do and I’ll be the first to admit it. Here’s to hoping I’m an idiot!

  17. Brantley actually played pretty well during the first part of the season. He wasn’t given the opportunity to progress, because he was always getting pounded! I believe he lost faith in his O-line, who wouldn’t have and the coaching on the offense side of the ball. Now that he has a competent coach helping him to overcome the issues he developed last year, he will be the surprise of the year! How much would your confidence increase if Weis was your coach and he was telling you that you were doing a good job? Think about it! No one can question his toughness – he just needs to be able to have faith in the system!

  18. I LOVE the Gators, BUT, let’s be realistic.
    A lack of Gator-like success last year was certainly not a lack of coaching ability. It was because there were holes both in the starting roster and depth charts.
    The o-line was terrible last year.
    And the young defense played pretty well, considering all of the ‘three-and-outs’ that the offense had.
    All in all the ‘D’ showcased some play-makers but there are too many questions (defensive-end, depth/development on the o-line, and receivers) for our Gators to talk about NC or SEC crowns.
    Considering the schedule, and the obvious lack of experience vs potential in those areas, a 10-win season would qualify coach Will as the national coach of the year.
    Go Gators!!!!

  19. Brent,
    Not having blind faith does not mean that you are not a great UF fan.
    Guys like Patchan (trying to overcome injuries) and senior talents like Rainey and Demps, along with the five or six freshmen who are play-makers who garnered invaluable playing time last fall, all combine to make this more than a throw-away season.
    It’s crucial for our Gators to get back to being among the nation’s elite.
    There are many goals besides the SEC or NC to be earned.
    A win over Alabama and some pay-back against FSU are both good places to start.
    Thanks for your opinions and I appreciate the fans who don’t always see things through Orange and Blue glasses.
    Go Gators!!!

  20. Well, just watched the O&B game and, unfortunately, what I said above seems more true than ever. You need a QB who can move and scramble when playing Defenses in the SEC and Brantley is not that guy. How many times did we see him throw batted balls last year and what did we see today? I don’t know the exact stats, but I know he didn’t complete many passes and, more importantly, he doesn’t pass the eye test like Murphy and Driskel do. Imagine how much better they would be if they could play 2 real games before UT. I say let the better QB play, either Murphy or Driskel, and send Brantley packing.

    Oh and don’t give me the “they played different teams”. They’re so thin on the line, both lines were even and some guys played both ways. Muschamp said he didn’t believe in “Gamers”, players who play better on game day than in practice and he believes how a player does in practice is how they will be evaluated. I think he’s wrong and I think the opposite is true, some players do great in practice, but can’t handle the pressure of game day.

  21. I second what Brent said, and trust me I want to be just as wrong as well and I love the GATORS as much as anybody, we are just being realistic, after the O & B game I do see Driskel being another great Gator QB…….likely not as a true freshman, butat some point in the future !!!

  22. I’m with Brent…after seeing the O & B game. Brantley is just not fit for Florida football, His feild vision need plenty or improvement. However there seems to be some good quality in Murphy, and as expected Driskel is going to be a beast.

  23. Have some patience with Brantley. If Charlie doesn’t get him ready to play, it will be the first time in Charlie’s career that I know of. We are blessed to have an offensive legend at OC, and I do not think I know more than him. Maybe you guys should think the same thing.

  24. Interesting that your positional recap of Spring did not mention Debose anywhere in the wide receiver category, only in the kick return game. Considering that he’s now going into his 3rd season, and was one of the Gators “elite” recruits a couple years back, one has to wonder what the story is. Last year it was said that he was still learning the offense. Any insights as to what the deal is at this pont?