Sunday, November 17, 2013

Post-Carolina Recruiting Thoughts

For those of you who have followed this blog over the last couple of months, I apologize for my absence over the last few weeks. There have been a lot of changes on the home front (many of them good) that have caused me to take a step back from this little pet project of mine. But now that I'm settled in a bit, I'm looking to churn out a few posts per week as we start to move towards this offseason, which figures to be coming a lot sooner than most Gators fans anticipated at the beginning of the fall.

– To be frank, there haven't been many recruiting developments over the last few weeks. The only big one of note was the slightly positive surprise of Derby (Kan.) tight end Deandre Goolsby. For anyone who has followed this blog at all, you're well-versed in how much I've been harping on the need for good tight ends in this class. Florida now has two good ones in Goolsby and Alabama native C'yontai Lewis. The Gators should also be keeping close tabs on Crawfordville Wakulla prospect Jordan Franks and Ocala Vanguard star Elkannah Dillon down the stretch as well, based on the campaigns they put together during the 2013 season.

In terms of Goolsby, the Gators are getting, in my estimation, a player who can step in and have an impact immediately. Now, I'm not predicting a 1,000-yard receiving season or anything of that sort. But this is a guy who should be able to come in, and battle for an opportunity to get on the field as a freshman. At a position where the players on the roster have really shown no ability to make an impact in the passing game as receivers, Goolsby will certainly be a welcome breath of fresh air next fall.

– But while things have been relatively quiet for the Gators on the recruiting trail in recent weeks, Thursday could be the day that changes course for UF. Highly-regarded OT prospect David Sharpe, who at one time appeared to be heading towards a decision at the Army All-American Bowl, has now decided to move up his timetable on announcing a college choice:

While Sharpe's only official visit has been to Tennessee so far, the signs are pointing quite favorably towards UF landing good news on Thursday. This would obviously be good news if the "buzz" proves to be true. Again, for anyone who has followed this blog, Sharpe has been a player discussed on numerous occasions and is obviously an incredible talent with major upside as an offensive tackle. If the Gators do, in fact, land him later this week, it's a big move in the right direction for a Florida unit that has struggled all throughout the course of the season.

– All that aside, a lot of Florida's recruiting success down the stretch will hinge on whether or not the Gators can hold together a strong nucleus that they've put together on the recruiting trail to date, with 15 commitments from a talented group. Prospects like Will Grier, Quincy Wilson and Ermon Lane seem to continue to give out positive vibes. However, players like Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson and Dalvin Cook have certainly left the door open to end up somewhere other than Gainesville. With Florida poised to end a streak of 22 consecutive years in which the season was ended with a bowl game, Will Muschamp and his staff (or I guess I should say, what remains of his staff after the year), can get to work on holding together a class which still could possibly finish among the top 5-10 groups in the country come Feb. 1, 2014.

Now that it's very much clear that Will Muschamp return at the helm for at least his fourth season in Gainesville next fall, the spotlight falls directly on the offseason, and what changes Boom decides to make on his staff (along with the crop of players he brings in for next fall, obviously). Muschamp's future in Gainesville will essentially come down to the 3-4 hires (possibly more) he makes to fill out his staff this offseason. We will be keeping a close eye on the names as they emerge on the board as the Gators look to get things turned around following what will almost certainly prove to be the most disappointing UF football season in over 30 years.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Is Stacy Searels the cure to what ails the Florida offensive line?

Over the last few weeks, I've been looking over names of offensive line coaches that have ties to Will Muschamp. The LSU game very possibly might have sounded the death knell for Tim Davis' tenure in Gainesville, so now seems like as good of a time as any to discuss the topic. There are plenty of possibilities out there, but one name keeps jumping off the page: Stacy Searels of Texas.

There are a number of reasons that particular move would make sense. Searels and Muschamp have a history, as they coached together for two seasons at LSU from 2003-04. Searels has deep ties to the South, hailing from the state of Georgia. He attended Auburn and has coached at UGA in addition to his time in Baton Rouge. Searels has a strong reputation as a recruiter (an area that Davis has been widely criticized for during his time in Gainesville). Plus he's currently on the staff at Texas. Considering how tenuous Mack Brown's hold on the head coaching job is in Austin, it makes sense for Searels to potentially look elsewhere for employment.

Now, the negatives. It's good for an offensive coordinator and an offensive line coach to be on the same page, naturally. Searels and Brent Pease have no real known connections, so we don't know if they would be a good fit together. Of course, Pease may not even be the offensive coordinator at UF by this time next season, so that factoid may not even matter. Searels' four seasons in Athens were not completely well-received. Although Georgia turned it around with a 11-2 mark in 2007, his first with the Bulldogs, they were 6-7 by the end of his tenure in 2010, with the running game being largely blamed for Georgia's offensive struggles. By the time Searels left for Texas in January of 2011, his departure wasn't exactly considered the worst development for the UGA coaching staff by the local press.

In Austin, the running game has improved, from 4.2 ypc in 2010 to 4.5 ypc in 2011 and now 4.8 ypc through the midway point of this season. These aren't Earth-shattering numbers, by any means, but they tend to show a trend of positive performance under Searels. Then, there's the matter of salary. Searles reportedly makes $439,500 per year from the Longhorns. So, perhaps he would have to consider the possibility of a paycut in the event he were to somehow end up at UF? Or maybe the Gators would consider continuing to be less-stingy with the salaries of football assistants? Either way, that could be a major factor in the pursuit of a high-profile coach like Searels.

There are other names to keep an eye on (Bob Bostad, currently an assistant for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and a former OL coach at Wisconsin, is one who stands out), but if the offensive line continues to be an issue for the Gators, a move on the coaching staff is likely to happen at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Post-LSU recruiting thoughts

To start, a recap of the week that was. Some of the posts you might have missed:

– Eight prep receivers from the state of Florida who have shined so far this fall.

– Where is Delray Beach Village Academy defensive lineman Kevin Bronson on the radar for the Gators?

– The Gators have had a strong run of success at the tight end position since 2000. Where does it stack up against other programs in college football?

– Jacksonville Ribault linebacker Jakob Johnson, a German transplant, is now sitting on four offers after Wisconsin extended a tender to him last week.

– Which positions could Florida look to for immediate relief after this season from the JUCO ranks?

– Some late-week Gators-related news and notes.

And now, on to the new stuff ...

– Chewing on Florida's 17-6 loss in Baton Rouge for a couple of days can leave one with the sensation of a mouthful of gristle. This explains why the typical day-after recruiting post comes on Monday instead of Sunday. It's hard to discern at this point whether the offensive struggles are an issue of coaching or an issue of personnel. And that's obviously a dangerous place to be in if you're the coach of the Florida Gators. We'll have to see where the rest of this season goes, but I'm hard-pressed not to think there won't be some coaching turnover on the offensive side of the ball after this season. But that's really not the point of this post, so that topic will have to be saved for another day.

Going into the season, if you asked me to concede one game for Florida this season, the LSU contest in Baton Rouge was the very obvious pick. I'm sure some are disappointed by the manner in which Florida lost on Saturday. Yes, there's some things that have to be corrected on offense (especially up front on the line). We'll see how Florida rebounds from this one, and it will only take a few days to get their response. No rest for the weary (now down another starter in RB Matt Jones) as a tougher-than-originally-expected trip to Missouri looms on the schedule this weekend.

– Florida was originally able to sell Immokalee receiver J.C. Jackson on the idea of dropping his pledge to FSU in favor of a commitment to UF by focusing on the defensive angle, as he preferred playing cornerback to receiver, which is the position Florida State recruited him for. He may want to re-think that stance.
On the season, Jackson now has 621 yards receiving and nine scores on just 18 receptions. He's averaging 34.5 yards per catch. These numbers are obviously pretty good.

I always liked the idea of taking J.C. Jackson to go along with Adoree' Jackson and Chris Lammons, because it seemed natural that one of those guys would probably end up on offense as a slot guy. But Florida still has a lot of work to do to make that happen. Lammons is committed, but hasn't completely shut the door. Jackson visited LSU this past weekend and came away singing the praises of the Bayou Bengals after their win over Florida. Now, Jackson is flirting pretty heavily with Miami, and it will certainly be interesting to see what comes of that. The Gators don't need to sign all three of those guys, certainly. But getting at least two would be nice.

The number of skill players (RB, WR and DB types) in this class likely needs to be right around 10 to offset the losses UF will experience after this season, especially in the secondary. The Jacksons, as well as guys like Lammons and some of the other top targets on the board are keys to making sure the Gators restock
with the proper amount of speed and athleticism.

Florida could also use a guy who can take the top off the defense and give them a vertical threat down the field in the passing game. J.C. Jackson may turn out to be exactly that guy.

– At this point, a total overhaul at the tight end position needs to be considered. All four of the scholarship players at that position currently for Florida, have eligibility remaining after this season. That number needs to be cut in half. Deandre Goolsby, who visited Arkansas this past weekend, has to be considered a major priority at this point. If he decides to stick closer to home for college, then the Gators will need to go back to the drawing board and consider other options. With the type of season Jordan Franks is putting together at Crawfordville Wakulla, a scholarship offer for his services no longer seems like such a far-fetched option.

– Danielle Hunter showed on Saturday why Florida needs to add some height to the defensive line. Two batted balls on screen passes, one of which was set up to go for a long way to Valdez Showers if it's completed. Hunter is listed at 6-6 by the LSU sports information department. Florida has one 6-6 end in Alex McAllister on the roster, but he's not currently a factor in the defensive line rotation. This is why "the Lorenzos" (6-5 Carter and 6-7 Featherston) are such a priority for the Gators on the recruiting trail in the Class of 2014. Expect Brad Lawing to continue trying to add length and size to the defensive line moving forward, as well.

– I know Florida has an upperclassmen-laden depth chart along the offensive line, with most of those guys returning for next season. But if the LSU game is an example of the best effort this group can muster, Florida has got to consider looking to the JUCO ranks for talent (once again) in order to find a player or two who can come in and compete for playing time right off the bat. There is simply no excuse for the lack of production in the running game for a team built to win by being physical and pounding opposing defenses with a physical ground attack.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Ten Florida receivers who have shined this fall

We're just past the midway point of the high school season for Florida. Most teams now have six games in the books, and some players in the passing game have really started to break away from the pack. Here's eight ten receivers (well, actually, nine receivers and a tight end) who have emerged this fall. Some were already well-known coming into the season. Some of the others? Well, they weren't quite as well known before this fall.

Now, keep in mind, I'm not advocating that these are the eight best wide receiver prospects in Florida. There have been a number of top prospects (Ermon Lane, Ja'Von Harrison, Corey Holmes and Artavis Scott among them) whose numbers haven't matched those of the players in this post for one reason or another. However, the below-listed prospects have raised their level of play this fall, without a doubt.

Ryan Sousa (6-0, 177, Lake Nona) – The prolific senior out of the Orlando area continues to put up big numbers. Sousa had over 2,400 receiving yards and 30 touchdowns over the past two seasons, and his numbers continue to trend up for Lake Nona. Through six games this fall, Sousa has grabbed 59 receptions for 901 yards (15.3 ypc) and 10 scores. FSU commitment.

Natrelle Jamerson (6-0, 175, Ocala Vanguard) – Jamerson has been a part of a prolific offensive attack for the Knights this fall. Through six games, Jamerson has 39 receptions for 785 yards (20.1 ypc) and eight scores. Tight end Elkanah Dillon has also been very effective for the Vanguard passing game this season, as the Knights are 3-3 on the season.

Mike Boone (5-9, 175, Glen St. Mary Baker County) – Following a 46-7 victory against Paxon on Friday night, the FIU pledge had nabbed 48 receptions for 841 yards (17.5 ypc) and 11 scores through seven games for 5-2 Baker County.

Jordan Franks (6-4, 210, Crawfordville Wakulla) – The senior tight end has thrived with brother Feleipe throwing him passes this fall. Franks had notched 40 receptions for 742 yards (18.6 ypc) and seven scores for the 6-1 War Eagles, before a 28-7 victory over Starke Bradford on Friday night.

Anthony "Shug" Rhynes (5-11, 190, Tampa Middleton) – Rhynes' performance has been overshadowed by the fact he competes on a 1-5 team. Still, the senior receiver had 23 receptions for 811 yards and seven scores following into a 26-21 victory for Middleton on Friday night against Blake, the Tigers' first victory of the season. Rhynes had a 70-yard pass reception for a score in the game.

Travis Rudolph (6-1, 188, West Palm Beach Cardinal Newman) – The Under Armour All-American has put together good numbers on the ground and as a receiver over the past three seasons. But nothing like he's done so far this fall. Through seven games, Rudolph already has career highs of 36 receptions, 762 yards (21.2 ypc) and 11 touchdowns for the 4-2 Crusaders. Rudolph has certainly emerged as one of the top prospects in the state of Florida at the wide receiver position, if not the best.

J.C. Jackson (5-10, 185, Immokalee) – After another big game for the Florida commitment on Friday night in a win over Naples, Jackson now has 18 receptions for 615 yards (34.2 ypc) and 9 scores for Immokalee, despite the fact he's only played in five games for the Indians, who are now 5-2 on the season. Jackson now has two games of 200+ receiving yards in the last three weeks for Immokalee.

Stephen Denmark (6-3, 200, Tallahassee Rickards) – Denmark has been a standout on a surprising 6-0 Rickards squad. He has 23 receptions for 632 yards (27.5 ypc) and eight scores for the season. He also added an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against FAMU High on Thursday, demonstrating why his stock should continue to rise over the course of this season and heading into the weeks leading up to National Signing Day.

Garrett Johnson (5-10, 168, Winter Garden West Orange) – The explosive slot receiver has been incredibly productive once against for West Orange this fall, nabbing 38 receptions for 607 yards (16.0 ypc) and nine touchdowns for the 6-1 Warriors before a 56-7 win over Cypress Creek on Friday night. Johnson had a 63-yard reception for a touchdown and also returned a punt 68 yards for a touchdown in that contest as well. Johnson is committed to Kentucky.

Ny'Qwan Murray (5-11, 170, Orlando Oak Ridge) – The central Florida speedster recently picked up his first FBS offer from Cincinnati. Murray had 41 receptions for 788 yards (19.2 ypc) and 10 scores before a 23-20 win over Ocoee to move their record to 4-3 on the year. Murray had a 99-yard TD reception against East Ridge earlier this season, which is linked below.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Gators Recruiting News & Notes, 10/11

It's been sort of a quiet week on the recruiting trail. Not a whole lot of Florida-related notes to write about, or anything of note from the national perspective that grabbed my attention. However, here's a couple of tidbits to chew on as we head towards an excellent slate of games on Saturday:

– Rivals reported earlier this week that Auburn commit Tre Williams (6-2, 225, Mobile, Ala./St. Paul's) will use an official visit to see check out Florida. Is there anything to see here? Maybe, but it's unlikely. Williams name has been continuously been mentioned in connection with UF for months. But nothing has really came of it. Unless Williams makes more than one visit to Gainesville before National Signing Day, this is likely just a trip to have something to compare Auburn with.

Throw in the fact that Nyles Morgan (6-2, 230, Crete, Ill./Crete-Monee) has expressed interest in taking an official visit to Florida as well, and the linebacker board has expanded a bit for the Gators. Raekwon McMillan and Clifton Garrett remain the top two prospects on the board for Florida. But all four players have to be considered long shots for the Gators at this point. So, this begs the question: assuming the Gators miss on all four of these guys, will they elect to take a guy like Dwight Williams (6-1, 205, Gardena, Calif./Junipero Serra)? Or will they make a late run at one of the in-state linebackers instead? There are some impressive looking players from around the Sunshine State. Josh BlackJakob JohnsonXavier PrestonSharieff Rhaheed are among the in-state prospects worthy of an offer, in my view (Johnson could also get a look at defensive end or in a role similar to that of Ronald Powell). It should also be noted that current commitment Justus Reed could also get a look at playing linebacker or a hybrid role not all that dissimilar from current UF player Neiron Ball.

There's still a long ways to go. The need for numbers isn't there after signing four linebackers last year, but I still expect the Gators to add someone to the fold at the position for the Class of 2014. The only question now is, who will it be?

– Five-star WR commit Ermon Lane of Homestead was ejected for reportedly throwing a punch in a 45-0 win over Palmetto on Thursday night.
If the ejection is upheld as is, Lane would face a six-week suspension, which is the typical measure handed down by the FHSAA for such an incident. An appeal in the matter is likely, given the circumstances however, as Lane claims he was simply trying to jar the ball loose from an opponent while playing safety on defense. A reasonable argument, I suppose, without having been there to personally witness the incident, myself.

However, if the six-week suspension is upheld, Lane has very possibly played his final game at the high school level.

– The mystery player of Florida's 2014 class to date has been Casper (Wyo.) Natrona County lineman Taven Bryan. This of course, is owed mostly to the fact there have only been a handful of major recruits to come out of Wyoming over the past couple of decades (with Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Brett Keisel likely being the only one you've ever heard of). While stats on Bryan are hard to come across (he mostly plays offensive line at the high school level), there are a few notes to pass along in regards to his team.

A good analogy for the natives here, is that Natrona County would be to Wyoming, what Lake City Columbia is to the state of Florida. The Fillies were the winningest program in state history coming into the season, with an all-time record of 550-271-27 (good for a .665 winning percentage). They are the defending 4A state champions and have won or split 16 titles in their illustrious history.

However, Natrona has lost three games so far this season. All by a single point, and all three in overtime (the season-opener saw the Fillies drop a 42-41 decision to Cheyenne East in triple overtime, in fact). After beginning the season 3-3, they now have a tough road ahead following an early-season slump that has seen the program match their loss total over the previous three seasons in just six games this fall.

Bryan, a first-team Class 4A All-State selection as an offensive lineman a year ago (4A is the largest classification in Wyoming prep football), will be Florida's first ever signee from the state of Wyoming, to my knowledge. While he's projected as a player who could end up on either side of the football, he might just be the guy out of this class who ends up as the prospect who projects best at the center position for the Gators moving forward (a spot offensive line coach Tim Davis has said he wants to address in every recruiting class). Or maybe he does, in fact, end up the second coming of Keisel in the Swamp. Time will tell on that one.

– And if you missed it yesterday, Kevin Bronson has possibly emerged as on the board for Florida as a big end or quick tackle prospect for this recruiting class after the Gators came up short on a few names early on in the process of the Class of 2014.