Florida football: 3 positions primed for underclassmen to play next season

The Florida Gators are poised to have a rebuilding offense and a new-look defense in the first year of the Dan Mullen era.

And with a new coaching regime in place, that means positions will be up for grabs and fresh faces will be given fresh chances to make an impact for the Gators in 2018.

Here are the top five positions where underclassmen will have a chance to make an immediate impact in Mullen’s first season.

Quarterback

This seems like an annual topic for the Gators nowadays. Florida has used 11 starting quarterbacks since Tim Tebow’s final year in 2009. A 12th seems almost guaranteed unless Feleipe Franks magically improves from his lackluster redshirt freshman year.

Who that next starter will be seems to be a bigger question than if there’s going to be a new starter.

Outside of Franks, Florida’s options on its roster include Kyle Trask and Jake Allen, though neither has been seen in action at the collegiate level. On the recruiting front, the Gators are trying vehemently to snag a top prospect late in the early signing period cycle after Matt Corral flipped to Ole Miss. Four-star Ohio State commit Emory Jones seems to be the main target at this point, but 4-star dual-threat quarterback James Foster could also be a potential option should Jones decide to play elsewhere.

Wide receiver

Despite having a roster littered with blue-chip prospects, the Gators don’t have many proven receivers now that Antonio Callaway opted to sign with an agent and prep for the NFL Draft.

Tyrie Cleveland is the top option and a deep-field threat, but his production was limited for the back half of his sophomore year after suffering an ankle injury against Vanderbilt.

The rest of the group has been lackluster to say the least, whether it was due to poor offensive playcalling, quarterback production, lack of ceiling on their part or any combination of the three.

Former 4-star receivers Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain combined for just 342 yards on 26 catches, while speedster JUCO transfer Dre Massey had just 11 catches and 149 yards in his first year back from a torn ACL. Versatile threat Kadarius Toney showed flashes early in his freshman year before a shoulder injury caused his production to dip late.

Mullen will need to find playmakers here, and fast. And so far, his recruiting class has taken a major hit on that front.

Florida’s top three receivers in the class — Jacob Copeland, Ja’Maar Chase and Tyquan Thornton — have all de-committed. The lone receiver remaining in the class as of right now is 3-star Corey Gammage.

DaQuon Green, who redshirted last season, also will have a chance to be in the mix next year.

Linebacker

If the Gators do indeed switch to a 3-4 system, the linebacker corps is going to be the biggest question mark on the defense. Florida only returns four linebackers from its main rotation last year in David Reese, Vosean Joseph, Jeremiah Moon and Kylan Johnson.

Reese will easily play the part of a starting middle linebacker in a 3-4 scheme, and Moon has the versatility to be and edge rushing outside linebacker. Joseph and Johnson’s potential in the role remain to be seen.

Nick Smith, who sat out his freshman year after suffering an injury in the preseason, will return and provide an extra body at the position. Ventrell Miller and James Houston — both of whom were part of the nine-player credit-card fraud scandal in August — could return as well, giving the Gators more depth. Lacedrick Brunson, who played mostly on special teams, is on the roster as well.

As far as the recruiting class, Florida’s lone linebacker is 4-star commit David Reese (different Reese than the one already on the roster), who has a chance to start as an outside linebacker early in his career.

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