Florida Recruiting Column and Podcast, With Early National Signing Day Looming

Brian Smith

Taking a look at the Florida Gators’ recruiting needs a month away from early National Signing Day, how to improve the Florida quarterback situation moving forward, and how the race for the College Football Playoff is far from settled.

STRONG FINISH AHEAD FOR GATORS?

With offensive tackle Issiah Walker (6-4, 310, Norland HS, Miami, FL) and ATH Marc Britt (6-2, 180, Miami Christian School, Miami, FL) joining the Florida recruiting class within the last month, scholarships will be limited down the stretch. Which recruits will the Gators truly go after?

It's no question that OT Marcus Dumervil (6-5, 315, St. Thomas Aquinas, Fort Lauderdale, FL) has been and will continue to be a major priority. With that said, all the rumors trend towards Dumervil playing his college football in Baton Rouge, LA. 

This would be a major blow to Florida’s recruiting efforts. It will be discussed later within this article and the podcast, but the offensive line still needs to be addressed. Can the Gators land another prospect that helps the team? Of course. It’s just that Dumervil’s upside is very high. It's hard to lose an in-state recruit to an SEC rival. Still, there’s some possible good news.

Expect Florida head coach Dan Mullen and his staff to continue to seek top-notch skill players as well, especially at running back. Lamical Perine will be leaving at the end of the season, and no proven bell-cow sits behind him on the running back depth chart.

Considering how hard Florida has hit the greater Fort Lauderdale and Miami area since Mullen arrived, a likely priority will be Jaylan Knighton (5-10, 180, Deerfield Beach HS, Deerfield Beach, FL). He’s been discussed before, and his name will be bandied about until he signs his letter of intent with the Gators or another program. 

Knighton is a difference-maker. He possesses speed and moves that fit what the Gators do with the spread option. Miami, Ohio State, Alabama, Florida and goodness only knows how many other programs continue to recruit him - Knighton originally committed to Florida State, but backed off after the Seminoles fired head coach Willie Taggart.

Look for Knighton to make a late decision; just because he commits to any one particular school should not mean his recruitment is over either. With the history of south Florida recruiting, coaches know it’s not over until the fax machine brings in the letter of intent.

There are other names to know at running back as well, and I will discuss them on the podcast. One player to consider learning more about is Jo’Quavious Marks (5-10, 195, Carver HS, Atlanta, GA)

The Gators have been recruiting the Georgia standout for a while despite his commitment to Mississippi State. He’s taking visits, and already trekked to Florida for an unofficial visit. With elite elusiveness and agility, Marks can play!

The need for more speed and athleticism does not end with running back. Wide receiver and defensive back could be positions where Florida makes a move, depending on how one wants to classify recruits. One of the more intriguing names would be WR/ATH Xzavier Henderson (6-4, 180 lbs, Columbus HS, Miami, FL). Although listed as a wide receiver, Henderson could line up at free safety, in the secondary like his older brother, Gators' cornerback C.J. Henderson, theoretically. This helps Florida from many different perspectives.

The SEC continues to be tough enough. The Gators need to combat injury situations, year in and year out, with versatile players that can change positions if need be. Henderson possesses the athletic skill set to play wide receiver or safety. It's always good to have options. 

The Gators will continue to battle several of the usual suspects, with Clemson being the biggest perceived threat. Henderson plans to announce his college decision on January 4, 2020. Here’s a look at Henderson’s tape:

I will have more recruiting information via the podcast. I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing which recruits the Gators land down the stretch. It could really help determine whether Florida can make it to Atlanta for the SEC championship and the College Football Playoff over the next three to four years.

THE TRASK DILEMMA

Rarely does a player do well and be replaced. Further, rarely does a quarterback lead his team to consistent success within the SEC and have serious question marks. Then again, this is the University of Florida Football program. It’s not as easy as just accepting good. Thus, the Trask dilemma.

First off, no one is picking on quarterback Kyle Trask. He actually played well for most of this season. Is that good enough for what Florida desires? Will Mullen settle for just good quarterback play? Could there be a dual-quarterback situation next season with even more of Emory Jones? Perhaps Jones takes over the starting role? Debatable.

Trask almost lost a couple more passes to interceptions while playing at Missouri. It’s a habit, and a bad one - while Trask has only thrown six interceptions in eight starts, there's been plenty of interceptable passes thrown that would change our perspective on the QB's ball security and accuracy if the ball went the other way. Not to mention, despite some improvement, Trask has also struggled with pocket mobility and feel for pressure.

At some point, Florida quarterbacks must stop handing the ball to the other team. It’s been a problem for quite a few years, especially when playing teams like Georgia, Auburn, LSU and other SEC opponents. That’s not going to cut it. Turnovers lead to loses. The Gators possess a few options, and it’s anyone’s guess what will happen moving forward.

Trask had a solid outing vs. Missouri, going 23 of 35, 282 yards and two touchdowns. But, what if one or two of those close calls with interceptions came to fruition? That’s the concern with Trask. 

Only the Florida coaching staff knows if Trask can be more consistent. The coaching staff sees Trask each day in practice and in the meeting rooms. Believe it or not, the decision with Trask even impacts this year’s recruiting. The quarterback situation is a big reason for the need to land more playmakers. Speed and talent alleviate pressure on the signal-caller(s).

Maybe the Gators land a few more playmakers, and Trask continues on as the starting quarterback during the 2020 season. The other side of the equation says go more with the running threat that is Jones. Adding more weapons, and more usage of a healthy Kadarius Toney could aid the Gators’ offense. 

Regardless of what any Gator fan thinks now, there’s plenty of time before the 2020 season to figure all the possibilities out. I’ll add a few more thoughts about the Trask dilemma in the podcast, and a key point about Toney and his importance as well.

2020 COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF: GATORS HAVE A SHOT

After discussing the quarterback concerns, why in the world should anyone believe Florida can make the playoffs next year? Well, for one, Dan Mullen. 

He’s done wonders this year in what is quite frankly a difficult situation. The running game lacks the needed production, as the 58 rushing yards against Missouri sadly showed, and the defense is placed in many difficult situations because of offensive inconsistency. There’s still room for hope.

The quarterback situation will improve. Put your trust in Mullen there. He’s proven to be a very good quarterback coach. That’s not changing. The bigger question, where will the playmakers come from, on both sides of the ball?

The running game will improve as the offensive line gels and younger players push to earn playing time. While this is not the time to discuss the numerous possible offensive line starters, the unit absolutely must be better in 2020. The Gators’ paltry 124 yards rushing per game just will not get it done. Now, the rushing attack does not need to be similar to, say, the Tim Tebow-era Gators, but 170 or even 180 yards per game should be a realistic goal. 

Enough about the running game, time to talk defense.

The defensive end position will lose a couple of excellent pass rushers. Anyone that follows the SEC knows how important the defensive ends and linebackers that get after the opposing quarterback can be for each team, Florida included. 

Still, with Mohamoud Diabate (3.5 sacks) being true freshmen, Zachary Carter a sophomore (3.5 sacks), and Jeremiah Moon being a junior (3.0 sacks), it’s not like the Florida pass rush will just disappear. There are several other young Gators that made sacks this year, and reinforcements coming to Gainesville too. Don't forget transfer student Brenton Cox.

Do not be surprised if incoming freshman Derek Wingo from St. Thomas Aquinas receives playing time next year. He’s talented enough to at least be a third down pass rusher, and he could blitz from multiple linebacker positions. Adding Wingo with a good group of young defensive players will allow the Gators more options for substitutions and blitz packages. There are other young Gator players to consider.

Current Gator freshman Khris Bogle earned two sacks this year, and he is the player that could make the biggest move. Young defensive linemen generally make their biggest improvements between year one and year two due not only to time in weight room, but the film room as well. An entire offseason for a young player like Bogle will add production. He should be one of many young players that help provide the Gators a chance to reach next year’s College Football Playoff.

Within the podcast, I will go even more in depth about the Gators 2020 chances and how they compare to programs such as Ohio State, LSU, Clemson, Georgia and Alabama.

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