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Florida vs. Michigan: Gators’ depth chart holds few surprises

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There’s a lot of youth on defense, as expected, and the ORs are where they were always going to be.

NCAA Football: Outback Bowl-Florida vs Iowa Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The first depth chart of a season released by a program is a cause for celebration: Whether official or unofficial — or as unofficial as a depth chart from a program can be, I guess? — it is a peek at how coaches rate their players, and an opportunity for fans to use that information, as close to concrete as anything we get, to make educated predictions about a team’s fortunes in the fall (or spring).

The Florida Gatorsfirst 2017 depth chart is no different. Let’s run it down.

Quarterback

As leli noted, she was right about the ORs at QB1. She’s also right to note that the ordering — Feleipe Franks OR Luke Del Rio OR Malik Zaire — does not follow what would be alphabetical order for surnames, though it does weirdly follow alphabetical order for their first names. What that means? I don’t know. It means that’s how they wrote it. There probably isn’t a clue in there as to which guy will start on Saturday.

And given that I have heard positive buzz for all three possible starters this summer — Del Rio most consistently, Franks most recently — I won’t pretend to have a great idea who will be Florida’s starter. I do think that it’s likely Florida will play multiple quarterbacks, though, and I think that using Zaire and/or Kadarius Toney as change-of-pace players against Michigan is likely.

Most interesting to me about QB, in truth? Listing Kyle Trask as the backup and Jake Allen as the third-stringer. Trask is obviously not the actual backup, and Allen is four injuries from hitting the field. Yet there their names appear.

Running back

The hierarchy is what it is: Jordan Scarlett stands apart from the other upperclassmen (though we stretch “upperclassman” to include sophomore Lamical Perine), and the upperclassmen stand apart from the freshmen. Scarlett probably deserves about (or upwards of) 60 percent of Florida’s RB carries in 2017 — last year, he got 49 percent of the carries allocated to Florida’s top four backs — and should top 1,000 yards if he gets that share.

But the Gators also have too many talents not to get all of them on the field and see what they can do. And running backs are, to be somewhat crude, fungible, so getting their feet wet is more important than keeping their redshirts intact.

Wide receiver and tight end

Receiver is another position where Florida has a clear-cut No. 1 player — Antonio Callaway — but, as needs little elaboration, Callaway’s not the No. 1 at the moment. My guess is that he’d be where Josh Hammond is, atop the chart at X receiver, but Callaway could play any of the three receiver positions, while I’m not sure that’s true of any other Florida receiver, save maybe Brandon Powell. (And I think there’s a significant drop-off from Callaway to Powell.)

It’s also clear from this depth chart just how young and green Florida’s receivers really are. Apart from Powell, none of the players listed has more than 14 career catches — and Jordan Cronkrite, both a) a running back and b) long since transferred — had more in 2016 alone. And if Callaway does not return to the program’s good graces and/or if the oft-injured Powell gets dinged up again or fails to serve as a No. 1 option with Callaway out, there will be an even bigger opportunity for those younger players.

At tight end, Goolsby and Lewis seem to me to be interchangeable starters used in different situations: Lewis is the significantly better in-line blocker, and Goolsby the more reliable receiver. I think Lewis is closer to Goolsby as a receiver than Goolsby is to Lewis as a blocker, but they’re both going to play a lot. Kemore Gamble being listed as the second-stringer ahead of Moral Stephens and Kalif Jackson — players entering their fourth and third years in Gainesville, with one career catch between them — says all you need to know about either how high Florida coaches are on Gamble, despite an injury-plagued fall camp, or how far from the field Stephens and Jackson are.

Offensive line

I don’t think there’s a real surprise on the first string of the line — you could have inked in Martez Ivey, T.J. McCoy, Fred Johnson, and Jawaan Taylor as of, like, January — except perhaps for left guard, and repeated praise for Brett Heggie makes him winning out over Tyler Jordan only a surprise to whatever degree an older and more experienced player being relegated to the bench is.

Jordan, though, seems very clearly to be the sixth offensive lineman, and will probably be first off the bench when players are winded or hurt. And if his inability to lock down a starting role has helped make him a more versatile lineman, that might actually be good for both him and the Gators.

I’d imagine Antonio Riles and Stone Forsythe are the seventh and eighth linemen, and am only a little surprised Heggie isn’t also listed at third-string center. I do wonder if Kadeem Telfort, if not suspended, would have supplanted Kavaris Harkless or T.J. Moore.

Defensive line

What seems more formidable: Jabari Zuniga, Taven Bryan, and CeCe Jefferson across a 3-4 or 3-3-5 front, or Zuniga, Khairi Clark, Bryan, and Jefferson as a four-man front? I think it’s the former, and would point to that nose tackle position as Florida’s most worrisome one outside of quarterback on the entire roster. But I also don’t think we’ll see that many four-man fronts, and I think Jefferson sliding inside to make room for Antonneous Clayton — suspiciously listed as a third-teamer — on passing downs makes plenty of sense. (Zuniga-Bryan-Jefferson-Clayton poses some unsolvable problems to offenses, to my mind.)

Jordan Sherit being the only true veteran beyond the first team should also worry you a bit, especially against Michigan; Keivonnis Davis, Richerd Desir-Jones, and Jordan Smith all being out robs Florida of other options to rotate in against a power-running team. And for the whole of the season, Florida being deep on the defensive line depends on Sherit being relatively healthy, and two or three of the younger players stepping up, which is a tall task for 19- and 20-year-olds in the SEC’s trenches.

Linebacker

The only linebacker on Florida’s 2017 depth chart not recruited by Randy Shannon is a walk-on — and one who acquitted himself nicely in a bowl game and has since been placed on scholarship, to boot. Vosean Joseph is the closest name to an established star at any of the positions, and his legend is built more on timely hits than reliable production, but this is a linebacker corps brimming with potential despite its lack of pedigree and depth.

Also: One wonders if Ventrell Miller or James Houston would have appeared on the list if not for their suspension.

Defensive backs

Aaand the only defensive backs on Florida’s 2017 depth chart to join the program prior to 2016 are Duke Dawson and Nick Washington. Unlike the linebackers, though, these DBs are longish on pedigree and short on experience: Only Dawson, Washington, and Chauncey Gardner have started on a Saturday, and the only other defensive backs to have recorded a tackle on the depth chart are Jeawon Taylor and Joseph Putu — who had two more and one fewer tackle in 2016 than Ahmad Fulwood, to put their inexperience in perspective.

Florida likes Marco Wilson quite a lot, it seems, and his presence as the starter at both corner and nickel suggests to me that it’s more likely Putu or C.J. Henderson will come in as a third corner and slide outside while Wilson works the slot than the reverse. (Of course, Dawson is likely Florida’s best slot corner by miles, and may be the nation’s best slot corner.) All five members of Florida’s ballyhooed 2017 crop of defensive backs appear on the list, testament to that flotilla of talent — and to how little Florida had in its secondary without it.

Specialists

Eddy Piñeiro could be the nation’s best kicker; Johnny Townsend has already been the nation’s best punter. (Not listing Tommy Townsend as his older brother’s backup is odd, but whatever.) Where Florida’s special teams are less solid is at returner, where the single question marks that accompany Cleveland, Toney, and Massey as returners are probably still preferable to the double question marks that would be appended to most Powell returns if football were chess, and the interrobang-worthy play of Callaway, who went from nearly peerless in program history as a punt returner in 2015 to next to putrid in 2016. Florida also has the fleet-footed C.J. Henderson to deploy on returns if it wants.

Takeaways

Observing Florida’s roster as a depth chart reinforces what will be the theme and challenge of this season: The Gators have talent up and down the roster, largely hand-picked by their current coaches, and there’s reason to think this could be a very good team if young players step up. But that youth is also a serious risk factor, especially on defense, and it’s as easy to imagine a rising tide as it is Florida getting swamped often.

The other major note I’d make? Essentially, the gang’s all here. The healthy, non-suspended scholarship players not listed on this depth chart are McArthur Burnett, Andrew Mike, and Rick Wells — and Burnett and Wells are more “healthy” than healthy, having dealt with injuries in camp. While any of those three might be transfer candidates, I think the proper thing to take away from that is that these initial depth charts are meant to be hugely inclusive — and so some names you see today might not be there next week.