Early Monday afternoon, the Florida Gators published their first depth chart of the Dan Mullen era in advance of the Gators’ season opener on Saturday against Charleston Southern.
If you were hoping for a lot of surprises? Keep hoping.
BREAKING: #Gators Release Depth Chart for Charleston Southern Game— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) August 27, 2018
Story: https://t.co/N5UHmbVWuQ#GoGators pic.twitter.com/gwk4A7srfD
The headline is obviously that Feleipe Franks is Florida’s starter at quarterback for its game against the Buccaneers, a move that comes as little surprise given Franks’s pedigree as a top recruit, physical talents, and edge in experience on backup Kyle Trask and unlisted true freshman Emory Jones.
Most of the other names on offense are where they might have been expected to be, too. The returning Jordan Scarlett is Florida’s starting halfback, and is set to be backed up by Lamical Perine or Malik Davis. Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes sit at one wide receiver spot opposite Tyrie Cleveland (who is backed up by speedsters Dre Massey and Kadarius Toney), and Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain appear penciled into the slot. Florida’s offensive line looks largely the same as it has in recent years, with maybe the most interesting position up front being center, where converted guard Nick Buchanan and the feisty but undersized T.J. McCoy have staged one of the most contentious tug-of-wars for practice reps this fall.
Defense is where the surprises come. Donovan Stiner being one of Florida’s starting safeties — ahead of higher-rated recruits Brad Stewart and Shawn Davis, both of whom played more than Stiner in 2017 — is an eye-opener, as is former five-star recruit CeCe Jefferson sitting behind Jachai Polite, who has drawn rave reviews this fall, at Todd Grantham’s Buck position of edge rusher. Tedarrell Slaton being slotted in at tackle rather than nose tackle in Grantham’s 3-4 scheme may also be jarring for those who remember him as an effective but portly player in 2017 as a true freshman, but Slaton has slimmed down under new strength coach Nick Savage, losing more than 30 pounds, and so may be a more versatile and reliable performer this fall.
True freshman Trey Dean III has gotten praise from Mullen and Grantham as well, so his appearance at backup corner is less surprising — especially given Florida’s lack of depth at the position — than a vindication of a strong start to his Florida career. And Florida’s linebackers being exclusively old hands — from the junior version of David Reese, listed as David Reese II to distinguish him from the freshman linebacker of the same name, to early Jim McElwain recruits Rayshad Jackson and Kylan Johnson — is not exactly a shock, though there has been some fall camp buzz for players like James Houston IV and Ventrell Miller.
And Florida’s special teams units, widely expected to be better under Mullen than McElwain, are a mixture of the familiar and fresh. A Townsend is set to be Florida’s punter for the fifth straight year — it’ll be Tommy Townsend, Johnny’s brother and a Tennessee transfer, this fall — and Ryan Farr returns at long snapper, but old hand Jorge Powell is competing with freshman Evan McPherson at kicker, and the candidates at returner — who are all offensive players, a nod to how precious the health of Florida’s defensive backs will be — include Adarius Lemons, Cleveland, Massey, Swain, and Toney, with longtime returners Brandon Powell and Antonio Callaway now in the NFL.
I’ll put together this depth chart in, uh, chart form and have more analysis on it on Tuesday, but, for now: What do you think? Is Franks in there in pen? Is Stiner being one of Florida’s starting safeties a good thing? Are Florida’s coaches trying to light a fire under any of the players listed as backups or not listed at all?