Today, we examine the Gators’ strengths and weaknesses coming out of the spring.
Strongest position: Offensive line
Key returnees: Senior center Mike Pouncey, senior guard/tackle Carl Johnson, senior tackle Marcus Gilbert, sophomore tackle Xavier Nixon, senior guard Maurice Hurt, junior guard James Wilson
Key departures: Center Maurkice Pouncey
The skinny: The Gators did some bang-up recruiting this offseason with a signing class some have called the most talented ever. But their most important recruit might have been holding onto Mike Pouncey, who opted not to turn pro early and will instead slide over from guard and take over for his twin brother, Maurkice, at center next season. Maurkice was a first-round selection and will certainly be missed, but the Gators return four starters up front -- and three of those are seniors. Nixon took over at left tackle as a true freshman last season and started the last five games. Johnson returns at left guard, but has also started at tackle. Gilbert returns as the Gators’ right tackle. Hurt and Wilson will probably battle it out for the right guard spot. Hurt started some at guard a year ago. The Gators have enough depth and versatility in their offensive line that Steve Addazio will have the luxury of working a couple of different combinations to ensure getting his best five guys on the field. Junior tackle Matt Patchan could also factor in somewhere after being injured most of last season. Barring a rash of injuries, this may end up being the best offensive line Urban Meyer has had at Florida.
Weakest position: Defensive end
Key returnees: Senior Justin Trattou (17 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, two sacks, one interception), senior Duke Lemmens (10 tackles), junior William Green (12 tackles, three tackles for loss)
Key departures: Carlos Dunlap (38 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss, nine sacks), Jermaine Cunningham (34 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, seven sacks, two forced fumbles)
The skinny: If ever the Gators could use an infusion of talent, it’s at defensive end. Not by coincidence, they went out and signed some of the most talented end prospects in the country, most notably Ronald Powell of Moreno Valley, Calif. He might need to bulk up some, but Powell is an incredible athlete who will be a nightmare for opposing offensive tackles off the edge. It’s rare that true freshman defensive linemen come into the SEC and make an immediate impact, but Powell is that kind of talent. Trattou is the top returnee and will need to make more big plays for the Gators, who got a combined 31.5 sacks from Dunlap and Cunningham the past two seasons. Green has big-play potential at the other end. He just has to go do it. Lemmens is a steady player, but neither is in the class of Dunlap and Cunningham. Rushing the passer effectively will be more important than ever next season, too, when you consider that the Gators will be filling holes in the secondary created by the early departures of cornerback Joe Haden and safety Major Wright. Two more true freshmen who could end up helping are Dominique Easley and Lynden Trail. Easley could get snaps at both end and tackle.