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August 22, 2012
Five Most Valuable Gators: Offense
Heading into the 2012 season coming off consecutive lackluster performances in 2010 and 2011, the Florida Gators are looking to right the ship and bring the program back to a level of prominence in the Southeastern Conference. These five Gators are looking to turn things around for Florida on the offensive side of the ball and may very well be the most valuable members of the unit when all is said and done this season.
Position: Offensive coordinator
Key stat: 22 years of coaching experience
The Skinny: Whenever you have to make a decision between two supposedly equal players - whether that equality falls on the positive or negative end of the spectrum - you know you are in a position of great value. Pease has seen more of sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel over the last few months than anyone on or off the staff. By this point he should have a solid handle on which player he wants to entrust with the leadership of his unit; Pease must make a steadfast decision, not one that get reevaluated after every game and changed each week. Florida needs a leader. The Gators need a starting quarterback. One - not two. Pease said on Friday that he does not expect his decision to be tough because both Brissett and Driskel are "capable" but "capable" does not cut it against the LSUs and Alabamas of the SEC. Pease, who has plenty of experience and knowledge, has been tasked with leading a successful offense and that begins with choosing the right quarterback.
Position: Running back
Key stat: No Florida running back has eclipsed 900 yards since 2004
The Skinny: Never a complainer, Gillislee (like every player) has wanted to be the featured back in Florida's offense since the day he stepped foot on campus. Schemes, injuries and a depth chart with two current NFL players one year in front of him limited his ability to get on the field as much as he and fans would have liked over the last two years. Now there are no more excuses. Gillislee is a senior and in an offense suited for his north-south, power running style. His head coach and offensive coordinator are behind him, each stating that he won the starting job outright weeks ago, and everyone is rooting for him to succeed. Gillislee wants to be a 1,600-yard runner. That may be a pipe dream, but the Gators have never won a championship without their top-two rushers combining for around 1,200 yards and have not had one player hit that mark since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. With a questionable quarterback situation and a defense primed to make another major step, Gillislee's production could be the key to the season.
Position: Tight end
Year: Redshirt junior
Key stat: The Gators have not had a tight end catch at least 30 balls since 2009.
The Skinny: The lack of production is not all Reed's fault. This is a player who it was decided would move from quarterback to tight end only to be thrust back into the role of part-time signal caller. This is a player whose injuries have, in part, prevented him from becoming consistent and not only seeing field time but also progressing in his position education. The only drawback Reed did not have to face was depth because aside from players being shifted over for those purposes, he has been the guy. A.C. Leonard is gone, Trey Burton and Omarius Hines will be there part time and no one truly knows what Clay Burton or Tevin Westbrook can do yet at tight end. Playing a position that is supposed to be a quarterback's best friend, a bail-out option who can consistently catch the ball if no one else is open, Reed has the opportunity to put together a breakout season and provide some assistance to an offense badly in need of playmakers.
Position: Wide receiver
Year: Redshirt junior
Key stat: Led all pass catchers with 432 yards and four touchdowns in 2011
The Skinny: The Gators' three starting receivers this season - who were listed as 2-4 one year ago, a single spot lower - combined for 45 receptions, 874 yards and six touchdowns in 2011. Debose was the best of the bunch with 432 yards and four touchdowns on his 16 catches, which included a pair of 65-yard bombs in consecutive weeks and a 151-yard, two-touchdown performance against Furman. What did Debose do in the other eight games? He caught a total of 10 balls for 126 yards. Redshirt senior Frankie Hammond Jr. has been listed as the most consistent receiver by Muschamp and Pease, but it will be Debose who makes or breaks the unit as a whole. Redshirt sophomore Quinton Dunbar will have his opportunities, freshman Latroy Pittman and junior Solomon Patton will see the field as well, but it is Debose who is being counted on to be the true playmaker and in some ways the straw that stirs the drink for Florida's receiving corps.
Position: Offensive line coach
Key stat: Has coached offensive linemen and tight ends for 29 seasons
The Skinny:The only way to solve a problem like the Gators offensive line is to bring in a position coach that the head coach trusts, who wants the job and "brings a much-needed energy to the position" (Muschamp's words). Muschamp has said consistently since the SEC Media Days in mid-July that the offensive line was Florida's most improved unit during spring ball and one that took huge steps forward thanks to Davis's coaching. He has complimented their run blocking and pass protection and said that the Gators will be better this season because of their increased strength and improved discipline. Florida's inability to move the ball down the field in 2011 is one of the main reasons why the Gators' eighth-ranked defense was not even better last year - it barely got a rest between possessions. The offensive line can go a long way towards rectifying that situation.