Yesterday, it was announced that Florida had suspended seven players for the season opener against Michigan. The seven players are wide receiver Antonio Callaway, offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort, defensive linemen Keivonnis Davis, Richerd Desir-Jones and Jordan Smith, and linebackers Ventrell Miller and James Houston.
Once the suspensions were announced, and the issue was confirmed, the next question became: how does this affect Florida? The answer is minimally, but it will.
There’s no getting around the fact that Florida lost its best wide receiver. As anybody who has watched Gator football the past two years knows, Callaway is a dangerous playmaker who can vertically stretch the field and often requires two defenders to account for him. He is not simply replaced without a hitch.
That said, Florida does have Tyrie Cleveland, who emerged as a threat in the middle of last season and eventually broke through with a 98 yard touchdown catch against LSU. If Cleveland is a downgrade from Callaway, it’s a microscopic one. And some coaches and players think his upside is even higher. In any case, this is not where losing Callaway hurts.
Behind Cleveland is a lot of promise, though not much production. Brandon Powell has been solid at the slot position, but has slightly underwhelmed during his career. Then again, he’s shown flashes of explosiveness, so maybe a larger role and more opportunities will help him break through. There are highly touted sophomores Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond, former four star receivers who have done well in their limited opportunities. There’s also freshman James Robinson, who despite a myriad of rumors appears on track to play in the opener.
To top it all off, there are two proven tight ends in DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis to catch some passes if need be. So yes, playing this game without Callaway will hurt, but it’s not a loss of insurmountable proportions.
The offensive line won’t be hurt too badly by Telfort’s suspension, either, at least not on the surface. But the Gators have now lost a viable backup option should something happen to either of their starting tackles. I expect the Florida offensive line to go, from left to right, Martez Ivey, Tyler Jordan or Brett Heggie, TJ McCoy, Fred Johnson and Jawaan Taylor. Three key backups include Heggie or Jordan, Stone Forsythe and Antonio Riles. Telfort was, and after the season opener will be, a key fourth backup. But if anybody on this line gets injured, in trouble or simply gets tired during the game, Florida now has one less option to go to.
The defensive line doesn’t look to be hurt that badly by the suspensions, either, even with three of the seven coming at this position. Florida has one possible first round NFL Draft pick in Cece Jefferson on its line, with a trio of promising rising sophomores in Jabari Zuniga, Jachai Polite and Antonneous Clayton. Zuniga and Polite are looking to build off of tremendous freshman seasons, while Clayton is looking to break through as a sophomore after not doing much as a freshman. All four were going to see playing time before any of the three suspended offensive linemen, anyway, and Jordan Sherit will too assuming he’s cleared. Like the offensive line, it wouldn’t hurt to have some depth here- but the top of the depth chart is so loaded it may not matter in one game if there are no injuries.
The pair of freshman linebackers being suspended might actually hurt the worst, if only for the same reasons of depth. Florida has a solid starting unit of Vosean Joseph, Jeremiah Moon and David Reese, and a viable backup option in Kylan Johnson. But behind those guys, it gets frighteningly thin, with Rayshad Jackson and Lacedrick Brunson as the only remaining backups on scholarship with Nick Smith still recovering from a knee injury. Without any further damage to the middle level of the defense between now and kickoff in Arlington, the Gators might survive these suspensions.