Florida football: What season-opening suspensions mean for Gators
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The news came out late Sunday afternoon that Florida coach Jim McElwain suspended seven players — highlighted by star wide receiver Antonio Callaway — for the Gators’ season opener against Michigan on Sept. 2.
The school did not release details about the nature of the suspensions — McElwain merely said they “made some choices that are extremely disappointing” in the school’s news release. However, multiple outlets reported the discipline is for misusing school-issued funds provided to the players as part of their scholarship agreement. The Read Optional’s Trey Wallace first reported the news.
This is yet another strike for Callaway, who is the Florida offense’s most proven dynamic playmaker on the field but continues to find ways to land in trouble off it.
In spring 2016, Callaway was suspended from campus during a Title IX investigation stemming from a sexual-assault allegation. He ultimately was found not responsible, though the federal government is reportedly investigating the university’s handling of the case. The lawyer the university assigned to preside over the case was a booster for the Florida athletics program.
Callaway also was cited for marijuana possession during a traffic stop in May while in the car with a guy who has a lengthy rap sheet. He pleaded no contest to possession of paraphernalia and accepted a fine.
However, Florida has a bounty of depth at receiver — highlighted by sophomore Tyrie Cleveland, junior Dre Massey and senior Brandon Powell in addition to a slew of underclassmen — who should be able to alleviate Callaway’s absence.
The remaining six players — junior defensive end Keivonnis Davis, redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jordan Smith, freshman tackle Kadeem Telfort, and freshman linebackers James Houston and Ventrell Miller — also hurt their chances of making an impact this season with the opener three weeks away. It was the first off-the-field offense for each player since joining the team.
Most of those six were fighting for playing time or trying to work their way up the depth chart as underclassmen. Here’s a closer look at how the suspensions impact each respective position.
Defensive end depth
Davis started five games in 2016 and was expected to get valuable playing time at defensive end. His 5 quarterback hurries last season tied for second among returning players. He primarily was taking reps with the second-team defense, but Florida defensive line coach Chris Rumph likes to have eight to 10 players rotate in each game.
Florida’s depth at defensive end should be fine with CeCe Jefferson, Antonneous Clayton, Jabari Zuniga, Jordan Sherit and freshman Zachary Carter. The other two suspended defensive linemen — Desir-Jones and Smith — had a chance to play on special teams.
Offensive line depth
Telfort was competing for a backup spot at tackle and took first-team reps at points during the few practices when starting left tackle Martez Ivey was out.
“Physically, he’s done a great job,” McElwain said of Telfort on Friday. “I think one thing I’ve seen him do is really learn to trust, No. 1. And No. 2, learn to talk to the guy next to him. And it’s really seemed to elevate his game as far as knowing what the look is and now knowing what the assignment is. That’s good to see.”
With Telfort out, junior Tyler Jordan will be the primary backup for all five offensive line spots. From there, the Gators have limited experience outside of the starters. Redshirt junior Kavaris Harkless played in seven games as a reserve lineman in 2016, and Antonio Riles (recovering from a torn ACL) started six games at guard in 2015.
Losing Miller and Houston hurts a Florida linebacker corps that does not have an upperclassman on scholarship. It wasn’t guaranteed that either would receive extensive playing time beyond special teams — Miller is a summer enrollee and Houston is coming off a high school ACL injury — but having those few extra bodies could have been beneficial.
Should an injury occur to any of Florida’s four primary linebackers — Vosean Joseph, David Reese, Kylan Johnson or Jeremiah Moon — the Gators would have to turn to redshirt senior walk-on Cristian Garcia, special teams player Rayshad Jackson or freshman Lacedrick Brunson.