Young Gators stand to play this week

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida should have an easy time with foe Jacksonville State on Saturday.

The Gamecocks have one of the worst defenses in the Football Championship Subdivision, ranking 89th or worse in the four major statistical categories, and have lost to Eastern Illinois and Tennessee-Martin.

That should mean that the Gators can get a big lead, rest some starters, and play a lot of reserves and young players to get them valuable experience for the 2013 season. Here’s a look at five young guys who have played this season:

WR Raphael Andrades

The 6-foot, 191-pound freshman impressed his teammates and coaches during offseason workouts, especially with how smooth he was at running routes. That was due in a big part to the fact that Andrades’ position coach at Tallahassee, Fla./Lincoln High School was former UF receiver Jacquez Green. But, like most freshmen receivers, he got overwhelmed a bit when camp started as he worked to absorb the offense while trying to figure out how to beat press coverage and get open against UF’s veteran secondary. He has caught only two passes for 5 yards but has seen significant playing time as a blocker.

Andrades has decent speed but is more of a possession receiver and his future is likely as a slot receiver. With his size, he can be a solid target in the middle of the field. He’ll have a head start over the four committed receivers next season and should compete for a starting role alongside Quinton Dunbar.

WR Latroy Pittman

Big things were expected of Pittman, mainly because of how much the coaching staff raved about the 5-11, 209-pound early enrollee in the spring. He had an impressive spring game, catching two passes for 51 yards, including a 43-yarder. He also got behind the coverage again for what would have been a touchdown but the pass was overthrown.

But like Andrades, he also got bogged down once camp started. He has caught just two passes for 6 yards and also has been used primarily as a blocker. He has been bothered by a sprained ankle the past few weeks, too, which has limited his time on the field.

Pittman isn’t a burner, either, so his future may be as a slot receiver, as well. However, he did average 19 yards per catch his senior season at Citra, Fla./North Marion, so he does have big-play ability. He and Andrades will compete for a starting job in 2013.

DB Brian Poole

The 5-10, 206-pound freshman signed as a cornerback but was moved to safety in camp because of UF’s depth at corner with Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins, Loucheiz Purifoy and Cody Riggs, although Riggs was injured against Texas A&M and is headed for a redshirt.

UF coach Will Muschamp said the move benefitted Poole, too, because it was better than having him learn both positions, which can sometimes be overwhelming for a young player. Regardless of where he lined up, though, Poole impressed the staff with his physical play, toughness, and willingness to hit. That’s more of a safety mentality anyway -- Matt Elam is a big hitter and Josh Evans leads the team in tackles -- and Poole adjusted to the switch pretty quickly. He has played in nine games, mainly on special teams, and has two tackles.

Poole will certainly figure heavily into the rotation next season but there’s going to be some stiff competition to earn starting jobs (Evans graduates and Elam is expected to leave for the NFL). He’ll have to beat out De’Ante Saunders, Valdez Showers and Jabari Gorman.

OT D.J. Humphries

With starting LT Xavier Nixon returning from the knee injury that kept him out of the past two games, Humphries’ role will go back to being a part of the Gators’ jumbo package, where he lines up as an extra tight end. Humphries played pretty well in Nixon’s place, though, and it’s easy to see that he’s got the potential to be an All-SEC player.

Humphries is a tough kid with good footwork and the nasty demeanor you want in an offensive lineman. His biggest issue is his weight. He’s listed at 6-6, 275, which means he’s probably a little lighter than that. He’ll get bigger and stronger after a full offseason in the weight program and should step right into the starting spot at left tackle and man the spot for three seasons.

LB Antonio Morrison

The 6-1, 218-pound Morrison has been the most impressive of all the freshmen on defense, mainly because he hits like a 250-pound defensive end and runs like a safety. He has played in every game (two starts) and has 26 tackles, including three on special teams.

He is versatile enough to play multiple linebacker spots. The Gators have rotated him with sophomore Michael Taylor at times on passing downs because Morrison is better in coverage. Morrison got more playing time when Jelani Jenkins was out with a broken thumb and hamstring injury and had 15 tackles in those three games.

A full offseason in the weight program will bulk Morrison up. If Jenkins returns for his redshirt senior season, Morrison could still earn a starting job because of his versatility. If Jenkins decides to leave early for the NFL, Morrison likely steps into the starting spot at weakside linebacker.