Florida signs 23 players to letters of intent
Florida coach Will Muschamp believes the best way to challenge for the Southeastern Conference title is to be stout on both lines of scrimmage.
It's been his main goal since he arrived on campus.
He moved closer to making it happen Wednesday.
Muschamp's second recruiting class included eight defensive linemen and the top-rated offensive tackle in the country. The 23-player class was ranked fourth by ESPN and could improve if receiver Stefon Diggs ends up in Gainesville. The 6-foot-1 wideout from Olney., Md., will announce his decision Feb. 10.
Muschamp wanted to sign more, but he lost out on five players on national signing day. Linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons committed to Georgia, receiver Nelson Agholor picked Florida State, cornerback Tracy Howard selected Miami, defensive end Leonard Williams chose Southern Cal and offensive lineman Avery Young preferred Auburn.
The Gators did get two late additions, with defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. switching from Florida State and receiver Raphael Andrades signing with Florida.
Fowler was part of a standout group of defensive linemen.
"If you watched in our league this year, the two dominant teams were very good on both lines of scrimmage," Muschamp said.
Although the Gators ranked eighth in the nation in total defense in 2011, their line got pushed around in losses to Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia and South Carolina. Even lower-division Furman ran for 233 yards against Florida.
So several defensive linemen in Florida's signing class should be able to help right away.
The eight include: Jonathan Bullard from Shelby, N.C., Bryan Cox Jr. from Fort Lauderdale, Fowler from St. Petersburg, Damien Jacobs from East Mississippi Community College, Alex McCalister from Clemmons, N.C., Dante Phillips from Venice, Jafar Mann from Stone Mountain, Ga., and Quinteze Williams from Tyrone, Ga. Cox is the son of former NFL player Bryan Cox.
"We saw very easily in our season this year we struggled on both lines of scrimmage, consistently being able to run the ball and stop the run," Muschamp said.
Jacobs is one of six signees already in enrolled in school and will take part in spring practice. The others are: cornerback Willie Bailey from Hallandale, guard Jessamen Dunker from Boynton Beach, offensive tackle D.J. Humphries from Charlotte, N.C., linebacker Antonio Morrison from Bolingbrook, Ill., and receiver Latroy Pittman from Citra.
Dunker and Humphries, widely considered the No. 1 offensive tackle coming out of high school, could step in and compete immediately since they will get a head start in the weight room and on the field. Florida's line returns four starters, but all of them have been benched at one point in their careers.
"As far as playing early, the further your position moves from away from the ball, the harder it is," Muschamp said. "Them being able to go through 15 days of practice is going to huge. They're just two very good, big athletes. They move very well, great feet, change of direction, very flexible, can bend, both powerful guys. I'm real excited about both players."
As much as Florida seemed to set up its lines for the future, the Gators probably could have used the same approach on offense.
The Gators ranked 105th in total offense last season, averaging 329 yards a game and making it clear they need more playmakers.
Florida added Matt Jones, a 6-foot-2, 213-pound running back who gives Muschamp a power run game. With speedsters Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, the Gators had a limited inside running game last season. Without them, Jones should compete with Mike Gillislee, Mack Brown and fullback Hunter Joyer for the starting spot.
"He runs behind his pads and he's one of those guys in the fourth quarter you get tired of tackling," Muschamp said of Jones. "That's what we need. We need more of those guys. We need to be able to run up in there when it's fourth and 1 and know that you're going to be able to move the pile by turning around and handing it to somebody. That's something that I didn't always feel as comfortable with this year."
The Gators also signed two tight ends and quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg. Mornhinweg is the son of former Detroit Lions head coach and current Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.
Mornhinweg was a relatively late addition to Florida's class after he de-committed from Penn State following child-abuse allegations against former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky.
"We had recruited a quarterback through the year and when he committed to another school, we made the decision we were going to recruit another quarterback," Muschamp said.
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