Carter's Corner: No reason loss of Callaway Should Cripple Gators in opener

August 13, 2017

Receiver Antonio Callaway is the most notable of the seven players suspended for Florida’s season opener vs. Michigan.

Scott Carter - @GatorsScott

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Rumors of trouble for a group of Florida football players surfaced in vague message-board posts Saturday morning, leaked onto social media by afternoon and continued throughout the weekend.

While details remain speculative and some previous online accounts erroneous, the Gators announced Sunday afternoon that seven players, including junior receiver Antonio Callaway, are suspended for Florida’s season opener Sept. 2 against Michigan.

“We have a small group of players that have made some choices that are extremely disappointing,” UF head coach Jim McElwain said in a press release. “Action has been taken – they have missed some practice and will miss the Michigan game. We will use this as a learning opportunity and we will have some players step up as we move forward.”

Besides Callaway, the suspended players include three true freshmen (linebacker James Houston IV, offensive lineman Kadeem Telfort, linebacker Ventrell Miller), redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jordan Smith, redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Richerd Desir-Jones and junior defensive end Keivonnis Davis. Only Callaway, Davis and Desir-Jones (two games in 2016) have appeared in a game.

The biggest question for the Gators is how will this impact their matchup against Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, in three weeks?

35376 Gators head coach Jim McElwain talks to Antonio Callaway during a game last season. (Photo: Tim Casey/UAA Communications)

Callaway and Davis are the only two players suspended who figured prominently in the plans against the Wolverines. Florida’s most dangerous offensive player the last two seasons, Callaway has also been the Gators’ most problematic player off the field. He has a way of finding trouble despite the resources and support to succeed.

Callaway has 89 catches for 1,399 yards and seven touchdowns in his two seasons while adding two scores on punt returns and one on an onside kickoff return last season.

Will the Gators miss Callaway against the Wolverines? Certainly. He has proven his playmaking ability. Can they still defeat Michigan to start the season? Of course. This is team with enough talent and depth to overcome the loss of a standout receiver and part-time starter/reserve defensive lineman.

While Callaway is dangerous, he isn’t at the level of Randy Moss or Larry Fitzgerald during their college careers. In addition, the Gators have more quality depth at receiver than in years with Tyrie Cleveland, Josh Hammond, Dre Massey, Kadarius Toney (working at receiver a lot in camp), Brandon Powell and Freddie Swain. Florida’s tight ends are also very capable of making big plays in the passing game with C’yontai Lewis, DeAndre Goolsby, Moral Stephens and freshman Kemore Gamble.

Callaway is also a special-teams standout, however, Toney and Massey have similar playmaking ability but lack experience. They should check off that box very soon. True freshmen James Robinson and Daquon Green have an opportunity in preseason camp to prove they can contribute immediately.

Defensively, Davis is a rising junior who fits onto the projected depth chart as a reserve behind Cece Jefferson and Jabari Zuniga at defensive end. Still, the Gators have returners Jordan Sherit (coming off knee surgery), Antonneous Clayton, Luke Ancrum and Jachai Polite, plus freshmen Zachary Carter and Elijah Conliffe as young defensive linemen who can fill the void, among others.

Bottom line: The Gators are better with Callaway and Davis available, but by no means are they suddenly a second-class team compared to the Wolverines.

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