GAINESVILLE — Florida thought highly enough of Kadarius Toney and CJ Henderson this offseason to award them the Gators’ prestigious No. 1 jersey — a number no one from UF had worn since 2015.
But as the No. 9 Gators open SEC play Saturday at Kentucky, they’re dealing with the possibility of missing both of them.
Toney, the electric offensive weapon, will miss a couple weeks after injuring his shoulder in last week’s rout of Tennessee-Martin, UF coach Dan Mullen said Money. Henderson, a lock-down cornerback and potential first-round pick, is doubtful with a minor ankle sprain.
Although Henderson’s injury is less severe, it could have a larger impact on UF this week. The Gators’ secondary was already thin, thanks in part to the offseason departures of Brian Edwards and John Huggins and the suspension of safety Brad Stewart (who didn’t participate in UF’s first two games).
If Henderson — who leads the Gators with two pass breakups — is out, then that further depletes UF’s depth against a decent Kentucky passing attack. The Gators will have to rely more on their three true freshman defensive backs: Jaydon Hill, Chester Kimbrough and Kaiir Elam (who snagged his first career interception last week).
“It’s a big loss,” safety Donovan Stiner said.
Toney’s absence is, too.
The 5-foot-11 junior is one of the most exciting players on the roster with athleticism and versatility that draws comparisons to former UF great Percy Harvin. That was obvious against Miami when he took a screen pass, broke at least three tackles and sprinted 66 yards for his third career touchdown.
His prolonged absence will provide more opportunities for one of the top recruits of the Mullen era — former four-star receiver Jacob Copeland.
Like Toney, Copeland is an enticing talent brimming with potential. And like Toney, Copeland is still trying to maximize it.
The 6-foot, 198-pound Copeland redshirted last season and scored his first collegiate touchdown last week with a 9-yard, fourth-quarter catch. He was a top-100 recruit and Mullen’s top signee in his inaugural 2018 recruiting class.
“He’s a physical guy, has size,” Mullen said. “He has that ability where he’s a little bit multiple. He’s learning how to be an every-down receiver. But a lot like Kadarius in that way, you can do different things — put the ball in his hands, and he can make things happen.”
It wouldn’t be a surprise, then, to see Copeland line up at running back in addition to receiver as he tries to fill some of Toney’s role. But Copeland isn’t a Toney clone, either. Toney was a high school quarterback who threw the go-ahead touchdown pass at Mississippi State last year. Copeland was an Under Armour All-America receiver at Pensacola’s Escambia High.
Mullen did provide some encouraging injury news Monday: Starting safety Jeawon Taylor didn’t play last week but is expected to return Saturday. So is Amari Burney, the Calvary Christian product who remains on the depth chart at linebacker and star defensive back.
Start times announced
Kickoff information was announced for the Sept. 21 games. UF will host Tennessee at noon on either ESPN, ESPN2 or the SEC Network. Florida State will host Louisville that day at 3:30, with TV information still to be determined. Miami will host Jim McElwain’s Central Michigan team at 4 p.m. on the ACC Network.