Image Credit: ESPNI
Spring practice for Florida Gators football ahead of the 2017 season has been rather uneventful. Considering how much went down last year and the number of players Florida head coach Jim McElwain has to replace, perhaps that’s a good thing for a change.
With the 2017 Orange & Blue Debut set to kick off at 7:30 p.m. ET live from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Friday, OnlyGators.com takes a closer look at where the Gators stand entering their spring game.
» Florida will once again enter a spring game — and likely exit it – without a starting quarterback officially being named. McElwain said Monday that the situation is currently in the process of “sorting itself out,” though it has been Feleipe Franks reportedly taking the most first-team reps in open practice periods over his fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask. Franks may seemingly be a step ahead of Trask, but the spring game will be an important step for him after a tough outing as a true freshman just a year ago, particularly considering he continues to struggle with intermediate and short routes.
» Junior Jordan Scarlett established himself as the Gators’ true starting running back late in the 2016 campaign and nothing has changed this spring. Still, Scarlett won’t be counted on to be a bell cow-type back despite the departure of Jordan Cronkrite as redshirt senior Mark Thompson, sophomore Lamical Perine and potentially one of UF’s true freshmen should also get touches.
» Spending his first spring in practice since joining Florida, junior wide receiver Antonio Callaway is looking to rebound after taking a step back last season. He will do so with sophomore Tyrie Cleveland in the midst of a breakout and a number of other talented wideouts competing for playing time.
» Redshirt junior WR Dre Massey is back after tearing an ACL and missing the 2016 season, and by all accounts, he has not lost a step and remains an electric option. But with more talent on the roster and true freshman QB Kadarius Toney capable of handling some of the plays previously planned for Massey, he should have the opportunity to concentrate on what he does best while keeping himself healthy.
» Speaking about taking a step back, hello tight ends. Senior DeAndre Goolsby and redshirt junior C’yontai Lewis were not what one would refer to as “impressive” a year ago, and true freshman Kemore Gamble is pushing the upper classmen. “He’ll be a factor,” said McElwain, who praised the youngster for having possibly the best ball skills on the team. “He’s just got to continue the communication piece, especially in the blocking stuff we need to do. … The guy has got courage; he doesn’t back down.”
» With the departure of David Sharpe, junior Martez Ivey is finally able to move into his rightful spot as the Gators’ starting left tackle. Redshirt freshman Brett Heggie is impressing and may lock up the starting left guard job. With those two falling into place, position coach Brad Davis has something upon which to build when the team reconvenes in the summer.
» There are a lot of quality snaps to fill on the interior of the defensive line, but junior Cece Jefferson will not be asked to follow in the footsteps of Jonathan Bullard any longer. Jefferson will spend most of his time at his more natural position at end after cutting another 10 pounds this spring and getting down to around 250. The former five-star prospect’s versatility was a benefit early in his career, but it’s time for him to play a position at which he can dominate, and both McElwain and defensive coordinator Randy Shannon understand that. Teaming Jefferson with redshirt sophomore Jabari Zuniga, who continues to flash his dominance, could prove to be a terrifying duo.
» Redshirt junior Taven Bryan has been leading the charge on that interior, joined by classmate Khairi Clark. Trying to step in for Caleb Brantley, though, is a difficult ask.
» The key to the middle of the defense and voice of the unit, sophomore linebacker David Reese, has missed the entire spring due to injury. That’s a concern considering every other scholarship linebacker on the team — with the exception of Camrin Knight, who moved from tight end this spring — is also an underclassman. Sophomore Vosean Joseph continues to flash but still overpurses and needs polish.
» If replacing two starting linebackers is difficult, finding a couple new lockdown cornerbacks is perhaps even more challenging. Senior Duke Dawson and sophomore Chauncey Gardner will step in for Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson, while redshirt senior Marcell Harris has made strides at safety alongside classmate Nick Washington. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding with this group as there are massive expectations for DBU every year.
» Not much needs to be said about redshirt senior punter Johnny Townsend and redshirt junior kicker Eddy Pineiro, the nation’s best returning duo. They’re healthy and continuing to improve, which puts Florida in a position of power as long as it can fix the rest of its special teams.
» Speaking of that … the Gators have been well below average on their third unit whenever a ball does not touch the foot of one of its players. Blocking, coverage and return packages last season were seemingly the program’s worst in years, and Callaway really struggled bringing the ball back. Considering there’s been no change in coaching to that position, it will be interesting to see if any development can be made this fall. It’s likely not something that will be too noticeable in the spring.