Image Credit: UAA/Courtney Culbreath
For the first time since 2013, Florida Gators football is expected to hold a full-fledged spring game. Here’s what you need to know ahead of the 2016 Orange & Blue Debut and how you can watch the team’s final official practice of the spring.
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Weather: Sunny, 75 degrees, winds west at 15 mph
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network (Joe Tessitore, Greg McElroy)
Streaming video: SEC Network + | Mobile video: Watch ESPN app (iPhone | Android)
SiriusXM: None | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Live updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter
Head coach Jim McElwain would not go into great detail regarding the game itself other than to note that it will be actual football and not a practice. According to Florida, there will be four, 12-minute quarters with a running clock throughout (except during possession changes and the two-minute drill). There will also not be any kickoffs or punts, but you can most certainly bet there will be plenty of field goal attempts.
Notable injuries and absences*
» Out: WR Antonio Callaway (suspension), WR Brandon Powell (foot), OT Martez Ivey (shoulder), G Brandon Sandifer (knee), QB/WR Treon Harris (suspension) LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder)
» Questionable/Doubtful: C Cameron Dillard (nose), DL CeCe Jefferson (hamstring)
* There will likely be additional players that miss the game.
Who to watch: Offense
» The Gators return their entire offensive coaching staff from a year ago which, suffice to say, is atypical for this program. While there will be plenty of new players on the field, system continuity should not be an issue and the team should look much more comfortable going in and out of the huddle.
» Another year, another quarterback battle. With the two guys competing for the job last year not with the program this spring, it will be a pair of walk-ons going for the starting gig in redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio (#14) and graduate transfer Austin Appleby (#12). Sure, the true freshmen in Feleipe Franks (#13) and Kyle Trask (#11) will be out there, but don’t expect them to see near the action of Del Rio and Appleby.
» Demarcus Robinson is gone, sophomore Antonio Callaway is suspended and junior Brandon Powell (foot) is injured, so who exactly is going to catch passes? McElwain has been talking up senior wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood (#5) all spring, but multiple practice attendees have told OnlyGators.com that junior transfer Dre Massey (#9) has been the most impressive on the field. Keep an eye out for redshirt junior Alvin Bailey (#89), freshman Josh Hammond (#10) and freshman Freddie Swain (#16) as well.
» Florida apparently has more running backs than it knows what to do with. Sophomore Jordan Cronkrite (#32) looks to be headed for the starting job with redshirt junior Mark Thompson (#24), sophomore Jordan Scarlett (#25) and redshirt senior Mark Herndon (#37) all supposed to see close-to-equal time. Last season, UF had just two scholarship running backs in its spring game and one transferred.
» Who will replace Jake McGee? Junior DeAndre Goolsby (#30), redshirt sophomores C’yontai Lewis (#80) and Moral Stephens (#82), plus sophomore Camrin Knight (#84) will all look to make an impression.
» The Gators now have plenty of bodies on the offensive line, but there are still plenty of injuries and absences hurting the unit. It will be interesting to see how it stands up to Florida’s tremendous defensive front.
Who to watch: Defense
» Nearly the entire defensive coaching staff is back, too, though a change has been made at defensive backs coach with Torrian Gray stepping in to lead what could once again be one of the top units in the nation.
» Junior cornerback Jalen Tabor (#31) will lead the highly touted secondary, which also returns redshirt senior safety Marcus Maye (#20) and junior Quincy Wilson (#6). Expect to see plenty from freshman Chauncey Gardner (#23) along with redshirt junior Nick Washington (#8) and junior Duke Dawson (#7), who are expected to step into starting jobs.
» Florida is still starving for linebackers, though redshirt senior Jarrad Davis (#40) will has his presence felt. Senior Daniel McMillian (#13) has also been showing up. Redshirt junior Matt Rolin (#25) and redshirt freshmen Kylan Johnson (#28) and Rayshad Jackson (#44) could surprise.
» The Gators lost a lot of talent up front but could still be nasty with redshirt junior Caleb Brantley (#57) expected to be the next star defensive lineman. He will be joined on the interior by senior Joey Ivie (#91), and the duo will be flanked by redshirt senior Bryan Cox Jr. (#94) and redshirt junior Jordan Sherit (#17). If healthy, sophomore CeCe Jefferson (#96) will obviously be noticeable. The coaching staff has been raising about a number of youngsters but primarily gushed about sophomore Keivonnis Davis (#95).
Who to watch: Special teams
» With kickoffs and punts supposedly out for the game, do not expect to see much of any returners or redshirt junior punter Johnny Townsend (#19), for that matter. If that policy changes, Massey, Bailey and Thompson may see some extra action.
» Focus will be completely on redshirt sophomore kicker Eddy Pineiro (#15), who will be kicking a field goal in a “real” football game in front of a crowd for the first time in his life on Friday. The extra points he attempts will be his first in a game since high school when the former soccer player filled in occasionally on the football team.
Odds and ends
» This will be the first time the Orange & Blue Debut will be held either on a Friday or at night. McElwain noted that he wanted to hold the game at night, in part, because the Gators play so many games after the sun goes down. It almost certainly has more to do with recruiting, however, as Florida is able to play its game on Friday and get the entire day Saturday to meet with recruits on campus, even if some are unable to attend the game itself due to its late hour and the potential distance of their hometown.
» There will be a fireworks show at the end of the game, for some reason.
» The Gator Walk will begin at 5 p.m. on the North side of The Swamp.