Image Credit: Courtney Culbreath/UAA
The 2017 Orange & Blue Debut has come and gone, and like most spring football games, it’s tough to take too much away from a glorified practice. Here’s the skinny: Orange beat Blue 31-0. Outside of that, here is what we actually learned reading between the yard lines from the Florida Gators’ final spring practice.
1. Feleipe Franks
is will probably be the starting quarterback: The redshirt freshman is clearly the choice of head coach Jim McElwain, who said before the game that one signal caller had the advantage and noted after the game that Franks is ahead in the battle. “There’s no doubt about it,” he noted. Franks led three scoring drives before exiting the game and made a couple nice throws including a 46-yard bomb to sophomore wide receiver Josh Hammond and 16-yard touchdown to junior WR Antonio Callaway.
2. Kyle Trask may not be the backup quarterback: The battle all offseason has been between Franks and Trask, and though Trask was tasked (sorry) with running the second team offense, nothing that happened Friday would lead one to believe he’s the best choice for that role at the start of this season.
The door is wide open for redshirt junior Luke Del Rio to rejoin the team this fall and take the No. 2 job while fighting for the starter’s spot. That is, of course, if Malik Zaire does not transfer into the team. “We’ve got to go with who’s gonna give us the best opportunity to win ball games,” McElwain said. “And at the end of the day, that’s what we’ve got to do is win ball games.”
3. Eight miles and running: Oh hello there, Kadarius Toney. The true freshman athlete, who is currently listed as a quarterback, impressed against the second- and third-team defenses on Friday. Toney was responsible for the play of the night by rolling out and threading the needle for a 9-yard touchdown to redshirt freshman walk-on WR Tucker Nordman. He also rushed five times for 74 yards on the evening. Simply put, he was the most exciting player on the field Friday with his athleticism and playmaking ability truly standing out.
Toney has a ways to go if he’s ever going to actually quarterback the Gators – we’re talking a year or two worth of learning mechanics and such — but McElwain all but guaranteed he’d be an important part of the offensive off the bat. “We’re gonna have fun with that guy. There’s a lot of things we’re gonna be able to do,” he said. Toney’s future is most likely in a hybrid role, but if this is just his first appearance, who knows what he will be able to do in a few months. Either way, McElwain better make sure he touches the ball plenty. “He’s quick, elusive. He’s a running back playing quarterback,” said sophomore cornerback Chauncey Gardner. “You see he can run. You see he has a good arm, and he keeps his eyes downfield.”
4. Some things haven’t changed: Senior running back Mark Thompson once again flashed big-play ability out of the backfield, but his fumbling issues continued with at least one — possibly two — loose balls on Friday. Junior Jordan Scarlett will be the main rusher this season, but Thompson can really help Florida if he can just figure out a way to be more careful with the ball.
5. Here comes the Moon: With two starting linebackers off to the NFL and another missing spring, the Gators desperately needed to see improvement in the middle of their defense. Enter redshirt freshman Jeremiah Moon, who laid out Thompson and was active throughout the Orange & Blue Debut. It was just a couple flashes from Moon, but if those were a glimpse of things to come, Florida might be in as much trouble as one may think. Coupling his performance with that of sophomore LB Vosean Joseph made for an effective duo.
6. Squat and deliver: Redshirt sophomore Jabari Zuniga and sophomore Antonneous Clayton looked like the real deal rushing the passer. The two defensive ends were active early and often while in the game. Their development will be key to Florida’s defense not taking a massive step back in 2017. “I don’t think I’ve scratched the surface of my potential yet. I still feel like I have a long way to go. A long coaching way to go,” said Clayton. “I’m confident in my coaches. Coach [Chris] Rumph and Coach [Randy] Shannon can get me right in those techniques and lining me up to play full go.”
7. Still offensive line: Adding new offensive line coach Brad Davis and shuffling around some less-than-effective talent was supposed to make this unit more energized and gritty entering 2017. So much for that. “Disappointed with a couple guys that didn’t compete,” McElwain said. “We got kind of after them at halftime a little bit about competing. Sure enough, they came out in that second half and did a much better job.” That second half, of course, was against less talented opposition, and considering the Orange unit included four returning starters, well, that’s pathetic.