With Florida’s spring practice in the books, here’s what we know and what we learned about the Gators as the offseason continues.
Now that Florida has grown accustomed to winning the SEC East, doing so in each of Jim McElwain’s first two seasons, the program wants to take the next step by capturing a league crown for the first time since 2008. As usual, all eyes were on the necrotic offense in spring, though the stalwart D will also feature new starters at every level.
1. Barring Any New Additions, It’s Feleipe Franks’ Offense
In the highly-publicized spring competition between the redshirt freshmen quarterbacks, Franks and Kyle Trask, the former built separation on the latter.
The Gators need better play out of the quarterbacks. The Gators have needed better play from the quarterbacks since Tim Tebow graduated at the end of the previous decade. And unless an import, such as Notre Dame transfer Malik Zaire, comes to Gainesville this summer, Franks could coast to the starting job. Sure, he’s raw and untested. But McElwain is excited by the potential of a 6-6, 219-pound kid who has the smarts, athleticism and rocket arm to finally give Florida a threat behind center. Someone needs to take advantage of an Antonio Callaway-led receiving corps that has a shot to be real good in 2017.
2. New Year, New Defensive Stars
The one constant in Gainesville over the past decade has been the play of the D. And even after losing eight starters to the NFL, the Gators won’t feel it like most other programs would.
True, defensive coordinator Randy Shannon must move some new pieces around the chess board, but raw talent and potential won’t be a concern. Rarely is in these parts. Veteran CB Duke Dawson and DE Cece Jefferson are set for salary run years, and tomorrow’s stars are already on the horizon. Spring practice provided a showcase opportunity for the likes of ends Jabari Zuniga and Antonneous Clayton, LB Jeremiah Moon and DB Chauncey Gardner. Moon, who missed most of 2016 to a thumb injury, attracted a ton of praise for his range and freakish athleticism.
3. The O-line Remains a Concern
The Gators need to evolve at quarterback. However, that perennial objective will become a whole lot tougher if the line isn’t more assertive in 2017.
McElwain has demanded that his blockers are more aggressive this fall after losing too many head-to-head battles a year ago. And while there are up-and-coming building blocks, such as Martez Ivey and Jawaan Taylor, mixed results in the spring mean the blocking unit must roll up its sleeves again this summer. New O-line assistant Brad Davis has instilled instant energy and a positive outlook into his Gators, a trend that needs to continue in earnest when the blockers reconvene in a few months.