Florida Football: 5 Biggest Position Battles to Watch in Spring Practice
The Florida Gators will soon kick off spring practice to satisfy your football fix for the next month or so. There’s a lot to look forward to, and optimism is in the air after last season’s disappointment.
Position battles are always on the menu for spring ball. And after a 4-8 season, plenty of them will be going on. Few players are guaranteed a starting job, which creates a healthy competition that makes the team better.
So, what are the main position battles?
We can start with the secondary and then move to pretty much the entire offensive side of the ball.
The secondary isn’t really a concern, but there’s competition at the cornerback spot to watch during the spring. The Gators lost a lot of experience with Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins trying their hand at the next level. They also lost Cody Riggs when he transferred to Notre Dame.
The only guaranteed starter is true sophomore Vernon Hargreaves III, who has already established himself as one of the best cover corners in college football. Yes, he is that great already in his young career.
Anyway, it’s not very often that a team can lose this much talent and still be fine. However, Florida has stockpiled enough young talent that the coaching staff should be grinning from ear to ear.
Brian Poole is the most experienced corner on the team after spending most of his first two seasons at the nickel position. He’s a versatile player who’s solid in both run and pass protection. Then the Gators have redshirt freshman Nick Washington, who is a former 4-star recruit, 5-star enrollee Jalen Tabor and 4-star enrollee Duke Dawson.
All of those young players could see immediate playing time, especially Tabor, who has the potential to mirror Hargreaves in impact.
Regardless who steps up, the corner position should be in good hands. Still, that doesn’t mean guys won’t be jockeying for playing time.
Besides losing Ronald Powell to the NFL draft and Darrin Kitchens to graduation, Florida is in good shape at linebacker.
The problem is that the Gators enter spring practice banged up at the position. Several of last year’s injuries haven’t healed yet, which means plenty of new faces will try to make names for themselves.
Alex Anzalone and Jeremi Powell, who both suffered torn ACLs, and Matt Rolin, who suffered a shoulder injury, will not participate in spring ball, according to Alligator.org.
Well, I guess this is what spring ball is all about, huh?
Let’s see some of those young faces in action.
Neiron Ball, Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor have likely locked up starting jobs, but the door is open for Jarrad Davis, Daniel McMillian and LeAndre Rembert to earn reps during the regular season.
Spring practice is about building depth and discovering guys to count on when the going gets tough. All of these injuries to the linebackers may be a blessing in disguise if a couple of unknowns can rise to the occasion.
It's time to show and prove.
Forty-four receptions and 556 yards.
Those are last year’s numbers of Florida’s leading receiver Solomon Patton, who is no longer with the team. While he had a breakout season, the leading wide receiver for an elite program should be pushing closer to 1,000 receiving yards.
Here's a crazy stat that will blow your mind: Florida hasn’t had a 1,000-yard receiver since Taylor Jacobs in 2002.
It goes without saying that the receiver position is wide open, especially with a new offensive coordinator on board in Kurt Roper.
Quinton Dunbar returns for his senior season, but he’s never going to be the big-play guy who takes this unit to the next level. Florida needs some of its more experienced wideouts such as Latroy Pittman, Andre Debose and Raphael Andrades to elevate their play. If they are still stuck in their funk, Demarcus Robinson, Chris Thompson and Ahmad Fulwood will have a chance to show what they can do.
Florida also has a couple of redshirt freshmen who will be added to the mix in Marqui Hawkins and Alvin Bailey.
That bunch has plenty of possession and sure-handed receivers, but somebody needs to emerge as the go-to guy that this offense has lacked for several years. In order for the offense to take the next step, finding a dynamic No. 1 is going to be a priority in the spring.
Every team in the country has the offensive line on its spring list. Even if the starters are established, coaches still spend time tweaking and moving pieces around. Putting together the best starting five possible is the hardest thing to do during the offseason.
Florida has questions with its offensive line, which allowed 27 sacks last season and was tied for 10th in the SEC. Things also get even more interesting with new offensive line coach Mike Summers, who is taking over the unit. Everybody will have to impress him.
Now are when the questions come into play.
Who’s going to replace center Jonotthan Harrison? How does losing two experienced guards impact the rest of the group? Are there even enough healthy bodies to put together a respectable unit this spring?
If the season started tomorrow, the starting offensive line would likely include D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green, Max Garcia, Trenton Brown and Tyler Moore. The problem is that four of those five players have been injury-prone, including Green, who missed all of last season with a torn labrum.
That opens the door for Roderick Johnson, Trip Thurman and even early enrollee Drew Sarvary.
Florida has only five offensive linemen who have ever started a game. You better believe eyes will be on this unit, and competition will be fierce.
Freshman Will Grier won’t have a legitimate shot of taking the starting job away from Jeff Driskel until fall camp arrives. However, if he’s going to have any chance at all, it’s going to start this spring.
There’s little doubt Driskel is the overwhelming favorite to keep his job, and it would be somewhat surprising if he wasn’t the opening-game starter.
But let’s be honest with ourselves: Driskel has a ton of work to do and is coming off a broken leg. With a new offensive coordinator running the show and pressure to win now after last season’s disaster, the coaching staff is going to start the guy who gives the team the best chance to win right away.
What if that happens to be Grier?
He is wise beyond his years, has the physical tools to be great and didn’t enroll early just because it was the cool thing to do. If Grier shows enough progress in the spring and Driskel doesn’t improve enough, the Gators will have a real quarterback controversy on their hands.
While there may not be much momentum behind the idea now, quarterback is a position battle to watch with a little optimism.