Florida Gators Spring Game Set To Feature Intriguing Quarterback Battle Friday Night In ‘The Swamp’
By Scott Carter, Senior Writer For Florida Gators // April 7, 2017
7:30 p.m. On SEC NEtwork
ABOVE VIDEO: Jim McElwain meets with the media to discuss the final week of spring practice.
GAINESVILLE, FLORIDA (FLORIDA GATORS) – Jeff Driskel vs. Jacoby Brissett. Will Grier vs. Treon Harris. Luke Del Rio vs. Austin Appleby. If you are a Gators fan, no explanation required.
If new to these parts, those are Florida’s latest quarterback battles.
Next up: Feleipe Franks vs. Kyle Trask.
Franks and Trask take off their robes tonight and step onto the field for the Orange & Blue Debut spring game, their first opportunity in front of a curious crowd to stake a claim to the job heading into the 2017 season.
Franks is considered the front-runner as the Gators cap their third spring camp under head coach Jim McElwain. But nothing is written in ink on the depth chart.
As storylines go, the Franks-Trask battle is the one in bright lights on the imaginary marquee outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. All eyes will be on them.
Still, tonight’s game features much more than Florida’s latest attempt to find its next starting quarterback.
Here are some items of interest to whet your football appetite in the Gators’ final showcase until next season arrives:
In recent years Florida’s offense has been scrutinized as much as any unit in college football. While the bulk of the attention has focused on the lack of consistent success at quarterback, the offense’s skill players have not avoided criticism.
What stands out on the current roster is the depth of potential playmakers the Gators have accrued.
The backfield is in good shape with Jordan Scarlett, Mark Thompson and Lamical Perine. Tight ends C’yontai Lewis, DeAndre Goolsby and true freshman Kemore Gamble form an above-average unit. Meanwhile, receivers Antonio Callaway, Dre Massey, Tyrie Cleveland, Brandon Powell, Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain give the Gators arguable their best group of wideouts since the days of Percy Harvin and Co.
McElwain’s coaching staff remained relatively intact in his first two seasons other than Kirk Callahan being replaced by Torrian Gray as defensive backs coach after the 2015 season. There are several changes entering his third season.
Gray left for the NFL and was replaced by Corey Bell. Offensive line coach Mike Summers left for Louisville and was replaced by Brad Davis. Defensive coordinator Geoff Collins’ departure to become head coach at Temple set off a chain of events, starting with linebackers/co-coordinator coach Randy Shannon taking over as defensive coordinator. Former running backs coach Tim Skipper moved over to coach linebackers and Ja’Juan Seider was hired from West Virginia to coach running backs.
GRITTIER OFFENSIVE LINE
Before he was dry from a Gatorade bath at the end of Florida’s win over Iowa in the Outback Bowl, McElwain emphasized the need for a more aggressive and tougher offensive line. The addition of Davis, and undersized guard who overachieved as a player at Oklahoma, has taken on that challenge in spring camp.
Davis coaches like he played: with an attitude.
The Gators return four of five starters from last season with the biggest difference being junior Martez Ivey’s move from left guard to left tackle after David Sharpe opted to forgo his final season of eligibility and enter the NFL Draft. Redshirt freshman Brett Heggie and midyear enrollee Kadeem Telfort have earned positive reviews this spring and figure to crack the regular rotation next season.
NEWCOMER TO WATCH
Early enrollee Kadarius Toney has taken significant reps at quarterback only a few months after finishing his career at Blount (Ala.) High. Toney has earned praise from McElwain for his playmaking ability and offers a different look than Franks or Trask.
At this point, Toney appears to have done enough to at least get on the field in 2017, whether that is as a change-of-pace quarterback, at receiver or on runs designed to specifically to take advantage of his open-field speed.
The Gators have a young group of linebackers to replace Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone, which is no easy task. However, they have talent. We saw what Kylan Johnson, David Reese and Vosean Joseph could do last year.
This spring redshirt freshman Jeremiah Moon has stepped in during Reese’s absence (broken wrist). A 6-foot-4, 218-pound product of Hoover (Ala.) High, Moon played in two games a season ago before being sidelined the rest of the season due to an injury.
Moon has improved significantly since his first year on campus and has the look of player who is ready to contribute.
The Gators lost three key players on their defensive line in tackles Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie, and defensive end Bryan Cox Jr. Brantley’s departure leaves the biggest void but interior linemen Taven Bryan, Khairi Clark and early enrollee Kyree Campbell offer promise. McElwain said the talented Bryan, whose biggest weakness is inconsistency, has shown tremendous growth entering his redshirt junior season.
CeCe Jefferson will play both inside and outside. Meanwhile, sophomore Jabari Zuniga has perhaps as much upside as any player on the roster at defensive end. Zuniga had five sacks last season and has continued to make plays in spring camp.
By the time NFL teams open training camp this summer, six former Gators over the last two seasons will be on someone’s roster. Keanu Neal and Brian Poole played in the Super Bowl their first season with the Falcons, and Vernon Hargreaves III plays for his hometown Tampa Bay Bucs.
Teez Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye will be drafted later this month, with all three likely to go in the first three rounds. That is a lot of talent to lose for one program.
That said, the Gators’ secondary remains in good hands with veterans Marcell Harris, Duke Dawson, Nick Washington and Chauncey Gardner all back. The primary goal is to build depth with an array of inexperienced young players and an influx of talent arriving over the summer.
There will be growing pains but the group has talent.
I saved the kickers for last. The Gators have kicker Eddy Pineiro and punter Johnny Townsend back and as McElwain likes to say, “that’s a good thing.” Since it’s the spring game, maybe we’ll see Pineiro attempt a 70-yard field goal. And if Townsend boots a punt 70 yards, don’t be surprised.