Perhaps Florida’s biggest question mark this spring is the offensive line, where four starters must be replaced.
Only three practices in, the big guys up front still have a long way to go, but they are showing some positive early signs, UF coach Dan Mullen said Tuesday.
“There’s some confidence in those guys,” Mullen said. “They have a little bit of swagger to them and a little bit of toughness to them. A bunch of them are guys we recruited, were really kind of new faces to the program when we got here, so they kind of take on that personality that fits with the program.
“I don’t expect to be a finished product at the end of spring, the offensive line. But we have 25 more practices in the fall before they need to be. The positive thing, I haven’t seen a mindset of any timidness, any shyness, any lack of confidence. I see guys working, trying to do it and trying to build their confidence.”
Four true freshmen are competing for playing time on the offensive line — Michael Tarquin, Kingsley Eguakun, Will Harrod and Ethan White. They have been getting reps with the No. 2 offense, which seems to have accelerated their learning curve, Mullen said.
“There’s installs going on and I looked out with one series with the twos and there’s a redshirt freshman and four basically high school kids out there,” Mullen said. “They’re in their third install in three practices and going against defenses that are probably well advanced of anything they’ve ever seen before.
“They have picked it up a little bit faster. I think that happens a lot when they’re forced to play up. When young guys are forced to play with the ones or the twos and with other players around them there’s that kind of sense of urgency and they end up picking things up quicker. They’ve done a great job.
“We’ll get into install four today. It’s not like it’s slowing down and to see when they hit that mental wall.”
Steele being tested
Speaking of the early enrollees, true freshman cornerback Chris Steele continues to get extensive reps with the No. 1 defense. He appears to be setting himself up for playing time in the fall.
“One of the things, we have a veteran receiver corps so he’s going to be going against some pretty good receivers. And I think that will help as time goes on,” Mullen said. “He’s running with the one defense at times. When you’re practicing up at that level, you’re looking around, those guys are going to want to hold you to that standard of what’s expected.
“That can increase your sense of urgency, increase your performance on the field. Also, build a confidence in him as he moves forward that, ‘I’ve gone against good players, I’ve done it at practice against some really good guys and have been put in those situations so when the game time comes, I’m ready to play as a freshman.’ ”
Burney transitioning to LB
Amari Burney, who saw playing time in the secondary as a true freshman last season, has made a permanent move to linebacker, where he has been working with the No. 1 defense this spring.
“He’s a very athletic guy that has grown,” Mullen said. “We love to be athletic on defense. And he brings a great deal of athleticism to the defense as he’s growing into the position. You’re starting to see his comfort.
“He was playing (safety) for us last season and was very comfortable playing in space. He can run people down. At linebacker, it’s important to have that athleticism to be able to make plays in space. You see a guy that is getting comfortable with the fits in tight in between tackles. As he gets comfortable with that, he’ll end up becoming an excellent linebacker.”
Burney is playing in the outside linebacker position vacated by Vosean Joseph, who declared for the NFL draft.