UF Spring Football Primer: Position battles

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Florida redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Jones will give veteran Feleipe Franks a run as a starter during spring practice. [Brad McClenny/Staff photographer]

Four UF spring practices are open to the public (today, Thursday, March 23 and March 27). Here are five position battles to check out on those open days:

Quarterback

Junior Feleipe Franks is clearly the No. 1 guy heading into spring drills. But Dan Mullen has made it just as clear that the competition at the position will be wide open — because competition makes everybody better, and that should help in the development of the two young guys, redshirt freshman Emory Jones and true freshman Jalon Jones. Franks and the offense really took off in the latter part of the season, which coincided with Franks starting to embrace his role as a runner. He will get pushed this spring by Emory Jones and junior Kyle Trask. Mullen brought Jones along at a nice comfortable pace last season, playing him in four games. His role is expected to expand in the offense this spring and in the fall, where he’ll likely have a package of plays for each game if he’s not the starter.

Tight end

This position is up for grabs now that last season’s top two tight ends — C’yontai Lewis and Moral Stephens — have graduated. The leading contender to take over would appear to be redshirt sophomore Kemore Gamble, a former four-star recruit who has the size to be an effective blocker and the skill set to be a pass-catching tight end. He’ll get pushed by Lucas Krull and promising redshirt freshman Dante Lang, who used his redshirt year to add weight and strength. The wild card here is sophomore Kyle Pitts. He likely would be the starter, but Mullen and the offensive coaches have pretty much turned him into a wide receiver, where there is a real mismatch problem for opposing defensive backs with his speed and size (6-foot-6, 246 pounds).

Left offensive tackle

Four of the five spots on the offensive line are wide open, but this is considered the most critical spot because it provides blindside protection for the quarterbacks. Stone Forsythe and Noah Banks both gained some, although not much, experience last season. But probably the guy to watch here is redshirt freshman Richard Gouraige, a former four-star recruit who really started coming on strong in practice last fall and is an athletic big man. Redshirt sophomore T.J. Moore also could get in the mix and possibly at other spots on the offensive front, including right tackle.

The Polite/Jefferson position

This hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end position turned out to be a near-perfect fit last season for Jachai Polite and Cece Jefferson. The two consistently made plays, especially Polite, who led the Gators in sacks. With those two gone, the position is wide open this spring. The next in line at the position appears to be junior Jeremiah Moon, who has played in 23 games the past two seasons, at outside linebacker and the Polite position. Like Polite, he’s athletic and plays with a relentless motor. But Moon will miss the spring due to injury. One player who’s going to get a close look is junior Antonneous Clayton, a former four-star recruit who appears to have the skill set that fits the position. He plays with a high motor, but has often lacked discipline and taken himself out of position to make plays in the past. If he can improve in that area, he has a chance to emerge as a player. The guy to watch out for here is Louisville graduate transfer Jonathan Greenard, whose skill set seems similar to those of Polite and Jefferson. Redshirt freshman Andrew Chatfield and true freshman Mohamoud Diabate also should be in the mix.

Star/cornerback

Former cornerback/safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson became one of the biggest playmakers on defense last season at the new star position, which puts the defensive back closer to the line of scrimmage and more of a factor in run support. The leading candidate to replace Gardner-Johnson might be sophomore Trey Dean, who started eight games at cornerback as a true freshman last season in place of the injured starter Marco Wilson. The coaches feel Dean has the size and skill set to possibly excel at the star position. That’s why they’re going to take a look at what he can do at the position this spring. With Dean making that move and Wilson still not fully recovered from ACL surgery, true freshman cornerback Chris Steele, a four-star recruit, is expected to get significant reps with the No. 1 defense. Another true freshman, Jaydon Hill, also will have a chance to show what he can do at the position.


Spring Football Schedule

Today: 4:15–6:45 p.m. Open to public

Thursday: 4:15–6:45 p.m. Open to public

Saturday: Open to Season Ticket Holders

Tuesday

March 21

March 23: TBD. Open to public

March 25

March 27: Pro Day (8 a.m.–1 p.m.) and practice (4:55–7:25 p.m.) Open to fans

March 28

April 4: Open to Alachua County First Responders & Law Enforcement

April 6

April 9: Open to UF Faculty/Staff

April 11

April 12

April 13: Orange and Blue Game, 1 p.m., Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

Entrance to Sanders Practice Facility:

Fans can enter the main McKethan Stadium gate entrance and follow the sidewalk to enter the Sanders Practice Fields. Today and Saturday, however, when the Gators baseball team takes on Florida State (6:30 p.m.) and Mississippi State (2 p.m.), respectively, baseball fans will have their ticket scanned at the main gate and walk along the sidewalk into McKethan Stadium as normal.

Meanwhile, fans attending football practice will have to enter and exit Sanders via the north gate near Southwest Second Avenue

For fans attending football practice that need to use the restroom, Gators Guest Service staff will be stationed at the exit of Sanders Practice Field to escort them over to the baseball’s third base side restrooms in the concourse of McKethan Stadium.

Parking:

Parking will be available in the main Stephen C. O’Connell Center parking lot and garage.

Shuttle:

There will be a free shuttle running from Garage IX at the corner of Archer Road and Gale Lemerand Drive to the right field entrance gate to McKethan Stadium on Stadium Road and at Gate 2.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Is it me or does it seem like when coaches make an “expanded package” for a dual threat QB, it is rarely and barely seen during a game, especially when the package is for a specific game. Yes, I’m certain the game flow dictates personnel, but really, we may see a couple of plays or at most a series. I would like to see what Emory Jones can really do when he gets into a rhythm. Maybe the spring game. Gonna go see in person. Yep, guys, an interesting spring with the young guys showing what they can do. GO GATORS!

  2. While not often pointed out because the Big Uglies work in near anonymity most of the time, left OT is the most critical position on the OL and second most critical on the entire offense. Its value can be seen every April in the first round of the NFL draft.

    If Richard Gouraige manages to win the starting job at left OT, the transition to CDM’s recruits will have begun in earnest. Not to individually knock any of the other guys vying for the starting job at left OT, but the OL was probably the most poorly recruited position group on the Gator squad throughout the 7-year-long Muschump/McElwhiner Error.

    To have a red-shirt freshman win that job now not only speaks well for his talent and hard work, it says something about the relative lack of talent among his more experienced competitors. Only at QB is experience more valuable than at left OT.

    The only outcome of the Gators’ spring/summer competitions that would be more dramatic (and unexpected) would be if CDM were to name Emory Jones his starter for the UM game. Not calling for THAT to happen, but wouldn’t entirely surprise me.

    Go Gators!!!