Burning questions for Gators answered in spring
Published: Sunday, April 20, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, April 19, 2014 at 9:17 p.m.
Heading into Florida's spring practice, veteran college football beat writer Robbie Andreu came up with five pertinent questions. Now that those 14 practices and the spring game are behind the Gators, here are the answers to those pre-spring questions:
1. Who wins the QB competition?
With new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper installing a new shotgun, uptempo offense, the only fair thing to do was open the competition at quarterback, which the coaches did. But the battle for No. 1, probably always a foregone conclusion, did not last long. By the end of the first two or three practices, it was obvious last year's starter, Jeff Driskel, was going to be this year's starter. He quickly grasped the offense — and just as quickly distanced himself from sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg and true freshman Will Grier. From the beginning, Driskel looked very much in command and comfortable in the offense and established himself as the Gators' most consistent passer. Driskel still has a long way to go after missing most of last season, but he's got a good early grasp of the offense and what Roper wants to do in it. The real competition was for the No. 2 spot, with Mornhinweg and Grier sharing reps with the second-team offense throughout the spring. Mornhinweg had a better spring game (at least statistically) than Grier and likely will open camp in the No. 2 spot. But the competition for the backup role likely will continue deep into August.
2. Are the young defensive linemen going to emerge?
Some did, some quite didn't. Going into the spring, Muschamp and the defensive coaches were hopeful that highly rated redshirt freshman defensive tackles Jay-nard Bostwick and Caleb Brantley would establish themselves as solid players and set themselves up for getting into the playing rotation in the fall. Both did some good things, but both also struggled with consistency throughout the spring, and will have to work on that aspect of their game in preseason camp. An offseason under Jeff Dillman and the strength and conditioning staff should help. Three young linemen did emerge in the spring — redshirt sophomore defensive ends Bryan Cox Jr. and Alex McCalister and true freshman end Taven Bryan. Cox showed the coaches early that he was serious about contending for playing time with his high motor and intensity in practice. McCalister, a project when he signed with UF, blossomed toward the end of the spring and could give the Gators another strong pass rusher from the edge. Bryan also improved over the course of the spring and was not playing like a true freshman at the end.
3. What impact will the early enrollees have?
They had a considerable one, especially at cornerback, where true freshmen Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson were battling junior Brian Poole throughout the spring for the starting role. Tabor and Dawson have high ceilings and gained valuable experience in getting a ton of reps, many with the No. 1 defense. Both should see extensive playing time in the fall, with one possibly starting opposite super sophomore Vernon Hargreaves III. Grier did a lot of nice things working with the No. 2 offense and seemed to have the quickest release of the quarterbacks. DeAndre Goolsby had an impact at the new “B” position, where he pushed veterans Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook and Hunter Joyer for playing time. He has a chance to get into the playing rotation in the fall because he may be the most athletic of the group at the position. At defensive end, Bryan came on strong in the second half and probably has earned playing time in the fall.
4. How quickly will the players pick up the new offense?
Maybe this should have been the No. 1 question coming in considering how important the topic is heading into the 2014 season. Roper said when he took the job that 15 spring practices would be enough time to install the offense and get the players comfortable in it, and that appears to be exactly what happened. The players actually had early success against the defense, and that trend carried on throughout the spring and the Orange and Blue Debut. Numerous players said how much they liked the offense and how it was going to give the playmakers a chance to make plays. The performance in the spring game certainly reveals that the players have already found a comfort level in the offense. Both offenses went up and down the field, with the running backs gaining yardage and the quarterbacks completing passes to numerous receivers. Driskel and the offensive guys still have a lot of work to do between now and the opener, but they're clearly off to a promising start in Roper's offense.
5. Will there be enough O-linemen to have a spring game?
Had the Gators had a couple of injuries up front during the spring, the Orange and Blue Debut would have turned into just another practice, just like a year ago. But the big guys stayed healthy and the starting five seemed to really start to gel in the new offense over the course of the spring. Depth continues to be an issue heading into the offseason, but the Gators managed to stay healthy up front and have enough linemen to play a traditional spring game. Defensive tackle Antonio Riles provided some late depth when he was switched to offensive guard with just a few practices to go. He seemed to hold his own and is very athletic for an offensive lineman, so his move likely could turn out to be permanent.
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