Florida football spring report card
Published: Tuesday, May 6, 2014 at 7:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, May 9, 2014 at 4:58 p.m.
With finals at Florida now complete and grades set to come out for the students in the next few days, it seems like an appropriate time to grade Will Muschamp's Gators, based on their spring performance.
So, here is the Gators' spring report card:
New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper predicted the players would quickly adapt to his shotgun, uptempo offense, and that's exactly what happened. The players, including quarterback Jeff Driskel, seemed to consistently produce plays from the start of the spring and confidence (and playmaking ability) seemed to grow throughout the four weeks. Driskel seemed comfortable in the offense and did a nice job spreading the ball around to all the skill players. Roper's offense attacks all areas of the field, which brought running backs, wide receivers and even tight ends into the mix and put some stress on the defense. There were many positives: the play of Driskel and the wide receivers; the production of the three tailbacks (Kelvin Taylor, Mack Brown and Adam Lane) and the consistent play of the starting five on the offensive line, where depth remains a potential issue. The Gators still have much to learn in the offense, but it's clear they're off to a good start and have something to build on when preseason camp opens in August. Even the UF defensive players were praising the offense in the spring — something we haven't seen at UF in quite a while. Grade: A.
Everyone is expecting the defense to be a strength again in 2014, but for that to happen, the Gators are going to have to make further progress in August. The spring revealed some potential problem areas. Depth on the defensive line remains a concern, although starting defensive tackles Leon Orr and Darious Cummings will be back from their injuries this summer. In the secondary, Muschamp's concern about the one cornerback spot opposite star sophomore Vernon Hargreaves III and the nickel defensive back position were not alleviated over the course of the spring and will have to be addressed again during preseason camp. Overall, the Gators gave up far too many plays in the spring (which is good for the offense; bad for the defense), including numerous big plays in the passing game. On the positive side, end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr. had a dominant spring and emerged as a leader, the linebackers were consistently good (although depth remains a concern) and some of the young defensive linemen emerged, including Bryan Cox Jr. and Alex McCalister. Grade: B.
Austin Hardin showed great improvement in his field-goal kicking ability, but until he (or someone else) produces in a game, the place-kicking position remains a huge question mark. The Gators basically went through last season without the option of attempting field goals (at least by the end of the year), because the kickers were so inept and so unreliable — a huge dropoff from the year before, when Caleb Sturgis was Mr. Automatic. If Hardin (or someone else) comes through next season, the Gators' special teams could be among the elite in college football. UF has two outstanding punters (Johnny Townsend and Kyle Christy, who came out of his slump with a big spring), the best kickoff returner in school history (Andre Debose) and many returning athletes who made the cover, return and kick-block teams a strength last season. Grade: B.
The big news here is that Muschamp showed he is open to change by chucking the pro-style offense he is so fond of and hiring Roper to install a spread, fast-break offense that better suits his quarterback, skill players and even linemen. The change seemed to ignite the offensive players (and the rest of the team) and help the Gators generate some much-needed momentum coming off a 4-8 season. Add in what Roper was able to accomplish with the new offense in such a short period of time, and it was a stellar spring from a coaching standpoint. Grade: A.
For a team coming off the program's worst record and first losing season in 34 years, the Gators showed a lot of confidence and managed to generate considerable momentum heading into the summer. Much of it has to do with the changes on the offensive staff — Roper and new offensive line coach Mike Summers. The offensive players bought into Roper's offense, made plays in it, and have given everyone on the team hope that the Gators will have a chance for a big bounce-back season in 2014. In terms of confidence and playmaking ability on offense, this appears to be a much different team than the one that staggered through a 4-8 season in the fall. Based on that alone, it was a successful spring for the Gators. Overall: B+.