Florida is six solid practices and one so-so scrimmage into spring practice, so there’s a lot of work — and a spring game — still to go.
But here are five things we already know about the Gators:
1. QB race is tighter than ever
Heading into last Friday’s scrimmage, Feleipe Franks appeared to be the clear early leader for the starting role. He’d worked mostly with the No. 1 offense in practice and was sharp in passing drills, showing accuracy and the ability to go through his progressions to find the open receiver. Then in the scrimmage he looked like the old Feleipe, struggling with accuracy and turning the ball over. His performance — only seven completions in 22 attempts with three interceptions — has only tightened the race. And the QB who is the biggest threat to Franks is Kyle Trask, who had much better success moving the offense than Franks in the scrimmage. His confidence appears to be growing. Things could change over the next two weeks, but as it stands right now, it looks like a two-man race between Franks and Trask.
2. Receivers are getting open
Here’s something we haven’t seen in a while: UF’s wide receivers are creating separation from the defensive backs and getting open. And it’s not just the new guys — transfers Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes — that are doing it. So are some of the receivers who could not get open a year ago, including Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain and Kadarius Toney. It is apparent that in Billy Gonzales the receivers are getting better coaching than they were the past two seasons. Before the start of spring, Gonzales talked about how important getting separation is and how there are ways to do it, there are coachable techniques. And we’re seeing it now.
3. Backs can scoot
Even with Malik Davis, UF’s second-leading rusher last season, out for the spring, the Gators appear to have plenty of talent and playmaking ability at running back. Jordan Scarlett is back and already appears close to regaining his 2016 form, which had been moving him closer to elite status. And he’s getting pushed by four others — Lamical Perine, Adarius Lemons, Dameon Pierce and Iverson Clement — who have done some impressive things this spring. Perine has been steady, maybe the hardest runner among the group, and Lemons put his dynamic playmaking ability on display with an 88-yard TD run in the scrimmage. The two true freshmen (Pierce and Clement) have not performed like true freshmen. Pierce could be the most natural runner among the backs and likely will be in the playing rotation in the fall.
4. The rush is on
Early indications are the Gators are going to have something on defense that was missing last season — a strong and steady pass rush. The defensive front generated a consistent pass rush in last Friday’s scrimmage, and did it without an assist from blitzing linebackers. And it wasn’t just the edge guys — Cece Jefferson, Jachai Polite and Jabari Zuniga — bringing the heat. The Gators were also getting a strong inside push from the tackles, true sophomore Tedarrell Slaton in particular. Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is aggressive and likes to blitz, but if he can get pressure from the front three or four, it will allow him to drop more linebackers into coverage and possibly generate more big plays in the secondary.
5. CBs the real deal
Coming into the spring, we already had a pretty good idea how much talent the Gators had at cornerback in true sophomores Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson. Their strong, and sometimes spectacular, play over the past two weeks has only confirmed that they are potentially elite players in the DBU tradition. So, the Gators feel good about those two critical spots on defense. But not totally comfortable because depth is an issue that still has to be resolved between now and the start of the season. Right now, there’s a considerable drop-off at corner when Wilson and Henderson are not in there. The backups — C.J. McWilliams, McArthur Burnett and true freshman Trey Dean — haven’t played much, so they still have a long way to go.