Some spring observations


As the Gators head into an important offseason, here are some final thoughts on spring practice and the Orange & Blue Debut:

  • Based on the spring game alone, you’d think the quarterback competition is not that close and, in fact, appears to be over. But that is not the case. Luke Del Rio certainly was the best quarterback on the field Friday night, but he had the benefit of playing with the No. 1 offense (against the No. 2 defense) throughout the game. He should have performed better than Austin Appleby, who was with the twos going against the No. 1 defense, and the two true freshmen — and he did. But the battle for the starting role is just getting started. What happens this summer and in August camp will determine who takes the first snaps in the fall. Appleby had some success against the No. 1 defense and is right on Del Rio’s tail, and Kyle Trask is coming on fast and will be a factor. He appears to be the best pure passer among the four QBs. Also, don’t get down on Feleipe Franks because of his poor performance in the spring game. Overall, he had a good spring and has come a long way in the short time he’s been here.

  • Jim McElwain and Tim Skipper obviously were serious when they revealed late in the spring that there are more than just three tailbacks fighting for the starting job. There is a fourth, and his name is Mark Herndon. He looked very good in the spring game and definitely is pushing Jordan Cronkrite, Jordan Scarlett and Mark Thompson for playing time. This figures to be a position of strength heading into the season. Cronkrite appears to be the most versatile among the backs and is my heavy favorite to eventually win the starting role.

  • Jake McGee is a very good player who produced impressive numbers at tight end last season, but it’s pretty obvious there will be no drop-off at the position this season. DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis are very athletic pass-catching tight ends who showed impressive playmaking ability throughout the spring, and in the spring game. These are going to be go-to guys in the passing game in what is obviously a tight end friendly offense. Camrin Knight looks like he’s going  to be a player, too.

  • The offensive line is much deeper and experienced than a year ago, but remains a huge question mark coming out of the spring. Protection was not all that consistent in the spring game, and the Gators have to be concerned with the lack of proven talent at the tackle positions. The starters — David Sharpe and Fred Johnson — appear solid, but there is be a big drop-off after those two. Getting Martez Ivey back this summer will help. He’ll likely be a starter at guard, but his ability to play outside will come into play in 2016.

  • Going the junior college route can be a little bit of a gamble, but the Gators appear to have hit it big with the addition of Thompson, wide receiver Dre Massey and place-kicker Eddy Pineiro. All three had good springs and made impact plays in the spring game. Pineiro was the star of the game, and a big fan favorite. These three could have a major impact this season.

  • Switching freshman safety Kylan Johnson to linebacker last fall turned out to be a great move by the coaches. Johnson looked like a natural at linebacker in the spring game, making plays from sideline to sideline. His ability in coverage brings an added dimension to the linebacker corps. Given Randy Shannon’s track record of developing linebackers, Johnson has a chance to turn into something special.

  • Even though the versatile Jon Bullard will be missed, the defensive line has a chance to be as good or better in 2016. Caleb Brantley has become a dominant player in the middle and is playing with the consistent effort that was missing earlier in his career. Cece Jefferson looks like he’s going to be a disruptive tackle and end, while senior Bryan Cox Jr. seems poised to have a major breakout season at end. I was very impressed with some of the young linemen, including Jabari Zuniga, Keivonnis Davis, Luke Ancrum and true freshman end Jordan Smith. Smith is still raw, but he’s very athletic with a great frame. He has a chance to grow into a big-time player, kind of the same way Alex McCalister did.

  • Jalen Tabor had a great spring and has a chance to become the best defensive back in school history. But, then you probably already knew that.

  • Whoever wins the starting role at quarterback, it’s obvious the offense and the downfield passing game are going to be much better, and certainly more entertaining, than in the second half of last season, when the Gators regressed with a QB that didn’t fit what McElwain wanted to do in the offense.

  • I like the Gators’ chances of returning to Atlanta much better now than I did at the start of the spring. I’m not saying they’re going to get there, but they have a chance.