Five Florida storylines to follow at SEC Media Days

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports

The Gators will be the first team to take the podium Monday at SEC Media Days.

Florida's Dan Mullen, fresh off his first division title as an SEC coach, is making the trip to Hoover, Ala., with redshirt senior defenders Zachary Carter and Ventrell Miller. 

UF captured the SEC East championship last season for the first time since 2016 behind Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask and his receiving corps. The Gators made their third consecutive New Year's Six Bowl, but ended the year on a three-game losing streak and finished 8-4.

Here are the five biggest questions facing Florida at SEC Media Days

Will the Gators be better on defense after last year's struggles?

As UF athletics director Scott Stricklin said in January, Florida's defensive drop-off in 2020 limited how good the team could be despite having one of the nation's top offenses. After fielding the nation's No. 9 defense in 2019, Todd Grantham's unit ranked 83rd nationally last season and gave up 35 points or more in half of their 12 games, including over 50 points in the final two losses. For context, UF's 2019 defense held every opponent to under 30 points except national champion LSU. Florida players and coaches attributed some of last year's defensive struggles to the lack of development and live tackling from no spring practices due to COVID-19. With a full offseason under their belt in 2021, can the Gators play to the standard they set two years ago?

Can Florida's secondary improve with new coaches and starters?

The secondary was Florida's biggest issue on defense last season. While the Gators led the SEC in sacks and finished second in tackles-for-loss, they ranked 100th nationally in passing defense by surrendering 257.5 yards a game. UF lost four senior starters from the secondary in Shawn Davis, Donovan Stiner, Brad Stewart and Marco Wilson, all of whom were prone to inconsistent play. Those results prompted Mullen to shake up his staff and hire new position coaches Wesley McGriff (safeties/nickel) and Jules Montinar (cornerbacks). They inherit a young, but talented group led by first-team All-SEC selection Kaiir Elam. Will the personnel and coaching changes in the secondary be enough to improve Florida's passing defense?

Is Emory Jones ready to lead the Gators at quarterback?

After playing behind Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask the past three years, the time is now for Florida's Emory Jones. However, he hasn't secured the starting job just yet and will not be one of the three quarterbacks attending SEC Media Days this week. His absence in Hoover isn't anything to read into (Mullen typically brings seniors), but Jones still has a lot to prove and a QB competition looming in fall camp. And while he's expected to beat out Anthony Richardson, it remains to be seen how successful Jones will be running the show. He's shown promise at times, but Trask left behind big shoes for him to fill. The offense is expected to be a more run-oriented attack with Jones' dual-threat ability, though Mullen lauded Jones' arm strength in the spring.

How does UF replace its receiving production from 2020? 

In addition to Trask, the Gators lost their talented receiving trio of Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes. Last season they accounted for 2,343 receiving yards, more than half of Florida's top-ranked passing offense (4,543). Jones & Co. won't match those numbers this season, but the Gators need to continue producing through the air. Despite the aforementioned departures, UF has recruited well at receiver and tight end with former top-100 prospects Jacob Copeland, Xzavier Henderson, Justin Shorter and Keon Zipperer, who ranked 104th nationally in the 2019 class. The Gators also bring back veterans Kemore Gamble and Rick Wells, but their receiving corps isn't as deep as it's been in recent years. Can Copeland, who was awarded the coveted No. 1 jersey, have a breakout season this fall?

Will Florida’s running game emerge this season? 

UF has question marks at nearly every position except running back, which should be one of the team strengths in 2021. The Gators ranked 96th nationally in rushing offense last season with their pass-heavy attack, but had success when they attempted to run the ball. Starting tailbacks Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis both averaged 4.7 yards per carry, while quarterbacks Jones (6.8 YPC) and Richardson (8.7 YPC) made plays with their legs as well. Nay'Quan Wright may be Florida's most complete back despite being third on the depth chart, which also includes five-star transfers Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman. With a pair of dual-threat quarterbacks and a bevy of backs, UF could have its most productive running game since 2018.

SEC Media Days

The SEC Football Kickoff Media Days at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham-Wynfrey Hotel, Monday-Thursday in Hoover, Ala. TV coverage on SEC Network.

8 a.m. SEC This Morning

11 a.m. SEC Now 

4:30 p.m. The Paul Finebaum Show