Five newcomers to watch ahead of Florida Gators football spring practice
Billy Napier’s first spring practice in Gainesville is only a week away.
Napier preached patience on the recruiting trail upon arriving at Florida, meaning the Gators added just three high school signees as early enrollees in the 2022 class.
The freshmen are worth keeping an eye on, without a doubt, but the expectation is the five players the Gators added via the NCAA’s transfer portal are more likely to have an impact when UF opens spring practice Tuesday, March 15.
The options may be a bit more limited than most programs, with 15 UF signees yet to arrive on campus, though here are five newcomers to keep an eye on when UF returns to the practice field on Tuesday.
The Gators have prioritized the offensive line since Napier’s arrival. Florida hired offensive line coach Rob Sale away from the New York Giants and brought in Darnell Stapleton as an assistant. Stapleton, a former Super Bowl winner with the Pittsburgh Steelers who spent the 2021 season alongside Napier in Louisiana, coached a Ragin’ Cajuns rushing attack that finished the 2021 season ranked inside the top-25 in both rushing touchdowns and rushing yards.
Napier didn’t just bring Stapleton with him — the Gators added ULL's top offensive lineman in O’Cyrus Torrence as a transfer.
As a junior, Torrence started and appeared in 11 games on an offensive line that allowed on average just 1.86 sacks a contest. He was named First Team All-Sun Belt after helping block for an offense that finished the season ranked 10th in Division I football in rushing touchdowns and 18th in total touchdowns.
Given his experience heading into his senior season, as well as the uncertainty at several spots along the offensive line, the 6-foot-5, 335-pound Torrence should be in the mix to start on UF’s offensive line when the Gators open spring practice.
Torrence isn’t the only recent Ragin’ Cajun who should get a good look throughout camp. Montrell Johnson, who transferred to Florida after having a freshman season to remember in 2021, figures to be a key component of UF’s backfield after he rushed for 838 yards and 12 touchdowns at Louisiana.
Considering Florida’s leading rusher last season was quarterback Emory Jones, the Gators don’t have a running back on the roster with similar production to Johnson, let alone usage.
With Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis, UF’s primary running backs from last season, headed to the next level, and Nay’Quan Wright still sidelined after suffering a serious knee injury against FSU at the conclusion of the regular season, Johnson is the primary competition for returners Demarkcus Bowman and Lorenzo Lingard when it comes to UF’s rotation in the backfield.
UF’s highest-rated signee out of high school according to 247Sports, safety Kamari Wilson out of IMG Academy signed early with the Gators and joined the program in time for the spring semester, giving him a jumpstart on acclimating to the collegiate level.
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The Gators have used true freshmen at safety in recent years — Rashad Torrence, for example — so it wouldn’t be entirely unexpected for Wilson to do the same, but he’ll have to compete for reps in a defensive backfield loaded with potential playmakers, from Corey Collier to Trey Dean.
Expectations should be tempered, but any considerable action from Wilson would be a sign he’s already ahead of the curve despite arriving in early January.
A transfer from the reigning national champion Georgia Bulldogs, Jalen Kimber was a two-sport athlete growing up before focusing on football, and he eventually worked his way into a four-star designation as a high school recruit.
247Sports’ composite rankings had Kimber as the No. 9 overall cornerback coming out of Arlington, Texas, and he showed promise early in Athens, seeing action in three games as a true freshman while preserving his redshirt. The following season, however, saw Kimber play in just a lone contest before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury.
A week out from spring practice, Kimber’s status is a bit uncertain — if he’s healthy, however, he should compete for reps at the cornerback spot throughout spring.
Jack Miller III
The Gators head into spring practice with five of their six scholarship quarterbacks on the roster, with all but freshman signee Max Brown accounted for in Gainesville, but question marks remain at the signal-caller position.
Emory Jones is back, but it’s uncertain if he’ll be with the program in fall, while Anthony Richardson is expected to be a limited participant. Redshirt freshmen quarterbacks Jalen Kitna and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson didn’t see the field in 2021, meaning the only quarterback aside from Jones who is expected to be fully healthy and has collegiate experience is Ohio State transfer quarterback Jack Miller III.
The redshirt sophomore played in four games with the Buckeyes, though he didn’t air it out too often, completing just 5-of-8 passing attempts for 66 yards. Could he jump Kitna and Wilson on the depth chart? And will the Gators use Miller, a quarterback all but guaranteed to be on the roster when the 2022 season commences, over Jones? Only spring practice will tell.