Florida football: Billy Napier made line of scrimmage a focus in portal, recruiting

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun

When Florida football opens spring practice on March 4, new faces will take on new roles across both lines of scrimmage.

The Gators filled holes on the offensive and defensive fronts due to some expected and some unexpected departures.

On the offensive front, Florida added three linemen from the portal with Power 5 conference experience: Baylor guard Micah Mazzucca (6-foot-5, 322 pounds), Alabama tackle Dameion George Jr. (6-6, 372) and Kentucky tackle Kiyaunta Goodwin (6-7, 372). In recruiting, Florida signed four more offensive linemen out of high school, which included Under All-American starting guard Roderick Kearney (6-4, 292) and four-star tackle Caden Jones (6-6, 307).

CLASS COMPLETE:Florida football coach Billy Napier discusses QB Jaden Rashada, NIL, Graham Mertz

SPRING GAME SET:Gators announce date of Orange and Blue game

RELEASED FROM LOI:Quarterback Jaden Rashada released from Florida Gators Letter of Intent

"It's probably one of the areas where I think we did the best work," Florida coach Billy Napier said. "When you think about, you know, the traits there. We've got some experienced players, but I also think some of the young players that we added have significant height, length, functional movement, bright futures."

Gators offensive line reshaping

Napier and his staff worked with Jones last summer at Friday Night Lights.

"He's got a 36 (inch) arm," Napier said. "It's probably the longest arm we've measured since we've been doing it. And really a young man too, a guy that I think is gonna continue to grow. So, you know, big, long, some experience. And ultimately, a couple of these guys, Mazzccua is three for three, Damieon George is three for three, Kiyaunta is four for three. You've got some players that not only are ready to contribute, but also have a number of years left eligibility-wise." 

The reinforcements were needed. In early December, Florida lost starting All-American guard O'Cyrus Torrence and starting tackle Richard Gouraige to the NFL Draft. Those moves were expected, but then later in the month, starting guard Ethan White and starting tackle Michael Tarquin both entered the transfer portal. Tarquin and White both ended up at USC.

"Any time in today's world that you take over a program you anticipate some attrition," Napier said. "I love both those guys and they were phenomenal for us and wish them nothing but the best." 

Florida does return three offensive linemen with starting experience - tackle Austin Barber (five starts), guard Richie Leonard IV (one start) and center Kingsley Eguakun (13 starts). Another offensive lineman with starting experience, tackle/guard Kamryn Waites, suffered a torn Achilles last month but could be ready for the start of fall camp.

UF defensive front changes

Dec 17, 2022; Las Vegas, NV, USA;  Florida Gators defensive lineman Princely Umanmielen (33) sacks Oregon State Beavers quarterback Ben Gulbranson (17) during the first half at the Las Vegas Bowl at Allegiant Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Lucas Peltier-USA TODAY Sports

In the front seven, Florida lost tackle Gervon Dexter Jr. to the NFL Draft and linebackers Amari Burney Jr. and Ventrell Miller, who both exhausted their eligibility.

Florida added a pair of transfers along the defensive front - edge rusher Caleb Banks (6-6, 310) from Louisville and defensive tackle Cam'Ron Jackson (6-6, 353) from Memphis.

"Height, length and really good tape," Napier said of the transfers. "When given an opportunity to play, Cam’Ron in particular had really good film. So, I think Caleb is impressive so far. Again, 3-for-3, 2-for-2, so players that don’t just have one year but multiple years of eligibility left.” 

Florida signed four more defensive linemen out of high school, including Kelby Collins (6-4, 260), a four-star recruit and defensive MVP of the Under Armour All-American game who has a chance to make an early impact.

At linebacker, Florida brought in three transfers - Ohio State's Teradja Mitchell (6-2, 245), Michigan's Deuce Spurlock (6-1, 224) and Houston's Mannie Nunnery (6-1, 224).

Mitchell is the most experienced of the new linebacker additions from the portal, having made 8 starts and played in 43 games in his Ohio State career.

“Inside ‘backer in particular, I think we’ve got our need there," Napier said. "Really excited about Teradja. This guy was voted team captain at Ohio State. He’s a one-year player, but I think with the departure of Ventrell and Burney and (Derek) Wingo’s injury, I thought that early addition was a big deal."

From high school, Florida signed two more linebackers, T.J. Searcy (6-5, 252) and Lake City's Jaden Robinson (6-0, 221), who flipped his commitment from South Carolina last August to sign with the Gators. Robinson enrolled early this semester and Napier said he's up to 225 pounds.

"That group is in good shape," Napier said. "I think on the edge maybe is where we potentially could add another player.”