Florida football: Coach Billy Napier says room to grow following Gators' first spring scrimmage

Kevin Brockway
The Gainesville Sun
Florida Gators tight end Arlis Boardingham (81) looks on after completing a catch during spring football practice at Sanders Outdoor Practice Fields in Gainesville, FL on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. [Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun]

Florida Gators coach Billy Napier said there was "a lot good, some bad and some ugly" in the team's first spring scrimmage on Tuesday.

Napier said the positives were effort and physicality, but that the Gators had a handful of turnovers that need cleaning up.

"Some of our units responded," Napier said. "We saw some of the young talent be a factor. We saw veterans play well. The most important thing for me is that we get the situational work.

"That's really all I care about. I don't care if the offense or defense wins. We got great football tape that we can teach from. We got situational football, down and distance, red zone, clock and we got an opportunity to work hard on the fundamentals of the communication. So a lot of good out there today, but also not quite game ready, I would say.”

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Specifically, Napier said the tight end position group stood out, mentioning redshirt freshman Arlis Boardingham, redshirt freshman Hayden Hansen and true freshman early enrollee Tony Livingston all caught balls and made plays in the passing game.

"There was a lot of positives out there with the tight end group," Napier said.

Napier impressed with QB Graham Mertz

Napier said he's been impressed with what he's seen so far from Wisconsin transfer quarterback Graham Mertz, both on the field and how he prepares off of it.

"His approach since the first day he's been here is what you would want from a quarterback," Napier said. "You know, it's almost as if you're acquiring a free agent in the National Football League that's an experienced, veteran player. He's learning the new system. ... So, you know, he's off to a good start and certainly we hope he continues that way."

UF coaching staff complete

Florida completed its coaching staff by making the hires of tight ends coach Russ Callaway and wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales last week.

Florida Gators wide receiver Ricky Pearsall (1) runs around Florida Gators wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales during spring football practice at Sanders Outdoor Practice Fields in Gainesville, FL on Tuesday, March 21, 2023. [Matt Pendleton/Gainesville Sun]

Napier said he has high respect for Gonzales, who had two prior stints as receivers coach at Florida from 2005-09 and 2018-21.

"He's certainly an expert at what he does and he works in recruiting," Napier said. "So it's been a great fit. And there's a lot that we can learn from him and his experience here. He's been here and been a part of some really successful teams and knows this place well."

OL Micah Mazzccua, TE Keon Zipperer to undergo surgery

Napier confirmed that offensive lineman Micah Mazzccua and tight end Keon Zipperer underwent surgery following injuries.

Mazzccua has been dealing with a lingering shoulder injury since transferring from Baylor, while Zipperer suffered a knee injury in practice last week.

Last week, Mazzccua tweeted he was entering the transfer portal, then took down the tweet a day later.

"Nowadays with these players and you know, there's a ton of expectations put on them, but all injuries are a challenge, right, and certainly puts you in a bad place, right," Napier said. "Micah is a guy who is late in his career, certainly had big ambitions here. So this is going to set him back. He had surgery just a few days ago and he will be in return to play protocol. We'll hopefully get him back in training camp."

Zipperer led all Florida tight ends in receiving last season with 13 catches for 177 yards and 1 TD. The injury could sideline him for the entire 2023 season.

 "It will be a significant amount of time for him to return and play," Napier said.

Offensive line reshuffling 

With Mazzccua's injury, Florida's offensive line looked different than projected for its first scrimmage. Christian Williams worked with the first team at left guard before the scrimmage, with returning starters Austin Barber at left tackle and Kingsley Eguakun at center. On the right side, Richie Leonard IV was on the first team at right guard with Kentucky transfer Kiyauanta Goodwin ahead of Alabama transfer Dameion George Jr. at right tackle.

“There’s several players in there that are getting an opportunity to work," Napier said. "Obviously, Richie's played some ball here, (Jake) Slaughter’s played ball here, Knijeah Harris, Christian. Rod Kearney’s gonna play a little bit of center in there. That’s a position where we've got confidence. Kam Waites’ injured, Jalen Farmer’s injured. We’ve got a ton of confidence in the center-guard group right now.”