Eyeing the position battles

Florida went into fall camp with multiple position battles, and with only a week and a half left until the season opener against Idaho, here’s an update on how the position battles are shaping up.

Backup QB: This remains the most interesting matchup, especially since Will Muschamp said the backup quarterback would get snaps in the season opener to ensure that he is ready in case Jeff Driskel goes down with an injury. Florida got caught in a situation without an experienced backup last season, and Muschamp wants to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

It feels pretty safe to count Skyler Mornhinweg out of the race at this point. He doesn’t have the arm strength that the others do, and his upside is limited compared to the freshmen.

That leaves Will Grier and Treon Harris. Grier has the benefit of going through spring practice and was great during Saturday’s open practice, but Harris was the most consistent of the two during last week’s open practices. While both quarterbacks are athletic and can run, Harris provides more speed and elusiveness if the Gators want to make him the backup and implement a wildcat formation with him.

Second team defensive line: Before the start of fall camp, there weren’t any obvious backups on the defensive line. Now, the Gators are overloaded with them. Joey Ivie has been the talk of camp, getting his weight up to 290 pounds but still keeping his quickness. He’s a matchup problem at defensive tackle.

Recently, Jay-nard Bostwick and Caleb Brantley have been garnering praise from Muschamp. Between the three, Florida should be able to find enough bodies behind Darious Cummings and Leon Orr this season, but it also bodes well for the future of the position.

At defensive end behind Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler, the Gators have answers. Alex McCalister was the first person Muschamp mentioned when asked for a player that has improved the most since the spring. He’ll serve as Fowler’s backup at the BUCK. Gerald Willis has also proven he can play as a true freshman, and Taven Bryan looks physically ready to play.

Second cornerback: Florida opened fall camp by giving Brian Poole a chance to win the position. After playing nickel during his first two years on campus, they’re happy with the transition, but inconsistency and now an injury for Marcus Maye could force Poole to slide back to the nickel spot.

If that happens, the Gators will depend on a freshman cornerback. Three freshmen have stood above the rest. Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson and Jalen Tabor have all had their moments in camp. Jackson has been in a non-contact jersey but still plays physical. Dawson is battling a shoulder injury and has even worked at safety early in camp. Tabor has battled inconsistency but has the ideal size for the position.

Safety: There’s one answer at safety, and it’s sophomore Keanu Neal. After that, there are questions. That has to be a little discouraging for the Florida staff, since Jabari Gorman is heading into his senior season and Marcus Maye was a starter for the beginning of last season.

It still seems likely that one of those two will win the job. Maye has been working primarily at nickel, but if that doesn’t work out, he could get pushed back to safety.

Other players could come on, too. Marcell Harris and Nick Washington have been impressive in camp, but they looked to be behind Gorman and Maye during the open practices.

Kicker: It’s down to two kickers for the starting job. Austin Hardin and Frankie Velez both got experience last season, and neither was able to win the job and eliminate any doubt. Both have been inconsistent in the open practices last week.

Brooks Abbott, a Virginia Tech transfer, was in the mix at the start of the fall but wasn’t good when given a chance. It’s anybody’s guess between Hardin and Velez at this point.

Punter: The kicker battle is about finding a capable kicker, but at punter, the Gators have two players that have been more than capable at points in their career. Kyle Christy was a Ray Guy Award finalist in 2012 before struggling last season. Johnny Townsend was supposed to redshirt during his first year on campus, but he was forced into action.

This offseason, the job has been reopened. Christy has been the most consistent punter and looks back to his 2012 form, but the coaches are still waiting to make an announcement. If he does win the job, Townsend would redshirt this year and take over as the starter in 2015 with three years of eligibility remaining.


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