What to watch: Spring game

With the first Orange and Blue Debut of the Jim McElwain era on Saturday, here are a few things to watch when the Gators take the field at 12:30 p.m.

How do the quarterbacks handle the spotlight?

We’ve seen how the quarterbacks look in the first three periods of practice this spring, but now we’ll see how they handle the spotlight on Saturday. Jim McElwain said earlier this week that Will Grier is ahead in the quarterback battle, simply because he has taken the vast majority of the reps at the position since Treon Harris was away from the team because of the death of a relative.

The Florida coaches will try to simulate a game situation as much as possible on Saturday, and the two inexperienced quarterbacks will split reps with the offense. Harris has the most experience of the group, starting the final six games of last season and helping the Gators to a 4-2 in those games. Grier took a redshirt to bulk up and get used to college football.

Grier is leading the race heading into Saturday, but the Orange and Blue Debut will be a big chance for both quarterbacks to make a final impression before heading into the summer.

Can the offensive line hold up?

It’s a credit to McElwain and Florida that this game is actually happening in a somewhat typical spring game format. I don’t think anyone would have blamed them for creating a different format considering the roster limitations this spring. It’s still going to be a challenge for the offensive line on Saturday. With only seven scholarship offensive linemen, expect to see a lot of them changing jerseys on the sideline as the Gators try to put together actual groups on the line.

Roderick Johnson’s injury only complicates things. The good thing for Florida is it will have many inexperienced linemen on the field Saturday and should get good number of reps against a talented defensive line.

How much has the spring benefited the linebackers?

If Jarrad Davis and Antonio Morrison return for the fall, this position isn’t a big concern from a numbers standpoint. Without either of them, Florida could be in trouble. The good news is Davis will be fine while Morrison’s status looks more questionable.

It has forced Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian into a bigger role. With Florida playing mostly nickel in the open portions of practice we’ve seen, they’ve been the two linebackers on the field most of the time. Jeremi Powell and Matt Rolin have also mixed into the group, and we’ll get to see them play in a full contact situation on Saturday.

Is the defensive scheme similar?

We’ve heard the coaches and players say the defense that coordinator Geoff Collins is running this spring looks close to what the previous coaching staff used last season. The defense wasn’t broken when Collins got to Gainesville, and he didn’t see much of a reason to change it.

All we’ve been able to see is the first 15-20 minutes of spring practices. This will be the first extended look at the defense. Collins has mentioned using two hybrid positions -- a defensive end/linebacker and a safety/linebacker -- in his defense, and Saturday will be the first chance to get a look at whether or not those positions will be used in this year’s defense.


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