Remaining questions for the Gators’ preseason

With less than two weeks until the Gators open the season against New Mexico State, there are still questions that need to be answered.

1.QUARTERBACK BATTLE: Florida coach Jim McElwain continues to insist there is no separation between Will Grier and Treon Harris at the quarterback position. For the first time on Friday, McElwain mentioned going into the opener against New Mexico State and playing both quarterbacks to “see who plays under the lights the best.”

It’s debatable whether that’s the best strategy or not, but if McElwain and the staff feel like it’s what they need to see, then that will happen. However, when preparing a young quarterback to play, it seems like it would be in the team’s best interest to pick one starter and get as many reps in a game situation for that quarterback before Southeastern Conference play gets underway. Grier looked to be clearly the better quarterback during the portions of practice that were open to the media. We’ll be able to watch some of Tuesday’s practice -- the first open time for the media since August 10 -- to see if that’s still the case.

The limitations for Harris are clear. He struggled to see over the offensive line and had questionable arm strength and accuracy on throws deep and to the sideline. Grier got the ball out of his hand quick and ran the offense well. The question is how much, if any, Harris can improve on those weaknesses.

2. OFFENSIVE LINE PIECES: Only 12 days from the season opener, there are still only two offensive linemen that feel like locks to start. David Sharpe will start at a tackle spot and Trip Thurman will start at guard or center. If Thurman is at center, there are many options at the guard spots including Tyler Jordan, Antonio Riles, Travaris Dorsey, and even Mason Halter, who opened fall camp at left tackle.

Talk of Halter being able to play guard began around the same time that word of freshman Martez Ivey’s improvement started to circulate. This doesn’t feel like a coincidence, but maybe it is. Either way, Ivey seems poised to start at one of the tackle spots at some point this season, whether it’s the first game or a few games into the season. Even with the freshman being raw and needing some experience as a pass blocker, his upside is high enough that the Gators can let him grow into a future star.

This season is about development up front. The offensive line will take some beatings this fall while the younger players have their ups and downs. It’s not the ideal situation for breaking in a starting quarterback, but McElwain and his first-year staff don’t have a choice.

3. FINDING THE PASS RUSH: Replacing Dante Fowler’s pass rush is the only true question mark for the Florida defense. Alex McCalister benefitted from the double teams Fowler faced last season, but can he handle the pressure of the double teams now? He’ll see some, and so will senior Jonathan Bullard. Coaches and players are raving about the fall Bullard is having. He decided to return for his senior year to graduate and hoping to work his way into being the next Florida defensive lineman drafted in the first round. His versatility will be an important piece of the Florida defense. He can play any spot on the defensive line, and depending on which positions need help, that’s exactly what he’ll do. If someone other than those two will be a force as the pass rusher, keep an eye on freshman CeCe Jefferson. It’s not common for a freshman to be an impact pass rusher in the SEC right away, but Jefferson has the talent to do it.

The wild card in creating the pressure is defensive coordinator Geoff Collins. Wherever Collins has been in the past, his defenses have loved to blitz. He preaches energy on the field and he coaches with it. Now factor in the best secondary Collins has ever had as a coordinator plus a defense without an elite pass rusher and it’s the perfect recipe for the Gators using the blitz to their advantage this fall.

4. DEPTH CHART AT LINEBACKER: There is still no update on Antonio Morrison’s situation. The senior linebacker said at the team’s media day that his parents advised him not to say anything about what the knee injury was or how serious it was. Because of that, the position has some question marks. Morrison looked fine in the open portions of practice two weeks ago while practicing with a heavy brace on his knee.

Without him, the next two linebackers up seem to be Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis. Anzalone was thrown into the middle linebacker spot during the spring and learned the defense while becoming more vocal. Davis sat out the spring while recovering from injury but is now fully healthy after bulking up during the offseason. With Daniel McMillian, Jeremi Powell and Matt Rolin providing depth behind them, the numbers shouldn’t be a huge problem here. McElwain has already said his team will play exclusively nickel or dime in seven games this year, and it might be more than that depending on how the season goes.

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