Questions answered in Gators’ preseason

Florida has already answered many questions this fall before opening the season on September 5 against New Mexico State.

1. RUNNING BACK DEPTH: The Gators went through the spring with Kelvin Taylor serving as the only healthy scholarship running back. After Adam Lane decided to transfer in the first week of fall camp, it hurt the depth of returning players and meant the Gators will have to trust a pair of freshmen. The good news for Jim McElwain and the offensive staff is that both freshmen -- Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett -- are impressing players and coaches this fall.

This position should be fine as long as there aren’t any serious injuries. Taylor looks like he lost weight from last season and has been the player talked up the most on the Florida offense so far this fall. Scarlett’s speed and power combination has even veteran defenders shaking their head while remembering their attempts to tackle him. Cronkrite didn’t come to campus with Scarlett’s hype, but he looks like a natural catching passes and has impressed with his decisiveness for a true freshman.

2. INVOLVING PLAYMAKERS THROUGH THE AIR: Questions remaining on the offensive line and at quarterback aren’t the ideal setup for a team’s passing game. That meant McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier had to be creative and find ways to make it work. We won’t know for sure until we see what it looks like against New Mexico State on September 5. However, McElwain and players have talked about receivers Brandon Powell and Demarcus Robinson being moved all over the field. The staff challenged both receivers to learn the offense like the back of their hand so that the staff could be creative with them.

McElwain and staff have also learned this fall just how much they’ll be able to trust the tight end position. Jake McGee is a threat to lead the team in catches, but there’s depth behind him at the position. DeAndre Goolsby was the only other tight end to play last season, and even though he didn’t record a catch, he should be involved in the passing game this year. Redshirt freshman C’yontai Lewis has been the camp breakout at the position and has the size to make plays down the field. The tight end position will not be one that creates stress on the coaching staff this fall.

3. DEFENSIVE TACKLE CONTRIBUTORS: After Darious Cummings graduated and Leon Orr quit the team with four games left in the regular season, the Gators had to replace to contributors this offseason. It looks like those questions have been answered, especially with the breakout fall redshirt sophomore Caleb Brantley is having. Brantley swears there were five times he should’ve had his first collegiate sack last season, but none of those happened. Film of those plays pushed him through the offseason, and the 6-2, 314-pounder has been disruptive in the backfield this fall.

Taven Bryan and Joey Ivie join Brantley in what looks to be the top three at the position. Bryan, a Wyoming native, is another breakout candidate who was forced to redshirt last season while battling an illness. His wrestling background gives him advanced hand strength, and he’s a powerful player in the middle of the line. Florida will also use senior Jonathan Bullard at defensive end and tackle this fall.

Behind the top three, there’s still a good amount of depth that can develop at the position. Khairi Clark redshirted last year but was heavily recruited by most schools in the southeast. At 6-2, 321 pounds, Clark could serve as a run stuffer the Gators could use in the middle. Thomas Holley’s status is still unclear as he continues to recover from hip surgery.

4. PIECING TOGETHER THE SECONDARY: Talent won’t be an issue in the secondary, but the coaches will have to be creative to get them all on the field together. When the Gators play nickel or safety -- which McElwain said they would in seven games this year -- the secondary looks pretty set at this point in camp. With Vernon Hargreaves III at one cornerback spot, the only question comes at the other spot between Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson. Regardless of who wins it, both will be on the field a lot. Brian Poole has played mostly as the starting nickel while Marcus Maye and Keanu Neal start at safety.

It’ll be interesting to see what happens with Maye suspended in the first game. It could be a way to see what sophomore Duke Dawson can do early in the season.


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