Now that the first few non-contact practices of the spring are out of the way, Jim McElwain and his staff can get down to business Wednesday when the pads go on. McElwain liked what he saw in the non-contact days – “I thought we got a lot accomplished,” McElwain said Monday. “You can see just how far we’ve advanced simply because our guys know how to practice.” – but nothing shows progress quite like hitting. Plans are for full pads and contact on Wednesday, shorts, helmets and shells on Friday and a scrimmage in which Mac expects to “get after it a little bit on Saturday.”
McElwain likes what he’s seen of quarterbacks Luke Del Rio, Austin Appleby, Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask – “The positive is the ball is going to the right spot,” McElwain said – but even though none of them have ever taken an SEC snap or played a single down at Florida, there are fewer concerns with that position than the O-line.
McElwain commented Monday, “I think this will be a real test to see if we’ve grown up a little bit in the O-line.”
With Martez Ivey out for the spring, McElwain needs great effort from left tackle David Sharpe and the early assessment is good.
“I’ve seen some really good things early out of David Sharpe,” McElwain said. “I think he’s stepped up his production and his want to play, how he practices, and that’s been great for the whole O-line.”
McElwain also singled out Antonio Riles, who is likely to start at one of the guard positions.
Injury updates: Redshirt freshman wide receiver Kalif Jackson is likely done for the spring with a patella injury. DT Joey Ivey and CB Quincy Wilson are slowed by groin injuries, while S Duke Dawson and TE Kamrin Knight were held out of Monday’s practice.
EGBUNU QUESTIONABLE FOR UF NIT GAME WITH NORTH FLORIDA
That torn ligament in the right thumb of sophomore center John Egbunu (6-11, 255) makes him questionable for Florida’s first round National Invitational Tournament encounter with North Florida (9 p.m., UNF Arena). Head coach Mike White says Egbunu might not travel to Jacksonville Tuesday night and says “there’s talk about surgery herein the near future.” Egbunu is averaging 11.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game for the Gators (19-14). Playing with a special brace on his thumb in the Southeastern Conference Tournament, Egbunu scored 19 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in two games.
North Florida’s tallest starters are center Chris Davenport (6-8, 210) and wing forward Beau Beech (6-8, 210). Point guard Dallas Moore (19.7 points, 6.1 assists per game) is the most consistent player for the Ospreys while Beech (15.4 points per game) is one of the most dangerous 3-point shooters (42.7%) in the country. Moore and Davenport are former AAU teammates of Florida point guard Kasey Hill.
AP ALL-SEC BASKETBALL TEAM
First team: Tyler Ulis, Kentucky; Ben Simmons, LSU; Stefan Moody, Ole Miss; Jamal Murray, Kentucky; Jalen Jones, Texas A&M
Second team: Retin Obasohan, Alabama; Michael Carrera, South Carolina; Damian Jones, Vanderbilt; Kevin Punter, Tennessee; Moses Kingsley, Arkansas
Third team: DORIAN FINNEY-SMITH, FLORIDA; Yante Maten, Georgia; J.J. Finley, Georgia; Danuel House, Texas A&M; Alex Caruso, Texas A&M
Player of the Year: Tyler Ulis, Kentucky
Coach of the Year: Billy Kennedy, Texas A&M
Freshman of the Year: Ben Simmons, LSU
FLORIDA WOMEN #5 SEED IN NCAA TOURNAMENT
Amanda Butler’s Gators (22-8) earned a #5 seed for the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament. The Gators will face 12th-seeded Albany (27-4) in round one in Syracuse, New York. If the Gators get past Albany, they face the winner of #4 Syracuse and 13th-seeded Army in round two with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16 round in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Top seed in the Sioux Falls region is South Carolina from (31-1) the SEC. The other #1 seeds: UConn (32-0), Baylor (33-1) and Notre Dame (31-1).
Other SEC teams that made the tournament: #4 Texas A&M (21-9) and #9 Auburn (19-12) in Dallas Region; #5 Mississippi State (26-7) and #10 Missouri (21-9) in the Bridgeport Region; #7 Tennessee (19-13) in the Sioux Falls Region; #3 Kentucky (23-7) and #8 Georgia (21-9) in the Lexington Region. Florida State (23-7) made the tournament as a #5 in the Dallas Region, while Miami (24-8) was #5 in the Lexington Region and USF (23-9) was #6 in the Bridgeport Region.
GATORS WIN TWO OUT OF THREE AT AUBURN
Third-ranked Auburn rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh to take a 5-4 win over #1-ranked Florida (26-1, 2-1 SEC) Monday night. The loss was the first of the season for the Gators, whose 26-game winning streak to start the season is the second best start in school history. Florida took a 4-2 lead in the fourth inning on a 3-run homer by Kirsti Merrit, but Auburn got a run back on a homer in the fifth and then pushed across two runs against reliever Aleshia Ocasio in the bottom of the seventh. The Gators took two of three from the Tigers to win the first SEC series of the year. Florida faces Winthrop Wednesday night in a non-conference game then plays host to Tennessee this weekend.
FLORIDA SPRING SPORTS IN THE RANKINGS
Baseball: The Gators (17-1) remain the #1-ranked team in the nation. Also ranked from the SEC are (2) Vanderbilt, (3) Texas A&M, (8) LSU, (10) Ole Miss, (12) South Carolina, (13) Arkansas and (15) Mississippi State. Miami is ranked #6 while Florida State is #11 and Florida Atlantic #20.
Softball: The new rankings won’t come out until today, but Florida certainly has done nothing to fall from its perch as the #1 team in the nation.
Gymnastics: The Gators finished the regular season ranked #2, just .80 behind #1 Oklahoma. Other SEC schools in the rankings are (3) LSU, (4) Alabama, (6) Auburn, (8) Georgia, (13) Arkansas, (20) Missouri and (22) Kentucky.
Men’s Golf: The Gators held down the #2 position in Golf Week’s national rankings that were released last Friday.
Lacrosse: The Florida women are 9-0 after taking down #15 Towson Monday evening. Maryland continues to hold down the #1 ranking. The Gators are ahead of #3 North Carolina and #4 Syracuse, who they both beat on the road. The Gators will play host to #1 Maryland Saturday at noon.
Men’s Swimming: With just eight days remaining before the NCAA Championships begin in Atlanta, the Gators hold down the #3 national ranking behind Texas and California.
Women’s Golf: New rankings will be out Wednesday, but in last week’s poll the Gators were #8 nationally.
Women’s Swimming: The Gators will go into the NCAA Championships on March 23 ranked #9 nationally.
SPRING FOOTBALL NEWS FROM AROUND THE SEC
Alabama: Alabama tested its roster over the weekend. Here are some eye opening 40 times: QB Cooper Bateman (6-3, 224) 4.59 50-yard dash; RB Damien Harris 4.4; RB Scarbrough (6-2, 230) 4.6; WR Robert Foster 4.34; WR Calvin Ridley 4.35; WR ArDarius Stewart 4.43; TE O.J. Howard (6-6, 242) 4.65; OT Jonah Williams (6-5, 288) 5.1; DE Da’Shawn Hand (6-4 278) 4.8; NT Daron Payne (6-3, 319) 4.93; ILB Reuben Foster (6-1, 240) 4.64; OLB Rashaan Evans 4.6; OLB Christian Miller 4.62; CB Tony Brown 4.34; CB Anthony Averett 4.34; CB Minkah Fitzpatrick 4.43.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks dipped into Alabama to get a commitment from 3-star QB Daulton Hyatt (6-4, 182, Attalla, AL Etowah).
Auburn: Auburn players are expecting to enter 2016 unranked but they are embracing the underdog role. “I think we’re going to be underdogs for pretty much a lot of our games and that’s what I’m looking forward to so we can prove the world wrong,” said DE Carl Lawson.
Georgia: Georgia is toying with the idea of playing sophomore wide receiver at tailback in case Nick Chubb’s knee doesn’t come around. Junior Sony Michel is solidly the #1 in Chubb’s absence but there is no clearcut #2.
Kentucky: New coordinator Eddie Gran plans to integrate the tight end into the offense this year. Last year, the Wildcats got 15 catches, 149 yards and 1 TD from the position ... Running back Stanley Williams is in a non-contact jersey all spring to protect an elbow recovering from offseason surgery.
LSU: Brandon Harris remains the starting QB but he’s being pushed by Purdue transfer Danny Etling.
Mississippi State: Dan Mullen’s biggest question of the spring might be is there a go-to guy at tailback? Mullen is hoping Dontavian Lee and Aeris Williams step things up since they are the most physical of the six RBs on the spring roster.
Missouri: Terry Beckner Jr. and Harold Brantley continue to recover from knee surgery. If healthy, they could be one of the most formidable DT pairs in the SEC next year.
Ole Miss: All five OL starters from the Sugar Bowl game are gone so it’s a spring for rebuilding at Ole Miss, which has 12 O-linemen available for practice. Robert Conyers, who started five games at center before going down with a knee, and RG Rod Taylor, who was limited to two games because of shoulder surgery, are notably missing.
South Carolina: Will Muschamp will limit the spring activity of MLB Skai Moore, whose neck strain is being dealt with cautiously. Moore is being held out of all contact drills at this moment.
Tennessee: New defensive coordinator Bob Shoop says the Vols have to “embrace” expectations this season. “There’s a difference between playing well and playing winning football,” Shoop said. “Winning football is getting stops on third down. Winning football is playing well in the red zone. Winning football is winning the turnover margin. Winning football is winning the two-minute drill or the four-minute drill at the end of the game.”
Texas A&M: New offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s spread offense is a bit more run-oriented than the pass-first offense of former OC Jake Spavital.
Vanderbilt: Finding a pass rusher who can create havoc coming off the edge is one of Vandy’s spring priorities. Freshman Caleb Peart had two sacks at Vandy’s scrimmage back on Friday and he’s been looking like the pass rusher Derek Mason has been seeking.
COUNTDOWN TO FIRING DAY, BASKETBALL EDITION
Extinct Species List
Dave Rice, UNLV
Donnie Jones, UCF
Trent Johnson, TCU
Jim Crews, Saint Louis
Bruiser Flint, Drexel
Brooks Thompson, Texas-San Antonio
Aki Thomas, Maryland-Baltimore County
Joe Scott, Denver
Matt Brady, James Madison
Ron Verlin, Pacific
Rex Walters, San Francisco
Eddie Jordan, Rutgers
Eddie Dickerman, Central Connecticut
Kerry Keating, Santa Clara
Nick Robinson, Southern Utah
Ed Conroy, Tulane
Johnny Dawkins, Stanford
Bill Courtney, Cornell
Not that anyone expected him to stick around for a second season of college basketball, but Ben Simmons will be signing with LeBron James’ agent and foregoing his sophomore season at LSU. There is no question that Simmons is extremely talented, but on more than one occasion this season I was shocked that he didn’t demand the basketball at crunch time. Great players want the ball in their hands when the game is on the line and I never saw that in Simmons. Great talent? Yes. Would I make him the cornerstone of my NBA franchise? No way.
File this under what if? What if Georgia point guard J.J. Frazier hadn’t sprained his ankle against Kentucky? Up until that moment, the Bulldogs were on track to spring the upset and certainly that would have put them in the NCAA Tournament instead of the NIT.
The Denver Broncos need a QB now that Peyton Manning has retired and Brock Osweiler has signed with the Houston Texans. They could have gotten Colin Kaepernick, who has Super Bowl experience, or Mark Sanchez, whose sell-by date expired years ago. They Broncos weren’t willing to give more than a 4th-round draft pick for Kaepernick and so Sanchez is their guy. Enjoy last place, Denver.
A banner flew over the UCLA campus Monday saying UCLA can do better than Steve Alford. The banner, of course, is right. Now someone with $10.6 million stroke a check and Stevie-boy is gone. Otherwise remember you don’t always get what you pay for.
Texas-San Antonio has settled with former football coach Larry Coker for a lump sum payment of $650,000.
Rutgers’ embattled athletic program has to have a grand slam hire now that basketball coach Eddie Jordan has been canned. The coach who makes the most sense is Rhode Island coach Danny Hurley, son of St. Anthony legend Bob Hurley and brother of former Duke All-American and Arizona State coach Bobby Hurley. A surprise hire could be Montverde Academy coach Kevin Boyle, who has won three straight high school national championships. Boyle was the coach at St. Patrick in Elizabeth, New Jersey prior to Montverde.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
John Calipari is complaining that Texas A&M got a #3 seed while Kentucky got a #4 in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. Does Calipari have a legitimate gripe or are top four seedings a bit irrelevant?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
Every time I listen to Paul Butterfield, I shake my head because he’s just one of so many musicians who died way too young because of drug addictions. From 1965-73, Butterfield was at his best and the music was sensational. He may be the greatest blues harmonica player ever. Today’s music is his 1973 album “Better Days.”