Gators offensive takeaways from first half of spring

It is a huge spring for the Florida Gator offense. With almost every skill position up for grabs, there is a lot to get done and in a short time. One thing that is apparent in the first couple of weeks is the amount of competition at each position on the roster. There are tons of jobs up for grabs and here are our thoughts on every position on offense.  

QUARTERBACKS

Florida’s offensive coordinator and quarterback’s coach Doug Nussmeier, spent time with the media on Friday and discussed a myriad of things. The four-horse race at quarterback was a hot topic as you might expect. He talked a good deal about the group.

Gone from the position are Will Grier (transfer) and Treon Harris (new position) and so the entire position has been revamped form a year ago. So far, even with all of the newness, Nussmeier is pleased with where his protégés are at this spring.

“It's a different room than where we were a year ago,” Nussmeier said. “With two guys that were meant to be getting ready to go to high school spring break and the prom and those types of things, those guys are moving very fast for us. Luke was with us before, last season, so he is a little ahead. And also Austin has done a really good job, a veteran guy. Really pleased with the extra things they have done on their own, especially the young guys and the older guys setting an example and being a good role model. You talk all the time as a coach about what it takes to play at a high level, but when they see the older guys, how they work and prepare, set a very good example. I am very pleased with that.

Redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio remains the leader of the pack at the quarterback position, a position that has had a total overhaul from a year ago. Del Rio has a big leg up on the other three signal callers because of familiarity with the people and the system that dates back a while.

“I think he was knee high to a grasshopper,” Nussmeier said when asked how long he has known Del Rio. “When his father (Jack Del Rio) got into coaching and started working in the strength program, I was playing for the Saints. He was with us there at Alabama for a year and then Oregon State, exposure to the system and it's an advantage for him. 

Nussmeier talked about what he saw in Del Rio as a prospect.

“He has a lot of football savvy,” Nussmeier said. “He grew up around football and think he has great demeanor, great confidence in his abilities. He is very good in the locker room. And the guys believe preparation is effort. They know every day he goes out there they are going to get his best. 

Beyond Del Rio, Nussmeier is excited about the number of quality players he has at the position.

“As in any position you want to create as much depth as you can… have guys push each other every day.” Nussmeier said playing off a year ago when only two players were in the mix for half the year. “I think we have four kids that are going to push each other each and every day and that’s what you want. You want guys to know that every rep matters and that every rap is being evaluated. The guy next to him is going to push him to be the best that he can be. 

One that is really pushing Del Rio is senior graduate transfer Austin Appleby. Appleby comes in with much more college playing experience having started at Purdue and playing in a major college football conference. Nussmeier recognizes those strengths.

“Austin has done a good job and Austin has had more playing time and more game experience and he has that advantage. Now some of the plays he hasn't run yet, so for the first time when he does it, it's a little bit off timing but he has got more experience to draw on than Luke has.”

He’s very pleased with true freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask.

“You talk about these young guys, talk about big, physical guys that can rip it, their impressive,” he said of the two.  

Kan Li / Scout
 “When you look at those two guys and their ability to throw the football, when you just talk about pure passing the football, those two guys have really good talent. They have done a really good job studying extra and trying to prepare to get the best of their abilities. Obviously it's very fast for them right now. On the speed of the rush and playing against our defense day in and day out, it forces you to speed up. It's moving a little fast for them right now but like I said at times they flash and it's good.

For onlookers at practice, the freshman that stands out the most right now is Trask. Not recruited by any other Power-5 school, there were some eyebrows raised when Florida offered and he soon committed. But, Nussmeier was sold.

“I can't say enough about the kid,” said Nussmeier. “He is an Eagle Scout, he’s close to a 4.0 student. If you turned on the film when he played and looked at his production it was pretty darn good. And you look at the decision making, the size, the arm strength, accuracy and say ‘what box aren't you checking? What are we missing here?’”

The competition is making all four guys better. They aren’t perfect, far from it, but they are quickly getting better and making each other better along the way. It is a competition that will last at least until somewhere in the middle of fall drills.

One area of concern that has been noticeable is dropped snaps when the quarterbacks go under center. It is a process according to Nussmeier, because it isn’t something Florida does a lot and more and more high schools go to shotgun snaps.

“It used to be a teaching progression and now it's a huge teaching progression. Some of the kids we are seeing have never been under center or even talked about stance or hand placement or anything like that It's the first part of our teaching with the young quarterbacks right now. 

RUNNING BACKS

With the competition at quarterback, you have even more competition going on at the running back position. While Kelvin Taylor was often the first, second, and third option a year ago, Jordan Cronkrite,, Jordan Scarlett, and Mark Thompson are in a real battle for the lead position with all three expected to play a big role this year. And to be honest, senior Mark Herndon has had his moments as well.

Thompson is the talk of onlookers because of his great size (6-foot-2, 242 pounds). But, he runs like he should run with that size.

Kan Li / Scout
 “Mark, big physical guy,” Nussmeier said when talking about Thompson. “Obviously the transition from junior college to here in the SEC, we have to get him to play continuously, rep after rep after rep, it's a great compliment to the backs we have and there is great competition. Talk about the two Jordans and he is here and Mark Herndon and I really like how we are stacking up there. (Mark’s) getting his feet wet and you watch practice, and it is interesting to see once again when you go live... to see if he will make those cuts. If you look at his film he ran through a lot in the junior college level. 

But Thompson hasn’t secured the reigns of the starting job and he may not. Cronkrite has been really impressive and reeled off an 80-yard touchdown to open up the scrimmage type practice on Saturday. Both he and Scarlett have shown to have great hands out of the backfield and they are farther along in knowing the offense than Thompson having played in it a year ago while Thompson was in junior college.

Maybe Herndon can provide an option that would allow freshman Lamical Perine to redshirt in the fall. The Gators really need four healthy backs and the positive talk about Herndon would be a nice luxury at this point.

 

RECEIVERS

Kan Li / Scout
 With Antonio Callaway out for the spring dealing with off-the-field issues, senior Ahmad Fulwood has been the guy to step to the forefront at the receiver position.

“Ahmad is a guy that we were counting on to step up not only as a player but in a leadership role,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain said last week.  I think he’s taken that and kind of run with it a little bit. Not only is he catching it, but I’ve seen him fight for 50/50 balls that are up in the air. Just playing in that aggressive nature, I hope to see that continue. He needs to be a big factor for us.”

Consistency is an issue for Fulwood, but so it is for the rest of the group that outside of Callaway last season has been a sour note for the offense for years.

One big play maker that has really stepped up is junior college transfer Dre Massey. Massey has stepped into the slot receiver role that has been vacated by an injured junior Brandon Powell and junior Alvin Bailey who missed most of last week with his own injury.

“I think Dre Massey has really done a good job,” McElwain said. “He has probably benefited from Bailey not being here as far as getting a lot more reps at a couple of different positions. I feel like he’s really taken a couple of steps forward in that receiver group.”

Massey brings big play making ability and did so on Saturday when he took a slant pass for 50+ yards for a touchdown in the scrimmage.  

The Gators are also getting nice play from freshmen Joshua Hammond and Freddie Swain. The two arrived early on campus in January. They have established themselves quickly in the two-deep or at least right on the edge of that.

“Seeing a lot of catches and hopefully soon,” Nussmeier said when asked of the two. “Those kids are great kids. You would assume you would see ton of mental mistakes, but we are not getting that, which tells you how hard they are working and it tells you they may be past their years in where they are at in football knowledge. They have really good football instincts. Can't say enough… those kids have done a really good job.”

 

TIGHT ENDS

Kan Li / Scout
 At times this spring, every tight end on the roster has had their name mentioned in a positive way. Junior DeAndre Goolsby and redshirt sophomore Cyontai Lewis have the upper had with experience and maturity. Moral Stephens was the surprise of pre-spring with his work ethic and physical abilities he was showing and then Camrin Knight brings a hard-nosed attitude to the position.

“I really like that they are paying attention to detail,” Nussmeier said. “We don't have the biggest group of guys there, but we are very athletic. I think those guys have done a really good job and really focus on the attention to detail and the footwork. We have to get better blocking. We did a good job at route running last year, and we have to get better at the blocking stand point; we really have to get better at the communication stand point.”

Right now Goolsby and Lewis are drawing most of the first and second team reps. They are definitely the best downfield threats, while Lewis is also a very good blocker.

 

OFFENSIVE LINE 

Kan Li / Scout
 The same starting five has been at the helm since the first day of practice this spring. With sophomore Martez Ivey nursing a shoulder injury and out for the entire spring, left tackle David Sharpe, left guard Antonio Riles, center Cameron Dillard, right guard Tyler Jordan, and right tackle Fredrick Johnson.

Offensive line coach Mike Summers has a really different view on things this spring from last when he had just six scholarship bodies to work with in the entire unit. With at least double that number, the competition has really helped push the entire unit.

Summers said Monday that Sharpe, Dillard, and Jordan are the three leaders in the group. Sharpe and Dillard have become the vocal leaders, while Jordan, being just a sophomore is more of a lead by example type.

They have been particularly pleased with Sharpe who has pressed himself to lose weight and make himself quicker and also push to be that leader of the group. The latter is something they weren’t expecting but wanted.

Jordan has entrenched himself at guard, and while he could fill in at center, they want him concentrating on one position and really making that his own.

The top backups right now come in the interior. Redshirt freshmen Brandon Sandifer, Nick Buchanan, and T.J. McCoy are guards and center respectively that have drawn praise from the staff about their improvement from a year ago.

The look of the line right now seems to point to Ivey returning at tackle instead of guard where he played for most of last season. Ivey was a 5-star prospect out of high school at the tackle position. Last year given the emergency situation up front, he was plugged in where needed.

Stay tuned to Fightin’ Gators as we give our takeaways on the defensive side of the ball. 


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