The teams may have been a bit lopsided but what most wanted to see out of the 2016 edition of the Florida Gators Orange and Blue Debut, they saw. There was lots of offense and several big plays that resulted in points on the scoreboard from the offense, one from defense, and oh yes, special teams.
Here are my top dozen takeaways from the spring game… 2016 style.
Certainly near the top pf the list has to be freshman place kicker Eddy Pineiro. After all the scoring woes last year from the field goal unit, what a fresh breath of air it was to see Pineiro make field goals of 46, 52, and 56 yards on the night. Yes, he missed two 50+ field goals, but he jumped right up there after his first miss and hit the 56-yarder. It was quite apparent that Florida head coach Jim McElwain wanted to keep testing his young kicker to see where his head would be. Outside of not having a real rush on the kicks, he was pretty outstanding.
We saw one big play of him in the SEC Championship game. We saw more of him Friday night. Junior receiver C.J. Worton is an explosive receiver and dangerous when the ball is thrown in his direction. In the first series, Worton took a place about 18 yards from the line of scrimmage, broke a tackle right at the catch, then got outside to gain a total of 46 yards on the play. He later caught another 16 yard pass and reeled in a fumble from Mark Thomson and got in the end zone for a score. Explosive is the right word here for Worton, if he can keep his head on straight, he may turn in to the biggest play maker nobody is expecting for next year.
The need for depth at cornerback is pressing this year. So, when Duke Dawson picks off a couple of passes either at corner or at NICKEL, you have to like the confidence it might instill in the young man. He didn’t chalk up any other stats on the day, but make no mistake, he made a couple of big plays to get those interceptions and he turned one of them into a 23-yard touchdown return.
He caught just three passes for 24 yards, but Josh Hammond was targeted at least six times in the scrimmage. He got open and the big thing to me was he was a target of his quarterbacks. You can tell he knows what he is doing and looks confident running his routes. That rubs off on his quarterbacks that know he is going to be where he is supposed to be and they will continue to throw to him.
Yes Feleipe Franks struggled early in the contest and had three interceptions. The other true freshman quarterback on the roster, Franks was put in a position to test his frustration level playing with the second team and getting right after it. He got frustrated. But, to his credit, he continued to fight. That fight stayed with him and when he finally got to run with the first unit he led the offense all the way down the field for a score. He’s certainly got a ways to go, but the talent is there to be a good one.
One defensive surprise was redshirt freshman linebacker Kylan Johnson. To be honest, we haven’t heard much from Johnson this spring after he made the move from safety to linebacker. On Friday, we heard him a lot. He led al defenders in the contest with eight tackles and he seemed to be all over the place. A former quarterback in high school, he’s a heady player. Coming from the safety position he also has some speed. Johnson looks to have a tremendous upside, but he is in a position where they could use him now.
From the time he ran out of the tunnel until the end of the contest, number 23 in the orange jersey had a habit of standing out. He’s exuberant and flamboyant. He likes to taunt the other guy and he is able to run all over the place. True freshman Chauncey Gardner led the orange squad in tackles with five and his aggressive nature will get him in the action and is also contagious for his teammates, He is going to be a fun one to watch while he is here.
Last, but certainly not least was the play of senior graduate transfer Austin Appleby. Appleby probably had one throw he would like to get back and should have been intercepted, but he finished 8-for-11 for 80 yards on the night and all of his time coming with the second team offense. Appleby has a little bit of ‘pants on fire’ about him, a super sense of urgency that is great at times and maybe not so great at others. In all he looked very solid on the night.