Gators' New Faces, Going Places: Offense

With the collapse at the end of the season in 2015, the Florida Gators are looking for an immediate and large infusion of talent. After a very productive and competitive spring of football, here are 10 new faces that we expect to make an impact on the offense following a productive spring.

For the fans, spring is all about who is going to help step up and make the team better. This spring was one of the most competitive in memory because Florida added 13 new comers that all brought something to the table. You will find several of those on this list along with a few others that have been on campus but haven’t made their mark yet.

Here are ten players on offense that we expect to make a new impact.

He was the leader in the clubhouse going into March and he is the leader coming out, but redshirt sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio looked a lot like a seasoned veteran this spring. He isn’t the typical guy on this list in that he was practicing with the team last year after transferring from Oregon State, but to say he didn’t outperform expectations of most would be wrong. In the spring game he was 10-for-11 for 176 yards and two touchdowns throwing the ball.

That’s just part of the story as he just looked extremely comfortable in the pocket and he made things look easy, even when he had a bit of pressure sometimes. Barring injury, it would be a huge surprise at this point f Del Rio wasn’t the starter and big favorite to keep the job in the fall.

At this point, if there is someone that has a chance to unseat Del Rio, it might be senior graduate transfer Austin Appleby . Playing with the second team offense against the first team defense during the scrimmage Friday Appleby was able to drive the ball down the field a few times. He never threw touchdowns against the starting secondary, but he got the chains moving by taking wat he was given most of the time.

He is a little more adept at taking chances and that can get him in trouble, but some big plays came out of those big chances as well. He certainly has a solid pocket presence and will be gunning for Del Rio all year.

The only newcomer at running back has to be mentioned here. Mark Thompson showed speed, power, and the ability to maneuver in traffic and find the open lane when he ran for a 21-yard touchdown. The surprising part to me is the way he can shift and move with defenders around him to find the open area of the field.

The fumble is something that has to be addressed. Plain and simple, there is nothing more important than keeping the ball in your possession. It was somewhat of an issue this spring for him and certainly the thing he has to work on the most in the summer and in fall camp.

Fellow junior college transfer and newcomer Dre Massey was probably the most constant play maker of the spring. On Friday caught just two passes for 29 yards, but he did score a touchdown on  double move and sprint to the end zone where Del Rio found him wide open.

Massey is a guy that will be asked to run the ball sometimes and will probably also get in on special teams returns before all is said and done. They expected him to come in and contribute right away, but he may be the odds on favorite to seal up the slot position starting job in the fall at this point.

I’m going to step out of the box for this next receiver on the list. C.J. Worton is a junior that is in his third year on campus. But, he hasn’t seen much of the field. He made a tremendous play for a touchdown in the SEC Championship Game in December, but otherwise has been pretty silent in games.

On Friday he showed some explosion, like he did in Atlanta four months ago. He only caught two passes but his first series catch and run totaled 46 yards and included breaking a tackle right when he caught the ball to earn an extra 20+ yards. He also was able to get in the scrum from Thompson’s fumble, jump out of the pack and race to the end zone. He is a play maker that is learning to do all of the things a receiver needs to do to get on the field.

A big target Friday night for the second team offense was Joshua Hammond. He caught three passes, but was thrown to at least six times in the contest. Hammond was able to get to the open spaces on the field and when the ball was in the air, he was going up to fight for it. That is something you don’t normally see from true freshmen.

Hammond is smooth and precise with his route running. These are things that get him noticed all the time from the staff and the quarterbacks that know he is going to be where he is supposed to. I expect him to have a nice freshman season in 2016.

Freddie Swain is a big play maker and although he caught just one 7-yard pass for a third down conversion Friday night, he’s been making big plays all spring. Swain is another true freshman from nearby Citra North Marion and is another r highly skilled and pretty polished receiver.

Swain is a little smaller, but a guy that has worked extremely hard this spring and it is hard to see that he won’t get on the field in the fall and do something.

Another one outside the box would be redshirt sophomore tight end Cyontai Lewis . Although he made a couple of big plays in 2015 with two long touchdown receptions, he only caught four passes the entire year. He caught five passes for 79 yards and a touchdown Friday night.

The thing that makes Lewis special is that he is so tenacious at the line of scrimmage. He’s actually the best blocker of all the tight ends, despite being the lightest of the group. He started off rather quickly last year then pretty much disappeared. It’s like a new guy out there and another player to make some noise in 2016.

We would like to see more young guys do some good things on the offensive line, but two will get mentioned here. Redshirt freshman center T.J. McCoy has made great strides this spring. McCoy originally signed with NC State in 2015 and enrolled early, but because of a family situation was able to check out after spring ball there and enroll at Florida. He could have played a year ago but redshirted.

He’s smaller at 6-foot-1 and 295 pounds, but he can play at that size at the center position. He is a relentless blocker and plays with a mean streak in the trenches. At center though it is more about knowing assignments and not making mental errors and he has been good at that.

The other lineman we will talk about is redshirt freshman guard Nick Buchanan. Buchanan has put on some good weight now and measures in at 6-foot-2 and 309 pounds. His issue keeping him from playing last year and pushing before the spring has really been the small technique stuff and that is coming around.

On Friday, he and McCoy were a nice combo at front and played pretty well against the first team defense. His progression with the offensive line techniques and continued work ethic should get him a healthy dose of playing time for the first in 2016. 

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