There are big changes in every unit on offense and most of the time that would be a bad thing. But, the Gators are striving to be much better with the ball in 2016 than they were in 201 and will infuse a great deal more talent at the skill positions to try and make that happen.
Here is a breakdown at every position…
Likely Starter: Luke Del Rio
Del Rio is the lone returner in the unit that was on the roster a year ago. Ineligible to compete because of transferring, Del Rio worked with the scout team, but also learned the ropes with McElwain and company. He started the spring as the favorite and did nothing to change that view throughout the entire month.
The former walk-on earned a scholarship in the offseason and is expected to do big things in an offense that fits his skill set very well. His biggest assets are knowing what to do, where to throw it, and when. Despite his lack of experience, this is his fourth year out of high school so there is a maturity factor.
Top Challenger: Austin Appleby
He Purdue senior graduate transfer has the most college experience of anyone at the position. He started for a year and a half of the Big Ten school and has played on the big stage that is major college football before.
While not as productive as Del Rio in the spring, Appleby performed well and the staff feels pretty good about where he is at.
Both he and Del Rio have done a good job of controlling the locker room, at least the offensive side of the ball. This is something that is imperative for the position.
Dark Horse Candidate: Kyle Trask
Trask has all the intangibles they are looking for in a quarterback. He has great size, a strong arm, and he is natural in the pocket of a pro-style offense.
With fewer accolades than Franks, Trask seemed to push more for playing time in the spring, although both have reportedly been doing well this summer working with their teammates.
Bottom Line: The staff expects more production out of Del Rio and this group than they had at any point of the year in 2015, maybe outside of the Ole Miss game. As McElwain says often, the success of the quarterback is highly dependent on the ability of the people around them. As we move forward here, we believe that the other parts on offense are in much better shape.
Likely Starter: Jordan Cronkrite
This battle is going to be close and well contested throughout the season. I give the nod to Cronkrite because he played more last year than anyone else and may be a little bit ahead in terms of pass protection and some of the little things.
Cronkrite showed that he is a good pass catcher a season ago (see the South Carolina game) and he is a hard runner as well. He isn’t the fastest of the backs, but he isn’t slow either.
Top Challenger: Jordan Scarlett and Mark Thompson
As stated above, this position will be one of, if not the most contested position on the roster in 2016. Thompson is actually the oldest as a junior and was a receiver in high school, so his pass catching skills are up there. Scarlett showed well this spring when he was asked to catch the ball out of the backfield.
You can flip a coin as to which of these two are faster, but both have primo size and ability as runners. This is exactly what you are looking for on a roster, competition at each spot like this and knowing that all of these guys will play.
Dark Horse Candidate: Lamical Perine
He’s behind because he wasn’t here in the spring. With four guys knowing the offense much better, Perine has a tough haul to get on the field for meaningful playing time in 2016.
But, don’t count him out. He’s a heck of a runner with really nice power that really sees the creases and the holes between the tackles. He also can catch the ball out of the backfield. The toughest thing will be learning pass protections and techniques.
Bottom Line: Don’t get me wrong, I am a big Kelvin Taylor fan. Some of the things he accomplished last year given the condition of the offensive line and the overall experience on this side of the ball in a new offense, was pretty remarkable. The fact that with all of the carries he had in three years and amassed well over 2,000 yards, he never fumbled is an outstanding feat.
That said, Taylor had his limitations in terms of the big play. They relied on him a great deal because he was so far ahead of the young guys in terms of the little things to know on offense.
Now the young guys have caught up. They understand wat is going on. They have a more experienced offensive line in front of them that should be much improved, and they have the ability to take it to the house at any time.
This position should be an upgrade.
Likely Starter: DeAndre Goolsby
Goolsby was a big play machine as a sophomore in 2015 after wasting a redshirt as a freshman and gathering zero catches in 2014. He’s got really good size and is excellent at catching the ball down the field.
Goolsby moves extremely well and his size should allow him to really improve as a blocker at the line of scrimmage. Still, his strength is as a pass catcher either coming out of the backfield as an H-back or split wide in the slot.
Top Challenger: Cyontai Lewis
Lewis isn’t far behind. His build will surprise you when it comes time for him to lock horns with a defender in front of him and block. He is likely the best blocker in the unit and may be the fastest as well.
Lewis is also a big play waiting to happen and his deceptive blocking skills could mean a lot of two tight end sets or at least him seeing a lot of the playing field this year.
Dark Horse Candidate: Moral Stephens
It is time for the light to come on for Stephens. In his third year, he has battled different issues on the field that have kept him from being a factor. He is blessed with good size, excellent speed, and some raw power the others may not have. He was one of the guys the staff was singling out earlier in the spring, but he has to stay focused on getting better and just show he really wants it.
Bottom Line: There aren’t many teams that are going to have a combo like Goolsby and Lewis. Pretty much interchangeable, they will allow for two tight end sets which gives the offense a ton of flexibility. Jake McGee was a true offensive leader and a steady contributor, but these two will provide more athleticism on the field than Jake could when he was out there.
Likely Starters: Ahmad Fulwood, Dre Massey, Antonio Callaway
Once Callaway is completely cleared he may be the only one of the three above that is safe as a starter. Callaway as we all know was a huge difference maker as a freshman and earned various All-SEC and All-American considerations for his play on the field. I believe at this point everyone believes he will be cleared, we just don’t know exactly when that will happen.
Massey likely showed up this spring from junior college and wrestled the slot position away from fellow junior Brandon Powell. It didn’t help Powell’s case that he was injured all spring and missed the entire session, but Massey came in and was a difference maker. Nevertheless, the competition at receiver is the best it has been on campus in seven years or so and that has got to be the single thing the offense has needed the most around here.
Fulwood had a good spring, but we have seen that from him before only to not be productive in the fall. Still, that last season on campus (some jokingly refer to it as the contract year) has a way of turning the pretenders into the contenders. He has to show us though.
We’ve already mentioned Powell, but he can’t be slept on. He was exciting at times a year ago and the kid gives it everything he has. No one was more of a devastating blocker down field for his teammates than Powell, and he also made some big plays catching the ball and running after the catch. The foot injury is something to watch, but he is going to fight for that starting slot position.
C.J. Worton is another one that we have to watch. By the end of the spring and with Fulwood missing practice time with injury, Worton was running with the first team. We saw what kind of play he can make in the SEC Championship game last year and then he had an excellent spring game as well. He is a play maker that is starting to get his head screwed on straight. He can be formidable.
Chris Thompson is still likely the fastest guy on the team. Maybe he gets a taste of his ‘contract year’ as well, but he is a guy with tools to succeed.
Freddie Swain and Joshua Hammond played well in the spring. It seems very likely they will get on the field this year. Tyrie Cleveland is the most celebrated of the four freshmen receivers on campus. He certainly has the tools to be a big time. It is too early to tell if he will play a ton, but if he was one year earlier there would be no question.
Full Receiver Roster: Senior Ahmad Fulwood, Senior Chris Thompson, Redshirt Junior Case Harrison, Junior Brandon Powell, Junior Dre Massey, Junior C.J. Worton, Redshirt freshman Kalif Jackson, Freshman Tyrie Cleveland, Freshman Freddie Swain, Freshman Joshua Hammond, Freshman Rick Wells
Dark Horse Candidate: I am going to go with Hammond. The younger brother of Gator Great and Kansas City Chief receiver Frankie Hammond, Josh comes to Florida as an Under Armour All-American, but still a bit on the underrated side in my opinion. Hammond had a terrific spring and has a strong body that is ready to play in the SEC. He is smooth and has really good body control.
Bottom Line: The receiver position is the one that has totally evolved in just two recruiting classes. The talent level at the position has more than doubled and will allow for many more weapons for the quarterbacks in the offense. Big plays should start multiplying with this group and that will be a welcome sight for Gator fans, coaches, and players alike.