Okay, it’s time for the annual dog and pony show which we used to call the Orange and Blue Game tonight (7:30 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium). That the players will be in pads and some hitting will take place is about as close as it will get to real football.
Real football really isn’t the objective, however. This is a show, nothing more. All the good stuff that Jim McElwain and staff have been working on took place in the previous month, but especially in the last 10 days. Tonight’s show in the stadium will be his chance to show off the team in front of a pretty good crowd of fans who will get a pretty good idea who’s running first and second team on both sides of the football. Nobody should expect to come away with much more than that.
More importantly, this is a show for recruits, who will come to Gainesville from all parts of the state and some from out of state. They’ll see the Gators on the field and get a chance to see The Swamp with some semblance of game day (if there’s a big crowd). Those that stay overnight in Gainesville will have a chance to spend a whole lot more time with McElwain and the coaching staff on a Saturday when there is baseball and softball being played on campus. If the game were played on Saturday, interaction with the coaches would be limited because of post game media activities.
With all that said, here are a five things you should look for if you are at the game or watching on TV:
1. The offensive line rotations: If Tyler Jordan or Brett Heggie get most of the reps at center, that’s a sure sign that T.J. McCoy’s physical limitations (barely 6-0 tall, not excessively quick) are a concern. Jordan is the best left guard while Heggie may have the most upside at center.
2. Will the receivers catch the ball?: They’ve been plagued by drops from what we’ve been hearing all spring. We’ve been told the Gators intend to throw the ball downfield more often in the fall and that requires receivers holding onto the football. Although it’s a long way until September, the bad habits of spring can carry over into the fall. Seeing the receivers catch the ball would be a relief after what we’ve been hearing.
3. Where will Brandon Powell line up?: With the emergence of Kadarius Toney and the expected full speed return of Dre Massey, will Powell stay in the slot or move outside. Toney and Massey are naturals for the slot. We’ve seen Powell catch the dumps and drags for three years while playing primarily out of the slot but we got some glimpses of him as a downfield receiving threat late last year. Powell is a very tough kid and a great downfield blocker, something that has been missing from the outside receivers the last couple of years. Plus, he can catch the football.
4. How do Chauncey Gardner and Duke Dawson look at corner?: Both of them have played mostly at safety or nickel because the Gators have been blessed with NFL corners. Now they are taking over for Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor, who will play for pay next year. Can Gardner and Dawson handle corner? Do they have the hips and the feet? Or are they natural safeties? You won’t be able to tell a lot at the spring game but if receivers are burning them in the spring that’s not exactly a good sign for the fall. Keep an eye on Joseph Putu while you’re about it.
5. What’s the D-line rotation?: They can’t hit the QB so we aren’t going to know anything about pass rush, but the rotations are important to watch to see who the coaching staff trusts to get the job done. Is CeCe Jefferson playing more on the outside or more on the inside? Luke Ancrum was 251 last year. Is he big enough to play with the big guys on the inside? Will the Gators be in a 3-4 or a 4-3 most of the time?
TEBOW GOES YARD IN FIRST OFFICIAL PRO AT BAT
In his first official professional at bat for the Class A Columbia Fireflies of the South Atlantic League, Tim Tebow hit a 2-run homer off Augusta Green Jackets lefty Domenec Mazza to left center field on a 2-1 count. The crowd and teammates went absolutely bonkers. During spring training with the New York Mets big league club, Tebow hit .148 with 8 strikeouts in 27 at bats.
SI.COM MOCK DRAFT HAS 6 GATORS IN FIRST 3 ROUNDS
Sports Illustrated draft analyst Chris Burke has done a 3-round mock for the upcoming NFL Draft in May. Overall, he’s got 34 SEC players going in the first three rounds, with six from the University of Florida.
26. Seattle: CB Quincy Wilson
33. Cleveland: DT Caleb Brantley
42. New Orleans: LB Jarrad Davis
56. Oakland: CB Jalen Tabor
90. Seattle: S Marcus Maye
107. New York Jets: LB Alex Anzalone
SEC team breakdown for first three rounds
1. Alabama 9; 2. (tie) Florida and LSU 6; 4. (tie) Tennessee and Texas A&M 4; 6. Auburn 2; 7. (tie) Missouri, Ole Miss and Vanderbilt 1
KIPER/MCSHAY TWO ROUND MOCK HAS 4 GATORS
ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay did competing mock drafts that saw four Gators drafted in the first two rounds.
23. New York Giants (Kiper): LB Jarrad Davis
24. Oakland Raiders (McShay): LB Jarrad Davis
36. Chicago (McShay): CB Quincy Wilson
49. Washington (Kiper): DT Caleb Brantley
52. Cleveland (Kiper): S Marcus Maye
57. Houston (McShay): S Marcus Maye
BIG UF SPRING SPORTS WEEKEND
Women’s Tennis: It’s the final home weekend for the #1-ranked Gators (18-1, 8-1 SEC). The Gators play host to #26 Ole Miss (12-8, 3-6 SEC) Friday afternoon and #16 Mississippi State (13-5, 6-4 SEC) on Sunday.
Softball: Don’t think for a second redemption won’t be on the mind of the 3rd-ranked Gators (34-2, 10-1 SEC) this weekend when 19th-ranked Georgia (27-10, 2-7 SEC) comes to town. Georgia scored a monumental upset at Katie Seashole Presley Stadium in the NCAA Super Regional last spring, denying the Gators a trip to Oklahoma City where they could have competed for a third straight NCAA championship. Florida is 5-0 since its last loss in the final game of a series with Auburn. The Gators have won 21 games by shutout and lead the nation with an 0.75 ERA. The Gators also lead the nation in fielding (.987, only 12 errors) and they’re second in on base percentage (.455) and seventh in scoring (6.94 runs per game). Kelly Barnhill (13-0) leads the nation in ERA at 0.26 with 151 strikeouts in 80-2/3 innings.
Lacrosse: Fresh off a blowout 21-7 win over Marquette in Milwaukee on Wednesday, Florida’s 3rd-ranked lacrosse team (10-2, 4-0 Big East) returns home Saturday to face Cincinnati (5-7, 1-3 Big East) at Donald Dizney Stadium. Mollie Stevens (3.42 goals per game) and Shayna Pirreca (3.18 goals per game) rank 1-2 in goal scoring in the Big East. The Gators rank #2 nationally in scoring at 16.25 goals per game.
Baseball: The Gators (20-9, 5-4 SEC), who moved up to #7 in the latest D1Baseball.com Poll, play host to Tennessee (15-11, 1-8 SEC) for a 3-game SEC series starting at 5 p.m. today at McKethan Stadium. Florida will go with Alex Faedo (5-1, 2.18 ERA) today, Brady Singer (4-1, 1.47 ERA on Saturday and Jackson Kowar (4-0, 2.40 ERA) on Sunday.
Men’s Tennis: The 14th-ranked Gators (13-7, 6-2 SEC) take to the road this weekend to take on #13 Georgia (13-6, 9-0 SEC) in Athens on Friday and Tennessee (9-11 1-7 SEC) in Knoxville on Sunday.
SPRING STUFF AROUND THE SEC
Alabama: New offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is making changes to the Alabama offense. Daboll, who came to Alabama from the New England Patriots, has had quarterback Jalen Hurts in conversations with Patriots QB Tom Brady. “It’s cool because we’re running the same plays,” Hurts said.
Arkansas: Jared Cornelius (32 catches, 515 yards, 4 TDs in 2016) has emerged as the vocal leader of the Razorbacks’ receiving corps this spring. Juco transfers Brandon Martin and Jonathan Nance are competing for starting jobs alongside Cornelius.
Auburn: Auburn is adding a $28 million game day recruiting facility at Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Georgia: This is somewhat of a surprise considering the Bulldogs return 10 starters on defense. HBC Kirby Smart says the offense is actually “more physical” than the defense. “Defensively, we’re probably not where we need to be,” Smart said.
Kentucky: Quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw has been given a $100,000 raise to $500,000 while O-line coach John Scharlman has gotten a $75,000 raise to $375,000 per year.
LSU: New coordinator Matt Canada says the Tigers are “as far along as I would have thought we could be” in learning a brand new offensive system. As for quarterback where starter Danny Etling returns and three others are pushing for reps during the spring, Canada says, “The best player is going to play.”
Mississippi State: T.J. Gray, who totaled 145 tackles in three years, has been moved to safety by new defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. Gray was recruited to Mississippi State as a safety but moved to linebacker out of necessity.
Missouri: Suspended junior running back Nate Strong is back at practice after serving a 4-week suspension for a violation of team rules.
Ole Miss: New defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff’s scheme is simpler but involves more attacking than the one employed by now retired Dave Wommack.
South Carolina: Because the Gamecocks won 6 football games in 2017, Darius Rucker made good on his pledge to hold an on-campus free concert for South Carolina students at Colonial Life Arena.
Tennessee: The Vols are wearing wristbands that say “DAT.” That stands for detail, accountability and toughness. As if that will cause the Vols to play better and actually win an SEC East title.
Texas A&M: Former Oregon, Philadelphia Eagles and San Francisco 49ers HBC Chip Kelly was at Texas A&M’s spring practice Wednesday to discuss Xs and Os with Aggie HBC Kevin Sumlin and OC Noel Mazzone.
The winds were ridiculous at Augusta National on Thursday but somehow Charlie Hoffman tore up the course for a 7-under par 65. Phil Mickelson is tied for fourth at -1 and Rory McElroy came in at even par. Jason Day is at +2 and Jordan Spieth is at +3 in a round that included a quadruple bogey. I can relate to the quad.
Speaking of Augusta, the opening ceremony featured a very emotional tribute to the late, great Arnold Palmer. If you haven’t seen it then take the time. Arnold transcended golf. He was simply one of the great human beings ever to grace our planet.
Isaiah Briscoe is the fourth Kentucky Wildcat to declare for the NBA Draft. He will hire an agent as will Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox. Bam Abedayo has declared but won’t hire an agent just yet. I am also looking for 7-footer Isaac Humphries to transfer out of UK, especially if John Calipari convinces Mohamed Bamba (6-11, 210, Harlem, NY Westtown School) to sign with UK.
The Cincinnati Bengals are working on a contract extension for HBC Marvin Lewis, who has held the job since 2003. He’s 118-103-3 for his career and 0-7 in the playoffs, having lost in the Wild Card Game all seven times.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
It’s Masters weekend in Augusta. How likely are you to follow the golf on television? Is the tournament nearly as interesting to you since it’s Tiger-less?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
While driving Thursday I heard “Eye in the Sky” by The Alan Parsons Project and spent the rest of the day with that song in my head. So, I’m passing it on to you. This is “The Collection,” which is a greatest hits compilation album from 2010.