The Gators closed spring practice on a Friday night for the second time in two years. A national TV audience was able to witness the young quarterbacks in action and Florida head coach Jim McElwain was pleased overall with what transpired Friday.
“For the second time doing it on a Friday, you know, we had an even bigger crowd tonight, and the atmosphere was great,” McElwain said following the annual scrimmage. “It was a lot of fun. The guys really enjoyed it. It was fun to play under the lights, and finishing practice 15 — that’s what this was. It was practice 15 of phase three of our program. And we got better.
“We had a really good spring. The momentum that we have taken just even from our bowl game moving forward, how the guys attacked Swamp Life, how they came to practice. Their commitment has been really fun to see. And I’m excited about this team. I really like them. I think we’re gonna be alright. So that’s a good thing. And we had some good things happen tonight, and I think the biggest thing is getting a lot of those young guys some time in The Swamp with people there. And that was good to see.”
The quarterback battle has been the biggest story of the spring. Two redshirt freshmen were going head-to-head this spring not necessarily to see who would be the starter in the fall, but who would at least have a leg up on the job for the season opener against Michigan.
McElwain was pleased overall, but did say there were some things that he wasn’t too happy with Friday night
“We’d like us to be a little more accurate with the ball. We missed some throws that we’re gonna have to hit, but we’ve just gotta keep working on that. I thought all the quarterbacks did a pretty decent job competing.
“Down in the red zone, we missed, what, three of them that were touchdowns if you hit the guy between the numbers on the chest. It was pretty obvious. We’ve gotta produce down there. Would’ve liked to see him hit those. But other than that, he did alright.”
McElwain finally publicly commented on the leader at the position. Redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks has taken the reins for the time being. Franks was 8-of-14 for 119 yards and a touchdown while Kyle Trask was 6-of-16 for 65 yards and an interception on the night.
“Yeah, he’s ahead,” McElwain said of Franks. “And he played decent. Yet, Kyle took that drive down pretty good, and I was really excited about Kadarius Toney. Obviously we know what we have there. That’ll be a guy that needs to touch the ball for us."
McElwain said there were a few things that set Franks apart from Trask during the spring.
“Well, I think his consistency,” he said. “Probably a little bit of his escapability believe it or not, which helps. He’s kind of a sneaky athlete. I thought that that was something that kind of helped him.”
“I think he’s ahead. There’s no doubt about it.”
The quarterback situation has been such a disappointing one at Florida really since Tim Tebow was throwing and running around in The Swamp, way back in 2009. Getting the right guy trained up and ready to play at a big time level is something they are adamant about doing, yet knowing that the key is winning ball games.
"Being able to develop a guy is something that we've been fortunate to do a lot of stops along the way,” McElwain said. “And yet at the same time, you know we gotta go with who's gonna give us the best opportunity to win ball games. And at the end of the day, that's what we've got to do is win ball games. And we've won a couple since we've been here, and we just gotta win more.”
"I hope you guys saw what I saw, both those quarterbacks were very comfortable. They didn't look antsy. You could see them actually setting their feet and pulling the ball through in the pocket, and that's good. I mean those are all good things to see. So I think we're gonna be alright.”
And then there was the third option. Freshman Kadarius Toney arrived on campus in January. He’s about six inches shorter than the two gun slingers and he doesn’t throw the ball quite as well, but he does have some tools.
Toney was 2-for-4 for 15 yards throwing the ball, but he also ran the ball five times for 74 yards leading all rushers on the evening.
"He's really a good football player,” McElwain said of Toney. “He's a guy that needs to have the ball in his hands. We never did play-action and put it deep like he was able to show during practice, but he's got a very strong arm. You can see that with the quick release that jumped on a couple guys. But you know he's got a ways to go. Gotta learn how to protect the ball a little bit too. I'm glad he's a Gator.
The Gator offense has been mired in their production over the last several years, something that McElwain is bound and determined to escape from. A total offense ranking below 100 in the two years he has been the coach has him looking for great improvement in 2017.
“We’re better,” he said. “We’re continuing to get there. Here’s the good thing, we’re back now to where we’ve got the roster balance piece there. We’re better up front, there’s no doubt about it, and I’m excited about our offensive line. I think our explosive playmakers… you know it’s just like you said, we’ve got to stay healthy to be great. Obviously Dre Massey didn’t play but he did everything in the spring non-contact for us. Getting him back is something that’s going to be really good. @Freddie Swa will be back as well. I like our ability to stretch the field and create some explosives with those guys, so it should be fun.
Florida will likely have seven or more defensive players from last year’s squad playing in the NFL in 2017. A youth movement will have to be served for this edition of the Gators.
“We’ve got some good young players,” McElwain said of the defense. “Some guys obviously that played last year for us as true freshmen. I think being able to get a pass rush and not having the blitz to do it all the time, I think those defensive ends are going to give that for us.”
One linebacker that stood out Friday from the very beginning and has been a big talk of the spring is redshirt freshman Jeremiah Moon. Moon played very early last season but an injury finished his year early.
“He’s really versatile because he can rush the passer and he can play some nickel actually against certain matchup teams, which is really going to help us because of how long he is,” McElwain said of Moon. “A guy that really understands the game."
Positive Injury Report…
While the injury list for the spring has been rather long. There haven’t been any serious injuries to report since drills started at the end of February. That positive continued Friday night, although a few were dinged up.
“Injury wise, Joseph Putu went out, McElwain said. “He got his eggs scrambled a little bit there, and we held him out. Duke Dawson re-injured that wrist, but he came back. Moral Stephens popped a hammy. And really that was it. So that’s good. It was good to see. Nothing major. That’s always good.”