Now that spring football practice is over, here are some things we know and some things we don’t know about the Florida Gators.
1. Feleipe Franks is much better than he was last year. Okay, any improvement at all would have seemed monumental after his rotten performance in last year’s Orange and Blue game but Friday night he threw the ball better, made better decisions and there was no doubt he was in charge of the offense. We couldn’t have said any of those things last year.
2. For all that improvement, we still don’t know what Franks can do against an SEC defense. We know he can make throws that none of the recent quarterbacks could make. We know that he can throw a deep ball with touch and lead a receiver perfectly. We know he can throw the 15-yard out pattern which is an NFL throw that quarterback arms in the pros are measured by. But, we have no idea what happens when there are 90,000 people in the stands and more importantly, a defensive end who will be some sort of combine freak someday in a 3-point stance across the line with a pool of drool forming on the grass because he’s dreaming of knocking the QB into next week. We have no idea what he is going to do when he goes against a DC who is extraordinary at disguising what he’s doing and that man coverage is actually a zone. We have no idea what he’s going to do the first time he gets seriously popped. Some quarterbacks get fired up. Some turn into shrinking violets. We won’t know about Ball Park Franks until someone puts a good hit on him.
3. Kyle Trask isn’t nearly as bad as he looked when he was quarterbacking the Blue team. That Blue team O-line did a marvelous imitation of matadors. Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole … Ole! Ole! When he was quarterbacking the Blue he was lucky to catch the snap before there was someone (sometimes more than one someone) in his face.
4. When Trask got to quarterback the Orange team with the Orange O-line, he made a couple of extraordinary throws. We know he has the arm and we know he can throw when he’s protected. We don’t know what he can or will do when he’s got a pass rush in his face play after play. Things like that happen in the SEC. Consider him a work in progress.
5. We know that Mark Thompson can do special things with a football in his hands when he remembers it’s his job to hold onto it while running over, under, around and through people. He can catch. When he gets his shoulders square to the line of scrimmage, he’s got more wiggle in his hips than you would expect for a 240-pound man, and those long strides sometimes hide the fact that he’s moving at a very high rate of speed.
6. We also know that Mark Thompson can fumble the football. Sometimes it happens even when there is no contact. He fumbled last year. He fumbled in the spring. Is this something that can be cured or are we going to hold our collective breaths every time he’s in the game, worried that he’s a turnover looking for a place to happen?
7. Even with David Reese injured and unable to perform this spring, we know Florida’s linebackers are fast and athletic, particularly Vosean Joseph and Jeremiah Moon, who have serious playmaking ability. We also know that former walkon Christian Garcia will be in the rotation in the fall. He doesn’t have the speed or athletic ability of Joseph and Moon, but he’s cerebral, knows what’s going on and makes sure everyone is in the right place. There is something to be said for that.
8. We know the Gators have 6 or 7 very capable offensive linemen. That’s a lot more than they had two years ago in Jim McElwain’s first year on the job, but it’s still not enough to make it through an SEC season. The tackles – Martez Ivey on the left and Jawaan Taylor on the right – should be very good. Center T.J. McCoy got some starts last year and Fred Johnson started some at right tackle and at right guard. He was at right guard Friday night. Redshirt freshman Brett Heggie was at left guard but he could move over to the right side and Tyler Jordan, who started at left guard last year but started at center Friday night, goes back to his old spot. Heggie could be the starting center. You have to like the versatility of Ivey, who can play guard or tackle; who can play both guard spots and center; Heggie, who can also play both guards and center; and Johnson, who has started inside and outside. But if you’re going to make it through an SEC season, you better have 8-10 guys ready to go. We don’t know if the Gators will have that many in the fall.
9. We still don’t know if Duke Dawson and Chauncey Gardner can play the corners at a productive level. We know they can do fine at safety and/or nickel, but at the corners they will be going head to head with the numbers 1-2 wide receivers on the other team. Can they do it? And if they can’t who’s going to take over? The incoming freshmen better show up ready to play from day one.
10. We know that the Gators have an outstanding punter in Johnny Townsend and a potentially great placekicker in Eddie Pineiro, who will handle kickoffs, extra points and field goals. We still have no clue about the coverage units, which were average at best last year. Florida can win field position battles if the coverage is good thanks to Townsend. Fortunately, Pineiro launches most of his kickoffs out of the end zone but the coverage needs to improve for when he leaves it short.
11. We know Kadarius Toney has enough speed and elusiveness that he’s going to have to be on the field next year but where? If you play him in the slot or out wide, can he get enough reps to develop as a quarterback? If you spend too much time working him in at quarterback you risk practice reps catching the football, learning how to adjust to the coverage and learning how to be a downfield blocker, which is essential in this offensive scheme. What we don’t know is whether the coaches view him first as an athlete they have to have on the field or a backup quarterback who might be able to work his way up the depth chart.
12. We know the Gators are athletic and deep at defensive end, but we don’t know if there is sufficient depth on the inside. Taven Bryan and Khairi Clark are experienced and should be ready to perform at a high level. We know that CeCe Jefferson will likely assume that Jonathan Bullard hybrid role where he lines up inside and outside depending on the matchup. But beyond those three youth will have to be served and we don’t know how many of these young guys are going to be ready to go once the games begin for real in September.
13. We know Florida has better skill position personnel for 2017 than either of the previous two seasons under Jim McElwain. Is this the breakout year when we see the ball being thrown downfield, some exotic formations that are designed to create confusion and mismatches for the other side and an offense that can average close to or more than 400 yards per game? Can the Gators average 8.0 yards or better per pass attempt, 5.0 or better per rush attempt and 6.0 or better per offensive snap? What we don’t know is if Doug Nussmeier actually has an offensive imagination or if his offensive brain is permanently jammed in the play it safe mode.
TWO GAMES, TWO WINS OVER GEORGIA
In their 13 SEC softball games this season, the 3rd-ranked Gators (36-2, 12-1 SEC) have outscored opponents 82-9. The Gators clinched the series with Georgia Sunday with a 4-1 win over the Bulldogs. Saturday, the Gators beat Georgia, 5-0, before a record crowd of 2,497 at Katie Seashole Presley Stadium. The Gators have a nation-leading 0.74 ERA led by Kelly Barnhill (14-0, 0.24 ERA) and Delanie Gourley (13-2, 0.83 ERA). The final game of the series will be played tonight (7 p.m., SEC Network). The Gators hold a 2-game lead over second place Texas A&M in the SEC standings.
GATORS AVOID SWEEP AGAINST TENNESSEE
By slipping past Tennessee, 5-4, Sunday after, the Gators (21-11, 6-6 SEC) avoided being swept by the Vols, who came to Gainesville in last place in the SEC East. The Gators have played six consecutive 1-run games. UF will play FSU in Tallahassee on Tuesday and hit the road for three games at Vanderbilt in Nashville next weekend.
#3 UF LACROSSE STOMPS CINCINNATI
The 3rd-ranked Gators (11-2, 5-0 Big East) jumped out to a 16-0 lead Saturday and then cruised to a 19-2 win over Cincinnati at Donald Dizney Stadium. Thirteen Gators scored at least one goal. The Gators host Villanova Wednesday.
WOMEN’S TENNIS GOES 2-0, MEN’S TENNIS SPLITS
Florida’s #1-ranked women’s tennis team (20-1, 10-1 SEC) took two home matches this weekend, knocking off #26 Ole Miss, 4-0, and #16 Mississippi State, 7-0 on Senior Day. The 13th-ranked men’s team (13-8, 7-3 SEC) split on the road, losing to #14 Georgia, 6-1, in Athens, then knocking off Tennessee, 6-1, on Sunday.
TEBOW HITS SECOND HOMER IN THREE GAMES
Michael Jordan hit three home runs in 127 games with the Birmingham Barons when he turned to baseball in 1994. It has taken Tim Tebow three games to hit two balls over the fence with the Columbia Fireflies. The second homer came Sunday when Tebow turned on a pitch and drove it over the right field fence to give the Fireflies a 6-0 lead over the Augusta Green Jackets. Through three games, Tebow is 3-13 with 2 homers, 5 RBI and 5 strikeouts.
FINALLY, SERGIO GETS A MAJOR
When he missed that putt that could have won The Masters on 18, I thought Sergio Garcia might revert to the old Sergio, the one that has so many times snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in a major. Not only did he regain his composure to X out Justin Rose in the first hole of the playoff Sunday, but he did it in style with a birdie putt that took a semi-victory lap around the cup before it found the bottom. That ended a drought of 73 majors without a win for Garcia and how fitting that it happened on what would have been the 60th birthday for the late, great Seve Ballesteros, the first Spaniard to win a green jacket at Augusta.
This was one of the better Masters finishes in years as Rose and Sergio traded momentum back and forth. Sergio had a 3-shot lead early, then Rose came back with three straight birdies. Sergio fell two shots behind then rallied back and eagled the 15th to go -9. Rose then followed with a birdie on the same hole to tie it. They came to 18, each with a chance to win it with a birdie and both missed.
There were so many occasions when the old Sergio Garcia would have been crushed by the pressure. He embraced the pressure Sunday and finally won a major. Back in 2000 we thought Sergio would win his share of majors. He’s had a good career, but Sunday he got to end all speculation that he would go to his grave with the dreaded “best to never win a major” label.
Russell Westbrook got his 42nd triple-double Sunday with 50 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists against the Denver Nuggets. That broke Oscar Robertson’s 56-year-old record for triple-doubles in an NBA season. For good measure, Westbrook hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Oklahoma City Thunder a 106-105 win.
LaVar Ball, father of Lonzo Ball, who is leaving UCLA early for the NBA, told the Orange County Register the Bruins lost to Kentucky because of the white guys. “You can’t win no championship with three white guys because the foot speed is too slow,” Ball said.
Point guard Blake Harris, who was committed to Washington until Lorenzo Romar was fired, has committed to Missouri and new coach Cuonzo Martin.
Wichita State is leaving the Missouri Valley Conference for the American Athletic Conference in all sports but football. Navy gives the AAC 12 teams in football but plays basketball in the Patriot League. Adding Wichita State gives the AAC a 12th basketball member.
Shaq Wiggins will graduate from Louisville in May. He wants to play somewhere else as a grad transfer but Bobby Petrino is blocking his transfer to Kentucky, Mississippi State, Purdue and Notre Dame. The kid will have graduated. The NCAA needs to change the rules that allow a graduate to transfer anywhere he wants without permission from his former coach. That needs to be done now.
QUESTION OF THE DAY
Having watched the Orange and Blue game Friday night, what is your biggest concern going into the offseason for the Gators?
MUSIC FOR TODAY
The great Luther Allison died in 1997 but his blues live on thanks to terrific albums like “Songs from the Road” which was actually recorded in Montreal in 1997. Allison was discovered by blues legend Howlin’ Wolf. Later he worked with Freddie King and James Cotton. I could listen to this guy all day.