We’ll start with one of the stars of the Orange and Blue Debut. True freshman quarterback Kadarius Toney showed up on campus in January after graduating from high school early. The plan was to give him a shot at quarterback because that is what he wanted. Given that the staff wants to add a running dimension to the position, it was a natural fit with what he can do. He stayed at the position throughout spring and he starred. Day in and day out there were reports from behind the scenes that he was doing things that others on the field weren’t.
He then showed off in the spring game. Toney went 3for-5 for 24 yards and a touchdown, and also ran seven times for 74 yards leading all rushers in the scrimmage. While his arm won’t be compared with any NFL guys, his ability to run the ball is something the staff will have to find a way to get on the field and he can do just enough with his arm to really throw a nice wrinkle at defenses from the quarterback position. Toney was a really pleasant surprise this spring.
Sophomore Josh Hammond was someone we at Fightin Gators were hearing about before the spring began. But, with talents like Antonio Callaway, Tyrie Cleveland, Brandon Powell, and Dre Massey running around this spring, it wasn’t going to be easy to make big moves.
However, Hammond was a star every week of the spring and behind the scenes reports were coming out about how he was catching everything and doing things with it. He hit it big with a 46-yard reception on the first series of the spring game, which we should see a bunch of in the fall. He also has learned every receiver spot on the field, which should get him on the field, much more than he did in 2016.
The expectations for redshirt freshman offensive lineman Brett Heggie were high as well before spring. The big change for him was the move to guard from center for much of the spring. He’s physical and imposing and is intelligent enough to play any of the inside positions on the offensive line.
Whether he starts or not at the beginning of the season, Heggie showed that he is ready to contribute and can be counted on to some degree up front for the Gators, a place where they need solid depth.
There are a few positions on the Florida roster where it is imperative that new blood steps up in place of departed players that are heading to the NFL. One of the most important positions of this ilk is at defensive tackle. We knew coming into spring that juniors Taven Bryan and Khairi Campbell were going to have to step in and take over for the departed Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie. It appears things are headed in the right direction.
In fact, the play of Bryan is some of the most surprising of the spring. McElwain said late in the spring that Bryan was the most improved player on the roster from the end of last season. That is a welcome sign for a position that is thin and lacking experience.
Bryan has always been a freaky athlete for his size, but now seems to be really hitting the play book and understanding his role better than he ever has. He has the physical ability to be a tremendous difference in 2017.
If there was another position of great need for someone to step up, it is at cornerback. This one may the most important position to find new bodies on the entire roster. While redshirt freshman C.J. McWilliams was held out of contact drills this spring, he was really impressive when he was out there.
McWilliams showed probably more athletic ability than any of the others and a bit more physicality than was expected, even without the contact. He’s got length and plays aggressively. When he has been able to get on the field he has made plays this spring.
At a position that is in dire need of depth, McWilliams has a chance to shoot right to the top of the depth chart in the fall.