GAINESVILLE, Fla. — At least with spring practice ongoing, there was the anticipation and build-up for the Orange & Blue Debut.
Now, just a seemingly interminable wait for Sept. 2 when Florida heads to Arlington, Texas, to open the 2017 season against Michigan.
The players have their offseason directives and areas of focus, but the position battles won’t truly resume until preseason camp opens in August. And there will no doubt be some maneuvering and jostling on the depth chart still to come.
For now, though, here’s a look at where things stand on offense for the Gators coming out of spring. SEC Country will break down the defensive depth chart later this week.
1. Feleipe Franks, redshirt freshman
2. Luke Del Rio, redshirt junior
3. Kyle Trask, redshirt freshman
The spotlight competition of spring practice was mostly decided in the shadows. Fans and media alike saw in the spring game just how much Franks had separated from Trask during the mostly closed practices leading up to it. Franks worked exclusively with the first-team offense in the Orange & Blue Debut, and coach Jim McElwain acknowledged he is clearly ahead, for now.
McElwain wouldn’t proclaim Franks the season-opening starter, though. Del Rio is expected to be healthy for fall camp after a pair of shoulder procedures, and while many (or most) fans may be ready to turn the page on the well-traveled QB, he remains an asset for Florida as the only experienced option at the position. As it stands now, at least.
The Malik Zaire buzz will continue until the SEC makes a formal ruling or decision on its graduate transfer policy, but as far as the QBs presently on the roster Franks comes out of the spring on top. And Del Rio projects as a valuable back-up who will keep the pressure on the redshirt freshman.
1. Jordan Scarlett, junior
2. Lamical Perine, sophomore
3. Mark Thompson, senior
4. Malik Davis/Adarius Lemons, freshmen
Last summer Perine forced his way into early playing time with a strong preseason camp. The coaches will get their first look at Davis and Lemons as college running backs when practice resumes, but there shouldn’t be any surprises atop this position group.
Scarlett (889 rushing yards, 6 TDs in 2016) has a chance to become just the fifth Florida running back in 20 seasons to rush for 1,000 yards, while Perine (421 rushing yards in 2016) should be the clear secondary option.
Thompson didn’t help himself with yet another fumble during the spring game. It will be interesting to see how the Gators choose to bring along those freshmen running backs.
1. Antonio Callaway, junior
2. Josh Hammond, sophomore
1. Brandon Powell, senior
1. Dre Massey, junior
1. Tyrie Cleveland, sophomore
2. Freddie Swain, sophomore
One of the reasons to be optimistic about Florida’s offensive potential despite the struggles of recent years is the bevy of playmakers across the field.
Callaway (54 catches for 721 yards and 3 TDs in 2016) is highly motivated entering his junior season and should be primed for a career year while looking to assert himself as one of the SEC’s best receivers. A breakout season from Cleveland on the other side would help that cause, giving defenses two big-play threats to worry about in coverage.
The wildcard remains Massey, who missed last season with a torn ACL and was limited in spring practice. But he feels he’s back to where he was last summer when he was the buzz of preseason camp.
Powell brings veteran experience, and Hammond and Swain are plenty capable as well. That’s enough weapons with which to move the ball, if the quarterback can get the job done.
1. DeAndre Goolsby, senior
2. C’yontai Lewis, redshirt junior
3. Kemore Gamble, freshman
The Gators like their depth at this spot. Goolsby was the team’s third-leading receiver in 2016 with 38 catches for 342 yards and 3 TDs despite being limited during the middle of the fall with a finger injury. Lewis (18 caches for 184 yards and 2 TDs) had his moments as well while also making an impact with his blocking.
Gamble, meanwhile, earned praise from the coaching staff all spring as an early enrollee newcomer. The 6-foot-3 tight end from Miami is the Gators’ future at the position, but he may carve out a role in the present as well. He has a reputation as a strong blocker as well as the ball skills to be a downfield target in the passing game.
1. Martez Ivey, junior
2. Kadeem Telfort, freshman
1. Brett Heggie, redshirt freshman
2. Nick Buchanan, redshirt sophomore
1. T.J. McCoy, redshirt sophomore
2. Tyler Jordan, junior
1. Tyler Jordan, junior
2. Fred Johnson, junior
1. Jawaan Taylor, sophomore
2. Stone Forsythe, redshirt freshman
The other hope, if one is taking an optimistic approach to Florida’s offensive prospects, is that the line finally takes that next step this season. The unit wasn’t dominant in the spring game despite facing the Gators’ second-team defense, but the reports out of spring practice were very encouraging and there are some strong pieces in place with Ivey and Taylor as the bookends, McCoy looking to follow up a breakout season, Heggie solidifying himself during the spring and Jordan and Johnson returning a wealth of experience.
The depth behind that starting 5 is less inspiring and struggled mightily against the Gators’ first-team defense in that spring showcase. But if the starters can stay healthy, there’s reason to believe that year 3 of this offensive line rebuild for McElwain and Co. can produce a breakthrough.