Gotta give a shoutout to Jim McElwain.
I came into his press conference Friday just dying from allergies, and he gave me his cure (check it out).
Local bee honey, hot water and whiskey.
I whipped up a cup with some tea after his presser and felt like a new man. So long, Claritin.
Here are the top five questions from this week:
Does Austin Appleby have a legitimate shot at playing time, or is it Luke Del Rio’s job to lose?
Both. Del Rio had the edge entering spring football and has kept it to this point, but Appleby is definitely in contention.
The graduate transfer met with the UF media for the first time this week and impressed in his interview. He was mature, well spoken and most importantly honest about things.
Appleby didn’t shy away from discussing his intentions to be Florida’s quarterback this year. Del Rio deflected questions about the starting job and where he stands in the competition.
I asked Appleby about his interceptions at Purdue and what went wrong there, and he was very up front with his answers. Appleby said the Boilermakers felt they had to score 40 points a game to have a chance because of how bad their defense was, which caused him to force a lot of throws and push the envelope in the passing game.
Appleby knows he won’t need to do that at Florida, and he’s working this spring to play within the system and just manage the offense efficiently. Whether that leads to less picks remains to be seen, but he certainly acknowledged the issue and is addressing it in practice.
McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier probably would prefer to have Del Rio start because they have three years with him as opposed to one with Appleby. That being said, it’s an open competition that also includes the two true freshmen in Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, and the best quarterback will win the job.
Del Rio likely starts the season opener, but it wouldn’t shock me to see Appleby under center. Regardless, both are capable and whoever gets the nod better play well, because McElwain won’t hesitate to pull the plug on either quarterback if they aren’t consistent and productive.
Just from looking this spring, what area does Florida look most improved in?
We haven’t been able to see the full extent of it because of wide receivers Antonio Callaway and Brandon Powell being out, but the passing game as a whole just looks much better.
The new quarterbacks on the roster are making the most obvious difference on offense. Appleby and Del Rio have such command of the system and know where to go with the football. Franks has a big-time arm, and Trask might be the most accurate passer of the entire group.
Mid-year enrollees Josh Hammond, Dre Massey and Freddie Swain have provided a jolt of talent at receiver, and their emergence has pushed wideouts such as Alvin Bailey, Ahmad Fulwood and C.J. Worton to step up their game. Once Tyrie Cleveland is added to the mix, look out.
Tight ends DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis have come into their own this spring with Jake McGee gone, and McElwain said Moral Stephens has made huge strides at the position. Even the running backs are more involved catching balls out of the backfield, and the coaches want them to have bigger roles with that than Kelvin Taylor did.
All this should result in a much more productive passing game than the one we saw in 2015. The starting quarterback will get better protection as well.
What do you see the eventual starting offensive line look like?
This is a tough lineup to predict, and, like last season, it may change throughout the year.
I think the certainties are Fred Johnson and David Sharpe as the starters at tackle and a healthy Martez Ivey and Tyler Jordan starting on the interior.
Who the fifth lineman will be and where Jordan plays inside is going to depend on the play of Cameron Dillard and Antonio Riles. Both definitely will see the field, but whoever becomes more critical to the success of the line will be a starter.
Dillard started more games than Riles last season. Jordan, who started the bowl game at center over Dillard, has been working primarily at guard all spring. So I expect the starting five to be Sharpe, Ivey, Dillard, Jordan and Johnson with a three-man rotation at guard.
What year does Mac get the balance between elite offensive and defensive recruits?
It already happened. McElwain had balance in each of his first two classes from a size standpoint and with top talent.
I consider elite players to be top-100 recruits, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings. Florida signed two in 2015 (defensive lineman CeCe Jefferson and offensive lineman Martez Ivey) and six in the last class (wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, defensive end Antonneous Clayton, quarterback Feleipe Franks, cornerback Chauncey Gardner, wide receiver Dre Massey and running back Mark Thompson). With the junior college transfers excluded, there’s a balance between the offensive and defensive prep prospects being brought in.
Elite rankings don’t always equal elite players, however, and sometimes the lower-rated recruits become the best additions to the team (wideout Antonio Callaway and linebacker Jarrad Davis, for example).
McElwain and his staff achieved overall balance with their 2016 signees on both sides of the ball. Florida had 12 offensive recruits, 12 defensive recruits and the nation’s No. 1 junior college kicker.
You can’t get more balanced than that, and they also addressed the major position needs with that class. In 2015, 11 offensive players and nine defensive players enrolled.
For this recruiting cycle, you’ll see McElwain try to strike that same balance and increase the number of top-100 commits.
Do you think we actually have a chance of landing Donovan Peoples-Jones? I don’t think he has visited in a while. He is definitely an elite WR.
(From Kenny Robinson, @JuiceBrennar)
Few schools will be able to pull him out of Michigan, but Florida is one of them.
The nation’s No. 1 wide receiver visited UF last summer for Friday Night Lights and loved his trip. Peoples-Jones will return to Gainesville this coming week and is expected to officially visit in the fall.
Florida’s chances may be better with in-state receivers Trevon Grimes and James Robinson simply because of proximity. Still, the Gators have a legitimate shot at Peoples-Jones.
I’m sure the UF coaches would be absolutely thrilled to land Grimes or Robinson, but Peoples-Jones is a program-changer and probably sits atop its wide receiver board.
I think these are the No. 1 targets for Florida at each position:
QB – Jake Allen (Florida commit)
RB – Adarius Lemons (North Carolina commit)
WR – Donovan Peoples-Jones
TE – Tre’ McKitty
OL – Calvin Ashley (Auburn commit)
DT – Aubrey Solomon
DE – Jarez Parks
LB – K.J. Britt
CB – Shaun Wade (Ohio State commit)
S – Xavier McKinney (Alabama commit)
ATH – Devan Barrett
That’s all for this week! Be sure to leave your questions for the next mailbag in the comment section below.