Coming to you live from the Orlando airport.
Spending a couple days in Atlanta this week for my quarterly meetings with the AJC. With spring football now over, we’ll be brainstorming some new content and feature ideas for SEC Country to get you all through the offseason.
Zach’s Mail Stack will also run on Tuesdays now.
Here are the top five questions from this week:
What will be the most improved unit this fall, offense or defense?
(From @swamp_updates_, Kenny Robinson)
There’s no doubt in my mind that it will be the offense. The Gators are young and inexperienced at pretty much every position, but the depth and talent is what it needs to be.
Even though the quarterback position is still a work in progress, whoever wins the job will easily surpass Treon Harris’ play and should be at least as productive as Will Grier, who out didn’t exactly light it up as the starter outside of the Ole Miss game.
UF now has more playmakers at the skill positions, and a once-weak offensive line could be a team strength this year. Let us not forget the addition of kicker Eddy Pineiro and his “live, live leg” will also result in more points.
I was also asked if Florida will be better offensively this year than Colorado State’s offense in McElwain’s last season. Those two units aren’t comparable, simply because McElwain hasn’t had enough time to recruit four cycles of offensive players and develop them.
I think Florida’s offense will closely resemble Alabama’s 2008 unit under McElwain, both in production and style. The Crimson Tide relied on the run game that season, averaged 30 points per game and finished ranked 64th nationally in total offense.
If the Gators can match that, they’ll win a lot of games in 2016.
Who were the top top four wide receivers this spring?
A few receivers missed spring practice, including the best player at the position in Antonio Callaway, so others had the opportunity to get more reps and carve out their roles for 2016.
A couple of them stepped up and asserted themselves as a result, especially with true freshmen Joshua Hammond and Freddie Swain already pushing for playing time.
Ahmad Fulwood and C.J. Worton, according to the coaches, are finally coming into their own as upperclassmen and fulfilling their potential. Fulwood is now the leader of the group as a senior, while Worton has been more consistent with his play and showed it in the spring game.
With Brandon Powell (foot) out for spring and Alvin Bailey (back) missing some time as well, junior college transfer Dre Massey made the most of their absences and may have locked down the starting spot at slot receiver. Senior wideout Chris Thompson also ran with the first team during the spring and made some big catches.
If and when Callaway returns, the top four receivers heading into the season will likely be him, Fulwood, Massey and Worton.
Do you see Chauncey Gardner as a safety or playing nickel? Maybe both depending on the coverage?
You’ll see him play several positions, maybe even some cornerback, due to the lack of depth throughout the entire secondary. Where he lines up most will depend on the coverage as well as how much the incoming freshmen progress in preseason camp.
With junior college transfer Joseph Putu coming in at corner, I expect Gardner to see a lot of time at safety as a freshman. That’s where he played primarily in the spring, and his aggressiveness and physicality make him a perfect fit for the position.
“Chauncey was put to safety right away and actually caused a turnover down at the goal line, which was great to see,” Jim McElwain said of Gardner after the second scrimmage. “I’ve been really proud of the way that he’s come up and tried to play physical, especially in our team run stuff. I’m sure glad he’s here and he’s a guy that’s going to help this football team.”
Who are the must-get recruits this year and is another 10-win season possible this year?
(From Brad Glover)
Florida’s recruiting needs for 2017 are running back, tight end, defensive tackle, linebacker and cornerback, so first and foremost UF has to land prospects at those positions.
But as far as must-get recruits who are elite players, the Gators will want a top-100 wide receiver (Donovan Peoples-Jones, Trevon Grimes or James Robinson), a college-ready offensive tackle (Calvin Ashley, Alex Leatherwood or Tedarrell Slaton), five-star defensive end Jarez Parks and one of the top cornerbacks on their board (Deangelo Gibbs, Shaun Wade, William Poole or Marco Wilson).
A 10-win season is definitely possible for the Gators with the new pieces they’ve added offensively and the talent they have coming back on the defensive side of the ball. If the offense can be as productive as it was the first half of last season, Florida should be able to repeat as SEC East champions.
I think Florida State, LSU and Tennessee will be the toss-up games for UF in 2016. If the Gators remain relatively healthy and improve offensively, I expect them to win the other nine regular season games on their schedule.
And even if they lose the other three and don’t make it to Atlanta, the bowl game could still give them 10 wins again.
Any reason for concern with number of verbals so far for 2017?
Not at all. As I’ve mentioned before, Florida can only sign around 20 recruits in the 2017 class, so the staff must be more selective about taking recruits.
UF currently has four pledges for 2017 with the commitment last Friday, but that number could easily reach double digits by the end of the summer.
A few prospects may pull the trigger for Florida soon, and several more are favoring the Gators both privately and publicly. But again, the coaches are taking their time and being diligent because of the numbers crunch.
After the spring evaluation period and summer camp circuit, the class will begin to fill out.
That’s all for this week! Be sure to leave your questions for the next mailbag in the comment section below.