If you were like me Thursday and glued yourself to the TV for March Madness, you’re probably in need of a Florida football and recruiting fix.
I definitely have fun watching the NCAA tournament and filling out my worthless brackets that are already busted, but nothing gets my attention this time of year like spring football practices and the swarm of visiting recruits.
I really enjoyed returning to the practice fields to cover the team this past week as well as getting to know some 2017 prospects with UF interest. I’m much better at that than predicting the Final Four.
Here are the top five questions from this week:
Based on what you’ve seen from the offense and word of mouth, will Florida have a more “Bama-like” approach?
Absolutely. This has been an ongoing process for Jim McElwain since he first took over the UF football program.
He developed his offensive blueprint at Alabama and started implementing it with the Gators at the end of the 2015 recruiting cycle.
McElwain and his staff want, and have landed, quarterbacks taller than 6-foot-3, running backs weighing more than 200 pounds and offensive linemen tipping the scales at 300. The receivers and tight ends being brought in and targeted are also taller and more physical than they were in years past.
Former coach Will Muschamp began recruiting offensive players for a spread system during his final years at UF, and it will take McElwain a couple cycles to retool the roster to his liking.
But he’s made enough of an offensive overhaul in 14 months that you’ll see more pro-style elements with the offense in 2016.
How will the younger players affect both sides of the ball? Any projections on standouts like Antonio Callaway and CeCe Jefferson this year?
I’ll start by saying the three junior college transfers will have the biggest impact among the newcomers for Florida. Kicker Eddy Pineiro has already solidified his spot, while slot receiver Dre Massey and running back Mark Thompson are pushing for starting jobs.
With the younger guys, two positions will get immediate contributions from true freshmen.
Tyrie Cleveland, Joshua Hammond and Freddie Swain are all talent upgrades at receiver and should play right away. A few of the new defensive backs, both at cornerback and safety, will be needed and counted on in the secondary rotation.
I expect Cleveland and versatile DB Chauncey Gardner, who is already on campus for spring, to be the freshman standouts for Florida.
If we have a consistent year, win the East and the bowl game, do we have a shot at a top-five recruiting class? Natty soon?
Florida is capable of having an elite class in any year it goes to Atlanta for the SEC Championship and win its bowl game. That kind of success breeds impressive recruiting results.
It may be tough for the Gators to pull a top-five class this year because of numbers. Only 13 scholarships are available for 2017 at this time, so UF probably won’t sign more than 20 prospects.
That makes it difficult to have the recruiting rankings of schools with 28-member classes. However, priority No. 1 in every cycle is filling needs with quality players, and McElwain has shown the ability to do that.
His 2017 class will feature more quality than quantity. Top to bottom, it should be his best group of recruits yet.
As far as a natty is concerned, Florida is a couple seasons away from having a roster with enough depth, development and years in the system to make a legitimate championship run.
I do think with the potential losses on defense after next season, UF has a better chance of playing for a natty this year than in 2017. And with the titles of ’96 and ’06, maybe the Gators are due for one again.
Can this really be our year to bring in TOP prospects (five-star guys) on both sides of the ball?
As I mentioned above, this will be a cycle where the Gators are more selective with the recruits they take because of the class size. That means they’ll try to get as much elite talent as possible and may hold off on project-type players.
Florida has definitely brought in top prospects in McElwain’s previous two classes. Don’t focus on the stars. Look at their offer lists, rankings and what they did as freshmen (Callaway, Jefferson and Martez Ivey).
In the most recent class, UF signed four recruits ranked in the top 60 of the 247Sports Composite. Those are all elite players that pretty much every school wanted, five-stars or not. The Gators also landed three junior college prospects who ranked as the No. 1 running back, No. 1 kicker and No. 5 wide receiver.
Florida is once again in contention for some of the nation’s best recruits, including six in the top 50: offensive tackle Calvin Ashley (Auburn commit), receivers Trevon Grimes and James Robinson, defensive end Jarez Parks and cornerback Shaun Wade (Ohio State commit).
How many recruits do you expect to make commitments between now and the start of fall practice? What’s a good number?
UF currently has three verbal commitments for 2017 in quarterback Jake Allen, wide receiver Daquon Green and offensive tackle Kadeem Telfort.
The Gators should eventually end up with room for at least 18 signees, so I think they’ll be in good shape if they can get to nine pledges by August. Half of the class will then be in place, and landing six commits between now and Friday Night Lights is certainly doable for this staff.
That’s all for this week! Be sure to leave your questions for the next mailbag in the comment section below.