Florida Football: 5 Things We Learned About the Gators This Spring
Spring ball for the Florida Gators has been in the books for a couple of weeks now. At this point, you’ve probably had a chance to watch the spring game once or twice. While there has been a lot to take in over the course of the last month, there are several reasons for Florida fans to be excited.
The Gators entered the spring with a ton of questions after last season’s failure. We were bound to learn a thing or two when it came to an end.
We learned the sky isn’t falling on the offense after all, the secondary will be giving SEC quarterbacks nightmares and we may finally be able to put last year to rest.
The Secondary Is Going to Be Scary
We all know about Vernon Hargreaves III, who makes a strong case for being the best cornerback in college football as a true sophomore. However, true freshmen Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson had productive spring practices as well, and they could land a starting job in the secondary by the time the fall rolls around.
Nick Washington, a player who is coming off a shoulder injury from last season, had a tremendous camp. He was one of the surprise players in the spring game. Marcus Maye was effective in camp as well, and Marcell Harris proved he’s worthy of playing time after redshirting last season.
The potential of this unit has Hargreaves very excited, per Jeff Barlis of ESPN:
We have all the talent in the world but we still have to get the mental part down. Just knowing what to do, knowing your assignments. I think we’ll be all right, though.
Florida had the top pass defense in the SEC last season, allowing just 171.8 passing yards per game. Those numbers could be even better this year if expectations are met.
The Defensive Line Will Be a Main Focus in the Fall
The Florida Gators have their go-to pass-rusher in Dante Fowler, who was so dominant in spring that the coaching staff didn’t even bother playing him in the spring game.
The focus is now going to be placed on the rest of the guys competing for playing time.
Bryan Cox Jr. had an incredible spring and could lock up a starting role at defensive end if his progress continues. Jonathan Bullard moved to the inside of the line and seems to be pretty comfortable at his potential new position.
Speaking of defensive tackles, players such as Darious Cummings and Jay-nard Bostwick still have to prove themselves. Alex McCalister came on late in the spring and is an intruding pass-rusher.
Keep in mind, these are question marks without Leon Orr, the projected starting nose tackle, even practicing in the spring.
Much like cornerback, the talent and potential on the defensive line is there—there’s just a lot of players who need to step up and provide quality depth. You should keep a close eye on this unit when fall camp gets underway.
The Offense Will Be Much Improved
This really goes without saying.
Myself, The Three Stooges and a few guys we pick up at your local gym could have been more successful than last year’s Gators offense.
Thankfully, it didn’t come to that point.
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper had 15 practices and a spring game to install his offense and get the wheels turning. The spring game provided a quicker tempo and 36 points in the first half, which was more than the Gators scored in any game last season.
Spring games should be taken with a grain of salt, but under the circumstances, the offense looked a lot cleaner, was picking up chunk-yardage plays and actually put the ball in the end zone a few times.
Jeff Driskel finished the game completing 18 of 32 passes for 167 yards and a touchdown.
Roper could be more successful running the ship blindfolded, but it’s still nice to see rapid progress is being made and the ship is sailing in the right direction.
But It's Still a Work in Progress
You don’t go from being ranked dead last in the SEC in total offense to the Oregon Ducks overnight.
Despite all of the positives the offense showed throughout camp, there is still a ways to go.
Driskel still needs to settle down in the pocket and improve his accuracy. He still forced passes in the spring game and missed open receivers downfield. Demarcus Robinson, who had a solid spring, needs to prove he can be a team leader without any more off-the-field issues.
The offensive line depth is an issue, other receivers need to step up and the running back pecking order still needs to be figured out.
Also, every offensive player needs to get comfortable in Roper’s up-tempo system. You don’t learn a new offense in a month and 15 practices.
These next few months of off time will be huge for Florida’s offensive unit.
Last Season Is a Thing of the Past
Until the regular season actually begins, that bad taste from a year ago is probably still going to linger in your mouth.
With that being said, spring practice was a breath of fresh air, and a lot of the positives almost made you forget about all of the cringe-worthy performances from last season.
It was a great day and great crowd. Probably the best crowd we’ve had since I’ve been here. It says a lot about our fanbase and the loyal support we have from all the Gators fans out there.
With spring in the books, the 2014 season is officially underway and seven straight losses to close out last year seems like a lifetime ago.
Florida fans will never forget 2013, but it no longer is the reason for a poor night's rest.
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