GAINESVILLE — Before getting too excited about anything from Friday night's Orange and Blue Debut, remember that quarterback Luke Del Rio threw only one incompletion in the Gators' spring game last year. That didn't exactly translate into success in the fall.
With that said, here are four takeaways from Florida's spring game, in front of an estimated 48,000 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
1. Feleipe Franks is quarterback to beat
"I think he's ahead," coach Jim McElwain said. "There's no doubt about it." Playing with the Orange's first-team offense (which won 31-0), Franks finished 8-of-14 passing for 119 yards. The highlights were a 16-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Callaway and a gorgeous 46-yard throw to Josh Hammond that was as impressive as any play by a UF quarterback last year. "Obviously a confidence-booster," Franks said. He wasn't perfect; he missed throws high and committed a McElwain sin by holding onto the ball too long. But he outplayed fellow redshirt freshman Kyle Trask, who finished 4-of-13 for 31 yards but mostly played against the first-team defense. Trask missed on seven of his first nine passes, fumbled on a sack and threw an interception to linebacker Vosean Joseph. Trask finished 4-of-13 for 31 yards. The competition isn't over. Coaches say Del Rio will be in the mix in the fall, once he returns from offseason surgeries to both shoulders. Former Notre Dame quarterback Malik Zaire is reportedly considering UF as a grad transfer, if the SEC changes its rules to allow that to happen. But through spring ball, Franks remains the favorite to start the Sept. 2 season opener against Michigan. "It's going to be a dog fight until the very end," Trask said.
2. The Gators' defensive line will be fine
With tackles Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie and end Bryan Cox headed to the NFL, UF's defensive line must reload. And the early indications are positive. End Antonneous Clayton had a sack on the first-team offense, and breakout lineman Jabari Zuniga had the strip/sack on Trask. Trask said it felt as if Khairi Clark was in his face all night, and tackle Taven Bryan showed why he has drawn rave reviews this spring by stuffing an early run and pressuring Trask on the next play. "Man, he's been pretty dominant…" co-defensive coordinator Chris Rumph said of Bryan earlier this spring. The rest of the rebuilt line looked the part Friday, too.
3. The red-zone troubles haven't disappeared
UF scored touchdowns on half of its 42 red-zone drives last year — the worst rate in the SEC and No. 115 nationally. McElwain hasn't been thrilled with the efficiency in the spring, and it continued Friday. "We missed, what, three (throws) that were touchdowns?" McElwain said. Franks missed two inside the 10 by himself. It wasn't in the red zone, but running back Mark Thompson lost a fumble — a recurring problem for him, which doesn't bode well for a bruising back who should get touches inside the 5.
4. Kadarius Toney will have a role in the offense
The early enrollee was more effective against the first-team defense than Trask was. He had a nifty scramble and 4-yard touchdown pass to Tucker Nordman, and he added a 34-yard rush. "That'll be a guy that needs to touch the ball," McElwain said. Expect a change-of-pace quarterback package.