Whether the Gators can reload at receiver was Florida’s biggest on-field question surrounding the season. After one day of preseason camp, the answer is even more uncertain.
Three of UF’s most talented options, Kadarius Toney, Trevon Grimes and Jacob Copeland, were all absent at practice Monday. Defensive lineman Zachary Carter, a Hillsborough High alumnus, did not participate, either. Sports Illustrated first reported the news.
Coach Dan Mullen declined to share any specifics about who wasn’t on the field or whether anyone was opting out of the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“We had a couple guys not practice today,” Mullen said, “but we’ll see how that goes moving forward for us.”
How it goes moving forward could decide whether the Gators are able to contend with Georgia for the SEC East title and, perhaps, challenge for a spot in the College Football Playoff (if it happens).
Florida already had a gaping hole at receiver after Van Jefferson, Freddie Swain and Tyrie Cleveland were all drafted and Josh Hammond signed with the Jaguars. And the loss of running back Lamical Perine to the NFL deprived quarterback Kyle Trask of another one of his top targets.
Toney, Copeland and Grimes were all expected to become go-to options. Grimes could have followed the others to the league but chose to remain at school to build on a 439-yard junior season. Toney is one of the most electric athletes UF has seen since Percy Harvin. Copeland has only 21 career catches and two touchdowns, but the four-star prospect was Mullen’s top signee in his inaugural 2018 recruiting class.
If the three missing receivers remain out, it will be an enormous blow to the Gators’ depth; the only other player on the roster who caught at least 10 balls last season was standout tight end Kyle Pitts.
Mullen declined to say whether any absences are expected to be permanent.
“It’s not for me to share the personal interests of people that would be on our team,” Mullen said.
And the people with those personal interests were only speaking in cryptic social media messages Monday.
“Dont believe everything you read,” Grimes said on Twitter.
If any Gators are opting out of the season, they wouldn’t be the first notable players in the state to make that decision. Miami (star defensive end Gregory Rousseau), Florida State (defensive linemen Dennis Briggs and Jamarcus Chatman) and USF (seven players, including receiver Eddie McDoom) have all dealt with, and announced, defections. Mullen said he would “fully” support any players who decided to sit out.
The fourth absent player, Carter, started twice last season and was second on the team in sacks (4 ½) and tackles for a loss (seven).
Mullen was unusually tight-lipped with every detail, like which players were working at center (the only spot on the offensive line that lost last year’s starter) or star, UF’s nickelback position. He did, however, say that players might not be the only ones who could opt out.
“(I) really wouldn’t be surprised if we had coaches opt out, to be honest with you,” Mullen said. “Coaches are at such high risk because of the age group that they’re in…
“We’re going to adapt to whatever happens as we continue to move forward. I think it’s the team that’s able to adapt best to whatever situation — there’s a lot of moving parts — and the team that’s able to adapt will end up holding up that national championship trophy at the end of the season.”