The Gators ended spring football Saturday with a closed scrimmage instead of a traditional exhibition game. Here are five takeaways from Florida’s spring:
1. Emory Jones looks like the starting quarterback
It is not a surprise that Jones enters the offseason as UF’s first-string option. But it is a surprise that coach Dan Mullen admitted as much Saturday, even though he usually keeps his quarterback competitions open as long as possible.
Blue-chip redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson will play, too, as Mullen wants to groom two potential starters. But after Jones waited behind Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, this spring cemented the fact that his time has finally arrived.
2. The defense took a step forward
Mullen said Saturday that the defense “won pretty much all the scrimmages that we had.” Considering that UF’s offense was historically great last season while its defense was historically bad, that assessment is noteworthy.
Specifically, Mullen said new assistants Jules Montinar and Wesley McGriff have improved the communication in the secondary — one of last year’s recurring problems. The additions of grad transfer defensive linemen Daquan Newkirk (Auburn) and Antonio Shelton (Penn State) have helped, too. We’ll see whether a strong spring translates to on-field progress this fall.
3. Three Tampa Bay products will be crucial to the Gators’ success
The Gators expect Zachary Carter (Hillsborough High) to continue to develop as a versatile player on the defensive line as well as a leader in the program. On the offensive line, Richard Gouraige (Cambridge Christian) and Ethan White (Calvary Christian) look like UF’s top options at left tackle and left guard.
Mullen said after the SEC title game that Florida’s lines were two of the factors separating the Gators from College Football Playoff teams like Alabama. If UF can take that next step this season, the Tampa Bay trio will have to lead.
4. Don’t expect a lot of star power this season
Last year’s team featured a Heisman Trophy finalist at quarterback (Trask), the best tight end in the country (Kyle Pitts) and one of the nation’s most versatile players (Kadarius Toney). Unless Clemson five-star transfer Demarkcus Bowman becomes an immediate superstar, this season’s Gators won’t have as many household names.
“We’re going to be a great team, because we’re going to have some depth on the team,” Mullen said.
An optimistic comparison is UF’s 2019 receiving corps. Those Gators didn’t have a true headliner but had eight different players catch between 21 and 54 balls on a top-20 passing attack. UF will look for similar spread-the-ball results with its throwing and run games this year.
5. Ja’Markis Weston is a breakout candidate
The former three-star recruit has only one career catch (a 13-yarder in the Cotton Bowl) but will have the opportunity for much more this season. The 6-foot-3 redshirt sophomore is one of the fastest players on the team, and Mullen singled him out for the progress he made during the 15 practices.
“Ja’Markis Weston, I thought, took huge steps this spring,” Mullen said.
With UF losing its top three receiving targets to the NFL, the Gators will need new threats to emerge. Weston has a chance to be one of those options.