Florida spring football practice hit the midway point with Thursday's scrimmage in the Swamp. Here are five things we have learned to this point.
1. Franks is the unquestioned starter
Dan Mullen’s public stance is that every position is up for grabs every day. However, if there was any doubt who was the starter before the spring game, there isn’t now. Quarterback Feleipe Franks improved from a dreadful inaugural season with 2,457, 24 touchdowns and just six interceptions in his second year of playing time.
He now enters his redshirt junior year with his confidence at an all-time high.
Franks has shown poise and comfort in the pocket while making nice throws in tight windows. He has continued to build his rapport with wide receivers Van Jefferson and Josh Hammond, who he hit for a 52-yard touchdown in Thursday’s scrimmage.
Franks has also benefited from what has overall been a so-so performance of redshirt freshman Emory Jones, who was likely his main competition for the starting job at the beginning of spring ball.
Jones has not impressed as much as Franks during spring practices and by our count finished the scrimmage with just six completions on 17 attempts for 76 yards.
Franks has earned the starting spot and, unless something unforeseen happens, he looks to be the starting quarterback Week 1 against Miami.
2. The offensive line is a big question mark
Florida saw the departure of four offensive linemen after the 2018 season in tackles Martez Ivey and Jawaan Taylor along with guards Fred Johnson and Tyler Jordan.
The Gators will try to fill those as best they can with younger, inexperienced, players.
The offensive line room this spring consists of four early entry true freshmen and seven total underclassmen. That inexperience has shown. The Florida defensive line has dominated the offensive line in every aspect throughout the open practices. The push in the run game is nonexistent, and whatever quarterback is in there can barely take a five-step drop without a defender in his face.
The question remains if the defensive line is simply that talented or if coach John Hevesy will have his hands full to get this line game-ready for the regular season.
3. The running back room is deep
The Gators rushed for 2,514 yards in 2018, good for fourth in the SEC. They lost their second-leading rusher in Jordan Scarlett, who contributed 776 yards and five touchdowns, but the running back corps has looked as good as ever this spring.
Florida’s leading rusher last season, Lamical Perine, along with Dameon Pierce, who tallied 424 yards and two touchdowns in his limited playing time during his freshmen year, will return to make a dynamic duo in the backfield.
Florida will also look to utilize redshirt freshman Iverson Clement, who has the ability to catch out of the backfield and make big plays, as will Malik Davis, who is returning from a season lost to another injury.
If the offensive line can get a push at the line of scrimmage and create a little room, these running backs can take advantage.
4. The linebackers are the determining factor for the defense
The defense has looked good in spring.
Stifling the run and suffocating the pass game, and the linebacker corps has been a big piece of the early success.
Senior David Reese II and graduate transfer Jonathan Greenard have led a unit that controls the center zones and takes everything away, but time will tell if this success translates to the regular season.
The coaches continue to test the lineups and try and find the right combination. With the secondary and defensive line amid a possible transition year, the linebacker corps will have to be the anchor in the middle of the field if the defense is to be effective.
5. Zachary Carter is primed for a breakout year
Jachai Polite and Cece Jefferson were significant losses for a defensive line that totaled 37 sacks in 2018, but Florida has young talent it hopes to be possible replacements. Linebacker Jeremiah Moon, who has sat out a majority of spring practices with an injury, looks like a prototypical edge rusher and then there’s defensive end Zachary Carter, who has been as impressive as anyone this spring.
The six-foot-four redshirt sophomore seems to be involved in every play and made three tackles in the backfield in the scrimmage on Thursday. Carter has earned major playing time during the Orange and Blue game and possibly during the regular season in the fall.