Here are three observations, two questions, and one prediction as the Florida Gators begin the first of 15 spring football practices under Billy Napier.
1) Florida’s linebacker room took a hit when starters Mohamoud Diabate and Ty’Ron Hopper struck out for greener pastures. That leaves veteran Ventrell Miller to go along with Derek Wingo, Diwun Black, Amari Burney, and Scooby Williams as scholarship ILB options. Burney is a multi-year player but hasn’t been able to get it done, Williams was a freshman in 2021, Black mainly saw the field on special teams and Wingo had 15 total tackles as a reserve. It will be interesting to see what the Gators do with this group or if they pursue the portal for an addition.
2) There is however an experienced secondary now that Florida brings back its starting safeties from 2021 plus half its starting corners coupled with several guys who saw significant time in their careers as Gators. Jaydon Hill and Avery Helm look to challenge for the cornerback spot opposite Jason Marshall Jr. while Donovan McMillon and several others fight for time in the safety rotation.
3) Defensive end Princely Umanmielen takes over for a mainstay. Gator fans saw Zachary Carter contribute for three seasons along the defensive line. He started out behind Jabari Zuniga and blossomed into a key player in his final two seasons. Now, it’s time for Umanmielen to follow the same path. He did well as a reserve behind Carter in 2021 and even earned his first start in the Gasparilla Bowl. We’ll see what jumps he’s made since the season ended that day.
1) Will the STAR/Nickel position be figured out over the spring? It's been a harrowing experience trying to find a suitable heir to a position Chauncey Gardner-Johnson played so well it got him the same job on an NFL roster. Tre’Vez Johnson was up-and-down and Jadarrius Perkins was a little better, but not by much in 2021. If Florida can get a reliable player to shadow the slot and provide leverage in the run game as a defensive back, it’ll help the defense take a giant step forward.
2) Could the young interior linemen make a leap forward? Based on how Gervon Dexter played last year, it’d be a shocker if he didn’t take steps to be even better this year. But what about Jalen Lee, Desmond Watson, Jaelin Humphries, Chris Thomas Jr., and others? Last year Florida went the transfer route to help the interior with mixed results. But that meant we didn’t see much of those other guys besides Watson. People say great defenses start up the middle, interior line play is the beginning of that middle.
1) Gervon Dexter will show gains in his game. We know how much potential the big defensive tackle has. He more than showed it in his sophomore campaign and I believe he’s only gotten better in the downtime between the season and spring. After a spring with Sean Spencer, AKA Coach Chaos, he’ll make the leap to being the dominant player Gator fans expect.