Spring Practice Roundtable: Starting Quarterback & Sink or Swim
Welcome to the Inside the Gators Roundtable. Of course the question on every one's mind this time of the year is the upcoming spring practices.
Join Landon Watnick and Mark Wheeler for this no holds barred discussion of the Gators football squad.
Which quarterback do you believe will exit the spring with the edge in the battle?
Watnick: If you’ve followed Jim McElwain’s last two quarterback battles closely, he hasn’t named a starter until fall camp – or even after that. Coach Mac doesn’t like to tip his hand about the competition at that position, typically.
McElwain admitted Will Grier held the edge over Treon Harris in spring of 2015, in part because Harris missed valuable practice time due to the death of his cousin. Eventually that battle crept into the season, but Grier worked his way into full-time starter status by week three. Luke Del Rio and Austin Appleby were in a tight battle as well last spring, but Del Rio had an advantage due to already having a year with the program. By the midway point of fall camp, Florida opted to name Del Rio the starter.
The Feleipe Franks-Kyle Trask competition should once again result in a tight quarterback battle this spring. I’ll pick Franks here, though. The coaching staff seems high on Franks’ skillset, and as an early enrollee last season he made considerable strides with his game. After a shaky spring game where he tossed three interceptions, Franks’ understanding of the playbook, throwing motion and footwork all improved during the fall. Florida was pleased enough with his progress to the point where he was utilized as the primary backup to Appleby when Del Rio was sidelined with injuries.
Trask, a polished passer with plenty of arm talent as well, should stay close behind, but if Franks continues at this rate he’s followed while in Gainesville he should be the guy. McElwain probably won’t admit anything too significant, though, by spring’s end.
Wheeler: To be clear, the question is who do we believe will have the edge in the quarterback battle at the end of spring ball. It isn't who we believe Jim McElwain will actually name as the starter.
If he even will.
That is an important distinction because as has been the case at Florida, and across college football, coaches seem to be hesitant when it comes to naming a starting quarterback.
They apparently believe that by not naming a starter and allowing the battle to carry on into the summer and fall that it motivates the participants more than if one was the clear cut starter.
Coaches obviously see value in that.
I think when it comes to quarterback, if one player has the upper-hand, it is to the benefit to the team to name him the starter and allow the players to start to rally around him.
Though I am almost 100% positive that during his Thursday pre-spring press conference McElwain will call it an open competition between the two combatants, there was a reason Franks was named the backup to Austin Appleby when Del Rio was sidelined during the season.
Yes he has some issues to clean up, mostly with ball security. And, while he may not have been the more polished of the two, Franks is the better prospect of the two. If you are starting from scratch, why would you not go with the quarterback with the highest ceiling?
For which players on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball do you believe it’s “sink or swim” this spring?
Watnick: On offense, this is an important spring for tight ends Moral Stephens and Camrin Knight. Two-tight end sets have been a staple in Florida’s offense - and even with DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis dealing with injuries and displaying inconsistency over the past two seasons, those two have been the only tight ends to receive extensive playing time.
Knight’s action decreased as a sophomore, after he saw a role as a third tight end as a true freshman mainly on goal-line packages. Florida envisioned Stephens, a former Rivals250 recruit, as an on-line blocker at tight end who could contribute in 2016, but even his playing time was minimal this past season. Knight went without a catch in 2016, while Stephens caught just one for 14 yards – the only grab between those two in two seasons. Both players just simply haven’t shown enough to the coaching staff to warrant big roles up to this point.
If Stephens and/or Knight don’t make a statement this spring, they could get passed up. Goolsby and Lewis should remain two of the top options, but 2017 four-star tight end signee Kemore Gamble, an early enrollee, could also challenge for playing time. Kalif Jackson moved from wide receiver to tight end midway last season, adding another face to the competition for snaps at tight end.
Looking at the defense, cornerback Chris Williamson could also be in danger of getting passed up if he doesn’t impress this spring.
Williamson just hasn’t put it together yet through two seasons as a Gator. His performance in the season-opener against UMass, where he was burnt twice on double moves wasn’t encouraging, either. He’ll have a shot at competing for a role at either corner or nickel, but Duke Dawson, Chauncey Gardner, Joseph Putu, McArthur Burnett and C.J. McWilliams (when he returns to full health) could also compete for time at those spots. That’s not even mentioning the six freshman defensive back signees set to arrive this summer.
Wheeler: When we started including Sink or Swim as part of our spring and fall camp previews over a decade ago – it was meant to single out the player or players who were on the precipice as far as their Florida career's were concerned. They either shaped up or shipped out so to speak. The upcoming practices were seen as their last opportunity to make a move up the depth chart or be passed by others and thus likely not only out of a job, but perhaps even on the way out the door.
You are probably wondering why the need for the lengthy preamble?
It is because offensively, my pick is a bit of a surprise. While I don't believe Brandon Powell will be relegated to the bench or transfer out, I do think that if he doesn't' show more this spring than he did last season, he is going to be so buried on the depth chart that he might as well be gone.
He looked like a completely different player in 2016 compared to 2015. Yes his total catches went up, but he averaged almost five-yards less per touch (8.6 down from 13.4).
In his first two seasons, he was explosive – plays of 77, 71 and 42 yards – while last season he was as likely to fall down trying to make a cut as he was to actually break off a big gain.
Was he dealing with lingering foot issues? Is that still the case?
If Freddie Swain and Josh Hammond continue to develop and Dre Massey is as talented as advertised, Powell could see his touches drop significantly if he doesn't return to the form he displayed as a freshman and sophomore.
Defensively, there are a couple of players who could easily be included here, but none more deservedly so than defensive linemen Justus Reed and Luke Ancrum.
Entering his junior season, Reed has already been passed up by a couple of underclassmen on the depth chart. Of the two, he is the one who has me a bit perplexed. Though he wasn't highly rated or sought after, he did show some promise as a pass-rusher coming out of high school. He has flashed some ability to get in the backfield in the limited amount of reps that he has seen as a Gator, but he hasn't been able to build on that.
Ancrum on the other hand was a very late addition two-star who was offered at the very end of the 2015 cycle. Therefore, as history has shown us time and again, anything he contributed would be considered a plus. The issue is, heading into his third year on campus and he hasn't been able to contribute much at all. Even when Florida was beset by injury along the line, he wasn't called upon much. Last year he looked like a man without a position, not athletic or explosive enough to play outside, but not big enough to hold his own inside.
It will be interesting to see where he is this spring.
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