You have to give credit where it is due and the Florida Gators coaching staff deserves a lot of credit for navigating the muddy waters of a spring camp and for being able to put on some sort of spring game on Saturday. The Gators were able to run a simulated game with a running clock and 12 minute quarters — a tall task when you’re given just six healthy offensive linemen. Florida made the most of the hand that they were dealt and allowed fans a glimpse as just what kind of undertaking this rebuilding project will be. Here are five takeaways from the first Orange and Blue Debut of the Jim McElwain era.
1. Pray for health on the offensive line
First and foremost, hats off to the walk-on offensive linemen and the entire offensive line for making it through camp. They were really challenged this spring and they deserve acknowledgement for their effort. However, when going up against Florida’s defensive line, it became apparent that the offensive line is not going to be able to consistently block SEC defensive linemen. Florida’s first team held up somewhat in pass protection against the second team defensive line but they struggled to get a good push run blocking and the second team offensive line — made up of four walk-ons and Andrew Mike — were pushed around at the will of the first team defensive line. The Gators offensive line is thin and the players behind them aren’t ready for the SEC.
2. The tight end will be heavily featured in the offense
Even without presumed starter Jake McGee, the Gators leaned heavily on their tight ends. The group were responsible for nine of the 27 receptions on the day, including C’yontai Lewis’ team-high (tied) four receptions for 54 yards and a touchdown. McElwain is trying to find playmakers on offense and it appears that he will use the size mismatches that his tight ends. With their athletic ability, Florida will have a chance to finally have an x-factor on offense when McGee returns full speed this fall.
3. Will Grier will win the starting quarterback job
The redshirt freshman took the first snaps with the first team offense today and, to me, has clearly looked like the more comfortable, confident and ready quarterback of the group. The spring game did show that there is a clear division at quarterback with Harris and Grier in one group, far and away ahead of the rest of the quarterbacks. However, Grier has shown more accuracy, more comfort taking the ball from under center and better footwork than Harris has and he’s taking a leadership role on the team. Despite the quarterback battle that ran the course of spring camp and one that will continue into the summer and fall, the two competitors are clearly not letting it affect their relationship. Harris called Grier a brother — echoing a statement from earlier in the spring — and Grier waited several minutes for Harris to finish up his interview with reporters before the two left the meeting room together.
4. Florida’s defense will not miss a beat
Gator fans have grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle — one that includes interceptions, fumbles, crushing tackles and suffocating defense. That won’t change in 2015. Jon Bullard looks to be ready to lay the best football of his career, Joey Ivie and Taven Bryan are blossoming, Alex McCalister keeps getting better and the secondary is going to be one of the best in the country. The offense is a mess and there is a mountain of work to be done on that side of the ball but the defense won’t skip a beat this year.
5. Where was Ahmad Fulwood
The Gators have two outside receivers on their roster — realistically — and one of them wasn’t even targeted in the spring game. Where was Ahmad Fulwood? Why isn’t he a bigger part of the offense? Surely a team that is lacking playmakers on offense could use a 6-5 receiver, right?