The Florida Gators concluded spring practice with the Orange and Blue Debut Friday night under the lights at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Orange team (first string) beat the Blue team (second/third string) 31-0.
Here are five things we learned/five observations from the spring game.
1. Get Kadarius Toney the Ball
Spring football camp is a time for optimism. Everyone is happy with their team, everybody is playing well and, for the most part, coaches toss compliments around in excess.
Both Doug Nussmeier and Jim McElwain would light up when asked about Kadarius Toney. Even if they don’t know how to do it, or how best to do it given a particular matchup on a given week they continued to say that they needed to get Toney the ball because he was “electric” or had a “different gear.”
Granted Toney was playing against a defense comprised almost strictly of walk-ons, the freshman showed that his coaches weren’t throwing up smoke and mirrors, the Alabama native can flat out play football. Toney completed 3-of-5 passes for 24 yards and Johnny Manziel-esque spinning escape from a sack turned touchdown pass. He carried the ball five times for 74 yards, and even though he was playing quarterback in a spring game where hitting the quarterback is a no-no, was full contact.
Toney showed burst, instinct and a different gear that most defenders can’t match. He was electric with the ball in his hands and the Gators’ 116th ranked offense from 2016 desperately needs someone like Toney than can make things happen.
2. Gators pass rush may not be a concern
All spring long Jim McElwain lamented that the Gators needed to find someone to be able to rush the passer. In 2016 Caleb Brantley and at times Joey Ivie demanded double teams. That created one-on-one opportunities for the defensive ends to get into the backfield and disrupt the quarterback. This year the Gators aren’t as strong or deep in the middle, so they need someone to step up.
Insert Antonneous Clayton, Jabari Zuniga, Luke Ancrum and CeCe Jefferson.
Zuniga and Clayton each recorded sacks, and Clayton could have easily have had another two if not for silly spring game rules. Ancrum added a sack and two tackles for loss. Jefferson tied for the Orange team high with three tackles, 1.5 for a loss.
Florida may not have the “name” guys they’ve had in past years, but the aforementioned quartet and a supporting class that includes Keivonnis Davis and Jachai Polite should be able to give Florida the pass rush it needs in 2017.
3. Still the same offensive line?
The most troubling development from Friday night was probably this statement by Jim McElwain when he was asked what he thought of the performance from his offensive line.
“I thought they did okay. Disappointed with a couple guys that didn’t compete. We got kind of after them at half time a little bit about competing. Sure enough, they came out in that second half and did a much better job.”
Good on them for heeding the halftime warning and turning it around in the second half, but why was it necessary?
Maybe it would be untestable if you come out with a little less pep in your step during practice 12 or 13 when it’s 90 degrees outside on the practice field, but to do it during the spring game? The last practice of camp, the last real football you’ll play until September? And in front of more than 40,000 people, not to mention SEC Network cameras?
There are positives. Martez Ivey looks to be a step up at left tackle. The junior was solid all game and looked the part of a starting SEC offensive lineman. Other than that the first team offensive line struggled to get a push in the running game against the second team defensive line. Florida needs to get more production from the offensive line in 2017 and Ivey knows that to be the case.
“We gonna come out and we gonna dominate,” Ivey said. “That’s what they’re telling us we need to do and that’s what we’re going to do. That’s how we feel. We want to change the way people think about us. We don’t want anybody thinking we hold Florida back at the O-line group.”
4. Reloading at linebacker
No Alex Anzalone, no Jarrad Davis, no David Reese, no problem apparently.
Anzalone and Davis are gone, working towards becoming professional football players, and David Reese was sidelined with an injury leaving the Gators thin at linebacker. That didn’t seem to matter on Friday when a crop of lesser know linebacker shined.
Jeremiah Moon, who redshirted with a thumb injury in 2016, was impressive. The Alabama native had an athletic pass break up on a pass from Feleipe Franks to C’yontai Lewis.
At 6-4, 228 pounds, Moon has the size and speed to be able to rush the passer off the edge as a hybrid linebacker/defensive end, but also showed the ability to hang in there in coverage with a tight end like Goolsby.
Vosean Joseph, who introduced himself to Gator Nation with a bone crushing hit on LSU quarterback Danny Etling in Baton Rouge last year, also showed out. Joseph recorded three tackles, broke up a pass and was in the right place at the right time to haul in an interception off of a pass deflected by Duke Dawson.
5. One two punch in the backfield
Lamical Perine led all rushers with 10 carries and Jordan Scarlett wasn’t far behind with nine. The duo both rushed for a touchdown on Friday night, Scarlett on the game’s first drive and Perine late in the third quarter. While the duo was doing their thing, Mark Thompson found an old friend — fumbling. Thompson did bounce back after his fumble, carrying the ball for 48 yards including a 27-yard rush that included a vicious stiff arm to Rayshad Jackson. Thompson was also the recipient of two passes, going for 21 and two yards apiece. However, the early distribution of carries makes the case clear.
Scarlett is the Gators’ starting running back, the one who will lead the team in carries, and Perine is his understudy. The two give Florida a very formidable running duo that will be able to carry them throughout the season Thompson, if he can find a cure to his fumblitis could factor in, but it’s clear he’s a distant third behind Scarlett and Perine.