Since the Tim Tebow era ended in 2009, the Florida Gators have been known to field some of the worst offensive units in the nation. It has been embarrassing at some moments.
In Jim McElwain’s first year in 2015, the offense, however, showed glimpses of excitement with Will Grier under center, but was hindered down the stretch when Treon Harris took over.
For the third time in 15 short games as the Gator head coach, Coach McElwain will start a different quarterback. This fall redshirt Sophomore Luke Del Rio will be the new face of the program. A two time transfer, originally committed to Alabama before jumping ship to Oregon State. It wasn’t the experience he was expecting, but luckily last summer he found his home in Gainesville. For the first time in his collegiate career Del Rio will showcase his talents as a teams starting quarterback.
The Gators have numerous guys with playmaking ability to help Del Rio. The question is will the expectations translate onto the field. Many of Florida’s weapons are sophomore’s and freshman, which is the biggest issue for this team.
One young star all Gator fans are aware of is wide receiver Antonio Callaway. He led the team in touchdowns (4) and receiving yards (678) as a freshman. He is the Gators biggest home run threat on the outside averaging 19.4 yards per catch. Callaway also flashed his explosiveness on special teams, by taking two punts for touchdowns. The Gators will need another strong year from Callaway to make another appearance in Atlanta.
Junior Brandon Powell is another threat at the wide out position. He was third on the team with 390 yards last year. In the slot position, Powell will have to play a larger role in order for the Gators to produce at a high level on offense. He primarily seeks the crossing and slant routes, as he is a difficult matchup to line up against. Powell provides the speed to create a nightmare match up for defenders. He proved that in the Tennessee and Ole Miss games, helping the Gators convert crucial fourth downs and splitting through the defense for long runs after the catch.
Besides these two, the Gators don’t return much talent and experience on the offensive side. Coach McElwain and crew were able to land some top talent during the 2016 recruiting cycle to build the support around Del Rio.
Tyrie Cleveland, the number two rated receiver in the 2016 class, is the biggest prospect McElwain landed. In his final season at Westfield High School he reeled in 41 catches, 14 of those being touchdowns, for 941 yards. Cleveland brings the top tier talent on the outside the Gators have been missing the last several seasons. He and Callaway can create a plethora of opportunities for the Gators this upcoming season in the passing game. No receiver has eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark since Taylor Jacobs in 2002 but both of these players have the capability of accomplishing that milestone.
Outside of Cleveland, the Gators signed four more receivers to compete for a starting spot. Besides Callaway, there isn’t a guaranteed starter at the wide out position. The newcomers joining the Orange and Blue are Joshua Hammond, Freddie Swain, Dre Massey, and Rick Wells.
In order to create the air attack, Florida will have to establish the run game. After becoming the first 1,000-yard rusher in over a decade, the Gators must replace Kelvin Taylor in the backfield. Just like every other position on offense, this is another inexperienced group of players. The three returning backs combined for a total of 82 carries last year, 174 less than the amount Taylor received. However, the Gators did sign the nation’s top junior college back, Mark Thompson, to provide competition and depth to this position. Come fall, this will be one of the most talked about battles in camp.
Sophomore Jordan Cronkrite seems to lead the competition early on, as he got a majority of the carries with the first team during spring practice. Cronkrite also started with the first team offense in the Orange and Blue Debut game. As a freshman, the Miami native only carried the ball 44 times, but that’s the most amongst the group of players returning. Those numbers will skyrocket this year if he is indeed the starter.
The other back that will be competing for carries this fall is sophomore Jordan Scarlett. The former Saint Thomas Aquinas product had several moments where he flashed his talent. He ran for a career high 96 yards against Georgia last year as a freshman, but struggled to find a true home in the backfield due to injury and ball security issues. Built at 5’11 inches and 220 lbs, he is a force to bring down.
Adding to the competition will be junior college signee Mark Thompson. He is a tank. Standing a 6-2 and weighing a staggering 230, he is a prototypical back in the SEC. Last season he rushed for 1,298 yards on 268 carries while at Dodge City Community College. He was an early enrollee in this recruiting class and was able to make a name of himself in spring practice. Like Scarlett, Thompson has struggled with ball security issues. In the spring game he did fumble the ball once, but did score a rushing touchdown as well.
The Gators have one of the youngest offensive units in the nation but will need them to step up and play at a top level for them to reach Atlanta. This is one of the most anticipated seasons for the Gators in quite a while.