Last season under the leadership of Will Grier the Florida Gators offense showed plenty of promise. After a senseless decision that ended Grier’s Florida career, the opportunity at quarterback fell into the lap of Treon Harris, and we know how that turned out. There were a couple of games the Gators would love to erase from their memory, and it’s probably safe to say Treon’s days at quarterback are finished.
The way the season ended in 2015 left a bitter taste in the mouths of fans. The struggles to move the ball consistently and put points on the board should be resolved and it all starts under center. There is a new era set to begin at quarterback. Enter two-time transfer Luke Del Rio. He put together a solid spring and solidified his role as the starter ahead of Austin Appleby and the two freshman Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks.
Luke Del Rio has the chance to be the catalyst behind a resurgence in the Florida offense. For this team Del Rio has to show he can master situational football and not turn the ball over, that’s what Jim McElwain will ask from his quarterback — run the system, protect the football. The success of this offense begins and ends with the quarterback.
A lot of pressure will be on Del Rio to right the ship, but there are pieces that can help the transition. Despite losing a 1,000-yard back and NFL draft pick in Kelvin Taylor, the Gators running game should be improved and more effective. With another year under their belt, sophomores Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett should have more productive years, but the addition of JUCO transfer Mark Thompson could be the difference. The massive back give’s Florida something they have not had since the healthy days of Matt Jones, a running back who pounded out the tough yards. Florida has a trio of backs that have the ability to be one of the best units in the SEC.
Going in the wrong direction was a common theme of the offense the last two months of 2015. This was due large in part to a make shift offensive line. A major key to the success and growth of the line will be the play of David Sharpe at the left tackle.
If Sharpe and Martez Ivey can anchor the line, it will give Florida an opportunity to build on the depth McElwain and the staff has created since their arrival. This staff needs to get a noticeable jump in pass protection. If that occurs don’t be surprised if the offense evolves into one of the more effective units in the SEC.
The running game will need to be effective early on as the smoke clears within the wide receiver unit. In the off-season the staff brought in some much needed talent. Tyrie Cleveland will be expected to contribute early. Early enrollees Joshua Hammond and Freddie Swain, along with JUCO transfer Dre Massey, put together solid spring practices and give promise to an increase in production from the unit overall.
Unfortunately, the elephant in the room is a rather large one and that surrounds the status of wide out Antonio Callaway, who just recently was allowed back on campus. This is a good sign for his return and that will be a gigantic relief for Gator Nation, because he is one of the few proven playmakers currently at the position.
The upcoming fall practices will be moving time for a few players at receiver, most notably Ahmad Fulwood. Fulwood’s first three seasons have been disappointing, but the staff was optimistic during the spring that he will turn the corner this fall. Another player looking for consistency is Brandon Powell. If he can stay healthy, he is a playmaker Florida can utilize. He displayed flashes throughout last year but Massey will push Powell hard for snaps. The potential is there for this group to be productive. As we move closer to the season, expect Callaway, Powell, Fulwood and Massey to be the front-runners with contributions from Hammond, Swain and Cleveland.
With the potential there at receiver, the tight end position brings possibly the most versatile tandem in the SEC with DeAndre Goolsby and C’yontai Lewis. Last season both showed they could be matchup nightmares and are fully expected to bring some punch to the Florida passing game. Those two are a major key for the offense leaping forward.
If you are a believer in what the offense showed in the first half of 2015 and felt that it was the quarterback position that needed improving, then 2016 should be exciting for you. One could argue that, offensively speaking, Florida has upgraded the roster in every area. This offense will be better and more consistent this year. At times last season if the offense could have produced another first down or two per game, it could have made all the difference in the world for the defense. Expect Coach McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to bring some wrinkles to that side of the ball and get this offense to performing at a high level.