Spring may be over, but the work is just beginning for the Florida Gators. As other students spend their summer soaking up the sun at the beach, football players will be back in Gainesville running stadiums in the blistering heat, just waiting for August 24 to roll around.
They will wake up to the screams of Nick Savage, and probably hear his voice in their dreams, too.
When they finish up morning workouts, they’ll head into position meetings to find out what their coaches want them to do that day. After that, it is all up to them to get the most out of player-run practices.
And some need to take advantage of the next couple months more than others. These are the five guys who need a strong summer the most:
#5. Donovan Stiner
For his own sake, Stiner has to get better this summer.
Right now, it is unclear how safety is going to shake out for the Gators in 2019.Brad Stewart looks to be a lock at free safety as Jeawon Taylor has been backing him up there. Stiner started alongside Stewart in the spring game at strong safety, but there is a chance someone else could fill the role better.
He is far from a physical specimen and struggles at times in the open field. Not to mention, the offense torched the safeties in the passing game last weekend. Stiner wasn’t the only one to give up multiple touchdowns, and the vanilla defense made them easy prey, but sometimes it just looks a little too easy.
Meanwhile, John Huggins impressed at nickel and might end up being an option to move back to his former position. His skillset could be better used at safety rather than playing backup to Trey Dean.
Even if no moves are made, Stiner is far from incapable. His communication and overall intelligence on the field is why Florida’s coaches continue to stand by him. But safety cannot continue to be a position of liability this fall.
#4. Malik Davis
There is no question La’Mical Perine is going to be Florida’s No. 1 running back, but Dan Mullen is not one to put the load all on a single guy. Between Davis and Dameon Pierce, no one has stepped solidly into that No. 2 role just yet.
Both received relatively equal snaps in the spring, but chances are someone will separate themselves before the season. The summer is prime time to do that.
It wasn’t too long ago Davis was Florida’s best back, even ahead of Perine. Then, injuries set him back and have left him playing catch up ever since.
But if he can ever get back to where he was before going down with a torn ACL as a freshman, the Gators could have a scary duo in the backfield.
It all comes down to staying healthy. Based on the short list of injuries Florida had a season ago, it is obvious the offseason workouts play a huge role in that.
His speed and devastating cuts are still there, but none of that matters if Davis is forced to sit it out on the sidelines again. His best bet is to spend the summer in Savage’s back pocket.
#3. Tedarrell Slaton
Slaton is a guy trying not to let history repeat itself.
A great spring in 2018 put high expectations on him going into fall, and he just could not live up to them. He and fellow junior defensive tackle Elijah Conliffe met the same fate as they both started the first two games of the season but quickly lost those starting jobs for underperforming.
This spring, Slaton once again looked like the player he was expected to be last year, and maybe even better. Although, it is a bit difficult to tell with him going up against a less than dominant Florida offensive line.
Either way, he has to be feeling better about himself than he did a few months back. He needs to carry that confidence into summer but still continue to work and not expect anything to be handed to him.
Slaton has all the physical characteristics to be a great interior lineman, but that means nothing if he can’t transfer it to the field when the lights come on.
The Gators do not have a lot of quality depth inside behind Kyree Campbell and Adam Shuler, so it is imperative that guys like Slaton and Conliffe make their long-awaited jumps.
#2. Emory Jones
If Feleipe Franks broke his arm right now (or at some point this season), who would take over as Florida’s starting quarterback? The answer is probably Emory Jones.
Kyle Trask has just two years of eligibility left. Jones has four. You do the math.
The Trask train has likely left the station and it’s time to start putting stock in the future.
But the truth is, in the spring game no one aside from Franks looked ready to take meaningful snaps against an SEC opponent.
That isn’t to take away from the obvious strides Jones has made since he stepped on campus, but he’s still got a long way to go.
For the first time in far too long, quarterback is not a major worry for the Gators going into the season. They have their guy, but that could all change in an instant, which is why Jones has to prepare as if he is the starter from here on out.
#1. Offensive Line
OK, this was supposed to be a list of five players, but this situation calls for bending the rules a bit. Otherwise, every player on this list would have been an offensive lineman, and that’s no fun.
Something else that wasn’t fun was watching Florida’s offensive line get manhandled all spring.
Despite losing all but one starter (Nick Buchannan) from last year’s group, the new starters held their own for the most part. The issue lies behind them.
There is not much experience along the starting front, and there is virtually none after that. Relying on true freshmen Kingsley Eguakun, William Harrod, Michael Tarquin and Ethan White is far from ideal, but with as little depth as the Gators have, that’s what it could come down to.
The positive is the work ethic of this group has not been questioned. Florida’s linemen (especially the freshmen) are willing to put in the effort needed to make a huge leap before the season.
It might seem like a disaster now, but three more months to get stronger in Savage’s program and adjust to the college game is a lot of time.
Adding a grad transfer or two to the mix would also alleviate a lot of the stress on the offensive line.
So, don’t hit the panic button just yet. If it still looks the same come August, then it might be time to freak out, but give summer a chance to do its job first.