Florida football’s fall camp is upon us, and the competition will be fierce. The spring session was all about everyone getting to know each other and learning the basics of the new offense and defense. The summer was about players studying the playbook, building chemistry, and busting their butts in the weight room.
Fall practice is where the best separate themselves from the rest and when starting positions are earned. The Gators have some entrenched starters, but there are plenty of roles up for grabs. Here are five big competitions that to watch through fall camp.
The perennial quarterback question is open again. By now, you’ve heard all about it. There’s Feleipe Franks, the only guy who has played but who didn’t play well enough to lock down the role. There’s Kyle Trask, an intriguing project out of high school who’s been in the program long enough to no longer be a project. Then there’s Emory Jones, the highly touted freshmen whose skill set matches up best with what Dan Mullen likes to do.
I’m already on the record for predicting that Franks take the first snap. However, it really might be a competition merely to see who takes the first snap. Mullen has used multiple quarterbacks in the past, so the competition between Franks and Trask easily could spill over into the opener against Charleston Southern and beyond. Jones at first will just have a package of plays, but he may become a real contender later this year too.
All eyes will be on the quarterback battle in camp, but that battle might not end when camp does.
Whenever a team switches from a 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme, the focus typically goes to the rush end spot: the outside linebacker/defensive end hybrid guy who has the glamour role of racking up as many sacks as possible. There is another big change in the second level of the defense, though, as the team will go from having one to two inside linebackers.
With Cristian Garcia graduated, David Reese is the only player on the roster with substantial reps at middle linebacker. The other spot is a mystery.
Rayshad Jackson, heretofore largely a special teams contributor, played a lot more in spring than expected and is one of the real contenders. So are Kylan Johnson, one of last year’s big contributors at outside linebacker, and Ventrell Miller, coming off of his suspension-caused redshirt. It’s not inconceivable that Vosean Joseph could spend a little time there if Jeremiah Moon excels at the non-rush end outside linebacker spot. The competition is wide open.
A lot of 3-4 schemes have one defensive tackle — the nose guard — and a pair of defensive ends. Florida may get there depending on how long Todd Grantham stays around, but for this year with the personnel on hand, the depth chart is going to look like 2017 Mississippi State’s did with one defensive end and two defensive tackles. Senior Khairi Clark has the nose guard spot nailed down, but Taven Bryan’s graduation opened up the DT job.
Redshirt junior Luke Ancrum, a skinny defensive end coming out of high school, has filled out and occupied this spot with the ones in the spring. However, three promising sophomores push him in fall camp: T.J. Slaton, Kyree Campbell (who missed the spring to injury), and Elijah Conliffe. Those three might be among the biggest beneficiaries of new strength coach Nick Savage’s offseason quest to replace bad weight with good muscle, so this should be one of the most competitive races through camp.
Interior Offensive Line
Florida had six offensive linemen it trusted going into last year. All six are back, so that’s that, right? Not exactly.
Veteran reserve Nick Buchanan pushed T.J. McCoy at center in the spring, and once again, neither Fred Johnson nor Tyler Jordan could definitively beat the other out at right guard. Brett Heggie will certainly have a starting role somewhere in the middle, but he’s cross trained at center in addition to his starting job at left guard last year. A couple of true freshmen may get a look in there as well between Chris Bleich and Griffin McDowell, though unless they impress instantly, they’re more likely to redshirt.
The opening day lineup is more likely than not to be Heggie at left guard, McCoy at center, and Johnson at right guard again, but it should not be a surprise at all if there is a big shakeup in the middle. John Hevesy will play his best five linemen and find a way to fit them into the five positions, so nothing is set in stone between the tackles right now.
Not entirely unlike the defensive tackle spot, safety is a case of departures — Nick Washington to graduation, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson to nickel — creating an opening next to a returning starter. It’s more uncertain than that, though. Jeawon Taylor is a returning starter only in that he became the starter after Washington went down to injury last year, and he spent the spring in a non-contact jersey.
A bevy of sophomores are battling it out with Taylor for the two safety slots. Brad Stewart (13 tackles a year ago) and Shawn Davis (11) are probably ahead, though Donovan Stiner (9) and redshirt sophomore Quincy Lenton are in the mix too. True freshman Amari Burney has the body to play in college right now, so he could muscle his way up the depth chart with a strong showing. Unlike the corner positions where Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson are entrenched, anything could happen at safety.