(Article written by Ryan Licht)
The Gators’ offense ranked 37th in division one FBS football, averaging 424.1 yards per game in 2022.
Unlike last year, with head coach Billy Napier knowing they were going to roll out with now Indianapolis Colts Quarterback Anthony Richardson, the Gators are still uncertain about their starting QB spot.
Gator Country goes over five potential breakout players on the offensive side of the ball.
WR Caleb Douglas / Sophomore
With a lot of space opening up now that junior WR Xzavier Henderson has entered the transfer portal, sophomore Caleb Douglas could be that guy to step in.
Coming in at 6’3” and 203 lbs., Douglas was recruited out of Missouri City, TX as a 3-star WR from the class of 2022. Douglas went on to play in 8 games, catching 10 receptions for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns during his freshman season. Despite the small sample size, the stats were very promising for the young receiver.
With the departure of some veteran players on the roster, Douglas is poised to find a bigger role in this offense, especially with the questions at the QB role currently. That being said, any new QB is looking for that go-to guy who can make plays after the catch and have the “X-factor” mentality, and Douglas be that guy in an expanded role this season.
However, it won’t be easy for Douglas, as he can lose that potential role in a flash. Something that doesn’t bode in his favor was his turnover in the Orange vs. Blue scrimmage to cost his team a scoring opportunity. If Douglas is looking to have success in the season, he needs to limit his mistakes as it will only cost his team success and his own chances to get a more significant role.
All in all, the young and talented WR has all the tools and opportunities to breakout this year, and I believe he makes the jump in 2023.
RB Trevor Etienne / Sophomore
This name will sound very familiar to all football fans, as Trevor Etienne is the younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars RB Travis Etienne. Trevor Etienne came out of high school as a 4-star recruit on all major ranking websites, as he notched multiple awards in high school and was regarded as a top running back in his class.
Etienne immediately brought that talent to Florida, as he totaled 719 yards on only 118 rushing attempts (6.1 YPC) with 6 touchdowns, all as a freshman. The Gators’ coaching staff is already big on the Lousiana native being a focal point of this offense. Some may argue that Etienne has already broken out, but I believe that he still has more to give.
Despite splitting carries with Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson Jr., Etienne still will be making an impact in both the rushing and passing offense. The sophomore running back wasn’t even sure if he was going to get playing time freshman year, and with that year now in the past, Etienne is looking to become a leader for this offense, both on and off the field.
“Be a leader. Be more vocal. Help the team in a positive way,” Etienne said. “Help the team win championships. I feel like me being a leader and being vocal, just brings everyone on board.”
Etienne has nothing short of a bright future for this Gators’ offense. Last season he finished strong, racking up 100-yard games in 2 of his final 4 games of the season. If Etienne continues this momentum, look for the running back to be a household name in the SEC this upcoming season.
TE Arlis Boardingham / Redshirt Freshman
When evaluating tight ends, blocking is a huge factor, and Arlis Boardingham can be a potentially massive addition to the Gators’ running game while also being a receiving threat.
With Florida’s starting tight end Keon Zipperer unfortunately out for the year due to a torn ACL, Boardingham’s role is expected to grow in 2023.
Coming in at 6’3” and 246 lbs., Boardingham came into Florida primarily as a receiver, playing out wide in high school and rarely blocking for his team. However, tight end coach Russ Callaway has emphasized how important blocking is, and Boardingham has followed that mentality throughout spring.
The tight end has put on 26 pounds since high school, and the tight end certainly believes the weight change is going to help him in 2023. “If you put a linebacker on me then scary things gonna happen,” Boardingham said.
On the other side of the position, Boardingham poses a great threat as a receiving tight end, being both big in size and speedy for his position. As a track star in high school, he claimed to log a 10.9 100-meter dash and a 23.10-foot-long jump, showing how his athleticism and speed can be dangerous for this Gators team.
During the Orange vs. Blue game, the California native led all players at his position in yards, notching 33 yards on 3 catches.
The tight end position is definitely up in the air for Florida as of right now. That being said, Boardingham is most certainly a player to watch for Florida if given the opportunities on the field.
RB Treyaun Webb / Freshman
I believe the past three names mentioned are more sure-fire players poised to break out. When it comes to freshman players, however, it can be a bit trickier. Despite playing time being scarce, freshmen might not perform as predicted in year one, or just not be the player they hoped to be when recruited. I do not see that being the case for running back Treyaun Webb.
With a packed running back room full of talent, Florida added the talented and speedy back after he de-committed from Oklahoma. Ranked as a 4-star recruit on all major sites in high school, Webb boasted an impressive high school career line of 3,488 rushing yards and 48 touchdowns. His cousin, Dee Webb, also played at UF in 2003-05 and was drafted to Jacksonville later on.
Something to note from this past Orange vs. Blue scrimmage was Webb’s usage and efficiency. Webb posted a stat line of 53 yards on 11 carries (4.8 YPC). Despite it only being a scrimmage game, the freshman showing his efficiency on the ground and the usage being relatively high is an extremely positive sign thus far.
All that being said, the freshman does enter a running back room that is full of talent. Both Montrell Johnson Jr. and Trevor Etienne look to lead the backfield, while Cam Carrol is poised to be the backup, which more than likely will result in Webb being low on the depth chart, normal for any freshman player. However, Florida can look to using Webb as a change of pace, swiss army knife player for the offense.
All will be answered come fall for the talented running back. I believe that even on limited playing time and usage, Webb can be an instant impact on this team and help bolster the already monstrous backfield on the Gators’ offense.
QB Graham Mertz / Redshirt Junior
The Gators are still unsure of who will be the starter come game one of the season, but if you had to ask me right now, I believe the answer is Graham Mertz.
Before Florida, Mertz was playing in the BIG10 for the Wisconsin Badgers. Last year, he started every game for Wisconsin, completing 164-of-286 (57.3%) passes for 2,136 yards and 19 touchdowns, all career-highs for him. Mertz also compiled a 135.0 passer rating in 2022. Mertz has the experience and skillset to break out with Florida this season.
A huge thing we need to factor in for Mertz is the talent surrounding the quarterback. Any quarterback can have all the skills and tools to succeed, but if they are not surrounded by players who can further elevate their game, the success may not happen on the field. For Mertz, this is not the case.
The quarterback, if named starter, will have veteran receivers to work with who were apart of this offense last season. Having players around you that know the scheme and culture is huge for any quarterback, let alone a transfer.
Continuing, the running back room can be something Mertz can lean on and take advantage of. Arguably, all four potential running backs who will be used in-game are extremely talented both on the ground and in the passing game. Being able to utilize them in a game plan to distract a team from heavily defending the passing game can lead to big plays. I’m looking for Napier’s offense to utilize this talented group of backs in the passing game, perhaps turning to RB screens out of the backfield.
The Orange vs. Blue game was a little concerning, as Mertz didn’t shine, but nor was he bad. Mertz threw for 244 yards on 18 completions out of 29 attempts. Competing QB Jack Miller was not great either, completing 10-20 passes for 144 yards.
“Not as clean as you would like,” Napier said, “but I think defensively probably had a lot to do with that.”
The offensive line struggled heavily with protection and snaps in the scrimmage due to many freshmen receiving significant playing time.
All in all, the QB spot continues to be a question for the Gators. That being said, I believe if the Gators choose to roll with Mertz at the helm, he has the potential to have his best season yet and help this team to a successful 2023 season offensively.
(Article written by Ryan Licht)