The Gators are set to begin their second round of spring practice under Dan Mullen tomorrow. There are plenty of questions about the roster and who will win some jobs, but here are the three biggest of them if you ask me.
1. How entrenched is Feleipe Franks at quarterback?
Mullen’s mantra is always compete, but there are some positions on the field that aren’t really up for grabs. CJ Henderson will be one of the starting corners, and David Reese II will continue as the starting middle linebacker. Van Jefferson will be a starting receiver. Is quarterback one of those positions?
Franks had a stellar game against FSU and then kept a relatively steady hand on the wheel in the Peach Bowl win. Maybe it’s recency bias or maybe it just stands out because of how poorly UF has finished football seasons in recent years, but those two performances made it look as though he’s definitely the starter going into this year.
It’s easy to forget that Franks was benched three weeks prior to that FSU game. Kyle Trask almost certainly would’ve started against South Carolina had he not broken his foot that week in practice. Plus in his one stint of extended play against Idaho, Emory Jones showed himself to be Franks’s rough equal against a bad defense.
The only constant in Franks’s career so far has been inconsistency. If he shows up expecting to be the starter because of those last two games, he just might lose the job. If he takes it seriously and competes at a high level in every practice session, he probably won’t. It’s all up to him and how well his competitors have developed in the meantime.
2. Who will start at linebacker next to Reese?
Again, the senior David Reese is locked in to one of the two non-Buck linebacker roles. The other is up for grabs with Vosean Joseph off to the NFL.
I had been assuming since the season ended that James Houston would take that other spot. He was fourth among the non-Buck linebackers in tackles last year behind Joseph, Reese, and Rayshad Jackson. Most of Jackson’s came early, though, and his playing time dropped off throughout the season. Houston was still getting some decent snaps towards the end. Kylan Johnson’s decision to transfer only helps Houston’s case.
However, I’m less convinced of that now. Looking at the Gators’ roster, which as of this writing hasn’t had its heights and weights updated for 2019, Houston is listed at 6-1 and 233 pounds. He’s noticeably lighter than Reese’s 248 pounds but otherwise is roughly in line with the other traditional linebackers. He is, however, a bit bigger than Joseph’s 6-1, 226 lb listing from a year ago. He potentially could’ve put more distance between himself and Joseph in his second offseason of the Nick Savage treatment.
Having a lighter, faster guy next to Reese worked last year and could again. The guy to watch, if it’s going to happen, is Amari Burney. He largely played Chauncey Gardner-Johnson’s star position when he saw the field last year, and he’s too good to be relegated to a strict reserve role again. However, Trey Dean is going to get a look at the star position first, which means Burney needs another place to go. His listing is 6-2 and 222 pounds, which is comparable to Joseph’s. As someone with extensive defensive back experience, he would become far and away the best pass defender at the linebacker level.
If there’s a tell anywhere, it’s that Burney was listed as an athlete. That became Mullen’s catchall label for walkons, but two scholarship players got it too. One was Kadarius Toney, who largely played receiver but took handoffs and direct snaps as well, and the other was Burney. Even the younger David Reese, a high school linebacker who was tabbed to learn how to play in the secondary, got a more definitive listing of defensive back.
Burney at linebacker next to Reese would improve the pass defense, add speed, and bring versatility. It makes too much sense not to happen at some point. Will it be a package or a full-time thing? Stay tuned.
3. Who will win the right tackle spot?
With only one starter returning from last year, the offensive line would seem to be a big puzzle. In reality, I’m not sure how much it will be.
Nick Buchanan will probably keep his starting center role. Stone Forsythe and Brett Heggie played some meaningful snaps at times last year and should also be starters, the former at left tackle and the latter at one of the guard spots. Chris Bleich appears to be in line for the other guard position.
That leaves right tackle. There is no obvious answer.
Texas transfer Jean Delance played on that end once the backups went in at the end of the bowl, but that may or may not mean anything. One of the top-rated signees in the 2018 class Richard Gouraige should be in the mix too, but he saw little action last year and redshirted.
TJ Moore, a 4-star signee from the 2017 class, has been kicking around the roster a few years. He is about at the point where he needs to make a move if he’s ever going to start. And then, there are four early enrollee offensive linemen, some of whom will play tackle in Gainesville.
I would guess it’ll be a two-man race between Delance and Gouraige, but nothing would surprise me with that spot. Getting clarity as soon as possible is important given how much offensive line is about five guys playing together as a single unit, but one of the five positions is far from settled.