Orange and Blue Debut: 5 Things to watch

Hamstrung by low numbers on the offensive line in 2015, Jim McElwain was able to still hold a quasi spring game for the Orange and Blue Debut — something that hadn’t happened in Gainesville in quite some time. With a full season under his belt and a full recruiting class as well, Jim McElwain made a promise to Gator fans that the 2016 spring game would actually be, you know, a football game.

“Question on format, we’re still kind of seeing where we’re going to be. It will be football,” McElwain said. “Fans will enjoy it. I think there are a lot of great things going on around it, around the event itself Friday night.”

As long as McElwain avoids the 2013 Orange and Blue Debut fiasco that saw the Gators go through a normal practice, with a television broadcast that didn’t know how to make it palpable, he’ll be fine. Florida will have football under the lights Friday night in the Swamp and this is what we’re looking forward to seeing on Friday.

Quarterback

Duh.

Everybody wants to see Florida’s four new quarterbacks. Is Luke Del Rio really the clear-cut best option at this point? What does graduate transfer Austin Appleby look like and how far along are the two early enrollee freshmen?

Friday will be the truest test for all four quarterbacks. They’ll still be in bright orange non-contact jerseys, but it will be a game atmosphere, with fans in the stands and the training wheels taken off. Who will shine and will we have more clarity on the competition after Friday?

This will also be the first time fans can see Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks throw live. You’ll be impressed by both of their arm talent. These two can really chuck a pigskin, but watch Trask closely. The Texas native throws such a pure football and is as accurate as any Florida quarterback in recent memory. He’s far more polished than most freshmen.

Running backs

The tightest position battle this spring, running back is the race that certainly won’t end Friday night.

Newcomer Mark Thompson was the talk of the town this spring, surprising his running mates in the backfield with his size. Jordan Scarlett’s first impression was that Thompson must certainly play a different position; nobody 6-4, 240 could play running back, surely. Thompson proved Scarlett wrong quickly and has had a good spring after a slower than expected start. Thompson has battled Jordan Cronkrite a lot this spring, as Scarlett has missed time with a hamstring injury.

Despite McElwain saying you need multiple players at the position, McElwain’s history shows that he leans on one guy at running back. Florida has three very capable backs but there may be only enough carries for one of them. That makes this position battle the most intriguing to follow all the way up to the first game.

 

New Guys

Florida welcomes a nation-high 12 early enrollees. That’s an incredible number, deserving of acknowledgement of the recruiting efforts the staff put in last recruiting cycle. Two of the new guys, Appleby and Thompson, have been mentioned but there are others who will be counted on this fall.

On offense, receivers Dre Massey, Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain all figure into the mix. Massey has taken full advantage of Brandon Powell’s absence this spring and is starting to take the starting slot receiver job by a strangle hold. Hammond has been one of the most impressive receivers all spring. Swain has come along and looks like he could contend for playing time this spring as well.

McElwain has spent a lot of time talking about older receivers on the team like Ahmad Fulwood, Alvin Bailey and Ryan Sousa, but the new guys in town have impressed and it wouldn’t be surprising to see all of them used more than the older guys at their position.

On defense two players stand out. Chauncey Gardner was immediately moved to safety when he arrived on campus, thanks to Duke Dawson’s emergence at nickel. Florida needs to find an answer to the void that Keanu Neal left next to Marcus Maye at safety and Gardner is pushing Nick Washington and Marcell Harris every step of the way.

At linebacker David Reese has been thrown into a crash course. Florida really has two linebackers (Alex Anzalone and Jarrad Davis) that they can rely on. That’s fine, the defense played a lot with two linebackers in 2015 and they could do it again in 2016. The problem is depth. Anzalone has had shoulder injuries his whole career and Reese needs to be ready to play in 2016 in case Anzalone suffers another setback. He’ll be on display Friday and will remind fans of Antonio Morrison.

Eddy Pineiro

Another new guy, but given the sad state of affairs that Florida’s kicking game has been since Caleb Sturgis left what seems like decades ago, Pineiro earns his own category.

It’s spring, and replicating the pressure that Pineiro will endure in the fall is impossible. Friday, though, will be the first time the Internet sensation kicking star has the chance to kick live in front of the fans that made a monumental social media push for the kicker.

As McElwain would say, just kick the ball through those pointy yellow things and everything else will be okay.

Defensive Line

Jalen Tabor called Florida’s defensive line the deepest group on the entire team. The star of the group is Caleb Brantley, who hasn’t gotten the kind of star treatment that other defensive linemen have during the spring, getting to rest and watch a lot of practice. Brantley has been unblockable this spring and he’s poised to have an All-SEC, All-American type of season.

After Brantley, Florida is deep, really deep. Joey Ivie, Bryan Cox Jr., Khairi Clark, Taven Bryan, Jabari Zuniga, Keivonnis Davis, CeCe Jefferson, Jordan Sherit, Luke Ancrum and Justus Reed fill out the group.

The defensive line has really grown this spring and they’re determined to make fans forget that they’ll be playing without Alex McCalister and Jon Bullard this season. They have the talent to be one of the better units in the country and they’ll display that on Friday.

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Nick de la Torre
A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC

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