Spring Review: Gators we got to know

The Florida Gators wrapped up spring practice on Saturday. Though it came to a somewhat underwhelming completion without a spring game, it was still refreshing compared to last year’s alternative.

Now, we’re taking a look back at the biggest takeaways from the last month, starting with 10 Gators we got to know. Between freshmen, transfers or second/third-year players who finally found their stride, there were plenty of new names to know this spring.

From what we saw in limited practice film and what Florida coaches and players had to say, these are a few who made their first big splash.

CB Jason Marshall Jr.

The early enrollee shined in his first spring with the Gators. As a five-star prospect, he immediately stepped in as one of the most talented players in a Florida secondary that struggled a season ago.

Marshall will see immediate playing time this fall, and could even compete for the starting spot opposite Kaiir Elam. Jaydon Hill is another player in the running for that spot, and Dan Mullen almost always tips his hat to seniority, but there could be an exception in this case.

“Jason has done a great job this camp,” said cornerbacks coach Jules Montinar. “Has an unbelievable attitude, comes to work every day, very smart, very athletic.”

S Donovan McMillon

Another early enrollee, McMillon earned high praise for the work he put in this spring.

Right now, the Gators have him at safety after losing three safeties from last season’s roster. But McMillon is a player who offers lots of versatility. At 6-1, 197, there is potential for him to make a move to linebacker depending on how his body takes shape over the coming years, and based on Florida’s needs.

“A high energy guy,” said head coach Dan Mullen. “He really plays hard. I mean, I like intelligent football players … His dad is a coach, and you can see that with his attention to detail with all the little things. Whether we’re in special teams or whether we’re on defense, his attention to detail to try to do it right really stands out.”

DT Gervon Dexter

Dexter is a physical specimen at 6-6, 308. He earned playing time in every game as a freshman in 2020, but expectations for his sophomore season are through the roof.

One thing about Dexter that tends to be forgotten is that he is still relatively new to the game of football. He only started playing four years ago, so some of the nuances of the game are still coming to him.

Still, he had a dominant spring against a somewhat questionable Florida offensive line.

“I think he’s improved a lot,” said redshirt senior running back Malik Davis. “He’s being more consistent with just making plays every day and understanding where he’s going and why he’s going there.”

DT Desmond Watson

This 6-5, 432-pound monster of an early enrollee gave us no choice but to get to know him this spring.

Anytime he made an appearance on Florida’s Instagram Live coverage, even if he wasn’t the one making a play, it was hard not to watch him. This guy made big Gervon Dexter look like a middle schooler.

Now, bigger does not always mean better. Watson has a ton of work to do on his body before he is ready to play meaningful snaps, but Nick Savage should have that under control.

After seeing how he can move at 432, it is exciting to imagine his potential 50-60 pounds lighter.

“He’s obviously a big human,” said defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. “The thing that impresses me about him for his size and where he is, he’s really a good athlete. He’s really got quick feet. He’s got ability to change direction. He’s obviously going to be a guy that can hold the point.”

DT Daquan Newkirk

One of two transfers the Gators added to their defensive line this offseason, Newkirk immediately stepped in as a leader along with Antonio Shelton.

In three years at Auburn, Newkirk racked up 40 tackles, five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. This season at Florida, he should take over a starting defensive tackle role.

“They seemed like they were hungry,” redshirt junior defensive lineman Andrew Chatfield said of the transfers. “You can tell they’re older guys. You can tell they know their way around. They both played in a great conference and I think they were a big coming in for D-tackle and nose.

DT Antonio Shelton (Valentino)

At Penn State, Shelton had 51 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and six sacks at the nose tackle spot.

Shelton and Newkirk seemed to be grouped together all spring when Florida players and coaches talked about them, likely because they bring many of the same assets. Along with needing guys to stuff the middle, Florida’s defense desperately needed the experience and leadership qualities they both provide.

“They brought an unbelievable attitude,” Mullen said. “Both of those guys have brought an unbelievable attitude within the team and with their work ethic, how they show up, how they prepare … I think those guys will make major impacts for us this year.”

WR Ja’Markis Weston

A breakout candidate for 2021, Weston stood out among a receiving corps in rebuilding mode. Mullen has had high hopes for Weston since signing him as a three-star recruit.

He made just one catch last season, and it came in the blowout loss to Oklahoma in the Cotton Bowl. Now, entering his redshirt sophomore season, Weston has developed into a player ready to make an impact for this offense.

“Ja’Markis is an explosive player,” Mullen said. “Might be the fastest wide receiver but also has size and power and great quickness.”

TE Nick Elksnis

One of the more surprising standouts of spring, Elksnis could be seen making play after play in coverage of Florida’s 7-on-7 periods. The 6-6, 237-pound early enrollee was always expected to become a threat in Florida’s offense, but maybe with a little more time to develop.

The Gators weren’t expected to need him immediately with returners Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer, but when LSU-transfer Arik Gilbert backed off his commitment, an opportunity for a younger player to step in and compete opened up. Elksnis is taking full advantage.

“I like Nick Elksnis,” said tight ends coach Tim Brewster. “I think the kid’s 6-foot-6. He’s 235 pounds. He’s a big, strong, physical guy … He’s got a maturity about him.”

QB Anthony Richardson

Richardson missed out on his first spring at Florida due to COVID-19, so this spring was the first opportunity to really see him in action. He got limited playing time last season, and impressed in some garbage time during the Cotton Bowl. Now, he is competing with Emory Jones for a starting job.

Jones is projected to be the starter, and Mullen confirmed that in his final spring press conference. But he said he is preparing Richardson as if he is the starter as well.

The redshirt freshman even appeared to outplay Jones at certain points this spring. Whether he starts or not, he has all the tools, and he will see much more meaningful time on the field in 2021.

“He’s an extremely talented kid,” said quarterbacks coach Garrick McGee. “He’s learning a lot. How fast the game is moving, how you have to throw on time, you have to stay on balance. The future is definitely bright for that kid.”

RB Lorenzo Lingard

It still feels like there is a lot we don’t know about Lingard. The Miami-transfer flew under the radar with limited playing time while battling an injury last year. And this spring, he competed for reps with fellow running backs Dameon Pierce, Malik Davis and Nay’Quan Wright.

Clemson transfer Demarkcus Bowman would have been in that mix as well (and was a player we hoped would make this list), but he suffered an injury early on that kept him sidelined for most of spring.

While it is hard to judge much from Instagram Live coverage, we do know that Lingard performed well in Florida’s scrimmages. Pierce sees both Lingard and Bowman as similar threats in the coming seasons.

“Great top-end speed and great acceleration,” Pierce said. “With those guys, you want to get the ball, obviously, going north and south.”

Bailiegh Carlton
A lifelong sports fan, Bailiegh Carlton knew from a young age that she wanted to work in sports in some capacity. Before transferring to the University of Florida to study journalism, she played softball at Gulf Coast State College. She then interned for Gator Country for three years as she worked toward her degree. After graduation, Bailiegh decided to explore other opportunities in the world of sports, but all roads led her right back here. In her time away, she and her husband welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the world. When she isn't working, she can almost always be found snuggled up with sweet baby Ridley, Cody and her four fur babies.