The annual Orange and Blue Debut kicks off at 1 p.m. this Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Just like last year, Dan Mullen has stressed that this event will be fun. So what does that mean?
It means that we won’t see an entirely authentic game day atmosphere, but we could see a few special guest appearances and a glimpse of what the coaching staff has seen this spring. A few things that we, here at ChompTalk, expect to see on display are; the continued progression of Feleipe Franks, a fast, physical, and aggressive defense, and an offensive line that is still very much a work in progress.
Ever since the come from behind win over South Carolina last season, Franks has been a different player. He finished the season with two of the best performances of his career and, by all accounts, has picked up right where he left off. Franks has been much more comfortable in his role as the team leader this spring and has continued to play with a chip on his shoulder, pushing himself and those around him to get better with every rep.
This year’s defense actually looks better than last year’s. They are faster off of the edge and get a significant push in the middle of the line. Some of this could be an indictment on the inexperience and youth of the offensive line, but the front seven shouldn’t be slept on.
With the return of Marco Wilson, CJ Henderson, and the emergence of early enrollee, Chris Steele, Florida’s secondary could be one of the top two or three in the nation. They have honed their skills against one of the deepest receiver corps in the country, all spring.
Speaking of the receivers, Florida enters the Spring game with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to the skill positions. Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes are looking even better than they did last season. Both have benefited from a year in the system, as well as from the talent of guys like Freddie Swain and Kadarius Toney, causing defenders to think twice about who they need to cover.
The running backs will pick up where they left off and may also be an improved unit. With Jordan Scarlett departing for the draft, Lamical Perine is the featured back and has been in the best form of his career so far this spring. He is backed up by the electric Malik Davis, who should have a breakout year if he can stay healthy, and Dameon Pierce. Pierce wowed fans with his vision and power last season and has worked on the secondary parts of his game this off-season.
However, the offense is only as good as its offensive line. This year’s line features a lot of talent and very little experience. If there is a weak link on the Gators roster, this is it. After losing four starters to graduation and the NFL draft, Florida returns only one starter in Nick Buchanan.
As bad as it sounds, things aren’t as bleak as one might think. First, because this was expected and coach John Hevesy has embraced the challenge of getting this young crew ready for the SEC gauntlet. Second, while the unit isn’t currently ready, they have shown remarkable improvement from where they were when spring practices began. With continued development and learning, over the summer and twenty-five fall practices leading up to the season opener, this unit could surprise many by being a strength.
Coach Hevesy has already been surprised by the group’s progression. They understand what must be done to accomplish the team’s goals.
Beyond the fun atmosphere for the fans, the coaches will be evaluating the team as a whole and as individuals. Defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham explained,
“Give guys that are maybe early enrollees, guys who haven’t played a lot, an opportunity to play in a front of a crowd – in front of an environment – to let them go and showcase their abilities, games like this are kind of like preseason games, from the standpoint of you’ve really got to look at the individual play of guys and how they play. Because the way you mix and match things it may not be the guys you’re necessarily going to go into the game with all the time, but here are the pieces. And then once we come together, we’re going to put the pieces together. So the biggest thing to me is guys are giving effort, guys are showing improvement.”
While the fans are having fun and the staff is evaluating, the coaches hope that the enormous list of visiting recruits are doing both. Florida will have over seventy recruits on hand this Saturday and will be looking to make a strong impression. For many, this will be a first look at the Gators Football program and its fans. Coach Dan Mullen is hoping for a large fan turnout to help sell the Gators brand.
Who ya got??
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) April 12, 2019