With the Florida Gators’ spring game set to kick off in just over 24 hours from now, it’s time for one final round of news and notes from Florida’s spring practices.
As is the case with previous rounds of news and notes, nothing written is published without at least two people confirming the same themes. So, with that said: what has stood out?
Florida Gators QB battle still up for grabs
The analysis on Florida transfer QB Graham Mertz is essentially the same today as it was a month ago. He does some good things, he does some not-so-good things, and because of the lack of consistency, it’s been very difficult to pin anything down as it relates to the outlook of the position.
Jack Miller and Max Brown are said to be keeping themselves within striking distance. Brown has more mobility, but Miller has more experience and is generally a better decision maker, although multiple people on the ground in Gainesville tell me that Brown can throw a gorgeous deep ball. Miller’s pocket awareness is said to have improved a bit since spring practice began, although there’s really no way to know for sure with QB’s being off-limits.
If forced to make a prediction today regarding who starts, I’d lean toward Mertz because of his intelligence, but that’s a prediction I make with extremely low confidence. Just from the information I’ve received, I would say there’s about a 40% chance Mertz is the starter, 30% chance Miller is the starter, and 30% chance Brown is the starter. Hopefully the spring game will clear up this murky picture some, but this is a battle that is likely going to continue into summer ball.
Florida Gators defensive line rounding into form
Florida’s defensive line wasn’t great last year, although there were flashes of life in those trenches from time to time. With Princely Umanmielen, Tyreak Sapp and Chris McClellan back, plus an influx of new faces, the Gators’ defensive line could be the best it’s been since 2019.
Caleb Banks is quickly becoming an issue. The Louisville transfer is intelligent, and can guess the snap count with pretty amazing regularity. Naturally, this will be more difficult to do with opponents that he isn’t going up against in practice every day for months on end, but with some film study and maybe another five pounds of muscle, he’s going to be terrifying.
Fellow transfer CamRon Jackson is also stepping up. He’s working to become equally strong against the pass and the run, and is usually generating a sack or a TFL at least once a scrimmage. Additionally, TJ Searcy is a name I’ve been told to keep an eye out for; he’s been wreaking havoc with his athleticism both on and off the line of scrimmage.
Aidan Mizell and Andy Jean are the real deal
Florida’s biggest question mark this spring, undoubtedly, is the quarterback position. But if the Gators can get even average slightly-above-average QB play, watch out. “This is easily Florida’s best wide receiver room since 2020, and it’s not even close,” one source told me.
First, the pure speed that Jean and Mizell possess make them extremely difficult for corners to stay with in bump-n-run coverage. They can take the top off a defense like it’s nothing, and when the ball is thrown with even decent accuracy, they have the ball skills to go up and get it in traffic. Their footwork in terms of crisp route-running is becoming more and more fine-tuned, and their abilities to make special plays have impressed both coaches and teammates alike.
It’s also critical at this point to remember that the Florida Gators receiver room isn’t even at full strength yet. The ultra-talented Eugene Wilson III will be enrolling later this summer, and with him and returning veteran Ricky Pearsall also at the disposal of Florida’s QB, things should be made a lot easier for whoever wins the job than Emory Jones had in 2021 or even than Anthony Richardson had last year.
Fresh faces continuing to shine in the secondary
We’ve previously talked about true freshman cornerback Ja’Keem Jackson stepping up and making a ton of plays earlier in spring ball. He’s done nothing to merit ceasing these reports, but some other new faces are stepping up in the secondary that I thought were worth noting.
Fellow true freshman cornerback Jordan Castell is coming along. His technique has improved noticeably since the start of spring camp, and is becoming more and more comfortable pressing and jamming against the speedier receivers- early on, sources tell me, he had a bit of a fear of getting beat off the snap, an unenviable position from which few can recover because of the aforementioned speed of Mizell and Jean. Now, though, he’s trusting his footwork and hip-flipping abilities more and is becoming more trustworthy in coverage.
Another name I’ve heard more as spring ball winds down is Bryce Thornton. He was something of an afterthought in this past recruiting class- a relatively under recruited three star prospect until the very end of the recruiting cycle- and coaches love the energy he brings, which may possibly be as a result of that underrated status he carried as a recruit. Sources tell me he dropped an easy interception in one scrimmage, but two plays later, covered a lot of ground to snag a much more difficult interception, after which his teammates seemed particularly delighted for him.