The red bud trees are blooming, winter is headed out with a whimper and spring football is just around the corner.
In Gainesville, that means the beginning of a new era, as Billy Napier gets his first taste of spring football at The Swamp.
Coming off a 6-7 season, there’s little room to go but up for the Gators in Year 1 under Napier.
Florida also has outstanding talent on defense, led by 5-star talents Gervon Dexter, Jason Marshall Jr., and Brenton Cox. These players and the Gators defense should have a chance to shine playing in defensive coordinator Patrick Toney’s modern scheme.
As would be the case with any team coming off a losing season and a coaching change, the Gators also have plenty of questions as they ready for spring ball.
Here is a look at the 5 areas of biggest concern for the Gators in 2022, as well as a look at possible solutions.
If you scoff at this, shake your head and say, “Anthony Richardson, of course,” you are being optimistic. Optimism is healthy, but the reality, at least at present, is that Florida doesn’t have a surefire starting quarterback for 2022.
Emory Jones is still in Gainesville, having not entered the portal after the Gasparilla Bowl loss as expected. Jones will graduate this spring, and there are whispers that he may have simply stuck around Gainesville to finish his degree, but it seems odd he’d miss spring practice at another destination if he ultimately intended to transfer. Napier has praised Jones for his team-first attitude. And at least for now, there’s a chance that Florida’s 2022 starter is the same as the player who started 12 of the team’s 13 games in 2021.
As for Richardson, he’ll miss the spring recovering from a lingering leg injury. Staying healthy has become an issue for Richardson, but in fairness to him, he has battled the same recurring leg issue since his senior year of high school. He’s skipping the spring to finally get well, and he should enter fall camp at 100 percent. Richardson’s talent is astronomical. One NFL executive that spoke to SDS throughout the fall about Richardson and again this winter said that he’s “ahead of where Cam Newton was at that age, with the same gamechanging skill set.”
Side-by-side of #Gators QB Anthony Richardson’s throw on Saturday vs Cam Newton in 2010. pic.twitter.com/ZgwK2CifdK
— Ryan Urquhart (@RyanUrqPxP) September 13, 2021
That’s heady praise, but Florida fans and SEC observers alike saw flashes of it in the 2021 season. Whatever his substantial ceiling, the truth is Richardson has started 1 game in his career, and he had 3 turnovers and his team lost 34-7. Was it fair for Dan Mullen to give Richardson his 1st career start against eventual national champion Georgia? Of course it wasn’t. But betting on Richardson to win the job after missing the spring is a calculated gamble, not necessarily easy money.
Possible solution? Ohio State transfer Jack Miller III, who grew up a Gators fan, transfers in and will have the chance to become QB1, at least entering fall camp, in the spring. Miller is a former 4-star prospect and Elite 11 invitee with a good arm, underrated athleticism and intangible leadership qualities that impressed Napier and his staff. Forget the fact that Ohio State transfer quarterbacks have worked out relatively well in the SEC recently. Miller isn’t Joe Burrow, though he’ll arrive in Gainesville having taken more college snaps than Burrow had when he enrolled at LSU. What Miller offers is an outstanding skill set, a strong work ethic and experience in a high-level program. That makes him a possible solution for the problems that ailed Florida at quarterback in 2021.
In short, Florida doesn’t have many.
Two of Florida’s top 3 rushers from 2021 graduated, and the other is Jones. Florida’s top returning running back in terms of production is Nay’Quan Wright, who is an All-SEC-caliber talent. But he suffered a serious injury late in the 2021 season, and it is unclear whether he’ll be cleared for spring ball.
At wide receiver, Florida’s best threat, Jacob Copeland, transferred to Maryland. Former 5-star Justin Shorter returns, but he has never been a game changer. Xzavier Henderson has elite speed and great hands, but he caught only 26 passes last year, which was a disappointment to Florida fans expecting the high 4-star to achieve a sophomore breakthrough.
Florida also loses its best tight end, Kemore Gamble, who was the Gators’ best passing game producer in big games last season but who oddly elected to transfer to Central Florida for his super senior season.
In other words, the cupboard is full of questions but not necessarily full of game breakers.
Possible solutions: A healthy Wright would be Florida’s best offensive weapon, but the good news for fans is that at least at running back, there is reason to hope. Five-stars Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman have to see a new coaching staff, and a run-first offense, as a window of opportunity to live up to their significant hype as prospects. Florida also added Montrell Johnson, a productive running back for Napier in the Sun Belt in 2021.
The receiving corps answers are a bit less certain. Tight end Keon Zipperer was highly recruited, but he isn’t a game changer. Trent Whittemore could become one of the SEC’s best possession receivers when all is said and done, but unless he blossoms into Hunter Renfrow, he isn’t going to constantly stress SEC defenses. That leaves Shorter, Henderson and seldom-used but athletically gifted Ja’Quavion Fraziars as potential game changers. Neither has done it yet, meaning a 2022 breakout would be a pleasant surprise.
In fairness, Florida’s pass blocking over the past 2 seasons has been quite good. The Gators have finished in the top 20 in both of those seasons in fewest sacks allowed and the top 10 in both seasons in limiting quarterback pressures. In 2020, being stout in that area was essential, given Florida was the nation’s most prolific passing offense behind Heisman finalist Kyle Trask and All-American tight end Kyle Pitts. In 2021, it mattered less, because Florida’s quarterback tandem of Jones and Richardson couldn’t take advantage of having plenty of time to throw.
The problems for Florida up front have been in blocking the run game. The Gators ranked just 8th in the SEC in rushing success rate in 2021 and were 13th in that category in 2020. Last year’s fall to the bottom half of the SEC was stunning, given that the Gators led the nation in rushing and ranked 3rd nationally in rushing success rate entering the LSU game. The precipitous drop-off coincided with the collapse of the Mullen regime, and is a big reason Napier is in Gainesville.
Florida simply must be better up front if Year 1 of the Napier era is going to be successful.
Possible solutions: The good news is that the Gators return 11 of their 14 scholarship linemen from the 2021 campaign. That group includes tackle Richard Gouraige, who will be on many preseason All-SEC ballots. Florida also landed one of the most coveted offensive linemen in the transfer portal in O’Cyrus Torrence, who earned 1st-Team All-Sun Belt and FWAA Honorable Mention All-American honors at right guard at Louisiana in 2021. In addition to stabilizing the right side of Florida’s offensive line, whether he plays right guard or right tackle, Torrence adds institutional knowledge of Napier’s scheme, which should help the entire offensive line. The other good news? Rob Sale is one of the best offensive line coaches in the sport, and for the 1st time since the Urban Meyer era, the Gators will have 2 offensive line coaches in Sale and Darnell Stapleton. This group will be coached up, and there is plenty of returning talent, especially blue chippers like Josh Braun and Michael Tarquin, who suggest the future is bright. It’s just time to produce.
Unlike some in Gator Nation, SDS is high on returning safety Rashad Torrence II, who finished his sophomore campaign with 87 tackles, 3 interceptions, 1 fumble recovery and Florida’s best tackle percentage rate. Does Torrence have All-SEC speed or coverage ability? Perhaps not, but he’s a steady SEC safety and a terrific tackler.
The rest of Florida’s safety room is a question mark.
Trey Dean III returns for his super senior season. His career has been up and down, and after a strong 2020 season, he struggled in all aspects in 2021, finishing with Florida’s lowest tackle percentage rate among safeties. Tre’Vez Johnson and Mordecai McDaniel both should factor into Toney’s plans, though Johnson will likely play more dimeback than a traditional safety role.
Florida’s safeties have been the weak link of the secondary for 3 seasons. That needs to change for the Gators to truly get back in the DBU debate.
Possible solutions: There’s plenty to like about Florida’s young talent at the position. Kamar Wilcoxson is another likely dimeback, but the early enrollee should benefit from another year in a quality strength and conditioning program. Donovan McMillon is another player who has a very high ceiling and will benefit from spring ball. Finally, there’s 5-star freshman signee Kamari Wilson. The safety was ranked 3rd at his position in the 2022 class and was a top-50 overall recruit, according to the 247Sports composite. The 6-foot, 200-pound prospect from IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla., picked Florida over offers from Georgia, LSU and Texas A&M, and he should get every opportunity to play plenty as a freshman, especially in Toney’s dime packages.
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Jack Miller is intriguing. I doubt he transferred with the idea of sitting the bench.
#1 should be how to stop the 2008 jokes…
It took Jawja 41 years! Sit down Dawgs!
What the hell are you bragging about. It took the Gaturds 100 years to win their first Natty.
Actually it only took them 90 years
Remind us… how many years did it take for y’all to win just your first national title, you dumb ‘turd?
The 2008 jokes are the exclusive province of a couple of Georgia fans. Pales in comparison to 41 years without a national championship.
To translate it so the average Georgia Moron can understand. Only an idiot thinks 2008 is a joke or slight
I prefer………and yet 1906
You have nothing to brag about, because it will probably be another 41 yrs till you get that ring again… And we have 3 in 26 yrs.!!!!
Just curious form a historical perspective…How many years was it before your G8rs won their first one?
Maybe you can give some advice as it took 41 years to shake 1980 right ?
Plenty to get excited about and a strong schedule to test themselves.
Going to enjoy the journey and as always…
Great to be a Gator!
Red bud is one of my favorite trees.
Red is one of my favorite bud colors. Purple is good too.
Leeland, you should know that Red Buds return your affection as well, and in fact speak very highly of you too.
Everybody in the Country is just playing for 2nd place. Now that UGag has broken the 40 year drought, they may never lose again 🙂
No likely!!! Sorry, it is UGA they are designed to lose big games and give fals hope to there fans every year of a championship ring!!!
If you have $20 to spare I recommend betting on Florida to win it all next year. If you do and Florida does win the natty, you’ll make over a thousand dollars. The pieces are there, and if they come together, anything is possible. Heck even if you only spare like $10 you’ll still make over $500. Michigan was horrible in 2020 and look at how close they were in 2021. In fact, if Michigan was given the #1 seed, there is a possibility they win it all. Never underestimate a talented team with a chip on their shoulders and a new energetic coaching staff that they like.
Alabama SHOULD be amazing this year, but the wide receiving corps is still an area of concern, even if the running game drastically improves with Gibbs. Ohio State should be a monster but we’ve seen Ryan Day choke big games away time and time again. People still don’t comprehend how much talent UGA is losing not only to the NFL, but also to the transfer portal. What I’m trying to say is that there is room for a mystery dark horse team to come out of nowhere and win it all. Imo your best bets are either Florida, USC, or Texas, as they have the talent to pull it off and potentially game changing quarterbacks (AR15, Caleb, and Ewers). I’d sneak Michigan in here too but with the Harbaugh/Vikings situation Michigan remains a total wildcard plus I don’t think they can beat Ohio State in Horseshoe.
UGA on offense. They lost A LOT on the offensive side of the ball. They still have the best TE room in the country and playmakers here and there but it’s not like their defense where yes they’ve lost a lot as well but it’s much more replaceable because of their depth.
So, you would waste $200 for the minute chance at winning only $1,000? $1,000 is pretty much chump change.
1: Jack Miller has an excellent chance of winning the starting job. AR-15 will be out until fall. This is setting up to be a Chris Leak/ Tim Tebow type of rotation.
2 & 3: Nay’Quan Wright has been my favorite back for a couple of years (yes, even over Pierce) so I’m glad he’s finally getting his shot. As for Bowman and Co., we’ll see. The WRs … we need speed.
4: Yes. Especially in another year, I’m not worried about either of the lines except for maybe a few depth issues.
5: Torrence is just fine, gambles a bit but all safeties do. The rest are either brand new or are still waiting to emerge from being trapped under Todd Exotic.
UF has big problems. Napier returns them to Geo, Bama level will take 4-5 years.
Nah, not with the way transfers are these days with the portal, extra year, etc. If done right, 2-3 years is easily doable at a place like UF. I’m not saying Napier will, but it would be a foolish bet to write them off for half a decade. We’re not like an Auburn.
My guess is that Emory didn’t get any scholarship offers as a quarterback that he was willing to accept.
Richardson really is that talented but we’ll see if he can stay healthier after the surgery. Mullen grossly mismanaged his development.
Miller has an opportunity with Richardson missing spring.
I never considered Copeland a game changer. Henderson and Shorter can be very good if used correctly. (How many deep routes do you recall seeing Henderson run last season?)
I look forward to seeing what Lingard and Bowman can do.
Trey Dean is a pretty good football player but he’s streaky. Maybe with better coaching…
The offensive line can’t help but be better.
My biggest concern? Every interior linebacker not named Ventrell Miller.
Emory did not enter the portal; therefore, he could not receive any offers. Not that he would anyway, and if he leaves, he has to sit out.
Officially true. Unofficially I’m not so sure.
Why would he have to sit out if he leaves? As long as he transfers by May 1st I thought players would still be eligible next year?
So the QB Whisperer mismanaged Richardson’s development? How could that be?
I think UF gets 9 wins this coming season.
TideFan…….I think Florida opens up 0-2 to start the season. Then as for the overall record?They might have 5 or 6 LOSSES on that schedule at first glance. I mean Georgia and A&M will beat them. I think LSU gets them. They lose to Utah and Kentucky I think. I personally believe FSU is ahead of them. Florida plays FSU in Tallahassee!!!
PS. I’m sorry but I think Florida is in for a bad season. I’ve been wrong before but not often!!!
That’s what you hope for not what you think.
Again who does this come
.. negan .. enough said
More importantly—who calls their kid “Negan”? Is that an American name?
Negan, I am joking and enjoy your comments.
Napier likes a traditional QB if I’m not mistaken. So it’s entirely possible that Florida loses both Anthony Richardson and Emory Jones after spring. I believe they just want to see where they stand with Napier. I think E Jones and Richardson might need to move to receiver. I mean if they want to stay at Florida!!! A Richardson might make a good running back!!!!!
People think Napier is going to pull a Josh H at Tennessee. They think he’s going to get it done in season one. But unless Florida has an easy schedule. That ain’t happening!!! Allow me to go on record again as saying. I don’t believe in Napier!!! Mainly because of expectations and the hype!!!!
PS. The QB whisperer really messed Florida up good!!!!
If by traditional you mean a drop back passer, that hasn’t been his offense so far. Time will tell what he runs at UF
I think the O line will be better. To me the issues are WR, D Line (beside Gervin we have a lot of ?’s) and LB (can Miller stay healthy and will Wingo and Borders develop?). I think we have talent at the QB position between Richardson, Miller, Kitna and Del Rio although I can’t tell who will be the best of that group. Richardson has the physical tools and it will be interesting to see him get a lot of reps. His health is my biggest concern. RB is the most talented group on the team. Secondary has a lot of highly rate recruits although lacks experience outside of Torrence and Dean.
So there is sone high caliber talent sprinkled around a few different areas. A number of parts and pieces with a new staff will be a challenge. Hard to predict with a HC and some staff that haven’t been in the sec before. I wouldn’t hazard a guess right now except to say if Napier plans to have a run heavy offense I think that hurts them this year.
If will be fascinating to see who emerges as the challenger in the SEC East. UF, UT, and USCe are all trending up while UK has established itself as being for real. If they are all to continue the momentum then we’ll have to start beating the West opponents regularly.
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