Florida football: 3 biggest takeaways after watching Feleipe Franks, skill players dominate spring game
Florida closed the book on 2019 spring football Saturday with the annual Orange and Blue game in a sun-splashed Swamp. A good crowd was treated to a high-scoring and pass-happy affair, with the Orange crushing the Blue 60-35.
Of course, who wins a spring game doesn’t matter. Spring games are mostly just for players and fans.
For players, spring games are a chance to make one last impression on the coaching staff before the summer grind begins. For fans, spring games are bittersweet. They are a precious chance to make a spring pilgrimage to autumn’s cathedrals to tailgate with family and friends. They also give fans a glimpse of program growth and player development, a chance to take inventory of what progress has been made in the spring and what’s left to be done come the fall. On the other hand, a spring game on a beautiful Saturday down south is a reminder that college football season always feels far too short.
So what could we glean from the game this Saturday, and from Dan Mullen’s second spring in Gainesville generally?
Here’s three things I noticed on a glorious Saturday in The Swamp.
1. Florida’s WRs and tight ends are special
Florida has assembled some of the best blue-chip talent in the country at wide receiver and the group has started to flourish under the mindful eye of one of the nation’s top position coaches in Billy Gonzales.
Until Saturday, that WR corps might have been one of the SEC’s best secrets. It won’t be one for long.
From the game’s opening snap, Florida’s receivers were all over the field.
Kadarius Toney, the first Florida player since Percy Harvin to average a first down a touch (minimum 40 touches) in a season, starred on Florida’s first possession.
First, he dropped a 40-yard dime of a pass to Feleipe Franks on a double reverse pass to open the game. Toney then capped the drive on the receiving end of a beautiful Franks throw to open the scoring.
After Toney’s moment to shine, Trevon Grimes took his turn. The 6-5, 210-pound receiver showed his elite speed and physicality by brushing off bump coverage to catch one first-half touchdown, and then scorching Florida safety Shawn Davis for another:
Shawn Davis just got roasted by Trevon Grimes.
🔶21 🔷7 pic.twitter.com/GrwwqEC3Fn
— InAllKindsOfWeather.com (@AllKindsWeather) April 13, 2019
Grimes finished the first half alone with a staggering 195 yards on 4 catches.
Freddie Swain, sometimes a forgotten man in what is becoming an elite national unit, also was constantly open. He added 103 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns in the first half alone to pace the Blue team.
The receivers weren’t done with those three guys, either. Tyrie Cleveland caught a touchdown in each half and Florida’s best receiver, Van Jefferson, added a first-half touchdown.
As for Florida’s tight ends, a pair of highly-recruited sophomores, Kyle Pitts and Kemore Gamble, flashed their wares with big plays down the field and in the red zone. Both are walking mismatches thanks to their unique blends of size and speed.
Yes, it’s just a spring game and Florida’s defensive schemes were as vanilla as can be, with very little blitzing or disguised coverages. But this was still an outpouring of passing offense against a secondary group that as usual, figures to be among the nation’s best. Gators fans should be excited about that.
2. Feleipe Franks will have a sensational season
The redshirt junior looked confident and poised Saturday, completing 13-of-18 passes for 327 yards and 4 touchdowns. He did throw a staged interception to retired NFL All-Pro and former Gator All-American Lito Sheppard, but most fans will forgive him, having seen Lito do his thing a time or two on Saturdays and Sundays over the years.
Franks was impressive all spring, and fans got to see his offseason improvements first-hand Saturday. Franks showed the touch on intermediate routes that eluded him much of last season and, vitally, showed pinpoint accuracy on downfield routes, an area where, despite his huge arm, Franks has struggled throughout his career.
It was the kind of performance that hinted Franks might be ready to follow in the footsteps of a host of Mullen quarterbacks who have made significant leaps forward in their second season under Mullen’s tutelage.
Consider the SEC warned.
3. Florida’s offensive line is a major concern
Florida’s stable of running backs, including All-American candidate Lamical Perine, were hardly used Saturday, as it was clear the staff had designed a game plan to ease the pressure on their young front.
Yes, some of the available linemen were limited by injuries, including projected starters Jean Delance and Brett Heggie.
But the line struggled to get much of a push in the run game against four down linemen most the day, and the backup unit was too easily stressed in even simple pass protections, which left backup quarterback Emory Jones running for his life early and often.
I’d imagine it’s difficult to worry too much about a unit when 95 points are scored in a spring game. But the warts were evident upon closer look, especially considering the Gators faced minimal blitzes and hardly any disguised or exotic packages from Todd Grantham’s defense.
At the skill positions, Florida has the pieces to win a SEC Championship for the first time since the program nearly played for the national championship in 2012. Whether the Gators fulfill their promise will depend on how the offensive line gels and matures, beginning with Nick Savage’s grueling offseason strength and conditioning program.