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Florida Football: Gators' 2022 Spring Preview

Billy Napier, Florida Gators Football

The Billy Napier era in Gainesville officially gets underway with Florida starting spring practices under their new head coach

The Billy Napier era officially starts this week in Gainesville as the Florida Gators begin spring practices.

Related: 3 Reasons for Optimism About the Gators in 2022

Napier will look to improve a Gators team that finished a disappointing 6-7 in 2021. Florida will practice 15 times leading up to the Orange and Blue Game, which will be held on April 16 at 1 p.m. ET following a two-year hiatus.

There are plenty of questions the Gators will need to address, including at the quarterback position. Here are the five areas to watch this spring for Florida.

5 Storylines to Watch During Florida's Spring Practices

1. Quarterback situation

Emory Jones started all but one of the 13 games for the Gators last season, throwing for 2,724 yards, 19 touchdowns and 13 interceptions in the process. He announced his intention to transfer, but he'll remain on the team's roster until he finds a new home or pulls his name from the portal.

Part of Jones' uncertainty stems from the belief that Anthony Richardson will take over the starting job. A dynamic dual-threat signal-caller, Richardson is coming off of knee surgery and will likely be limited during the spring sessions.

Besides Richardson and Jones (for now), Florida also has Jalen Kitna, Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, and Ohio State transfer Jack Miller III as quarterback options.

Related: Early 2022 QB Preview and Rankings

2. Who will get most of the reps at running back?

Dameon Pierce, who rushed for 574 yards and 13 touchdowns last season, is off to the NFL. That leaves the new coaching staff in search of a new lead running back.

Nay'Quan Wright is the most experienced running back on the roster, but he won't participate in the spring after a knee injury against Florida State in the regular-season finale. That likely leaves Montrell Johnson, Lorenzo Lingard, and Demarkcus Bowman as the main competitors for carries this spring.

Johnson followed Napier, his coach at Louisiana, to Gainesville. As a freshman for the Ragin' Cajuns, Johnson ran for 838 yards and 12 touchdowns on 162 carries in 2021. He's definitely someone to keep an eye on this spring.

3. Which receiver can replace Jacob Copeland?

Copeland transferred to Maryland after leading the Gators with 41 catches for 662 yards and four touchdowns last season. That makes former Penn State transfer Justin Shorter (41 rec., 550 yds., 3 TDs) the leading returning receiver.

After Shorter, there are a lot of unknowns. Tight end Kemore Gamble, who ended the 2021 campaign with 31 grabs for 414 yards and three scores, also has left the program, transferring to UCF.

Xzavier Henderson, Marcus Burke, and Trent Whittemore should see a lot of reps this spring. 

4. Who becomes a leader at linebacker?

Florida lost two of its leading tacklers from last year in Mohamoud Diabate and Ty'Ron Hopper, as they transferred to Utah and Missouri, respectively.

The Gators hope Ventrell Miller, who suffered a season-ending biceps tendon injury late last season, will be the leader defensively. During his four seasons at Florida, Miller has 164 tackles, 15 tackles for a loss, and 7.5 sacks.

Derek Wingo, Amari Burney, and Diwun Black are players who can earn a more significant role on defense this spring. 

5. What will change under Napier?

Don't expect Napier and the coaching staff to unveil a lot in terms of schematics. Most college coaches love to keep their plans close to the vest, especially one that has been an assistant under both Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney.

However, the culture at Florida certainly needed a change after Dan Mullen lost the fan base and even the media. Mullen was often criticized for his lack of a running game and recruiting, along with his rather interesting press conferences.

Obviously, with any coaching change, there will be a honeymoon period. But at Florida, Napier shouldn't expect a long one, especially with the rabid fan base.

Related: 5 Priorities for New Coach Billy Napier in 2022

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— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.