CeCe Jefferson and the Gators prepare for plenty of changes as the Dan Mullen era in Gainesville gets started
For the second time in five seasons, the Florida Gators finished with a losing record, going 4-7 in what turned out to be Jim McElwain’s final season. Former Mississippi State head coach Dan Mullen, who was Florida’s offensive coordinator from 2005-08, was hired as McElwain’s replacement.
Gator fans hope Mullen can return the team to their glory years and back competing for national championships like the team did when he was last coaching in Gainesville. But before that, Mullen, his coaching staff and the players need to answer a few questions at some key positions.
5 Storylines to Watch During Florida's Spring Practice
To say Feliepe Franks struggled last season would be an understatement as he completed 54.6 percent of his passes for 1,438 yards, nine touchdowns and eight interceptions in 11 games.
Franks will have to compete with Emory Jones, Kyle Trask and Jake Allen to hold on to his starting spot. Jones is a true freshman but he’s the prototypical dual-threat quarterback Mullen likes to have in his offense, similar to a Dak Prescott or Nick Fitzgerald. Trask has a big arm and some mobility. Allen reportedly is recovering from an appendectomy, so he is expected to be limited some this spring.
2. Offensive line
Outside of quarterback, arguably the biggest question mark heading into the spring is the group that will protect him. Florida’s three offensive linemen in the 2018 recruiting class are probably better suited to play tackle than guard, but some will be asked to play there as the coaching staff figures out the personnel.
All five starters from last season return, but none of those linemen are guaranteed the same spot. Martez Ivey, who hasn't lived up to expectation as one of the top recruits in the nation in the class of 2015, will probably line up at left tackle, but that isn't a given. Mullen could decide to slide Ivey inside and go with one of his recruits to protect his quarterback’s blindside.
3. Can any wide receiver live up to potential?
Last year, the Gators’ wide receiver corps was expected to be one of the best in the SEC. But after Antonio Callaway was suspended for the season, production from the position suffered, a reason why Florida finished 11th in the conference in passing offense and threw just 10 touchdowns through the air in 2017. So how much can the group improve with a new coaching staff?
Tyrie Cleveland (above, right) was the Gators’ best receiver last year, but he only caught 22 passes for 410 yards and two touchdowns. Kadarius Toney showed glimpses of how dangerous of a player he can be with the ball in his hands. Dre Massey also has a lot of versatility, so expect better results from the position group this fall.
4. How will the defensive line adapt to a new 3-4 alignment?
Florida will be switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 under new coordinator Todd Grantham. Because of the change, the focus will be on finding out who will play on the edges up front and how the linebacker spots will sort out.
Grantham has already started that CeCe Jefferson will be the outside linebacker and likely function as an edge rusher as well. It is expected that Jachai Polite also will factor in at outside linebacker. Antonneous Clayton also will probably see more playing time at linebacker as well.
Although the Gators lost Duke Dawson, their secondary still has many talented players that will help fill the void. Cornerbacks Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson were solid as freshmen. Wilson did a good job in coverage, registering 10 pass breakups along with 34 tackles. Henderson tied for the team lead with four interceptions, two of which he returned for touchdowns.
Chauncey Gardner Jr. started at safety last year and had his good and bad moments. While he did have 58 tackles, six tackles for a loss and seven pass breakups, he struggled with wrapping up ball carriers the latter part of the season.
— 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, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.