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10 takeways from UF's spring practice & Orange & Blue Debut

GAINESVILLE -- With spring camp in the books, here are 10 thoughts on Florida’s 15 practices and Friday’s Orange & Blue Debut.

1. Luke Del Rio is positioned to become Florida's ninth starting quarterback since Tim Tebow. Del Rio delivered a flawless performance in the spring game, exiting camp as the heavy favorite to out-right win UF’s latest quarterback derby. The Oregon State transfer competed 10 of 11 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns -- with the noted caveat that Del Rio was carving up second- and- third-teamers. 

Still, it was an impressive performance by the redshirt sophomore, and considering Del Rio’s experience in the system and general accuracy, it would be quite a surprise if anyone else takes the first snaps again UMass on Sept. 3. 

2. Duke Dawson could be Florida’s next star in the secondary. The junior struggled for two years seeing limited snaps, but with several standouts off now to the NFL (Vernon Hargreaves, Keanu Neal, Brian Poole), Dawson stepped up this spring and embraced a newfound opportunity. Dawson grabbed a stranglehold on the nickel-back spot with an outstanding camp, as the former safety looks much more comfortable playing inside.

Dawson flashed as an upgrade in coverage compared to Poole, picking off two passes Friday night, including a 26-yard pick-six.  

3. Florida’s pass rush shouldn’t miss a beat in the fall. The Gators’ edge rushers (veterans Bryan Cox Jr. and Jordan Sherit, along with youngsters Keivonnis Davis and Jabari Zuniga) gave UF’s offensive tackles fits Friday night, combining for 4 sacks and a forced fumble. Had it been a real game, the group likely would’ve doubled their total. 

It's been that way most of the spring, too, as Davis and Zuniga both had really solid camps, while Cox, now a redshirt senior, appears primed for a breakout season…

4. … And yet, Florida’s offensive line still needs lots of work. The Gators allowed the most sacks in the nation last season (45), and their tackles didn’t do a whole lot this spring to inspire much confidence. The interior OL appears improved, but sophomore tackle Fred Johnson had a tough spring, while starting left tackle David Sharpe was inconsistent, too. The Gators will get former five-star recruit Martez Ivey (shoulder surgery) back in the fall, and they need him to be ready to play because there aren’t many options behind Sharpe or Johnson. 

5. Kylan Johnson vaults into the mix at linebacker. Florida doesn’t have a ton of depth at linebacker, but Johnson concluded a strong spring with a standout performance Friday night. The former safety earned the start opposite of star linebacker Jarrad Davis, recording a team-high eight stops. The 6-1, 230-pound redshirt freshman also added an interception and a hurry, showcasing his versatility in the box. While Alex Anzalone is likely to start in the fall, Johnson emerged as another viable option -- especially against spread offenses.  

6. Florida’s tight ends and tailbacks will be focal points in the passing game. Throughout the spring, McElwain praised both groups’ ability to make plays and the two units showed why on Friday night. 

Of UF’s 27 completions in the spring game, 14 went to tight ends or tailbacks. C’yontai Lewis led all players with five catches for 79 yards, while JUCO-tailback Mark Thompson had three receptions for 25 yards. Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby (who caught a touchdown) are a formidable duo inside, as each tight end has the ability to challenge defenses vertically and make plays after the catch. 

7. Feleipe Franks needs to redshirt. The four-star quarterback had a disastrous debut, throwing three interceptions on his first four pass attempts. The early enrollee is swimming mentally, struggling with reads and pass-progressions. The arm talent is obvious (see: late touchdown to Lewis) but a full year to learn the system and put on some weight would do wonders for Franks’ development and future confidence. 

8. The Gators have a kicker. Eddy Pineiro wasn’t perfect Friday night, missing a pair of 50-yard field goals, but the Miami native displayed his rocket leg on nearly every kick. The JUCO-transfer bombed all his kickoffs, nailed all five PAT’s and drilled two field goals from 52+ yards. 

Florida missed five extra points last season and didn’t hit a field goal longer than 43 yards, so Pineiro already represents an instant upgrade. 

9. Many of UF’s early enrollees will see significant snaps in the fall. Along with Pineiro and Thompson, wideouts Dre Massey (2 catches for 29 yards and a score) and Joshua Hammond (3 catches for 24 yards) made plays Friday, concluding strong showings all spring by both receivers. Defensively, linebacker David Reese flashed some (3 tackles, 1 sack) and definitely should have a role on special teams. Freshman safety Chauncey Gardner remains in the mix for a starting job, too. 

10. The Gators avoided the injury bug in camp. Aside from a few minor dings, McElwain’s team didn’t sustain any devastating injuries over the last month. Several notables didn’t play much (or at all) Friday night (defensive tackle CeCe Jefferson, linebacker Daniel McMillian, wideout Ahmad Fulwood) but avoiding any serious setbacks was key for a team that still has some depth issues. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton  

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