Official 2016 Florida Gators Spring Football Overview: Position Battles, Impact Newcomers And More

Spring football is here for the Florida Gators. The Gators won the SEC East last season and finished with a 10-4 record in head coach Jim McElwain's first season at the helm. However, the Gators lost their final three games and weren't the same when QB Will Grier was suspended for the season. 

The Gators are searching for a new starting QB this year and are looking to make it back to the SEC Championship game. That won't be an easy task in the SEC. With spring ball here for the Gators, we've put together everything you need to know for Florida football spring practice. That includes the top position battles, newcomers, players who need to step up and more. 

3 Biggest Position Battles: 

It's a four-man race, with Purdue transfer Austin Appleby, Luke Del Rio, Kyle Trask and Feleipe Franks battling for the starting job. Appleby has the most experience of the group, but threw 19 TDs and 19 picks for a bad Purdue team. Del Rio walked on at Alabama before transferring to Oregon State and then Florida. He has the most knowledge of the offense, even if his physical skills don't match some of the others. Franks was a four-star recruit that Gators flipped from Florida. He enrolled early, but has struggled so far. Trask was just a three-star QB, as he was a backup for most of his time in high school. However, he's looked sharp in practices. He's a dark horse for the job. 

Running Back:
The Gators lost running back Kelvin Taylor to the NFL, leaving a hole at the position. It's a three-way race to replace Taylor, although all three could end up getting carries. There are two sophomores in Jordan Scarlet and Jordan Cronkite, with the latter taking an early lead for the starting role. There's also JUCO transfer Mark Thompson. He's built like Derrick Henry, but needs time to develop. 

Wide Receiver: 
DeMarcus Robinson is gone, Antonio Callaway isn't with the team in the spring and Brandon Powell is hurt. Those are the Gators' three most talented WRs, and it leaves Ahmad Fulwood, Chris Thompson and Alvin Bailey as the veterans. All three have done little, although Fulwood has shown improvement this spring despite injuries. Former QB Treon Harris shifted to WR, but he's suspended and it's unclear how much of an impact he'll have The Gators will likely use newcomers to boost the receiving corps. JUCO transfer Dre Massey and freshmen Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain all enrolled early, with Massey and Hammond looking sharp early. Swain has the raw talent, but needs time to learn the playbook and acclimate. The eventual arrival of Tyrie Cleveland, the No. 2 WR in the class of 2016 could be a big boost. 

3 Players Who Must Step Up: 

Any QB

It doesn't really matter who it is, but one of those four QBs need to step up this year. Ideally, it's Franks because he has the highest ceiling, but he might not be ready. Florida wasn't the same team last season after Will Grier was suspended, and the Gators need better play from the spot this season. Whoever starts, they'll need to limit turnovers and make a few plays for Florida to get back to the SEC Championship game. 

WR Ahmad Fulwood

Don't just take our word for it, take head coach Jim McElwain's.

"We need Ahmad to step up," McElwain said earlier this spring.  

Fulwood is a senior, and it's now or never. He needs to take a leadership role and make more plays. He's caught just 35 passes for 387 yards and two scores in his career. He had just six grabs last year, and needs to do much more this season. 

LB Alex Anzalone

Anzalone was a highly-sought after recruit, with some services giving him a five-star rating in the class of 2013. However, he's recorded just 22 tackles in three years. That's because Anzalone has been plagued by shoulder injuries. It's prevented Anzalone from seeing the field often, let alone reach his potential. Anzalone has stayed healthy this spring, although he's been limited mostly to non-contact drills. With Antonio Morrison now gone, it's time for Anzalone to make his impact. 

3 Newcomers To Watch:

QB Austin Appleby

Take your pick between Appleby, Franks and Trask. One of those new QBs could be impact newcomers for the Gators. Appleby gets the nod because of his experience, and the former Purdue transfer could win the starting job. The QB battle will likely continue into the fall, so Appleby will remain a player to watch. 

DB Chauncey Gardner

The Gators lost three starting defensive backs, and that could give Gardner a chance to earn a key role early. While the Gators still have talent at DB, the four-star DB and top 50 recruit could see the field quickly. Gardner enrolled early and is competing for playing time at safety. 

Kicker Eddy Pineiro

Yep, we're talking about a kicker here. Austin Hardin struggled last season, hitting just 5 of 14 field goals. A three-star recruit, Pineiro was the nation's No. 1 kicker in this year's recruiting class. Pineiro comes from ASA College Miami and was committed to Alabama before flipping to Florida. He's looked sharp early and the starting job is his to lose. 

Notable Quotes: 

"Chauncey was put to safety right away and actually caused a turnover down at the goal line, which was great to see. He's a guy that sometimes isn't getting to the deep middle third like you'd like and some rotational things, but part of that is being young. I've been really proud of the way that he's come up and tried to play physical, especially in our team-run stuff. I'm sure glad he's here and he's a guy that's going to help this football team." - McElwain said Monday. 

"I think both those older guys had their moments. I think both of the young guys really threw the ball well. I was impressed with how they handled a lot of situations. But, you know, no clear-cut one way or the other." - McElwain said Monday. 

"That's going to be a tough one. He did everything he could, obviously losing the weight and taking the pressure off that. We'll see where that is as the spring rolls on." - McElwain said Monday on DL Thomas Holley and his battle with a career-threatening hip injury. 

"I thought Eddy kicked really good in the scrimmage. He tried to overkick one on a kickoff and yanked one out of bounds really fast and really hard, but that’s not how it’s supposed to go. His hang time, when he swings his leg, I think we’ve got a chance to have a pretty good cover team because of him. He hit a couple of field goals, again with not a lot of pressure. It was good to see those kind of go through the uprights." - McElwain said Monday on Pinerio. 

"Goolsby really showed up in the last scrimmage. He made some really big plays in the pass game and has gotten a little bit better as things have gone from a blocking standpoint, especially some point of attack stuff. He’s really had a good spring and has developed into a guy that the quarterbacks feel comfortable with too because he’s there every day." - McElwain said Monday on TE DeAndre Goolsby. 

What They're Saying About The Gators:  
Austin Appleby Wants To Start At Florida (Gridiron Now)
UF RBs Taking By-Committee Approach (Gainesville Sun)
Florida's Diverse Running Backs Competing For Starting Job (Alligator Army)
Freshman LB Reese Has Gators' Attention (Gainesville Sun)
What To Expect From The Florida Offensive Line In 2016 (Gator Bytes) 

Spring Game Information: 
Date: Friday, April 8th
Time: 7 p.m. ET
TV/Stream: SEC Network

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