The “X questions” format is one of the more popular ones in sports journalism, because it’s so darned easy: All a writer has to do is identify a number of questions that fans are asking of a player or a team — a task that is now easier than ever before, because of social media on which fans opine constantly — then explain why fans are asking them. It’s calorie-free work, generally, that simply resets the frame of understanding on a given subject without doing the work of getting to the understanding.
So what I’m doing today, using Edgar Thompson’s Orlando Sentinel piece on five questions facing Florida at the outset of fall practice, is trying to do that latter thing, by just answering the questions presented on this Saturday, technically the last day of fall camp.
I’m not trying to single out Thompson or say this “five questions” practice is bad, and, like any occasional Umberto Eco reader, I respect the value of lists.
But this exercise also necessarily means not talking about Teez Tabor and C’yontai Lewis getting into a fight that will cost them both the first game of this season — because, well, things changing can mean that five questions were insufficient.
1. Is Luke Del Rio the starting quarterback?
Del Rio was, at minimum, the front-runner for the job when practice began, and Steve Spurrier attending three practices and saying Del Rio would be the starter was only the latest indication of such.
Del Rio got starter’s reps in Florida’s spring game, and was the most impressive of Florida’s quarterbacks in the spring game. Del Rio is the only quarterback on Florida’s roster who was around in 2015, soaking up the teachings of Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier. Del Rio is healthy, and better-suited to be Florida’s quarterback for the next year or two than Austin Appleby, who only has one year of eligibility remaining, and the freshman duo of Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, given that tandem’s tantalizing and maddening greenness.
2. What is the status of receivers Antonio Callaway and Tyrie Cleveland?
At the beginning of fall practice, Callaway had returned to both classes and practice with the Gators, and was expected to fully return to the team at some point this fall, pending an expected favorable resolution to the process of evaluating his alleged student conduct code violation. He “didn’t look like he really missed a beat,” McElwain told reporters on that first week of fall practice.
Then news broke of the woman in Callaway’s pending conduct code violation hearing boycotting it, and folks on all sides of the story spoke their pieces, and Callaway was found not responsible a week after his hearing.
Now, Callaway seems for all intents and purposes to be fully returned to the program, with McElwain only alluding to consequences for his marijuana use — revealed through reporting on the hearing — and demurring on what he can and cannot say about Callaway’s case. It would be a surprise if he doesn’t play early and often for Florida this fall, but that doesn’t preclude a possible suspension.
Cleveland, meanwhile, has been “handled with” after his arrest on felony charges for firing a BB gun into the Springs dorm and cracking three windows, per Jim McElwain: He has seen his number changed from No. 2 to No. 89, but is practicing with the team. Cleveland is still expected to be a contributor to Florida’s wide receiver corps, with the talent to be a game-changer.
Rick Wells, arrested along with Cleveland, was also “handled with,” and is also practicing with the team.
Both players missed practices with hamstring injuries last week, per McElwain, but Cleveland returned this week. Both players are widely expected to ultimately end up with something less than felony convictions, and to be eligible to play at some point this fall.
3. Is there reliable depth behind linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone?
No. Or not yet? Or something? And it might not matter that much, anyway?
Davis and Anzalone are obviously Florida’s two best linebackers, with Davis being touted as a possible first-round pick and Anzalone’s brief cameo in the 2015 season showing he has the skills to make plays all over the field. Behind them, though, Florida has just one veteran, Daniel McMillian, who hasn’t yet broken through, thanks to Matt Rolin’s decision to end his football career. There’s also a host young bucks who haven’t yet stepped up, because they haven’t seen the field for non-spring games: Rayshad Jackson, Kylan Johnson, David Reese). If either of Davis or Anzalone misses time in the fall, Florida will be turning to a player who likely has not yet proved to be reliable.
But: Florida runs a lot of 4-2-5 nickel coverage, much like the rest of the country, which leaves only two linebackers — who will, far more often than not, be Davis and Anzalone — on the field. And Davis has proven hardy enough to play a lot of snaps, while Anzalone’s speed and coverage abilities mean he’s a must-play on passing downs.
If Florida can find another linebacker or two to spell Davis and Anzalone and save some of the wear and tear both will inevitably accrue, that will help a lot. Still, those are the Gators’ horses at linebacker, and they will get most of the work.
4. Who mans the right side of the offensive line?
Tyler Jordan and Fred Johnson, it seems.
Florida’s starting line as it stands right now is likely to feature, from left to right on your radio dial, David Sharpe, Martez Ivey, Cameron Dillard, Jordan, and Johnson. Ivey has the talent to play outside, but McElwain has said that he’ll start inside; Jordan might eventually be a better center than guard, but Dillard is significantly more experienced at the position for now, and Jordan supplanting Antonio Riles, Jr. was a likelihood even before Riles suffered a season-ending injury.
That said, true freshman Jawaan Taylor has gotten recent buzz as a potential contributor, and he has the size to work either at guard or tackle. And there are enough names in the mix at right guard — Jordan, Taylor, Nick Buchanan, and Brandon Sandifer — for the depth chart at that position to be written in pencil at the moment.
Still, while we may not know for certain who will start on the right side until Florida releases a depth chart on the week of the UMass game, that five-man starting lineup is by far the most likely outcome.
5. Who will evolve into the Gators’ top pass rushers?
CeCe Jefferson, one or both of Jabari Zuniga and Antonneous Clayton, and perhaps both Jarrad Davis and Teez Tabor? Or someone else, like Caleb Brantley?
It’s hard to see Florida having as fearsome a pass rush as it did in 2015, when Jonathan Bullard was a menace at 3-technique defensive end and Alex McCalister was occasionally terrifying off the edge. Jefferson is maybe the most talented player on Florida’s line, and Brantley can be fantastic in fits and starts, but this year’s Gators may be better suited to stopping the run than pressuring the passer.
That’s not necessarily a terrible thing, given that the copious talent in Florida’s secondary should be well-equipped to give the line time to rack up coverage sacks. But it is probably not a great portent for the Gators pass rush that McElwain has been relatively quiet about it in speaking to reporters.