GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s annual spring game will be little more than a typical practice.
Because the Gators are down to five healthy scholarship offensive linemen, coach Will Muschamp and his staff decided to alter the format of Saturday’s game.
There will be some 11-on-11 drills, including the first-team offense against the first-team defense, but those full-contact scrimmages will be limited in duration because of depth issues.
“I’m comfortable with this,” Muschamp said this week. “I really am. This is no different than if we would have a scrimmage. And to me, it’s about getting good-on-good work. It’s about getting your best players going against your best players.
“I see some of these spring games, these guys put their first group against the rest of them. You don’t get any better doing that stuff. You get better when you’re going good on good.”
Florida, coming off an 11-2 season that ended with a 33-23 loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl, opened spring without starting offensive tackle Chaz Green, backup guard Ian Silberman and highly touted guard Jessamen Dunker. Green is recovering from ankle surgery. Silberman is coming off shoulder surgery. And Dunker, a redshirt freshman expected to compete for a starting job, is suspended indefinitely following his arrest for allegedly stealing a scooter.
Making matters worse, starting guard Jon Halapio has been limited because of a shoulder injury.
The line got even thinner last week when guards Max Garcia and Trip Thurman went down with injuries. Garcia tweaked his back, and Thurman tore a labrum in his shoulder and had surgery.
So for the final few spring practices, the Gators essentially had five healthy bodies along the O-line: offensive tackles D.J. Humphries and Tyler Moore, center Jon Harrison, versatile backup Kyle Koehne and Quinteze Williams, a former defensive lineman who moved to the other side of the ball this spring.
“It’s very disappointing, but everybody’ll be back in the summer,” said Humphries, acknowledging that practice has been rough with so little depth. “Everybody’ll be back and ready, healthy for the season, so it’ll be cool.”
The line is one of the main questions surrounding the Gators this season.
Although Florida lost two starters from last year’s unit, the line is expected to be significantly improved with the addition of two transfers: Garcia (Maryland) and Moore (Nebraska).
Improved line play is key for Florida trying to upgrade an offense that ranked 103rd in the nation last season.
The Gators also need better play from junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, need to replace 1,000-yard rusher Mike Gillislee, need to find play-making receivers and tight ends, and need to replace six starters on defense.
Normally, the spring game would gauge how much progress, if any, Florida has made in those areas.
Just not this year.
“This is a normal, scrimmage-type situation for us as far as our football team is concerned,” Muschamp said. “It’s good on good, and that’s all I’m concerned with.”
Maybe so, but Florida’s spring game has been so watered down that officials decided to make it free for the first time in decades. The school also is refunding any pre-purchased tickets.
So what’s to be gained from the glorified practice?
“I think it’s gonna be a great day to go out and compete in front of people, have a little crowd noise, replicate what we’re gonna have to deal with in the upcoming season,” tight end Colin Thompson said. “People are battling for positions. It’ll be competition.”
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