Excitement will meet opportunity at the Florida Gators’ Orange and Blue game Saturday.
The scrimmage at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will give fans their first glimpse of the team’s nine new faces. It’ll allow those who didn’t play much last season to see plenty of time on the field. And it’ll give the Gators the chance to build depth by playing guys at multiple positions.
UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said he’ll use the spring game to mix things up and look at the different pieces of his defense.
“Games like this are kind of like preseason games from the standpoint of you’ve really got to look at the individual play of guys and how they play,” he said. “The biggest thing to me is guys are giving effort, guys are showing improvement. And really play to your ability and showcase your talents to allow us to evaluate you and to find out what kind of role you can have on our team.”
Early enrollee defensive back Chris Steele and linebackers Mohamoud Diabate and Jesiah Pierre have gotten significant reps during the spring. Freshman Jaydon Hill has been sidelined for most of it, recovering from an ACL injury.
Starter Marco Wilson has also been out this spring nursing an ACL injury, which has allowed Steele to get work in with the first team.
But just by being there for spring ball, Grantham said, the early enrollees are already ahead.
“Any time you can come in and get 15 days of spring practice,” he said, “learn pretty much the majority of the concepts … Get the coaching, get the techniques, understand all that stuff, get some plays on tape … So when we come back in late July they’re ready to go, and it’s not the first time they’ve heard it. So it definitely gives them a head start.”
Saturday will also provide a look at some of the guys who have changed positions on the Gators’ defense.
Trey Dean played corner last year but moved to the nickel to fill the vacancy left by former defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson. Dean will be the No. 1 guy at the star next year. Defensive back John Huggins, who also transitioned to the star, will be behind him.
Amari Burney turned heads during the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl with his pass breakup and critical sack against Michigan. He’s transitioned from the secondary to the linebacker position.
And senior linebacker David Reese is now at the buck.
With the mix of younger and older players still making their own adjustments, Saturday’s game will mean different things for different guys on the Florida defense.
“I like to see if they [young guys] grasp what the offense is doing,” UF defensive backs coach Torrian Gray said, “down and distance situations and those things, and for some of the guys, honestly, it may be a little advanced for them. We just got to execute our position, but for the older guys like CJ (Henderson) … now we’re trying to get situational and really hone in on another level of things.”