The spring semester is up and running, which means college football teams are also back to work. Programs are seeing what they can do to take the next step and make it to the College Football Playoff. This is the case for Florida football.
In 2022, the Gators had their ups and downs. They started the season unranked but shocked the college football world with an upset 29-26 victory over then-No. 7 Utah Utes. However, they would finish the year going just 6-7 and 3-5 in SEC play.
Now entering its second season under Billy Napier, Florida certainly wants more than it accomplished in 2022. Still, it should be a tough road. The Gators will have the reigning back-to-back champion Georgia Bulldogs plus the Tennessee Volunteers, LSU Tigers, and Florida State Seminoles, all teams that finished the season ranked.
From veterans to underclassmen and transfers, Napier should have plenty of options to work with. Using spring practices, the coaching staff will have the chance to determine who will earn the starting jobs.
With that being said, here are some position battles to watch at the Florida football 2023 spring practice.
3. Offensive line
While the Gators had a disappointing 2022 season, some players had their chance to shine. One of them was offensive guard O’Cyrus Torrence. The lineman was a consensus All-American and is projected to be a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
With Torrence, Florida allowed only 1.23 sacks per game, one of the best marks in the nation. Additionally, the team averaged 5.51 yards per carry, good for No. 7 in FBS.
The problem is that Torrence is departing alongside three other starters, left tackle Richard Gouraige, right guard Ethan White, and right tackle Michael Tarquin. This means that the offensive line should look very different in the 2023 season.
Because of that, Napier will need to focus on finding Torrence’s replacement throughout spring practices, as well as for the other positions.
At tackle, the Gators have now-sophomore Austin Barber, who started five times in 2022. They also have transfers Kiyaunta Goodwin from Kentucky and Damieon George Jr from Alabama to compete for first-string roles.
At guard, Florida brought in Micah Mazzccua from Baylor, who made 10 starts from the Bears last season. Returner Richie Leonard IV started in place of Torrence once in 2022, which could help his case for the job. The Gators also have a handful of redshirt players who could earn more playing time in 2023.
Napier will need to evaluate all options to see who will be in the starting 11. With depth, he should have plenty of options before making a final decision on the offensive line.
2. Running back
Another position to keep an eye on is running back. The team averaged more than 200 rushing yards per game, placing Florida in the top 30 in the nation in the category.
Differently from the other positions in this list, the Gators have two clear frontrunners to be RB1.
Montrell Johnson Jr. led Florida with 155 carries for 841 yards and 10 touchdowns. The transfer out of Louisiana played his first season in Gainesville in 2022 and already had a big impact.
His main opponent for the job is Trevor Etienne. He finished his freshman year with 118 rush attempts for 719 yards and scored six times.
Now entering his sophomore year, Etienne could be going after a larger presence on offense. This could result in an interesting battle between him and Johnson for the RB1 role. Either way, Napier should have two reliable running backs for the 2023 season.
Perhaps the biggest battle for Florida football throughout spring practices will be for the quarterback position. The Gators will be without Anthony Richardson, who is projected to be a top-10 pick in this year’s draft. He had 2,549 passing yards for 17 touchdowns plus 654 yards and nine scores on the ground.
The Gators landed on Graham Mertz from Wisconsin via the transfer portal. He was considered one of the top quarterback recruits out of high school in the 2019 class. He has 32 starts in his college career, which could play a role in Napier’s final decision.
Mertz’s main opponent is likely Jack Miller III. The former Ohio State Buckeye spent most of the 2022 season as a backup to Richardson. Notably, his only start of the season came in the Las Vegas Bowl against Oregon State when he recorded 180 passing yards on a 59.1% completion rate.
With big shoes to fill, both Mertz and Miller should compete until the very end for the starting job. It will depend on whether Napier wants experience or continuity.
This should be the most important position battle for the Florida Gators in 2023. Depending on what Napier decides, this could make or break Florida’s season. At the end of the day, the Gators have a tough decision on their hands, which makes it a must-see battle in spring.