After four weeks of practices, the Florida Gators football team is set to conclude 2023 spring camp, making it one step closer to year two of the Billy Napier era. The 2023 Orange & Blue Game is scheduled to start Thursday night at 7:30 p.m.
Here’s a quick look at the Gator offense, which is in the middle of a quarterback battle, is revamping the offensive line and welcomed back a familiar face to coach untapped talent at receiver.
Back in The Swamp. 🔜 pic.twitter.com/4pmP4jjD7R
— Florida Gators Football (@GatorsFB) April 10, 2023
With Anthony Richardson’s departure to the NFL, the Gators are set to have their fifth starting quarterback in as many years when they face Utah to open the season. This year’s battle is between Wisconsin transfer Graham Mertz and Jack Miller III, who started in last season’s bowl game against Oregon State.
Mertz brings veteran experience to an otherwise inexperienced room. The redshirt junior started 32 games over the last three seasons for the Badgers and threw for 5,332 yards with 38 touchdowns against 26 interceptions. He hit career-best numbers in 2022 with 2,136 yards, 19 touchdown passes and a 135.0 passing efficiency rating. In his lone media availability, Mertz detailed his decision to transfer to Florida.
Napier, who also coaches the team’s quarterbacks, praised Mertz for his veteran-like approach throughout camp.
— Cam Parker (@camparker25) March 7, 2023
On the other side of the battle is Miller III, who made his first-career start in the 30-3 loss to Oregon State in the Las Vegas Bowl. The former Ohio State backup went 13-for-22 for 180 yards in his lone appearance of the season.
In his press availabilities during spring, Napier made it clear that he’s not ready to name a starting quarterback, so Thursday’s scrimmage will be a good indication of where the two quarterbacks stand. It will also be a good indication on if Napier will go after another scholarship quarterback when the transfer portal reopens on May 1. Florida currently has three scholarship quarterbacks on the roster – Mertz, Miller III and Max Brown – one short of Napier’s preference of four.
On the competition, Mertz explained the goal in the room is to make the team better while pushing each other.
Revamped Offensive Line
Florida boasted one of the best offensive lines in the country in 2022 behind All-American O’Cyrus Torrence and the veteran presences of Richard Gouraige, Kingsley Eguakun, Michael Tarquin and Ethan White. However, all but Eguakun are gone with Torrence and Gouraige off to the NFL, and Tarquin and White off to USC, leaving the Gators with four open offensive line spots.
Austin Barber emerged as a valuable lineman after replacing an injured Tarquin for a few games last season and became the unofficial sixth starter of the group. He split time at both tackle spots and earned College Football News All-American honors. Offensive line coach Rob Sale noted the improvement Barber has made since last spring saying the difference is night and day.
Additionally, Florida welcomed three transfer linemen to fill the immediate holes left on the line. Former Baylor guard Micah Mazzccua joined the Gators after a successful season where PFF ranked him the second-best guard in the Big 12. Additionally, Florida welcomed tackles Damieon George Jr. from Alabama and Kiyaunta Goodwin, a 2022 five-star recruit, from Kentucky. George Jr. and Goodwin have been battling for the tackle spot opposite of Barber while Mazzccua appeared to be an immediate starter at guard.
However, Mazzccua’s tenure with the Gators appeared to be over before it started after he tweeted his intentions to reenter the transfer portal but deleted his tweet shortly after and remains with the team. He is currently recovering from an injury. After Mazzccua’s injury, the Gators offensive line appears to be Barber at left tackle, early enrollee Knijeah Harris at left guard, Eguakun at center, Richie Leonard IV at right guard and George Jr. at right tackle.
With a Bayou backfield of Montrell Johnson, Trevor Etienne and Tulane transfer Cam Carroll, the Gators’ rushing attack looks poised to replicate the production from last season even without Richardson’s legs and a plethora of new faces.
Familiar Face Leading the Gator Receivers
After one season leading the Gator receivers, Keary Colbert departed to join the Denver Broncos right before spring camp began. Napier turned to a familiar face to lead the group – Billy Gonzales. Gonzales now enters his third tenure with the Gators. He coached the receivers from 2005-09 under Urban Meyer and again from 2018-2021 under Dan Mullen. Gonzales spent the 2022 season as FAU’s receivers coach.
"I wear this Gator logo with great pride."
— Florida Gators Football (@GatorsFB) April 12, 2023
Gonzales inherits a talented but unproven receivers room. Ricky Pearsall elected to return to Florida after posting career numbers in 2022. The slot receiver caught 33 passes for 661 yards and five touchdowns. His yardage and touchdowns were both individual career-highs and team-highs. Also returning is fourth-year Xzavier Henderson, who posted career-highs in receptions (38) and yards (410) in 11 starts.
Henderson earned praise from Napier and Gonzales after a three-touchdown performance in the team’s second spring scrimmage.
Florida added two more receivers in early enrollees Andy Jean and Aiden Mizell. It didn’t take long for the two to receive praise from media, coaches and teammates. Jean has shown a tremendous display of quickness and soft hands during the open portions of practice. Miller III explained that Jean has already become one of the hardest-working players on the team.
— Cam Parker (@camparker25) March 7, 2023
Mizell, meanwhile, shined in the first scrimmage with a long touchdown reception from Brown.
— Florida Gators Football (@GatorsFB) March 28, 2023
In is lone media availability, Gonzales was quick to praise the two newcomers for their competitiveness and athletic traits. He also explained that their playing time will go up the more they learn the offense.