Florida quarterback Graham Mertz looks to pass during a practice at Sanders Practice Fields on campus. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

Napier: Plenty Of Positives In Florida’s Spring Scrimmage

Florida coach Billy Napier shared his thoughts on the Gators ahead of the Orange and Blue Game on April 13.

Lagway Showing Potential

Napier had high praise Saturday for true freshman quarterback DJ Lagway. The third-year UF coach commented on how Lagway learns quickly and applies concepts from study rooms to practice. The next step is game management.

Lagway was a five-star recruit and won Gatorade Football Player of the Year in 2023. He will likely start next season as backup quarterback behind senior Graham Mertz. However, many expect that Lagway will see the field in a limited role, similar to what the Gators did with Chris Leak and Tim Tebow.

Florida Gators freshman quarterback DJ Lagway makes a throw during a spring practice at Sanders Practice Fields on March 28.
[Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]

Walk-On Norwood Shines in Practice

Florida’s walk-on program has been considered lackluster, but Napier and his staff have improved it over the last two years. Napier now calls it a “great program”.

The coach shared an inspirational story of defensive edge Tyreik Norwood. Norwood is a walk-on, sixth-year graduate student who tore his ACL but went into rehab and did not give up on football.

Napier continued to share that Norwood intercepted a pass in practice, to which his teammates cheered.

Graham Mertz’s Leadership

Naturally, the starting quarterback of a football team is the leader. A strong team needs a strong leader.

Mertz is proving to be that leader by communicating with his team, being in the facility “24/7”, and maximizing his day. Napier states that he wants Mertz to “be more aggressive without being careless.”

In his last two years at Wisconsin, he racked up double-digit interceptions and nearly averaged an interception per game.

Florida quarterback Graham Mertz prepares to pass during practice at Sanders Practice Fields on campus. [Doug Engle/Gainesville Sun]
However, in the 2023 season for Florida, he only tallied three interceptions in 10 games. Mertz has been developing both on and off the field and looks to improve the Gators after a disappointing 5-7 record last year.

Defense Beats Offense

Last season, the Florida defense was subpar, to say the least. The team nearly gave up 30 points per game.

If practice means anything, the defense seems to be better for this upcoming season. Napier noted the defense got the better of the offense during the first scrimmage, especially with the tackles.

Defensive backs Aaron Gates and Devin Moore are healthy after returning from injury. Combine that with the development of sophomores Jordan Castell, Ja’Keem Jackson and Bryce Thorton and the defense should have much higher expectations than a season ago.

The look at the 2024 Florida Gators team comes at the Orange & Blue Game on April 13 at 1 p.m.

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