When Florida needed someone to step up in passing situations last season, two specific players — Jake McGee and Antonio Callaway — often did.
The Gators no longer have that luxury.
With McGee lost to graduation and Callaway’s future with the team still uncertain, coach Jim McElwain has been tasked with finding playmaking pass-catchers to fill the void this spring. And so far, it’s been difficult.
Ahmad Fulwood, who’s coming off the worst of his three seasons at Florida, was expected to contribute as a veteran, but has been limited after he "pulled a leg" earlier in Spring practice, according to McElwain.
Junior college transfer receiver Dre Massey, who’s expected to come in and contribute immediately out of the slot, is also being held out with a similar injury.
Despite those setbacks, McElwain is still confident in the rest of the team’s receiving corps.
"We’re excited to see what Chris Thompson does," McElwain said. "Alvin Bailey should be back, and we need to get some production out of him."
In addition, McElwain expects four-star early enrollees Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain to compete for playing time come fall.
"Those guys are obviously gonna get a ton of reps," he said of the freshman duo.
"Those guys have both been doing a good job. They’re learning."
But it isn’t just the receivers who are expected to fill the void.
McGee was, after all, a tight end. Aside from his two replacements — C’yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby — McElwain was also very high on some of the position's lesser-known players.
"Moral Stephens is a guy that’s really elevated through his offseason and now there’s a real opportunity to jump in there now with C’yontai and Gools [DeAndre Goolsby]," he said. "Camrin Knight, who took reps for us last year, and when you see the guy kind of run out there you might go, ‘jeez, who’s that guy?’ Well, it’s because he’s grown up a little bit."
Backfield showcasing depth
It’s unlikely that walk-on Mark Herndon will be Florida’s starting tailback come fall.
Nevertheless, McElwain has been happy with the progress the redshirt senior has made this spring.
"I think he’s back from the leg injury that he had," McElwain said. "I really think he’s doing a heck of a job."
But even with the strides he’s made, he still has two hills and a mountain to climb to get to the top of the depth chart.
The hills are 5-foot-10 Jordan Scarlett and 5-foot-11 Jordan Cronkrite. Both saw significant playing time last year and figure prominently into Florida’s plan for the upcoming season.
The mountain is top-ranked junior college transfer Mark Thompson, who is 6-foot-2 and weighs 242 pounds.
It’s still to be determined who will see the most playing time of the group, but it’s likely that Herndon will be relegated to the role of spot contributor.
Regardless, McElwain is enthusiastic about his progress and the whole group’s ability to push each other.
"The competition at running back I think has helped," McElwain said. "Because those guys are busting their tails off."