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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

With the departure of so many starters from last year’s team, spring practice presents a great opportunity for players to gain ground on the battle for a first-team spot in the fall.

The leaders and competitors are beginning to emerge for those openings.

Position Battle No. 1: Cornerback opposite Janoris Jenkins

Contenders: Senior Moses Jenkins, redshirt sophomores Jeremy Brown and Adrian Bushell and freshmen Jaylen Watkins and Josh Shaw

Leader: It could be a Jenkins-squared pairing next year. After three years at UF, Moses Jenkins is finally playing with the first team, but it won’t be an easy task to hold off the highly touted freshmen.

Dark Horse: Shaw was the UF’s top-cornerback recruit, and he has shown flashes of that but needs to be more consistent. With a new cornerbacks coach (Teryl Austin), everyone gets a fresh start, and a freshman could win the starting job.

Position Battle No. 2: Middle Linebacker

Contenders: Sophomore Jon Bostic, redshirt sophomore Brendan Beal and senior Lorenzo Edwards

Leader: Whenever coaches and players talk about who needs to step up on defense, it is Bostic’s name that comes up. Bostic and Beal have shared time with the first team, but Bostic has the advantage.

Dark Horse: There really is no dark horse in this race because it is only two-man competition. Edwards’ move inside is most likely for depth reasons.

Position Battle No. 3: Tight End

Contenders: Redshirt freshmen Desmond Parks and Jordan Reed and freshman Gerald Christian

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Leader: The switch from quarterback to tight end has looked natural for Reed this spring.

Dark Horse: With Parks injured, Christian has gotten plenty of reps. The way Christian and Reed have played, Urban Meyer might be able to use the two-tight end package he wanted to with Aaron Hernandez and Cornelius Ingram in 2008 before C.I. went down with a torn ACL.

Position Battle No. 4: Y Receiver

Contenders: Redshirt senior Carl Moore, redshirt sophomore Omarius Hines and redshirt freshman Stephen Alli

Leader: Moore has been taking the first-team reps but  hasn’t done anything special to put space between him and Hines, who showed last year he can make plays.

Dark Horse: At 6-foot-5, Alli could be a special talent one day. He’s still raw, but that hasn’t stopped him from making plays.

Position Battle No. 5: The Percy Position

Contenders: Redshirt junior Chris Rainey, redshirt freshman Andre Debose, redshirt sophomore Frankie Hammond and freshman Robert Clark

Leader: Rainey started working at receiver this spring and looks to be the top candidate for playing the role of Percy Harvin, which the Gators’ offense missed last season with Brandon James in the spot.

Dark Horse: Clark probably doesn’t have a chance of winning the job but has shown the ability to burn his defender deep. If nothing else, he is going to make a great return specialist next season.

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