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Wednesday, May 29, 2024

Billy Napier and new-look Gators to showcase development at Orange and Blue game

Florida’s annual spring game is set for Thursday night in the Swamp

Lousiana transfer Montrell Johnson hauls in a pass from Ohio State transfer Jack Miller
Lousiana transfer Montrell Johnson hauls in a pass from Ohio State transfer Jack Miller

New Florida football head coach Billy Napier will man the sideline for the first time Thursday as the program hosts its annual Orange & Blue Spring Game under the lights of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

The exhibition will be played at 7:30 p.m. and is open to the public. It was originally scheduled for Saturday, but Napier and the Gators staff want to energize the student body to create a lively environment for recruits. 

“This is going to create an opportunity for us to engage the student body for the first time,” Napier said. “We're going to have some of the best recruits in the entire country here to show them what the University of Florida and Gator Nation are all about.”

The Orange & Blue game is the culmination of a month of practice for the former Louisiana head coach and Furman quarterback as he starts his first season at the helm of a major SEC program. Napier was hired in December, and spent the first three months building a recruiting class that finished 17th in the 247Sports Composite rankings. 

Thursday marks the first chance for fans to see firsthand what Napier is doing on the field. Since spring practice started on March 15, Napier and the revitalized Gators coaching staff have worked to instill new principles and ideas to the players.

“As a coaching staff, our No. 1 goal is to put our players in a sound concept, eliminate gray areas and make it black-and-white so they can play fast,” Florida defensive coordinator Patrick Toney said. 

All eyes will be on redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson. 

The Eastside High School product dazzled in moments last season for the Gators. In the season opener against Florida Atlantic, Richardson broke multiple tackles before vaulting over another defender to cap off a 160 yard rushing performance with a 73-yard touchdown run, leaving an energized stadium in awe. 

Thursday will also be the first time fans see former Ohio State quarterback Jack Miller behind center for Florida. The Scottsdale, Arizona, native played in seven games for the Buckeyes last season before transferring, but only has 14 college pass attempts.

“I think [they] take a step forward each day,” Napier said. “Those guys are doing really well, they're coming in extra … I see improvement so I'm pleased with that group.”

Florida’s top running backs in 2021, Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce, are chasing NFL dreams while last season’s leading receiver Jacob Copeland has transferred to Maryland, giving plenty of opportunities to young skill position players to earn opportunities in the Fall. 

Running backs redshirt freshman Demarckus Bowman and redshirt senior Lorenzo Lingard, both former five-star recruits in high school before transferring to UF, played sparingly last season, but are getting significant looks in spring practice. Senior receiver Justin Shorter, one of a few veteran offensive players, leads the new-look receiving corps. 

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Toney and the new-look Gator defense will look to improve upon the fourth-worst scoring defense in the SEC last season, and the new scheme is already drawing rave reviews from players.

“[It’s] breathtaking,” senior safety Trey Dean III said. “In the Fall, it’s going to be a show.”

Dean leads a promising secondary, now under the helm of renowned defensive backs coach Corey Raymond, who joined the Gators from LSU Dec. 9. Sophomore cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. impressed in moments as a true freshman and is poised for a breakout second season, while junior safety Rashad Torrence II thrived at times next to Dean in the defensive backfield. 

“Oh I'm excited about our group,” Toney said. “I think we've got a couple veterans back. I think we've got some young players that are ready to be tested.”

Dean and the rest of the team will prove themselves in the intrasquad scrimmage, which will be broken into four, 15-minute quarters with a running clock. The clock will stop for the last four minutes of each quarter and after penalties, scores and changes of possession. 

Thursday night’s exhibition will stream live on SEC Network+.

Contact Topher Adams at Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams.

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Topher Adams

Topher Adams is a fourth-year communications major and in his fourth semester with the Alligator. He previously covered football, baseball and women's basketball. He also enjoys professional lacrosse and Major League Soccer.

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