Spring football camp is now in the rear-view mirror for the Florida Gators. Now, approximately four or so months stand between the last time, and the next time, the Gators will take the field as a team.
Based on what coaches and players had to share at press conferences and from what AllGators has heard from behind the scenes, there are still some areas on the roster that could use some improvement. UF could look to add talent via the NCAA transfer portal in the coming months, or depend upon its 10 incoming freshmen and one incoming transfer who are set to enroll this summer to add another layer of strength to the roster.
We can touch up on the transfer portal another time. For now, which 2021 signees who will enroll this summer have a shot at making an early impact?
Remember, 12 members of Florida's 2021 recruiting class and several other transfers have already enrolled and practiced with the team. Those players will have a leg up on their fellow enrollees in terms of familiarity, but summertime enrollees could still find a way to make a name for themselves in the fall. Cornerback Kaiir Elam, for example, enrolled in the summer of 2019 and started five games as a true freshman.
Diwun Black, linebacker/defensive back
The first candidate that comes to mind of the bunch is none other than Diwun Black.
Black originally signed with UF in 2019 but had to take the junior college route to become a Gator, and after receiving his Associate of Arts degree from Mississippi Gulf Coast CC, all should be clear for him to enroll this summer and take the field this fall.
The 6-foot-4, 225-pound athlete missed his senior year of high school football and went on to produce 46 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss, an interception (returned for a touchdown) and five defended passes as a freshman in JUCO. Although he did not play as a sophomore, the Gators would hope he can make a similar jump to the SEC that he did from high school to JUCO.
Florida lost two linebackers to the transfer portal this offseason in James Houston IV and Jesiah Pierre. Houston played over 200 defensive snaps last season, while Pierre made a couple of splash plays on his 62 snaps.
The Gators could opt to give redshirt sophomore Ty'Ron Hopper and sophomore Derek Wingo more playing time to fill those roles, but Black has more college experience on his side and a fantastic football profile to pair. Black has the makings of a play-making coverage linebacker that UF has lacked for some time, which could lead to an early role once he begins to learn the defense.
Dakota Mitchell, STAR nickel cornerback
Florida is really, really young in the secondary. We could see the team targeting an experienced defensive back via the portal this offseason, particularly at STAR nickel corner, but if not, Dakota Mitchell will be in contention for snaps once he gets into UF officially.
Florida has two potential options on the roster at STAR as safety Trey Dean III and linebacker Amari Burney haven't worked that well at the position beforehand: Sophomores Tre'Vez Johnson and Kamar Wilcoxson. Johnson played the position a year ago and made several splash plays in 12 appearances but has some development to undergo in deeper coverage, while Wilcoxson earned limited playing time on the outside as a 17-year-old freshman.
Both Johnson and Wilcoxson are intriguing at STAR, but so is Mitchell. Given the trio is so young, they could find themselves in a rotation early on to see who is most comfortable in the slot.
Mitchell is a natural fit for the position having played nickel and rover throughout his high school career, something that Johnson and Wilcoxson didn't do much if at all. He displayed willingness and physicality against the run and coverage skills to hold it down against slot receivers, even bigger ones thanks to his aggressive playing style.
Yousef Mugharbil, offensive lineman
Head coach Dan Mullen shared at the end of spring camp that Florida is still looking to solidify its top eight offensive linemen for the 2021 season: Five starters and three key backups. So far, Mullen has really only expressed confidence in two positions, left tackle and left guard, leaving six spots up for grabs.
Over the past two years, Florida has seen as many true freshman emerge and earn significant playing time at guard: Ethan White in 2019 and Josh Braun in 2020. Florida did not have any offensive linemen enroll in spring, leaving Yousef Mughabril, Austin Barber, and Jake Slaughter on even ground entering the fall as freshmen.
Barber was an interesting late addition to the class with springy athleticism for a long-framed offensive tackle, and Slaughter could eventually take over at center. Mugharbil, however, comes from a run-heavy Murphy (N.C.) offense which could benefit him as UF moves to a more run-inclusive offense in 2021 and beyond.
Mugharbil may not take the field immediately, but should he hit the ground running at UF and add some quick bulk in the strength and conditioning program (he's 6-foot-4, 300 pounds), Mugharbil could find his way into one of the top three backup spots on the line.
Jace Christmann, kicker (transfer)
Transferring from Mississippi State with 36 starts under his belt, Jace Christmann is expected to compete with Chris Howard for Florida's starting kicker position this fall. Christmann offers far more playing experience than Howard (five appearances), but Howard has been with Mullen and the current coaching staff since they got to UF.
Maybe that gives Howard an advantage? Maybe not, as Mullen and Co. discovered Christmann as a walk-on at Mississippi State in 2017. He went on to establish himself as one of if not the most accurate kicker in program history, however, he was replaced as the starter last year after Mike Leach took over as head coach. Leach brought in a transfer from Arizona State who ultimately earned the job.
So, really, one of the most important fall camp battles for Florida this year will be for the kicking gig.
Rocco Underwood, long snapper
Typically, a long snapper wouldn't be considered for a story like this. Rocco Underwood and the Gators are different, though.
Underwood signed with Florida and received a full scholarship, which isn't overly common for long snappers. He's the cousin of former Gators punters Johnny and Tommy Townsend, though, and is regarded as one of the best long snapping prospects in the nation from this past class. He also has ample experience playing tight end.
Florida has to replace last year's starting long snapper, Brett DioGuardi, this offseason as well as he declared for the 2021 NFL Draft in February. Marco Ortiz, a redshirt junior, and Chase Whitfield, a redshirt sophomore, are contenders for the job as well, but as they are both walk-ons, it's fair to assume the team will give Underwood a chance to take the job as a freshman and scholarship player.