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Gators 2024 Spring Camp Notebook: Day 1 Observations

All Gators' notes and takeaways from the media viewing window of Florida's first 2024 spring training camp practice.

Photo: Florida quarterbacks DJ Lagway (2), Graham Mertz (15) and others, and head coach Billy Napier; Credit: Zach Goodall

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Helmets are on (but not pads, yet), new players and coaches are in place, and footballs are flying around the Sanders Football Practice Fields. Florida's 2024 spring training camp has officially begun. 

The first of 15 workouts took place on Thursday, as Billy Napier and his UF coaching staff aim for drastic improvement from the Gators in 2024, following back-to-back losing seasons under the head coach's leadership. 

Below are All Gators' notes and observations from the approximate 18-minute media viewing period during Florida's first spring practice. Expect AG's practice notebooks to become further in-depth when UF begins working out in full pads. 

Gators Spring Camp 2024: Day 1 Notebook

Participation report 

  • Participating fully after 2023 season-ending injury: QB Graham Mertz (shoulder) 
  • Participating in no-contact jersey: LB Shemar James (knee), DL Joey Slackman (arm), OT Austin Barber (upper body), LB Derek Wingo (undisclosed), safety Jordan Castell (undisclosed), EDGE Justus Boone (knee), EDGE Bryce Capers* (lower body) 
  • In no-contact jersey, did not participate: EDGE Jack Pyburn (knee), TE Keon Zipperer (knee), WR Chimere Dike (undisclosed), RB Cam Carroll (knee), EDGE Layne Swafford* (undisclosed), DL Nicolas Flynn* (undisclosed), QB Aidan Warner* (undisclosed)

* indicates walk-on status

Notes and Observations

All Gators eyed two groups on Thursday, Florida's quarterbacks as they threw passes on-air to wide receivers, and a handful of UF's projected top defenders, either returning from injury or joining the team from the transfer portal this offseason. 

On offense, Napier and redshirt senior Graham Mertz led the passers and their pass-catchers through drills. Receivers ran several different routes, including outs, slants, hitches, corners and nines. 

Mertz notably made an impressively accurate pass to senior wideout Ja'Quavion Fraziars in the middle of the field, leading the receiver perfectly and making him stretch out to catch the ball in stride. 

Freshman DJ Lagway and redshirt junior transfer Clay Millen followed Mertz, with walk-ons Paul Kessler and Parker Leise also making some throws. Two of Lagway's passes are highlighted in our clip of the day section later in this story. 

Our first transfer of focus was defensive lineman Joey Slackman, who joined Florida from Penn this offseason. 

While he was limited due to a bicep injury suffered last year, Slackman worked with projected first-team nose tackle Cam Jackson during block-shedding individual drills. 

On the backend, the safeties, STARs and corners all worked together in two groups, doing the same tackling and dropback drills. 

Incumbent safety starter Jordan Castell was in a black non-contact jersey and did not participate in the light tackling drills. It is unclear when Castell suffered his hurt after appearing in every game as a freshman in 2023, starting all but one. 

Transfers Asa Turner and Trikweze Bridges stood out in the tackling exercise, showing good strength with a concentration on wrapping up. 

The EDGE group did light work in the 18-minute open portion of practice, mostly focusing on steps and arm extension against blocks. 

After missing all of last season with an ACL injury, Justus Boone was dressed out for practice and donned a black non-contact jersey. Bryce Capers joined Boone in wearing a non-contact jersey among the edge rushers, although both players participated in drills.

In the linebacker group, junior Shemar James, who led the Gators in tackles beyond his Week 9 kneecap dislocation until Castell supplanted the production lead from him in Week 11, was observed taking part in drills while sporting a no-contact jersey, too. 

Clips of the day

All eyes were on Florida's star freshman quarterback, Lagway, during the media viewing period of UF's first spring practice, and he did not disappoint under the spotlight. 

Some of Lagway's throws were so nice that we've highlighted them twice. 

Our first clip of the day features Lagway uncorking a deep pass to redshirt junior wide receiver Kahleil Jackson, down the right sideline. 

Lagway later followed the deep throw with another pass to Jackson, connecting with the incumbent starting pass-catcher on play-action simulation, where he rolled right and targeted the back-right corner of the end zone. 

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