5 Key Storylines Heading into 2021 Florida Gators Fall Camp

The Florida Gators will open up its fall camp on Friday, marking the start of the 2021 season.
Publish date:

The season for the Florida Gators will officially start to ramp up on Friday when the team takes the field for its fall camp ahead of their first game on Sept. 4 against the FAU Owls.

Following an impressive year that included an appearance at the SEC Championship game against the Alabama Crimson Tide, Florida will enter the year with high expectations, attempting to build don't the momentum of last season.

While this will certainly be a new team, the expectations shouldn't be different and a standard has appeared to have been set. 

With that being said, we took a look at five major storylines to keep track of as the team gets set to take the field for fall camp, reporting on Thursday, and taking the field on Friday:

Will Florida build on last year's success?

This is more of a hypothetical question because it can't necessarily be answered in fall camp. But, it can be foreshadowed. Florida was one of the most impressive offenses in the nation last year, competing with every defense that came their way during the team's 10-game, SEC-only schedule a season ago.

After finishing 8-4, and appearing in the SEC title game, plenty of expectations for this year's squad will be high. The team will need to show it can build on its success as it continues through fall camp. While that won't necessarily be quantifiable during practice reps, the coaches and media should get a clearer picture of the program and its makeup throughout the fall.

With plenty of unknowns involving this year's team, Florida has an opportunity to start fresh, adding plenty of talent at multiple positions and upgrading.

How improved will this year's defense be?

Considering the defensive improvement to be the second-most important question heading into this season almost seems like a travesty, but because of circumstances with the team's starting quarterback, it is.

Make no mistake, however, all eyes will be squarely on what was one of the worst pass defenses in college football last year. Last year, Florida ranked 83rd in all of college football on defense, giving up 428 yards per game. While defense as a whole was a travesty within the SEC - and the majority of football -, Florida certainly stuck out like a sore thumb in one of the most popular conferences in the nation.

Heading into this season, Florida will be making plenty of changes to its secondary. The team lost several key contributors, including cornerback Marco Wilson and safeties Donovan Stiner, Brad Stewart and Shawn Davis. As such, the team will field a much different secondary than in years past.

This year, Florida will have to rely on players such as Trey Dean and Rashad Torrence at safety, while an intense competition outside at the boundary cornerback position between Jaydon Hill, freshman Jason Marshall Jr. and others will be something to keep an eye on.

The team also brought in a transfer in defensive back Jaddarrius Perkins (Missouri) and is expected to acquire another in Elijah Blades (Texas A&M) before the season begins.

Florida will also rely on its defensive line to apply pressure to the opposing quarterback, something they did well with at times last season and look to improve heading into 2021. 

Emory Jones' first snaps as the starting quarterback

Sort of burying the lede here, all eyes will be on the team's starting quarterback in redshirt junior Emory Jones. For the first time in his career, he will be handed over the reins to Dan Mullen's offense, something fans have been looking forward to for quite some time.

For Jones, he will be following up one of the best season performances from a Gators quarterback in its history as Kyle Trask is now off of the team, in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (Trask was selected with the No. 64 overall pick in this year's draft).

Last season, Trask would be a Heisman Trophy finalist after throwing for 4,283 yards, 43 touchdowns and eight interceptions in 2020.

Jones' performance during camp will be watched like a hawk, and it won't be surprising to see him perform admirably, bouncing back from an up-and-down spring earlier this year. As he gets more comfortable as the team's leader in the huddle, don't be surprised to see Jones improve as camp moves forward.

What does this year's offense look like?

While last year's offense featured plenty of passing, don't be surprised to see a much different look this year with Jones, a dual-threat quarterback, at the helm. With his running ability, he will add another element to the offense that Trask was unable to provide, creating a matchup issue for opposing defenses.

Though Jones will provide plenty of issues for defenses by himself, the team's running back group will also be key contributors for the team moving forward. After last season, Florida officially added former Clemson running back Demarkcus Bowman to its arsenal of running backs.

Coming out of high school, Bowman was expected to become one of the best running backs in college football.

The Gators will also be looking to replace the production of perhaps the best player in the country last season in tight end Kyle Pitts, now with the Atlanta Falcons. While it is not possible to simply replace Pitts, the Gators will rely on its arsenal or receivers to add to its offensive firepower.

Receivers such as Jacob Copeland, Justin Shorter and Xzavier Henderson will quickly become the top pass-catchers for Jones, and slot receiver Trent Whittemore can become one of the team's top targets in the red zone given his size.

While, certainly, it is expected for Florida to be more run-heavy than usual there will still be plenty of options in the passing game for the program to take advantage of.

How good can the trenches be for Florida?

Oftentimes, the best team has the best offensive and defensive lines and the Gators are no different. This year, the team's offensive line will quickly become a focal point after it lost two of its key starters in offensive tackle Stone Forsythe and center Brett Heggie.

Replacing the two offensive linemen will become one of the key areas to watch as fall camp transpires. The team will be returning several players, however, including Jean Delance, Ethan White, Josh Braun, Stewart Reese and Richard Gouriage. All players listed played plenty of snaps last season.

While those are the expected five starters, don't be surprised to see increased competition, particularly on the right side of the offensive line as Delance has struggled in the past.

The interior of the team's offensive line shouldn't skip a beat as both White and Braun are expected to be major improvements as they continue their development.

On defense, the Gators lost plenty of defensive linemen, particularly on the interior. Replacing them will be graduate transfer players Antonio Shelton and Daquan Newkirk, along with sophomore defensive tackle Gervon Dexter.

Florida will be relying on all three players to make up for the losses they have taken to players entering the draft, or graduating out of the program.