UCF Football is inching closer to another important season for the program.
On Saturday, the program took the field for the first time since its loss in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s Day, but the team looked far different than the team that took the field in Arizona.
Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s Spring Game:
The QB Battle is still wide open.
Four quarterbacks remain in the QB competition, and nobody gained any particular edge in the race, as all the QB’s flashed pros and cons.
Darriel Mack, Jr.
Mack started the game off with a bang, scoring on a two-play drive in 22 seconds. It was DJ’s best stuff on the day, as he mellowed out in his ensuing drive.
He threw an easily-preventable interception to Shawn Burgess-Becker in the first half but never saw much success following his first drive.
Wimbush was the QB I was expecting the most from, but he left a lot to be desired.
He was “sacked” a lot because he was unable to escape the pocket, but he threw some of the best textbook throws on the day, including a beautiful touchdown to Jacob Harris just before halftime.
He might be the best passer in the bunch, but his ability, or lack thereof, to evade the pocket yesterday shows a red flag.
Gabriel was the QB I was impressed with the most yesterday. He might not have been the most prolific passer, but the way he moved on his feet and his vision downfield was mighty impressive for someone his age.
He’s an early-enrollee freshman that has only been accustomed to the UCF offense for three months. If this is how he is in April, I can’t wait to see how he is in September.
Jones threw the longest play of the day from the offense, a 70+ yard TD to Rashaan Lewis for a score.
Jones has a lot left to do if he wants to climb the depth chart, but his athleticism alone will keep him in the race for now.
Some new skill players are emerging
TE/WR Jacob Harris
Harris was the skill player targeted most often during Saturday’s scrimmage. He was open one-on-one in the corner of the end zone probably four or five times, including this dime from DJ Mack.
Harris can step into the role once held by Michael Colubiale, who will not suit up for the Knights this season for the first time since the team’s first Fiesta Bowl win back in 2014.
RB Bentavious Thompson
Thompson got the bulk of the carries out of all the backs on Saturday, including this 18-yard touchdown.
Thompson could see himself in a similar role to that of Taj McGowan, who graduated last year.
But Thompson has the ability to check many different boxes. He can be a short-yardage guy running between the tackles like McGowan, or he can catch out of the backfield like Adrian Killins and Otis Anderson, or he can burst out for large gains like Greg McCrae.
Killins, Anderson, and McCrae are the top three backs for this team, but the addition of Thompson could sharpen the knives of an already-lethal backfield.
The defensive veterans stepped up
The Knights will look very different on the defensive side of the ball next season with the departures of seven Knights with significant snap counts from last season including Pat Jasinski, Trysten Hill and Kyle Gibson.
CB Nevelle Clarke and LB Shawn Burgess-Becker both recorded an interception. Safety Richie Grant did not see much action on the field, but is going to be a big part of the defense.
“You can see other guys starting to come in and creating some competition as well,” coach Josh Heupel said.
Another guy stepping up as a leader and creating competition is linebacker Nate Evans, who had arguably the most physical play of the day by picking up RB Otis Anderson and slamming him to the ground.
“Taking that leadership role and me being that guy is important for me,” Evans said.
For the Knights, this spring was all about competition. No unit is set in stone and there is still an eternity between now and the end of August.
The competition around the entire team is fluid. Nobody feels their spot is secure, and people are feeding off of one another in order to make the team better, which is a good place to be at this point in the offseason.
For now, the team heads into Finals Week and will bring it back together in May to prepare for summer’s Training Camp.