Florida Has A Depth Problem, So Billy Napier Will Have To Get Creative In The Spring Transfer Portal

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If there is one team in the SEC that desperately needs to take advantage of the upcoming transfer portal window right now, it would be the Florida Gators. First year head coach Billy Napier inherited a team that has fought through attrition and injuries at key spots over the last few months. So as we inch closer to the deadline for players to enroll at a new school to be eligible for the 2022 season, the Gators coaching staff is about to put their efforts into overdrive.

It’s one thing to prosper from the transfer portal and it’s another to need the transfer portal. Napier and his staff have found themselves in the latter situation. After a recent scrimmage, Napier admitted that his unit is pretty much running without a third team, which has caused them to cut back on how much they can get done on the field.

“We probably didn’t do 25-30 plays that we would typically do, if that makes sense. We don’t have a third group right now, we got a first and second group, so it basically eliminated the third group. Lots of players are taking advantage of it. With challenges comes opportunities. You can sit around and complain about it, but to me, I see opportunity.”

Napier says that the team is currently using two defensive tackles and a long-snapper at tight end due to injuries. Nick Elksnis and Jonathan Odom have missed time, while Gage Wilcox suffered a “career ending” injury, according to the Florida coach. Napier knows that this team will continue to be a work in-progress until they can fill a bunch of holes.

“We need more players, we need more depth. I think the offensive line is a reflection of the entire team. We have a pretty good first group we can put out there, but if you really evaluated the team relative to experience, this is a very inexperienced team. After the first team, if you look at the experience, number of plays a lot of these guys have played, they haven’t played any. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do to develop that second and third group.”

This staff has been working on the transfer portal since they arrived in Gainesville, but the window that is rapidly approaching puts a bit of extra pressure to find the right guys for this program. They are hurting at linebacker, secondary, tight end. You name it and the Gators could use it.

But we also live in a totally different college football world, where the end of spring practice will look like free agency. There is only so much time for these coaches to get players on campus or recruit them to come to Florida and be a part of the rebuild. The attrition part of the problem for Napier is something that is hard to manage, but the effort they put into bringing in new players is not. He knows this team is going to need bodies and guys who can come in and start immediately.

“We live in a new era, right. This is certainly a new way of operating college football. We took over a program, we’ve had a number of things that have caused attrition to our team. I mean we’re literally gonna give five walk-on scholarships this spring. So, we have spots available, University of Florida, you can anticipate us being very aggressive in the portal this spring. We need players, and I think the approach is going to be to acquire as many good players as we can at any position…

“It’s fortunate that we have that opportunity, right, it’s something I am very thankful for,” Napier added. “I can’t imagine not having that opportunity at this point.”

Right now, it’s not as if some of these potential enrollees will be walking into a powerhouse. They’re six months into a new regime. So the staff needs to sell players on the attractiveness of Florida, which can be done, no matter how bad Dan Mullen made it look at times last year.

“I am very pleased with every player we’ve added,” Napier said. “We were fortunate to get six at mid-year, all six are contributing to the team in a positive way. …I think we need to continue to acquire more talent, that’s the name of the game.”

We have seen Tennessee recently go through this type of problem, though for different reasons. Josh Heupel had former walk-ons and a long-snapper playing linebacker last spring. His roster was damaged and depleted during the spring, which is why he went out and took advantage of the transfer portal, adding eight players to the Tennessee roster after spring practice 2021 concluded. If you look at some of the names, including JaVonta Payton, Kamal Hadden and Brandon Turnage, along with a few others, the Vols found a way for it to work.

Now Billy Napier and his staff will take a similar approach over the next few weeks, trying to add the pieces needed and maybe find a few diamonds in the rough. Either way, Napier understands the need for it to happen quickly, and he used his long-snapper-turned-TE to illustrate his point.

“We’re just a couple players away from not being able to practice the way we want to. When a long snapper catches a pass, you’re being creative to find a way to get it done.”

It’s time to get creative, Billy Napier, this time with the spring portal.

 

Written by Trey Wallace

Wallace started covering the SEC in 2012, as the conference landscape was beginning to change. Prior to his time in Knoxville, Wallace worked in Nashville for The Read Optional, where he first produced content that garnered national attention. His passion for sports is evident in his work and has led him to break some of college football’s biggest stories. His social media reach and natural podcast proficiency continue to make Wallace one of SEC’s most trusted sources.

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