The UCF coaching staff will certainly have its eyes on every position during this Saturday’s Spring Football Game at 2 p.m. However, there will be a few areas of the field fans should dial in on as the Knights square off at Bright House Networks Stadium.
Last year, quarterback Blake Bortles served as one of the primary focal points during the spring contest as he was beginning his first season as the Knights’ starting signal-caller. The Oviedo native ultimately put together one of the finest performances by a UCF quarterback in school history, guiding the Knights to a 10-4 record and a Conference USA East Division title. He also was the MVP of the Beef `O’ Brady’s Bowl.
Now a junior, Bortles has to smile knowing all of the weapons he has on offense, highlighted by UCF returning five of its top six wide receivers from a year ago. On the other side of the line, though, the Black and Gold lost several key players, and that will be one of five things to watch this Saturday.
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR SATURDAY
Due to the loss of six starters, the UCF defense entered spring camp as an inexperienced group. It was not until April 6 when the defense turned a corner during an intense scrimmage inside Bright House Networks Stadium, demonstrating that the Knights are coming together very quickly. Yet there are still a couple of key positions up for grabs.
In the secondary, junior No. 26 Clayton Geathers is the veteran safety while No. 37 Brandon Alexander started the final 12 games of 2012 at cornerback. It remains to be seen who will join them as No. 21 Drico Johnson, No. 22 Jared Henry, No. 24 Jeremy Davis, No. 29 D.J. Killings, No. 30 Nicco Whigham and No. 39 Sean Maag have all received looks in the two-deep, while No. 12 Jacoby Glenn is slated to rejoin the Knights in the summer at the other cornerback spot. Johnson was with the wide receivers last year, and has been able to step up at safety as a redshirt freshman, Killings is the only early enrollee on defense and has quickly earned reps at corner and Whigham has game experience at corner but may switch over to safety.
The outside linebackers also need attention due to the loss of Ray Shipman and Jonathan Davis. No. 23 Willie Mitchell and No. 57 Troy Gray opened camp with the first team, and other student-athletes to watch will be No. 15 Michael Easton, No. 16 Mark Rucker, No. 50 Domenic Spencer and No. 52 Maurice Russell.
Along with Killings, UCF has two more true freshmen in camp in quarterbacks No. 13 Justin Holman and No. 14 Pete DiNovo. The duo both are fitting in to the UCF system to the delight of the coaching staff. With the Knights already having Bortles, No. 3 Tyler Gabbert and No. 7 Troy Green under center, it will be interesting to see how the freshmen command the huddle and the offense on Saturday.
There are plenty of adjectives to use when describing the UCF wide receivers that former Knights’ wideout and current position coach Sean Beckton loves what he has to work with on a daily basis. Whether one uses talented, deep, quick, cohesive or unstoppable, each word would be accurate. No. 2 Jeff Godfrey, No. 6 Rannell Hall, No. 9 J.J. Worton, No. 19 Josh Reese and No. 81 Breshad Perriman are all returning, and they all will assuredly cause a secondary to quiver in their cleats. What is unknown is who will evolve into the top 2-3 wideouts for Bortles.
No. 84 Justin Tukes served as a reliable tight end during his sophomore campaign in 2012. Along with stepping up in the blocking schemes, he also caught 10 passes including two touchdowns. This spring, though, there are four other tight ends who want a shot at the two-deep, and No. 85 Kevin Miller has received plenty of praise from the coaches. With the New Jersey native turning heads, the competition at this position will only make the tight ends improve just as quickly.
UCF should not have to worry about its returners for 2013 as Hall (2011 All-C-USA First Team kick returner) and Worton (2012 All-C-USA First Team punt returner) are primed for another solid year. With the Spring Game typically not a showcase for the returners, however, attention will be on the kickers. No. 48 Caleb Houston looks to take over from Jamie Boyle who had 23 punts inside the 20 last season, and there are three juniors vying for the starting placekicking duties in No. 18 Rodrigo Quirarte, No. 35 Sean Galvin and No. 83 Shawn Moffitt. With a 71.4 percent conversion rate in field goals in 2012, Moffitt has the edge, although the entire kicking game has to get better at preventing blocked kicks.
Plan your game days with the Knights, and experience one of the best schedules in program history in the best available seat locations at Bright House Networks Stadium. 2013 season tickets start at $99. To secure your UCF football season tickets, visit UCFAthletics.com or call 407-UCF-1000.