Florida will wrap up its spring football session with its spring game on Thursday night inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Coach Billy Napier is in his second year at the helm, and Thursday night's showcase will give outsiders a chance to for a first glimpse of the 2023 Gators.
Napier's first order of business will be determining who takes the snaps after NFL hopeful Anthony Richardson chose to forgo his remaining eligibility. Graham Mertz and Jack Miller III are in a heated battle to take control of the top spot on the depth chart, and that will surely be the focal point on Thursday night. It goes beyond that, though. The Gators' defense struggled to get negative plays last year, and that has to change if they're going to contend for the SEC East title.
Let's break down the top storylines to keep an eye on Thursday night in Gainesville.
How to watch 2023 Florida spring game live
Date: Thursday, April 13 | Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium -- Gainesville, Florida
Live stream: SEC Network+
2023 Florida spring game storylines
1. The tale of transfer QBs: Mertz was supposed to be the best quarterback at Wisconsin since Russell Wilson, but that never materialized. He tossed 26 interceptions in 33 games with the Badgers and averaged 7.0 yards per attempt during his four seasons in Madison. He arrives in Gainesville hoping for greener pastures in a more dynamic offense. Miller started the Las Vegas Bowl vs. Oregon State after Richardson opted out and went 13 of 22 for 180 yards in the 30-3 loss. Miller was the 10th-ranked pro style quarterback in the Class of 2020, but only attempted 14 passes in six games with Ohio State. He's been enjoying his battle with the more experienced Mertz.
"I embrace competition," he said. "I love it. It's just going to make us all better. It's been a really good competition. We both embrace it and Max [Brown] as well. We all love to compete, so it's been a really fun spring so far. I mean, I'm just trying to get better every single day. I'm not too worried about all that stuff."
This battle will likely continue into summer workouts. However, we'll likely be able to tell who's the frontrunner based on who gets the most snaps with the first-team offense.
2. Will the WR group step up? Billy Gonzales returned to Gainesville to lead the wide receivers, and he needs to determine who his playmakers are in order to help out a quarterback who isn't nearly as mobile as Richardson. Luckily for Gonzales, the Gators are relatively experienced in that area. Ricky Pearsall, last year's leading receiver, returns after catching 33 passes for 661 yards and five touchdowns last season. Xzavier Henderson had 410 yards and two touchdowns last season, and he is coming on strong late in spring practice after hauling in three scores in the most recent scrimmage. It's important for Napier to develop multiple options deep downfield. We'll see if the veterans -- or some younger prospects -- step up on Thursday night.
3. Will there be signs of third-down improvement? The Gators finished last in the SEC in third-down defense last season, allowing first-down conversions nearly 50% of the time. Fixing that problem is new defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong's first order of business. The Gators aren't overly experienced in the front seven, and Armstrong led the Southern Miss defense to moderate success in that department during his previous two seasons leading the Golden Eagles. They finished the 2022 season at 37.95% on third-down conversions allowed and 36.22% in 2021. Has Armstrong done enough through 15 practices to give Gator fans hope? Even a small step forward would signal that he's got the defense on the right track.