The Knights are now into the meat of spring practices, with their first team scrimmage under their belt and the second (of three total) happening today. With practices being closed, getting a clear evaluation of this team's progress is difficult. But with that being said, here are three reasons to be excited for UCF spring practices:
1. Position Changes
2016 brings a serious roster overhaul to the Knights, including a bevy of position changes. Most intriguing, Jordan Akins moves from wide receiver to tight end. He had promising moments in 2014 as a freshman and showed tremendous ability before getting injured on the opening kickoff of the third game and missing the balance of the year. He's a big bodied guy and a great pass catcher, so it will be exciting to see what he can do as a receiving tight end.
Jordan Franks also moves to TE, continuing his apparent quest to play every position on a football team. He has previously been a linebacker, and a defensive back, for the Knights, and contributed at WR last season (246 yards receiving and two touchdowns).
Another interesting move is Nick Patti back to quarterback. A transfer from Boise State, he failed to seize the starting job and last year was converted to WR, nominally. I say nominally because his contributions from the wildcat overshadowed his receiving last year. Patti had 50% of UCF's rushing touchdowns last season (two out of four. Sigh). He's competing with Justin Holman following the latter's inconsistent, turnover prone, and injury-marred 2015 campaign.
Likewise, another quarterback-turned-wide-receiver reverts to quarterback: Pete DiNovo. Much less likely to see the field than Patti, DiNovo will be remembered by Knights fans for illustrating former head coach George O'Leary's lackluster QB evaluation skills. DiNovo started the Penn State game in Ireland at 2014, where he was a flailing, noodle-armed disaster as Blake Bortles' successor before getting pulled for Justin Holman, who led a stirring comeback before falling short.
And while those are some of the more interesting position changes, there are a host of others that might matter. Errol Clarke moves from inside linebacker to outside in an effort to create a stronger presence on the edge -- at 6'3" 230, Clarke is a big guy. He returns to the position he played in high school at Miami Central. Shaquem Griffin moved from safety to outside linebacker as well. Jerod Boykins moved from inside linebacker to defensive back, and Mike Rogers is now a running back.
Hopefully these changes will help head coach Scott Frost squeeze more performance out of what is still going to be a young roster.
2. The Offensive Line
Some claim they're the most improved position group. Hopefully is borne out in the Fall. I was optimistic about them last year after a tepid 2014 campaign with lots of youth, and it felt like they should have been a strength of the team in 2015. It wasn't. The line gave up 23 sacks and failed to open up holes for the running game. Ever. That was under the tutelage of Brent Key, now the offensive line coach at Alabama (yes, I am still laughing). Under new Offensive Line coach Greg Austin, we'll hope for better.
It's going to be essential for the line to improve for many reasons, not least of which the fact that in head coach Scott Frost's offense, all the linemen make calls.
3. Wide Receivers
These guys are going to make us very happy next year, and it will be exciting to hear of the progress being made in the wide receiving corps during Spring Practice.
Especially with Jordan Akins at TE now, Tre'Quan Smith should be the clear number one wide receiver. Last year, he had arguably the best freshman season of any UCF WR ever, ending with 52 receptions for 724 yards and four touchdowns. And these included some serious catches:
.Guys like Tristan Payton (second most receptions on team in 2015) showed significant promise last season, and Cam Stewart has shown some potential. And of course, the Knights' highest ranked recruit of 2016, Dredrick Snelson, will have the opportunity to compete. Snelson was a flip form Minnesota who opted to stay closer to home with the Knights. If consistency can be had at the quarterback position, look for this group to evolve and make a serious impact.