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Florida Football: Winners and Losers from Gators' 2016 Spring

The quarterbacks have taken the final snaps, bringing 2016 spring practice to a close for the Florida Gators football team.

During recent weeks, the mini-competition under center dominated the attention paid to Jim McElwain's team, which is working to build off of a 10-4, SEC East-winning campaign.

In order to repeat as division champions, though, the Gators must improve an offense noticeably lacking playmakers—especially due to Antonio Callaway's suspension.

However, if Florida's defense matches expectations—as it did Friday night—the program will at least challenge for another East title while hoping the offense's production catches up.

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Luke Del Rio Makes Case to Be Florida's Starting QB in Spring Game

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — From journeyman to starting quarterback?

That is former Alabama and Oregon State quarterback Luke Del Rio's quest at Florida, and it looked like it was close to complete in the Orange & Blue Debut on Friday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

The redshirt sophomore, who sat out last year after transferring from the Beavers, completed 10 of his 11 passes for 176 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the Blue team's 44-6 win over Orange. That performance has given Del Rio an edge on the competition exiting spring practice.

"Today, he did a really good job of sliding in the pocket, taking his eyes where he needed to based on the pressure and...you know what...I thought he was pretty good," head coach Jim McElwain said after the game.

"I think so," he said when pressed on whether Del Rio had a lead.

Del Rio was praised by McElwain as the front-runner in the four-man quarterback race, which also includes Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby and true freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask, one week into spring practice and has held serve through 15 practices.

The majority of Del Rio's damage came in the first half, when he completed six of his seven passes for 105 yards and a touchdown, working primarily with the first-team offense against the second-team Gator defense. It didn't matter what defense Del Rio faced, his ability to go through progressions is what mattered most after he went through a lull in that department midway through spring.

"I was pressing a little bit, not letting the offense work for me," Del Rio said. "[The coaches] do a great job of installing the plays and putting guys open for us. I just have to let the offensive line do what they do, the wide receivers do what they do and go through progressions. It's easier that way. Just run the offense. It works."

His primary competitor for the job, Purdue graduate transfer Austin Appleby, put up an impressive stat line as well, completing eight of his 11 passes for 80 yards against a defense that consisted mostly of first-team Gators.

"I took what the defense gave me for the most part," Appleby said. "I just wanted to come out here and make each play work and control the things I can control."

Make no mistake, though, Appleby hung several deep balls (one of which drew a defensive pass interference that should have been offensive), looked hesitant in the pocket and took three sacks in the game in which quarterbacks weren't live. 

Meanwhile, Del Rio completed several tough passes on time and on the money, including a tough 10-yard out across the field to junior college transfer Dre Massey on 3rd-and-6 near midfield. He routinely hit his check downs when appropriate and had command of the offense from the moment the annual scrimmage kicked off.

Did he knock the socks off of the estimated 46,000 fans at "The Swamp" and people watching on SEC Network? It wasn't something that will vault him into Heisman Trophy contention, but it certainly was enough to calm the fears of a Gator Nation that has been bitten by bad quarterback play ever since Tim Tebow graduated following the 2009 season.

Del Rio was effective, which is a major step forward for a Florida offense that got progressively worse last year after former quarterback Will Grier was suspended in mid-October.

A 6'1", 213-pounder who's the son of Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio, Luke Del Rio has been with the Gators since last summer and spent all offseason learning McElwain and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier's system. 

"You can always be more comfortable, I'll put it that way," Del Rio said. "I'm confident in my ability to execute the plays, but it's a never-ending cycle of learning the playbook."

That clearly paid off on Friday.

What's more, this has been a rather uncomfortable spring for the Gator offense.

Star wide receiver Antonio Callaway, who caught 35 passes for 678 yards and four touchdowns last season, has been suspended and hasn't been working out with the team since January. Senior Ahmad Fulwood missed some time in the middle of spring. And it's not like Florida—a team that hasn't had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2002 (Taylor Jacobs)—is dripping with proven playmakers outside.

With comfort and confidence under center, it's a good first step for McElwain—now in his second season at the helm—to finally create stability for his offense.

Del Rio provides that comfort and confidence, and he has established himself as the unquestioned leader in the clubhouse at the turn of the offseason.

That hasn't changed his mindset, though.

"I approach [the summer] the same as when first practice started. It's a competition."

It doesn't appear Del Rio has any intentions of losing this one based on his spring game performance. 

 

Quotes were obtained firsthand, unless otherwise noted. Statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com, unless otherwise noted, and recruiting information is courtesy of 247Sports.

Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer and national college football video analyst for Bleacher Report, as well as a host on Bleacher Report Radio on SiriusXM 83. Follow Barrett on Twitter @BarrettSallee.

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Brandon Bourbon, Former Kansas Football Player, Dies at Age 24

Former Kansas Jayhawks football player Brandon Bourbon, 24, was found dead Friday, according to WIBW's Chris Lilly

Citing the Maries County Sheriff, Fox 4's Megan Brilley reported that Bourbon's death was ruled a suicide. A missing-persons report was filed on April 2. 

Chris Fickett of the Kansas City Star relayed a statement from University of Kansas head football coach David Beaty shortly after the news broke: 

JayhawksSlant provided comments from Kansas defensive coordinator Clint Bowen:

Former Kansas and current Oakland Raiders linebacker Ben Heeney posted a message on Twitter honoring Bourbon: 

According to Kansas' official website, the former Jayhawks halfback from Potosi, Missouri, earned first-team Academic All-Big 12 honors in 2013. Bourbon later transferred to Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas, prior to the 2015 season, per Lilly.

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