1. What was the vibe this spring in Gainesville?
I think this was a subdued spring in Gainesville, until the spring game. Florida's most promising player from last year on offense was Antonio Callaway, and he's spent the spring suspended and in a weird limbo, with his lawyer speaking about him as often as Jim McElwain has. That put McElwain and other coaches in the position of talking up a huge class of early enrollees and trying to sell Florida's slew of unknowns at quarterback as a better foundation for the 2016 offense, while everyone and their sister has come to take excellent defense for granted in Gainesville, despite two first-round picks exiting the secondary and other leaders leaving the other two levels.
Since the spring game, though, there's been far more enthusiasm and relief. Luke Del Rio looked like the best game manager ever in brief action, and freshman Kyle Trask flashed as a possible rival to the more ballyhooed Feleipe Franks, who struggled mightily. Wide receivers and tight ends made plays even without Callaway available. JUCO thumper Mark Thompson appeared to be the Derrick Henryesque runner fans had hoped he would be. And the defense was solid, even in a starters vs. backups showcase. Plus, Florida has a kicker now!
This spring, for Florida, was evidence of how much a good spring game can do for a fan base.
2. Florida was able to get things done on offense with a lot of spare parts last season. Are things starting to come together on that side of the ball this spring?
I think so, though I think calling Callaway a spare part is significantly underrating him, and it's fair to note that Florida's starting QB (Will Grier), starting RB (Kelvin Taylor), and No. 1 wide receiver (Demarcus Robinson) all have NFL futures, although Grier's is further off and depends on a team being totally okay with talent trumping his significant baggage. Florida's got depth everywhere now, even at quarterback, with options behind starters that are far more palatable than another fall of, say, Treon Harris flinging the ball.
Most importantly, Florida's offensive line should be better, if not incredibly so, and that will help a team that struggled to sustain drives without Grier, even if Del Rio promises to be an upgrade on Harris.
3. Any big surprises this spring or causes for excitement?
I don't think Eddy Pineiro blasting three field goals of more than 45 yards in a spring game is a big surprise, given his prolificity on social media prior to enrolling in Gainesville, but it's certainly a cause for excitement. Florida's kicking game was a mess in 2015, with Austin Hardin ranking among the worst kickers in FBS, and getting his job back after a demotion only because of injuries and the ineffectiveness of a dental student who tried out for and made the team as a walk-on to great fanfare.
Now, Hardin's gone, and Pineiro is the Cuban Missile Launcher, or something, capable of dominating in the kickoff game with an immensely powerful leg and banging even deep field goals should Florida's offense stall. Given that the Gators all but abandoned field goals as a strategy toward the end of the year, having the option of turning to a reliable kicker actually might open up the offense.
4. Any big question marks or causes for concern?
I think depth on the offensive line is the biggest concern facing Florida. I'm pretty sure that Florida's top seven or eight linemen will be good and reliable contributors if healthy, but that if is a big one, and the Gators' second-teamers were sieve-like in the spring game. Caveat: Martez Ivey missed the entire spring, is probably Florida's most talented hoss up front, and gives the Gators some positional flexibility because he can play tackle and guard. I imagine he's liable to force a re-evaluation of Florida's line this fall.
5. So year one of the Jim McElwain Era was an unqualified success, but with just 12 starters back this looks like it could be something of a reboot year. Is there an understanding of that or are expectations as high as ever?
I don't think expectations for a national title exist this year, but I do think Florida fans are quietly confident that this team could head back to Atlanta as an SEC East champion and underdog. And why not? Florida has to go to Tennessee this fall, and contend with a Georgia team that could be better than Mark Richt's last squad, but the Gators seemingly have a psychic edge on the Vols, and have won two straight over Georgia with Treon Harris at QB. Missouri and South Carolina will be in Year 1 of new coaches tenure -- and South Carolina's coach scares very few Florida fans -- and have to come to Gainesville, Kentucky hasn't beaten Florida literally in my lifetime, and Vanderbilt is still Vanderbilt.
Florida isn't going to be favored in more than five SEC games, and might not be favored against Georgia. Can 5-3 win the East, though? I think the answer is yes, and I think that's a reasonable hope, if not necessarily the most likely scenario.