The Knights concluded their 2013 Spring program today with an impressive showing from its starting units.

A couple things were made very clear by head coach George O’Leary and the Knights offense: 1) The passing game will be a big part of the 2013 campaign as Blake Bortles looks to expand on an impressive 2012. 2) The Knights running game features two backs with contrasting styles that will make for an interesting combination.

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On the offensive side of the ball, Blake Bortles is the clear-cut leader. After an impressive 2012 season where he was extremely efficient and careful with the football, Bortles is expected to get a greater opportunity to throw the ball more frequently. Coach O’Leary and his staff went into the game with the expectation that the offense was going to throw it a little more than usual, and it seems like this may be something Knights fans can expect as part of UCF’s offensive package this coming season.

It also helps that Bortles has outstanding chemistry with his two top wide outs JJ Worton and Jeff Godfrey. During their outings Worton caught 8 passes for 163 yards and 2 touchdowns, while Godfrey reeled in 7 catches for 107 yards and a score. In a performance where it seemed Bortles had unlimited time in the pocket, he completed 18 of 24 passes for 276 yards and 2 touchdowns. This impressive performance may be a sign of great things to come this season.

A great passing attack is almost always set up by successfully executing the running game. Running backs Storm Johnson and Cedric Thompson were both excellent in this year’s exhibition.

Johnson and Thompson are known to their teammates as “Thunder and Lightning,” and today gave the UCF faithful a glimpse into exactly why that is; Johnson, “Lightning,” is known for his blazing speed and ability to make game changing plays. Thompson, “Thunder,” is a north-south runner who runs between the tackles and has the ability to wear an opposing defense out.

Together, with contrasting styles, these backs have the opportunity to give opposing defenses a real challenge this coming fall. Johnson carried the ball 14 times for 67 yards and a touchdown. He also caught 5 passes for 40 yards. Thompson carried the ball 11 times for 52 yards and a touchdown. In addition, Thompson added 4 receptions for 47 yards.

One particular stand out who may not be well known to the Knights faithful is quarterback Justin Holman. Having just enrolled at UCF this past December, Holman is a raw quarterback with an extremely athletic repertoire. This young man has a cannon for an arm and is extremely elusive in the open field.

Coach O’Leary stated today that the back up quarterback position is not yet solidified for Red Shirt Junior, Tyler Gabbert. All O’Leary could promise is that he would give Gabbert “the first snap in preseason.” That is hardly a ringing endorsement for the expected back up. During the game, Gabbert showed flashes but was very jumpy in the pocket and looked to struggle with his footwork. This is something he will need to sure up if he wants to maintain his position as Blake Bortles’ back up.

Holman looked extremely impressive in his first real action in front of UCF fans by completing 9-12 for 110 yards and 2 scores. Gabbert was not nearly as good. He completed 13-21 for 174 yards and committed a costly interception on a 3rd and goal pass. This competition is something to watch as UCF heads into its summer workouts.

On the defensive side of the ball, Coach O’Leary did not express the same confidence as he had in the offense. He stressed that there were too many communication issues in the secondary and the guys playing on the back end must get stronger in all aspects if they want to see some success this season.

There were, however, some defensive standouts during this game. The starting defensive ends for the Knights had monster days at the office. Thomas Niles registered 3 sacks while getting consistent pressure on the quarterback. The other defensive end, Deion Green, sacked the quarterback 3 times as well. The Knights defense will need a lot of consistent production from Green and Niles to help cover up for a lack of experience in a young and learning secondary.

Defensive back Michael Easton was a bright spot for a struggling secondary. Easton intercepted Tyler Gabbert while recording 5 tackles and 3 passes defended. The truth of the matter is for this defense to be successful, inexperience must be their only weakness. Preparation and work ethic have to be at a premium in the Knights locker room for this unit to succeed. Players must step up and make plays, make the correct reads, and be in the right spots at the right times.

The new American Athletic Conference will test these Knights early and often. It is up to them to prove to themselves, their coaches, their fans, and most importantly their opponents that they are up to the task. Until opening day against Akron, there is a lot of work to be done. The Knights will have a tough and rigorous summer program that will prepare them for the upcoming season. They are determined to make that hard work payoff.

UCF will kick off the season at home on August 29, against the Akron Zips.