Detailed news and notes from the Gators 3rd Open Practice
After opening up Spring Practice last weekend to the fans and media, Dan Mullen and the Gators had enjoyed the experience so much, that they invited everyone back for a 3rd open event! Below are some of the notes, photos, and videos from the practice, as well as some answered fan questions from r/FloridaGators. A couple disclaimers: This was the first week of practice and only one of the first few in pads, so a lot of the focus is on building the foundation of what the coaches want to do and making sure the players know what they should expect going into the season. In short, take everything with a truck load of salt. I also apologize for the potato quality pics and videos – I don’t own anything more than an old iPhone, though my girlfriend did attend and got some impressive shots! And apologies again, but due to the defense mostly practicing on the far field and Special Teams blocked by a wall of fans behind us, I was still only able to get about 1/3 of practice worth seeing them get at it. But enough of that, on to the goods!
‘Open Practice #3 ‘Starters” on Offense & Defense:
QB – Franks, RB – Scarlett, WR(s) – Van Jefferson, Swain, Grimes, TE – Lewis, LT – Ivey, LG – Jordan, C – McCoy, RG – Johnson, RT – Taylor
CB(s) – Wilson, Henderson, Gardner-Johnson (Nickel/Safety), S(s) – Taylor, Stewart, LB(s) – Reese, Jackson, OLB – Jefferson, DL – Ancrum, Zuniga, NT – Clark
Notes: Van Jefferson and Grimes are consistently getting time with the 1’s with Swain and also Toney getting a lot of time as well. The biggest change was on defense where Rayshad Jackson played the entire practice with the 1’s in place of Vosean Joseph. Zach Carter, Polite, and Zuniga also jumped in at times at OLB.
And for those who are curious, Franks was ‘last off’ after signing autographs. I missed who was first on the field (tough parking today with the baseball team playing at the same time).
Practice Atmosphere and General Structure
Another fantastic crowd was on hand for the 3rd open practice, with just as many if not more fans in attendance. The new staff and the excitement they are bringing to the fan base is becoming overwhelming evident and the program really seems to ‘get it’. Rather than make it a just a simple day where fans could try and catch a glimpse of the boys in pads, they made it a full on event – drinks sold on the sideline, kids running around on the indoor field, Madden being played on a big screen, fans clapping and high-fiving players after a nice play. The energy is very real in Gainesville and it is spreading to every corner of the program and University. Even Scott Stricklin came out to enjoy the fun, greeting all the smiling fans.
No music was played again, though the baseball game next door provided some noise (the Gators were thumping Arkansas, so lots of cheering) and overall it continued to be very fast paced all around. The focus of this practice seemed to have drills that were aimed at specific details for each respective group. The format went like so:
- Stretches and warm-ups: the offense did some quick routes and the defense did some sprinting drills, followed by a full-team stretch.
- Special Team Drills – as many have noted on Twitter, the entire team (QBs stayed inside to do more arm warm-ups) practiced a lot of blocking and slides (videos below), as well as some kick returns
- Grouped and Individual Workouts – Phase 1
- QBs and RBs practiced hand-offs with one-step cuts, tossed-hand-offs, QB runs with RB blocking, as well as passes to the flats
- TEs and WRs practiced blocking
- O-line worked on zone blocking and footwork
- Defense – I couldn’t make out a lot but I did note that the defensive backs were practicing ‘jamming’ techniques off the line, while the linebackers and d-line worked on gaps
- Grouped and Individual Workouts – Phase 2
- QBs did some target practice then quickly jumped into skeleton passing with the WRs and TEs, followed by some 1 on 1 drills against the defensive backs, which really got the boys jarring at each other.
- Running backs worked on quick cuts
- Defense and offensive line worked on run blocking/defending and were eventually joined by the RBs to practice it in real time.
- 7 on 7 drills for the offense and DBs
- QBs then worked on snap counts, backfield motions, and sweeps with the o-line and RBs, while the defense worked on bull rushing, scheme masking, and drop backs.
- 11 on 11 – everyone’s favorite part
I’ll get into more detail as we go about each positional group, as well as other observations, but in general there seemed to be a lot more confidence by the players as they finished off their first week of practice; knowing what to expect in terms of pace and where to be. Certain players are beginning to separate themselves from others as the days wear on and it will be interesting to follow who are the favorites heading into Summer.
Greg Knox was again the loudest coach on the field, but shortly behind him was Dan Mullen who could be seen sprinting up and down the field multiple times to talk to players or teach them the right technique. You can see at the start of the second video above that he is very active and exuberant. Coaches in general followed the same pattern during drills; Do it perfectly > do it again until you do > do it again > explain why this is important to do it perfectly > now move on to the next drill. Very much a GO! GO! GO! mentality, much to the liking of the fans as there were not many breaks from start to finish.
Questions from r/FloridaGators
Kungfumantis: Hey man just wanted to start off by saying thanks for all this. As a quick aside it sounds like you got yourself a good one there! As for questions, it seems like most everyone is interested in the development of the QBs, but I’m personally interested in the defense. How do the individual units look? What are the coaches harping on the most? When the DBs get to go head to head with the receivers how often are the receivers shaking them?
Once again the defense has been elusive to follow, as they have been spending a majority of their time on the far field away from where the fans are able to watch (likely because watching offense is a bit more exciting for a open practice), but there were some interesting observations that could still be had from what I was able to see!
The biggest things to note are that the defense is still well ahead of the offense, as is very common in Spring ball, but that they are also just a touch slow in their movements – especially evident in 11 on 11 work. The main reason for this is the switch to a 3-4 from the 4-3, more so because the players who have been doing things differently for years are forced to think more about what their role now is. Nothing to panic about, since that is what Spring is for; getting everyone on the same page and learning the basics. The good thing is that we have the right type of athletes for this transition – Slaton and Clark are great fits at nose tackle, we have a good core of defensive ends, and athletic enough bodies like CeCe Jefferson, Jachai Polite, and Zach Carter to rotate into an OLB position.
The coaches seem to be really focusing on the fundamentals of what will be an aggressive defense. Teaching the linebackers when to rush (which they will do A LOT of) and when to drop back, as well as how to properly mask what they are doing. The defensive line will more often than not have one less body, so getting the NT or one of the DEs to read how to eat up an extra lineman and create gaps for rushers has been a focal point as well. The biggest thing of all though is teaching them to be ‘nasty’; the coaches harp on them the entire practice to get angry and own the play. This will be a VERY aggressive hybrid-defense who will rush the passer A LOT.
One thing is for certain – we will remain DBU. This is clearly the strength of the defense and it is obvious that it will be what they will lean on in 2018. In the previous practices the defense definitely owned a majority of day, but it was interesting to see that the WRs had a pretty impressive outing, especially during the 1 on 1 phase of the practice.
Typically we see them match-up during 7 on 7 and 11 on 11 drills, but the 1 on 1 drill bread some fierce competition between the two groups. Gardner-Johnson is the clear leader of the secondary, followed closely by Taylor. In the pic to the right, Chauncey had just blocked a pass to Grimes, an Ohio State transfer, and chased him down the sideline yelling, “This is the SEC, not the weak-*** Big 10!”
Overall the battles were a ton of fun to watch, and experienced receivers like Van Jefferson and Freddie Swain were able to break some DB legs to get open. Henderson in particular will not enjoy watching his practice tape, but overall the group will be fine and Iron is clearly sharpening Iron in this case.
williamhungster: I would like to hear how our Special Teams are looking. After the loss of Johnny (Praise be his name) and EDDIE.. EDDIE ( We cheered for a kicker!?), it would be nice to know that we are gonna be safe and comfortable with the “Next ups”.
This was the first of the open practices that the special teams units participated in any of the on-field drills, and only still they were kicking mock punts to the returners during the Special Teams portion of the practice. As u/gator12345 pointed out, they are mostly kicking and punting on the indoor field while everyone else has been outside. The same was true for this practice as well, but this time I did make a note to check things out.
What did I learn? Honestly, not much… and I think that’s just the nature of practice for this unit. With true freshman Evan McPherson, the anticipated replacement for fan-favorite Eddie Pineiro, not yet on campus with the team, it was R-Fr. Chris Howard and R-Sr. Jorge Powell taking a majority of the field goals inside the practice facility. The long and short of it is that they can pretty consistently hit field goals inside with nobody rushing them. Neat. We’ll know more come this fall when McPherson, the 2nd best HS kicker in the country in 2017, gets on campus and they start playing them in game situations, or even during the Spring Game.
The same story goes for the Punters as well, only it is expected for Tommy Townsend, brother of former Gator-great and most recent punter Johnny Townsend, to be taking over the open role. In the few punts I did see it looks like he has good spin control and distance on his punts, placing the ball well-within in the target (inside the 10) pretty consistently. Again, this is indoors and with nobody rushing or trying to block, but all in all the legs are on the roster and only time will tell how good they will be.
Of course this is the group that everyone is most curious about and, after one week of practice, two of them are beginning to separate themselves from the group – Feliepe Franks and Kyle Trask. Franks had a fantastic day overall with only a couple notable mistakes and Trask continues to look very solid in making his case for a real opportunity. I’ll add more details about each, but there is a gap beginning to form between these two and R-Fr. Jake Allen and the new-comer Emory Jones.
(apologies for the kid standing in the middle of the video – he wasn’t interested in moving much for the crowd. Then again, he has to do his job, whatever that might be.)
- The order in which the QBs received their reps were Franks > Trask > Allen > Jones. All recieved the exact same number of reps through a majority of practice until 10 on 10 when both Franks and Trask got 5 reps to Allen and Jones’ 3 reps.
- Franks by far looked the best of the bunch, with Trask not too far behind. He has a lot of composure and confidence when running the offense and seems to trust most of his throws.
- Overall Franks does seem to be going through his progressions really well, and for the most part he seems to be keeping it simple with only a handful to read – something Mullen and co. will surely do for all the QBs to keep things straightforward as they develop.
- Outside of one (REALLY ugly) mistake where he stared down Quincy Wilson and threw it to him for what would have been a pick-6, he read the coverage, made quick decisions, and consistently hit all his men in stride.
- Franks is also very much a true leader – he has a strong bond with the team around him and is active throughout the practice. He made some nice throws to receivers during 1 on 1 work and, after a nice catch, would sprint down the field to congratulate his guy for the effort. Or on a bad drop by RJ Raymond, he quickly ran over to help him shake it off and focus on the next play. It needs to translate to game days, but he has the trust of the team, as it stands.
- Trask continues to make a case for the QB race. At the end of the day he is not nearly as flashy as the others in the group, but he makes few mistakes and is impressively composed when running the show. His ceiling may not be as high, but he may not need it to be – what I mean to say is, Trask doesn’t do anything to make you cringe, but he doesn’t do a lot to make you say ‘WOW!’
- Trask rotated with the 1’s a little bit more this practice too, which would allude to the fact that the coaches are giving him some more consideration as Spring ball wears on.
- Jones by far has his worst day of the open practices, with the tight spirals he was throwing a week ago notably gone for much of the sfternoon. Coach Johnson kept talking to him about setting his feet properly, as his throws were just simply missing the targets. He has the quickest arm of all the quarterbacks, but was simply too inaccurate on the day for it to matter much.
- For those concerned about Jones, especially with so much hype for him coming in, remember that this is his first week of college practice – he’s a true freshman and is simply playing like it. That said, the coaches do seem to think there could be a role for him in the near future, as they call a lot of designed roll-outs and run plays when he is running the offense; something that could play a factor during the season as this is clearly a strength his possesses compared to the others.
- Jake Allen looks like a guy who missed a season of football and just isn’t quite up to par with the rest. He has a good frame, but is clearly just under the ‘talent cap’ that the other three are operating on. He has less of a deer-in-the-headlights look as Jones, for the most part, but the pieces aren’t quite coming together where I could see him playing a major role for this team moving forward. No slight on him or his ability, just the nature of the situation right now.
- Even though there were mistakes, it was overall a pretty clean afternoon for this group, with Franks’ pick-6 being the only glaring error made by the four in question.
- There was no pass that really stood out on this day, but that had more to do with the offensive line struggling and the QBs not finding guys. They were forced into quick decisions and shorter routes most of the practice.
Other Notes on the Offense:
- Tight ends remain a focal point in the passing game, and it is clear that Mullen and co. plan to use them A LOT on both running and passing downs. On Saturday they focused a lot on the TE’s in the passing game, looking to get them the ball downfield. Lewis and Raymond were both very active in that regard, with both Stephens and Gamble not far behind. Lewis looks to be the starter, as it stands, but all of them will be active in this offense.
- Damien Pierce jumped to the #2 spot behind Jordan Scarlett in terms of carries and reps, and he showed why after powering through the d-line and breaking away for a 60-yard touchdown during 11 on 11 action. He has a natural ability for finding space and accelerating. There is little doubt he will be a major factor in the Gators run game if he keeps playing like he has been.
- Scarlett continues to look like a man among boys. We all knew he had the ability to be an elite running back in the SEC and, if spring practice is any indication at all, he will have that chance in 2018. Coach Savage is improving on what was already an impressive frame, and it’s giving Scarlett that extra ‘pop’ when he hits the defender. Poor Brad Stewart got a front row seat to said strength when Scarlett completely ran him over and then some during 11 on 11. I think you can see it in the video below.
- Jefferson, Grimes, and Swain are getting a majority of the 1st team reps, rightfully so as they have looked great so far in practice. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens when they submit waivers to the NCAA, but having them available in 2018 would be beyond huge. Toney and Wells are also finding themselves some time with the first unit.
- As a note, Toney was in a red non-contact jersey after hurting his shoulder earlier in the week. It didn’t seem to slow him down much as he was very active in the passing game, making some really nice catches on slants to the middle of the field (that’s right, passes to the middle of the field!). Coach Gonzalez and Mullen have been spending a lot of time correcting Toney’s technique and it is obvious that they think he is a special talent when all the skills are properly utilized. The good thing to see is that he has developed a ton after just one week as a true-WR.
- Van Jefferson is still the best receiver of the bunch. His route running is crisp, he is great at getting separation for his QB to find him, and he really battles for (and often wins) 1 on 1 balls.
- Tyrie Cleveland was out again today, taking mental reps at the end of practice with RB Malik Davis. Mullen did note earlier this week that he expects Cleveland to be back in the coming days.
- Rick Wells is also starting to come along and improve since the first day of practice, as both he and Freddie Swain should not be forgotten and will certainly play big roles in the passing game as well. Overall there are good options at the position… and more talent to come once Jacob Copeland, who was in attendance on Saturday, gets himself in pads this spring.
- Both Toney and Swain have a knack for getting up-field quickly after making the catch. Both are valuable in the slot.
- During special teams drills Adarius Lemons, Jeawon Taylor, Van Jefferson, and Gardner-Johnson were receiving kick-offs. Not much was done with the returns, but an interesting note as we move forward.
- After Scarlett and Pierce, the reps were fairly split between Clement, Perine, and Lemons. Clement got an earful on a few occasions from Coach Knox – on one notable occasion, after he missed his hole, Knox sprinted with him all the way around the field, jarring in his ear about the mistake. Knox has the ability to take a very good stable of backs and make them simply great.
- The offensive line is definitely the biggest concern, still. Coach Hevesy could not contain his frustration with the unit Saturday during 11 on 11, screaming at his guys to pay attention to the details. Overall they did not give the QBs much time to throw the ball, allowed multiple ‘sacks’, and forced quick passes. It could certainly be due to the aggressiveness of the talented defense they are facing, but the group will need to start making some progress if the Gator’s offense is going to go anywhere in the coming season.
- Delance is one backup to watch as he has been impressive for the second-unit through the first week. The first unit seems pretty solid, with only Brett Heggie being the missing piece from 2017 (out with an injury), but if things don’t improve we could see a shake-up in the very near future.
- Another note on Coach Gonzalez – it is impressive with how active he is in practice from start to finish. He is very detail oriented and, much like Mullen, is not afraid to get right in the middle of the action while his guys are playing. Pictured right, you can see him chasing down a pass being thrown to Van Jefferson. After great catches were made by his guys he would sprint to them to congratulate them, or immediately come up to them to help correct any mistake that might have been made. Hard not to be impressed with Gonzo thus far.
Other Notes on the Defense:
Again I apologize for not getting to see these guys a ton – they practiced on the far practice field once again, making it difficult to evaluate them as much as the offense.
- The defense remains aggressive in everything they do, something Coach Grantham emphasizes and demands from all his guys. They are clearly going to be a blitz-happy team and are not afraid to do so in practice against a ‘learning’ offense. Trial by fire, I suppose.
- Jefferson, Moon, Polite, and Carter have been getting the most time at OLB and will certainly get their chances to rush the passer in this scheme.
- I noted this earlier, but the linebackers and even the DE’s at times look just a touch slow in their reads. This is most certainly because of the switch in defensive schemes, which is causing the players to have to think a bit more about what they should be doing as opposed to acting on instinct. Nothing to be concerned about because they are, in fact, thinking about what to do and this is exactly what Spring practice is for – learning new schemes and adapting.
- My god is Slaton a big man… how many people did he eat during the off season?!
- Moon is really growing into his frame and if he can maintain his speed off the edge he could develop into an impressive rusher.
- Linebacker Rayshad Jackson has notably replaced Vosean Joseph in the starting 11, pairing with David Reese.
- Ventrell Miller had a very nice day on defense, mostly running with the 2nd and 3rd units. He has very active hands and was able to get his fingers in the QBs eyes multiple times as well as bat down a few balls (seen in the pic below). He continues to develop and will be one to watch as Spring ball rolls on.
- Gardner-Johnson is without a doubt the leader on defense and has started to make the move to Nickel-corner more often. He still saw some time at safety, but it is clear that the Gators have the most athletes in the secondary and getting more of them on the field at one time is only a good thing. Brad Stewart joined Taylor at safety when Chauncey moved into the Nickel spot.
- Trey Dean had another nice day in coverage, not allowing too much to get over him. He’s looking for a backup spot behind Wilson, which is impressive considering this is his first week of college ball.
- Brad Stewart had a nice practice and made some nice plays during 1 on 1 practice. The WR group was notable getting the best of the secondary, making some crowd-pleasing catches. But after Stweart broke up a pass to Hammond up the middle he sprinted to the crowd and asked, “I don’t get [any] cheers?!” to which everyone laughed and cheered him on.
- Grantham has the defense doing a lot of scheme masking and creating some interesting dropbacks intended on throwing off the offense. On one play he notably had Slaton, the biggest man within a 100 mile radius, dropping back into coverage. It’ll be interesting to see what these schemes look like in game situations.
I know this has been said a million times already on almost every site and forum, but Dan Mullen continues to impress the Gator fan base and media. He not only says all the right things, chiming music to everyone’s ears, but also acts in the same manner. ‘Relentless effort’ was something he preached since stepping off the UAA plane, and it he certainly gives that every minute of the day. Throughout practice he was seen running from group to group (and I mean RUNNING) to congratulate a player or make a correction. He is of course favoring the offense and quarterbacks, but he is not afraid to walk up to the defense and share his wisdom. Mullen expects the most out of his players and gives them his absolute most in return. The truth will come on Saturday’s, but he is showing every indication of a winner thus far.
And there you have it Gator fans! Those are all my notes from day 2. In summary, the practices were fast and intense, expecting players to go 100% all the time and focus on the details of their job. They left me and other fans with a lot of optimism. If you’re looking for more video, Zach Alboverdi from SEC Country shared a good one. Hope you enjoyed and feel free to drop me any questions you might have! Go Gators!
And a special thanks to my girlfriend, Amy, for taking the practice on with me and snapping some awesome pictures!