Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun The Florida Gator football team participates in Spring Practice Friday, March 16, 2012. (Photo by Doug Finger/ Staff Photographer)
The first spring practice that the Florida Gators opened to the public since 2010 went about as expected. While the players reportedly ran basic drills that required only helmets, jerseys and shorts. Naturally though, there were a few highlights. I'm sure most people are interested in the quarterback battle the most. I mean, who wouldn't be?
Well, maybe the Missouri Tigers. From what I saw on the television, they have something else to worry about at the moment. Take away the Tigers, though, and you're probably not going to find many SEC people who aren't at least a little bit interested in who wins that battle. The first practice was so riveting in fact, that no matter where you were at, if you could get a view of the field you took it:
I'll say this: in no way, should any of those 20-30 people be ashamed of themselves. Why? The basketball game against Virginia was over and the baseball game against Vanderbilt hadn't yet begun.
As to what actually happened during the practice, we'll get to that right after the jump.
In a series with the first-team offense versus the first-team defense, Brissett was picked off by defensive back Valdez Showers. The play drew cheers from the assembled crowd and fired up the defense as players converged to congratulate the redshirt freshman.
I've got no problem with Brissett throwing an interception this early into spring practice. If anything, it shows us that the defense hasn't or will it miss a beat. Brissett would later hook up with Omarius Hines for a "touchdown" in what many are expecting to be a breakout season for Hines.
Who is getting reps at running back?:
...several players took turns in the backfield, including [redshirt senior tight end Hines] senior Mike Gillislee, sophomore Hunter Joyner and redshirt sophomore Mack Brown. Trey Burton saw action in the backfield as well.
So pretty much anyone on offense who can run with the football is getting reps early in practice. That works for me.
I do think that as the practices (and the season for that matter) progress, it would be wise to find a starter at the position and just go with it. You know, someone who is going to take the vast majority of the workload during the season and become a 1,000 yard back. You'll have to go back all the way to 2004 to find the last running back who rushed for 1,000 yards in a Gators uniform. Yes, it was indeed Ciatrick Fason.
Cornerback Jaylen Watkins was much improved, doing a solid job while often being paired against wide receiver Quinton Dunbar in drills.
Holt also put Watkins in the "five who stood out" category:
Not only did he lock down Dunbar on some early routes, but he had the first big interception of the day while playing on the far side of the practice fields. Much like Showers' pick, it came off Brissett.
The fact that Watkins has stepped up early in practice is huge. We all know that he (along with every defensive back not named Matt Elam) struggled at times last season. A lot of though, was him just not finishing the play and/or bad luck. It appears that maybe that luck has now changed.
Speaking of that "five who stood out" category, here are the other four:
Omarius Hines - We all knew that the redshirt senior would be getting a look at running back this spring. However, he also provided the offensive spark of the day as a receiver when he out-ran the defense on a deep fly route and caught a touchdown pass from Brissett.
Ronald Powell - Chalk it up as more success in a mostly useless setting, but Powell was in his zone during Friday's practice. Time and time again, he ran right around tackles who looked unprepared to stop them. It was Powell who tainted an otherwise impressive day for Humphries when he beat him badly in one-on-ones.
Jeff Driskel - While Brissett seemed to dominate the high and low moments of the day, Driskel was steady, throwing a great ball and appearing composed in the pocket. Unfortunately for him, many of his plays in 11-on-11 were plagued by receivers not getting open (much like last season), leading to lots of check-down throws.
Sharrif Floyd - The junior remains the absolute class of the defensive line. While other linemen had their ups and downs, it was Floyd who consistently shined in one-on-ones and made things uncomfortable for the offense in the more game-like situations.
So on this day, Brissett threw two interceptions of note and Driskel threw one. Is that picture on who will get the starting job clearer? Hardly. Heck, even Tyler Murphy saw reps at quarterback with the first-team offense. As we figured, this thing is far from over.
It's good to see Hines (as noted above) and Powell on the list. The more progress those two make, the smoother the offense and defense will be.
As for Floyd: I said it last year and I'll say it again this year. Floyd is, without a doubt, the most talented and important player on the team. Yes, the entire team.
On the slightly unexpected side of things:
Junior college transfer defensive tackle Damien Jacobs looked very rough jumping early a few times during one-on-one drills and then getting manhandled by older offensive guards like James Wilson, Jon Halapio and Kyle Koehne.
With Jacobs being a JUCO player, I wasn't really expecting this. It's early, yes, but at the same time this isn't like this is his first time going up against talent like Koehne, Halapio and Wilson. I'm not saying that for the last few years he's been going up against guys exactly those three, but he hasn't been playing chumps either. Being a former commit to both Florida State and Tennessee (even signing a letter-of-intent for the 'Noles) he should be aware of the level of play as well.
A not so good note:
After getting pushed around on a few plays in 11-on-11 drills, head coach Will Muschamp yelled at defensive end Earl Okine, calling him "a waste of a scholarship."
Hopefully Muschamp yelling at him like this lights that fire in Okine. (It should be noted that he was an Urban Meyer recruit.)
All in all, it appeared to be a normal practice for the Gators. I'm just happy that the practice was opened to the public and we get to see these things.
Saturday's practice begins at 1:05 p.m and is also open to the public. Follow @AlligatorArmy for tweets from it and check back later on Saturday for a full write-up.