April 7, 2012; Gainesville FL, USA; Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) during the first half of the Florida-Spring Game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-US PRESSWIRE
Some thoughts on Florida's open practice on Saturday, in no particular order:
The defense was the real star of the scrimmage, and likely always is this fall. I saw nothing from Florida's running game, though there's not a ton you can see in a light contact practice from a running game, and I suspect that was because of the defensive line controlling things up front. I saw Dante Fowler, who does not look like a freshman, practically living in the backfield. I saw Marcus Roberson get flagged a couple of times and play good coverage without his hands; I saw Brian Poole get worked over on one route in a goal-to-go drill. Jon Bostic is enormous now, as is Jelani Jenkins, and Loucheiz Purifoy looks good. It's not going to shock you or make you all that happy to learn that Florida's defense is well ahead of its offense right now, unless you really like defense, but I'll put it this way: Ronald Powell may be the most talented defender Florida has, and the Gators didn't seem to miss him all that much (he's doing drills and such, though) on Saturday morning.
At one point, after a leaping catch, I turned to the friend I was with and said "So there's a chance our receivers won't be horrific this year!" I saw good catches by Frankie "Hot Light" Hammond (Twitter seemed to like that nickname, so I think it can stick) and Quinton Dunbar, and some nice work by both Raphael Andrades, bigger and smoother than I expected, and Solomon Patton, who is quick. And that's the bulk of the receiving corps that doesn't include Andre Debose (who I saw drop a pass on the sidelines) or Latroy Pittman, theoretically the most explosive guys the Gators can play. It wasn't all gravy (Andrades dropped a screen that hit him in the hands), but I'm a lot more hopeful about these receivers than I was when I woke up.
Jordan Reed and Colin Thompson were not practicing with the tight ends, but Florida suddenly has an embarrassment of riches at the position. Tevin Westbrook and Clay Burton are loads, and Westbrook looks to have better hands than one would expect from a converted DE, and Kent Taylor runs very well and could function as a bigger wide receiver in passing situations. I wouldn't trust Taylor to block SEC defenders, as he's a bit slight, but I liked what I saw from him in the open field.
Trey Burton continues to be a mystery. I had a conversation with Matt Cretul about this in the stands, but he's still a jack of all trades and master of none; he's not fast enough to outrun everyone, not big enough to overpower many, not a good enough blocker to demand playing time as a fullback, not a good enough route-runner to see time at wide receiver. He practiced with the wideouts for much of Saturday, but I have no idea if that means anything. If Burton gets deployed in his ideal situation, as a sort of plug-anywhere Swiss Army back, I think he can still be productive. If he takes snaps from under center, I'm going to be angry.
Jeff Dillman is very, very loud. And I like that.
Florida summers are incredibly hot, so remember to hydrate (with water, not just alcohol) when you go out to tailgates and games, y'all.
- I have gone back and forth on who I think will be the best quarterback for Florida this fall, usually thinking Jacoby Brissett's slightly better 2011 gave me the evidence I needed to believe that he should be the starter. But what I saw from Jeff Driskel today was evidence that he can be a great quarterback: He hummed the ball into small holes in a net apparatus in 15-yard passing drills, looked far more comfortable in the pocket than the skittish freshman we saw last year, and acquitted himself nicely with deep throws. The caveat, of course, is that it was just practice, and that Brissett didn't look that much worse. I don't think Florida's in bad hands with either, but Driskel had the better practice Saturday.
- While both of those QBs were good, though, I have no faith in anyone below them on the depth chart. Tyler Murphy is a serviceable third-stringer at Florida, but he really deserves to head somewhere else and start; Skyler Mornhinweg and Jacob Guy are nowhere near good enough to be even third-stringers, and Guy in particular needs a ton of work on his mechanics. Having and keeping Driskel and Brissett, as I think Florida will do through 2012 at least, is going to be important, because the dude who "loses" the race is going to be one snap from playing at all times.
Did you make it out to The Swamp for the open practice? What'd you see?