Florida Gators 2014 spring practice: Vernon Hargreaves III stars on Day 1

Florida got back to the grind on Wednesday. Vernon Hargreaves III shined brightest.

Florida's first spring practice of the 2014 season brought a likely star to the fore — Vernon Hargreaves III, who wasn't healthy for any of Florida's open practices in the fall of 2013, looked as good and fast and smart as he did at any point of the 2013 season. And so he's gonna dot this report from Day 1 of Florida's 2014 spring practices.

I'd get used to that if I were you.

Standout Performers

  • Hargreaves is so fast, quick, and smart that it's going to be very, very hard to do anything against him in coverage this year, as long as he's healthy. The only catch I saw against him was one on a well-thrown ball to the other side of Quinton Dunbar — and Hargreaves was glued to his hip throughout a route that had two breaks. Hargreaves also shadowed Dunbar on a go route that took both players into the end zone, went up with him and broke up the pass, and went back to the line, (rightly) play-whining about offensive pass interference. If I had to pick one player whose name is on Florida's depth chart in ink, it's probably VH3.
  • Demarcus Robinson looks so fast and fluid when he's on the field in these practices. After starring last spring and fall, D-Rob make another showy play on Wednesday, losing touted freshman corner Jalen Tabor — who appears to be working with the second string — on a rep in a 1-on-1 drill just after VH3 beat Dunbar. It was less Tabor's inexperience than Robinson's suddenness that made that play happen, too; when he does the things he is capable of doing, Robinson looks like a future NFL receiver. That was his only major highlight, with the offense spirited away to the far fields more often than not, but it was impressive, and he looked solid with the ball in his hands all afternoon.

The Wrong Kind of Standing Out

  • On two consecutive reps in a defensive line drill, Antonio Riles, playing what looked like 3-technique defensive tackle to me, lost his gap integrity by sliding too far outside to the offenisve tackle. This pissed off Brad Lawing, who chewed him out both times, yelling "What technique are you!?"
  • The most significant play I saw of Clay Burton's day was a drop on a relatively simple flat route.
  • Kelvin Taylor, who had a pretty good day as a runner, got the loudest admonition of the day, from offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. Driskel threw a little high to Taylor on a flat route, and Taylor sort of half-jumped for the ball and bobbled it before dropping it. Roper's response: "KT! RESPECT THE DAMN BALL! RUN THE ROUTE LIKE YOU'RE GONNA GET IT!" Roper does not lack for fire.

Position by Position

Quarterbacks

  • Jeff Driskel is obviously Florida's first-team quarterback, and played like it, generally making good throws and looking healthy on the hoof. But he also threw a bad pick on what was either an awful throw or a miscommunicated route in a pass skeleton drill, and was partially responsible for a fumble on a read option handoff.

    After the latter, he stood looking at the sidelines for the next play with his hands on his hips for what seemed to me to be a while. Read into that if you want, but know that Driskel also walked out of practice right next to Roper, and both guys were upbeat.

  • Will Grier made his hotly-anticipated debut as a Gator on this day, and mostly impressed. When he makes a decision, the ball leaves his hand in a hurry, and when he really whips it, he gets very good velocity on short and intermediate throws. But he also missed a couple of those short throws, and floated a couple longer balls, and he has a smallish hitch in his throwing motion that could probably use correcting.

    He's clearly the No. 2 quarterback on this roster in terms of talent, and could probably be Florida's No. 2 this fall if the plan was to bring him along and not redshirt him. He's still skinnier than would be ideal, but doesn't look nearly as thin in person as he has in all the pictures you've likely seen online.

  • Skyler Mornhinweg worked with Florida's second string for most of the day, ceding some snaps to Grier, and looked like you would expect Mornhinweg to look: Good on shorter throws, and shaky on deeper ones. It still looks like he's almost pushing the ball on throws beyond 20 yards, and one of them, in particular, made me cringe. I've seen Mornhinweg have terrible practices before; this wasn't one of them. I didn't see anything particularly impressive, either.
  • Those are Florida's only quarterbacks at the moment. This was more worrisome in person, while recalling 2013, than it is in the abstract.

Running Backs

  • Taylor looked noticeably quicker to me and the friend I spent the entirety of my time at practice with, and it's not like he was slow in the first place. He's definitely No. 1 on the depth chart at the moment, occasional lackadaisical efforts aside.
  • Mack Brown looked like Mack Brown, and took one carry down the sideline for about 40 yards well after the play was effectively over. This amused me.
  • Mark Herndon looked very quick, impressively so on one slashing run that he broke into the defensive backfield. I think he's a little too small to effectively pass protect, but he's got better speed than a typical walk-on running back.
  • Valdez Showers worked with the wide receivers for much of the day.

Wide Receivers

  • Dunbar is Florida's No. 1 receiver. He didn't do anything spectacular, but he made a couple of decent catches, and, well, he's Florida's No. 1 receiver because he's been as productive as anyone of late despite some anemic passing games.
  • I think Robinson is Florida's most talented receiver. He just needs to keep getting better, behaving off the field, and focusing; his talent should get him on the field enough for it to translate.
  • Ahmad Fulwood looks like a taller, slightly slower Robinson. He could be the same sort of receiver for Florida.
  • No slot receivers stood out to me, which strikes me as an issue given the utility of slot receivers in Roper's offense. But, to be fair, I had my head down and was writing a tweet when Latroy Pittman did something good that people around me remarked about, and saw some tweets praising Alvin Bailey.
  • However: Case Harrison, a walk-on from Gainesville High, made a couple of the better catches on the day, including a sideline catch on a deep throw from Grier that was the play of the day. He's not big, and not particularly fast, and made those catches while working outside, but he was impressive enough today for me to want to watch him a few more times.

Tight Ends

  • Deandre Goolsby really does look like Aaron Hernandez on the field. He's definitely got that hybrid receiver/tight end body type. And I'm not betting on Florida needing plodding, blocking-only tight ends after seeing how much throwing was done during this practice.
  • Burton had the aforementioned drop, and did pretty much nothing else.
  • Tevin Westbrook had a nice catch near the sideline on a flat route, which he then turned upfield with surprising speed. He looks slimmer than he has.

Offensive Linemen

  • I watched maybe a minute of offensive linemen drilling. Maybe. Sorry.
  • D.J. Humphries finally has a little paunch, which is good. D.J. Humphries fired off about three seconds too early in one 11-on-11 segment, which was funny.
  • Trenton Brown is less massive than he is big, and I was genuinely surprised to see him still listed at 361 pounds on the roster distributed to any fan that wanted one. He looks like he's lost weight.

Defensive Linemen

  • Darious Cummings is Florida's only returning defensive tackle who a) played more than a handful of snaps last fall and b) is participating in spring practice, with Leon Orr rehabbing from a wrist injury. So it's good that he looks like a load.
  • I don't believe I saw Dante Fowler, Jr. line up with his hand down at any point. He's Florida's BUCK for sure.
  • Other than Riles, no one riled up Lawing that I saw, but he was working individually with linemen during most of their drills. One problem with this for the observer: It can be hard to see Lawing, who is not very tall, behind hulking defensive linemen.

Linebackers

  • I watched very little of the linebackers, too, so keep that in mind.
  • Jarrad Davis was wearing what appeared to be a light knee brace on his right knee. He looked to be moving around just fine, but he was basically the only one of Florida's freshman linebackers to play in 2013 and not suffer an injury; if he's wearing a brace, it's a good bet that he tweaked something since the fall.
  • Daniel McMillian made a really nice leaping play to break up a pass.

Defensive Backs

  • Hargreaves is good. I can already tell it's going to be pretty difficult for me not to sing his praises over and over again this spring. But the most impressive thing he did was take on a Robinson block and all but flip him horizontal on the first rep the two had against each other. VH3 may not be the biggest corner, but he knows leverage damn well.
  • The first-team secondary seemed at times to be Hargreaves, Tabor, Marcus Maye, and Jabari Gorman, but it's hard to tell whether that was a function of Brian Poole being in the slot and not on the outside very much, or of Florida just starting Tabor out outside.
  • Nick Washington played a little safety and a little corner, and impressed at both positions. He had a leaping breakup that drew a little applause. (Very few things drew applause on the day; it was oppressively hot, and surprisingly so.)
  • If I had to pick out the member of Florida's secondary that had knee problems bad enough to force a redshirt freshman season with none of my knowledge, I would struggle to pick out Marcell Harris.

Special Teams

  • Austin Hardin kicked a field goal or two that went in. Woo.
  • Working as punt returners today: Hargreaves (who appeared to be the No. 1 guy), Bailey, Poole, Tabor, and Duke Dawson.
  • This was on the middle field, and at the end of practice, so I may be slightly wrong on the distance, but it appeared to me that Kyle Christy launched a punt from about the 20 or 25 to the goal line or even into the end zone near the end of practice; I'm confident it traveled at least 60 yards, but it might actually have gone 70. Christy would subsequently boom a couple more for about 50 yards each, one with excellent hang time, but I also saw him have one punt blocked, and was looking elsewhere when another one might have been.

Superlatives

Throw of the Day

Grier's 40-yard throw to Harrison down the right sideline wasn't quite a dime, as it hung a bit in the air, but he put the ball where no one but Harrison could make a play on it.

Run of the Day

Herndon's slashing run. Really, this is the winner for lack of other choices.

Catch of the Day

Harrison's catch, which was an over-the-shoulder haul, and may have required him to tightrope the sideline, too. (I was in a bad position to see the catch.)

Play of the Day

That Grier-to-Harrison hookup narrowly tops Hargreaves's blanketing of Dunbar.

Coach of the Day

Will Muschamp. Who else would be dropping an f-bomb on the first day of spring practice because the offense didn't dive on a loose ball as fast as his defense did?

Stray Observations

  • I arrived about 10 minutes after practice started, but right before the 11-on-11 portion of practice that was the day's third (I think) segment of a 16-segment practice. It felt like the first-team offense was running the hurry-up no-huddle for the first few plays of that first drive, to the point that it actually caught the defense off guard.
  • I didn't see a single snap taken from under center all day.
  • Mornhinweg running the read option multiple times in this practice is a pretty good indicator, at least to me, that Florida's going to be incorporating it this fall.
  • I forgot how hot it gets on Sanders Field. And with no clouds in the sky, today was brutal, even with a straw hat on and sunscreen applied. Bring water if you go, and don't leave it in your car, because that would be moronic.
  • "Celebrity" sightings, in no particular order: Dominique Easley, Damian Jacobs, Josh Evans, Kytra Hunter (who is dating Keanu Neal, who "tweaked" his hamstring, per Muschamp), Jelani Jenkins, Florida commit Deontai Williams.
  • Note the person in the center of this Instagram video:

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