Whistles blew, coaches yelled and for the first time this spring, pads thudded when Florida practiced today in full regalia.
For a team putting on the pads for the first time in two and a half months, the Gators looked good in spurts. At other times, however, they looked like a team that hasn't put the pads on in two and a half months. That isn't a bad thing, and my first rule when judging spring practice is "Thou shalt not panic."
These observations are of one practice, and for that reason, I have things that stood out to me as either "good" or "meh." I would be overreacting if I said someone looked bad in the first and only time I'll see them before the spring game.
So who looked "good?"
D.J. Durkin: Florida's new defensive coordinator was all over the place, ranting and raving in players' faces here and there on Sanders Practice Field. At one point, Durkin thought his linebackers weren't giving him enough effort on a hitting drill, he chastised his group as being too friendly, and could be heard saying it was "So cute" that teammates didn't want to hit each other hard. You want a hard-nosed, loud Will Muschamp disciple to run the defense? Durkin is your man.
Loucheiz Purifoy: I know it's been said that Purifoy will be moved back to his normal position of cornerback after the first seven practices, but the way he practiced today, that mode of thinking might need to be reviewed. Purifoy looked like a natural today though only on a few different routes, mostly comebacks, outs and a few slants. But he runs good routes and, by my count, didn't have a single drop.
Purifoy is obviously being brought along slowly to prevent a mental overload, but you can see that he yearns to show the coaches he can play at WR. On one play, he was having some trouble getting lined up correctly, and after the play he was visibly frustrated. It wasn't a player going in the tank when things stopped going well: It was the reaction of someone that wants to do well immediately. That's a good thing.
Matt Jones: The big running back showed his skills today. At its core, Florida's offense is and will be run-based, and that was clear on Saturday as the first three plays in the scrimmage period: Matt Jones off left tackle, Matt Jones right, Matt Jones left.
The second play was an option pitch: Jones received it, and then proceeded to drive his shoulders through Cody Riggs showing the physicality needed to wear a defense down in the fourth quarter. Jones reminds me a lot of Steven Jackson, and it isn't only because of the hair. (That helps, though.)
Mike McNeely: Yeah, I didn't know who he was either before today. The fact that I do now is why he falls in the "good" category. McNeely made some plays in the offensive drills he competed in. If his ceiling is merely just capable backup, then it's comforting to know Florida can fall back on someone who has some skills. If McNeely can continue to stand out this spring with advanced effort, you may hear his name a bit more.
Who looked "meh?"
Jeff Driskel: He overthrew a few guys on the few times he went downfield in 11-on-11 situations. He threw behind some guys a little more than you'd like in 7-on-7, a drill in which you'd prefer to see every receiver at least get hit in stride. Today was mostly short to intermediate routes, and more than a few of the checkdowns to running backs that offensive coordinator Brent Pease promised he'd incorporate into the offense at a greater rate.
I will not be overly critical of Jeff in a small sample size, but he's got work to do. Luckily, it was the first day of spring practice with pads.
Trey Burton: The Swiss Army Knife of Florida football got work at wildcat quarterback today. Florida ran around 10 plays out of the formation and maybe three of them were successful. Most of the failures were not Trey's fault, high snaps threw off the timing and made giving the ball to the receiver in motion (often Andre Debose) impossible, and most of the plays were blown up for that reason. Trey gets an incomplete for todays practice, and therefore earns "meh" status.
Wide receivers: You probably could have predicted they would fall in the "meh" category. Little separation, not great route running, more drops than you'd like: In other words, the same old song and dance with Florida's receiving corps.
It's not a cause for alarm, in my book: Remember, they haven't been working for that long with new receivers coach Joker Phillips. Let him do his job, and let the talented freshmen primed to push for playing time arrive in August before you freak out.
Return guys: Demarcus Robinson, Andre Debose, Marcus Roberson, and Burton all had trouble fielding from the JUGS machine as well as real punters, apparently losing the ball in the sun. It was a football folly-esque few minutes as balls bounced off helmets and a few feet to the left or right of the four guys, as they shrugged shoulders in confusion. Joker Phillips wasn't happy about that, and could be heard screaming "We play in the dang Sunshine State!" at the quartet.
Miscellaneous: Early enrollee Alex Anzalone hurt his right shoulder during a hitting drill, and did not return to practice. ... Jonathan Bullard walked off the practice field with his right ankle taped, and was limping pretty badly.
Remember folks, it's just one practice. But it will be fun to see how the Gators progress between now and the Orange and Blue Debut.
Always remember my first rule of spring practice, though: THOU SHALT NOT PANIC.