For maybe the first time this fall, Jeff Driskel didn't stand out at quarterback during Florida's open practices.
But Will Grier did. And so did Treon Harris, to a lesser extent. And that backup quarterback battle may be back on in a way that it wasn't even 48 hours ago.
- Grier didn't just have his best day as a Gator that I've seen — he had the best day of any player on the field. Caveats about a no-pads practice (and the diminution of pass rush that comes with it) apply, but Grier fired several strikes on passes of more than 30 yards that were either dead-on or minimally off; that he only had a couple TD passes, instead of four or five, was less on him than on Florida's receivers. Grier wasn't as sharp on short and intermediate throws, but I let out a low whistle on one of his bombs, and he threw about five of similar quality. For all the good Driskel's done this fall, and his substantial improvements on his own deep ball, I don't think I've seen him be as deadly down the field as Grier was today.
- I came to this practice expecting Harris to be laser-sharp, given the raves for him that I've seen over the last week, and he wasn't that, at least not at first. But Harris, not Grier, had the throw of the day, a slicing corner route that would've been a great touchdown pass if not for a Ryan Sousa drop. (You may be sensing a theme.) And Harris looked to run more than Grier did, which is a positive in an offense that depends on quarterbacks knowing when to cut bait and head upfield instead of forcing bad throws. Harris might be at or slightly ahead of Grier in his acclimation to game speed, and while he doesn't have Grier's arm strength or deep accuracy, his passes were generally on target with only a couple bad throws.
- Demarcus Robinson just makes plays all the time. He is nigh unguardable in 1-on-1 situations, and displayed even better quickness than the stellar agility and acceleration I've seen from him before on Saturday.
- Of course, the one guy who can shut down D-Rob is Vernon Hargreaves III, and he was outstanding in the first full practice I've seen from him this fall. He knows the drills so well that they appear second nature, and his mugging coverage entirely prevented three completions on the only reps I watched from him in 1-on-1s, including coverage that seemed to draw Robinson away from what could've been an easy touchdown catch.
I wasn't watching LB/RB coverage drills, and thus didn't see the Daniel McMillian interception in question here, but it sure sounds good!
Soph. LB Daniel McMillian with a nice one-handed interception in LB coverage drills.— Jeff Barlis (@JeffBarlisESPN) August 16, 2014
The Wrong Kind of Standing Out
- Drops were an issue again, and they've spread from wide receivers to running backs. Sousa's failure to catch the perfectly-thrown ball from Harris was the worst drop of the day, but I saw Mark Herndon and Mack Brown fail to pull in passes, watched Chris Thompson misplay a (fairly difficult) ball, saw more drops from WRs in drills, and noted both Moral Stephens and Tevin Westbrook slipping and failing to catch passes coming out of cuts. The list of Florida players I really, truly, fully trust to haul in passes is three names long: Demarcus Robinson, Matt Jones (who flashed his good hands again on Saturday), and Jake McGee. (Thomas Goldkamp notes that Quinton Dunbar makes it a quartet, and he's right.)
- Florida's second-team offensive line was once again a mess on Saturday, with rushers frequently coming free around the ends. The offense did a better job of mitigating that pressure right at the end of practice with high-tempo snapping and quick decisions, but that also came in the final 10 minutes of a practice on a warm day, so fatigue may well have been a factor ... and the pass rush intensified as the final drive of the day reached the red zone, stalling it.
- Skyler Mornhinweg has virtually never impressed me in a practice, but this might have been the most ignominious showing I've seen from him. He threw a few terrible passes to no one, struggled to get velocity on his throws, missed a wide open McGee in the flats in one pass progression drill, and was generally outclassed by both Grier and Harris, with the differences between the players sometimes shown by consecutive reps that did Mornhinweg no favors. It feels a little like piling on to tell you that Mornhinweg is clearly Florida's fourth-best quarterback when that was the most likely outcome of spring and fall practices, but he was just bad on Saturday, to the point that much of my optimism that he can actually be a serviceable backup in Kurt Roper's offense after seeing him look sharp in the spring game has been nulled.
- Trenton Brown false started a few seconds before a snap in a full-field drill (while playing right guard) and was immediately yanked and replaced. I don't think a guy that size is ever going to get away with a false start.
Position by Position
Basically everything I needed to say about Grier and Harris is above, but one more observation worth making: Grier is still really, really skinny. I'm aware that his lack of bulk is part of why he's an excellent athlete, but the difference between the more diminuitive Harris and Grier, physically, is that I look at Grier and wonder if he'll snap like balsa wood on one big hit, while I think Harris might be slightly better at avoiding and absorbing those hits. I'll discuss this more and at length on Sunday, but Florida's best-case scenario is that Harris narrowly beats out Grier and plays as a backup this year, and it seems very possible.
Driskel's lack of sharpness wasn't really alarming, just disappointing after a fall full of ho-hum days on which he did very little wrong. I'm not going to worry too much about it, especially because it felt toward the end of practice like Driskel was given a break today, as Grier, Harris, and Mornhinweg took the lion's share of the snaps.
In fairness to Mornhinweg, he did have one impressive throw over coverage to Robinson on a corner route. I tend to think that even I might eventually look good when throwing passes to Robinson, but credit where due, right?
- There wasn't a lot of work for the running backs on the ground in this practice, as Florida focused on going to the air and giving Grier and Harris a lot of reps, and playing without pads means that there's no real contact that backs can fight through or avoid. And that, plus me watching other drills during an RB/LB coverage drill, made it difficult to come away with anything other than "Florida's running backs aren't very good at catching passes" as an observation. Both Brown and Herndon showed nice burst after making it through holes, I guess?
- Apart from Robinson and Quinton Dunbar, who continued a time-honored tradition of doing one good thing (he had a nice catch on a fade from Driskel), I'm not sure there's a sure thing on the outside in Florida's wide receiving corps. Ahmad Fulwood had a relatively quiet day, with his most notable moments coming when Hargreaves broke up a pass intended for him and when he snagged the kind of fade he'll be thrown quite a bit in his career, and he's really Florida's only other logical bigger X receiver candidate. Robinson and Dunbar outside is probably a fine tandem, don't get me wrong, but it can sometimes feel like Florida suddenly has eight slot receivers and two outside guys, and I haven't seen consistent production out of Andre Debose or Thompson outside, either.
- Good thing the slot receiver pool appears to have a few good men. Alvin Bailey was active and quick on Saturday, and C.J. Worton ruined what was mostly a quietly impressive fall camp by making a couple big plays; I'd expect those two out at the slot first and most early this season, though Andre Debose and Latroy Pittman are still very much in the mix. In any case, Worton, maybe this team's best route-runner outside of the ultra-smooth Robinson, looks like he has played his way into a chance to contribute this fall.
Tight Ends / Bs
- Jake McGee is Florida's best tight end. Anything you hear or see to the contrary is going to be bunk.
- Beyond McGee, though, Florida lacks depth at the position, with Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook appearing little better than they were in 2013 and before, and DeAndre Goolsby slipping back into the pack after a good spring. C'yontai Lewis and Stephens have both been largely invisible this fall, and I expect both to redshirt, which should leave Florida with two true tight ends and two converted defensive ends to use this fall. I just can't imagine the DEs playing over the TEs.
- The first full-field rep I watched featured almost the entire pocket collapsing around Driskel, who stepped up and threw anyway. The rest of the first-team reps were much less chaotic, though some of that ought to be chalked up to the more subdued feel of a Saturday practice with music blaring and no pads on in The Swamp.
- Rod Johnson's drawn praise from other quarters this fall, and I saw a little bit of why on Saturday. He's a big body with long arms and paws for hands, and he does a very good job of keeping defenders at bay. Considering that he's also likely not going to start, I continue to feel cautiously optimistic about Florida's depth at tackle.
- But that second-team line, though...
- Surprise: There's not a lot to take away from how the defensive line performed in a padless practice. Gerald Willis looks fast. Alex McCalister does, too. There was a nice pressure from Justus Reed, a potential BUCK of the future, late. Saying I noticed much of anything beyond that — except Leon Orr doing a half-hearted Nae Nae to "Sexy and I Know It" — would be lying.
- One note on McCalister: He has an absolutely freakish frame, and doesn't appear to have any bad weight, but still seems slightly underweight, especially for his size. I think he'll have troublesome quickness, but I don't know if he has enough power to be anything but a towering speed rusher.
- Gonna be honest: Didn't even really watch the linebackers today. I'm still thinking that they're going to sink or swim based on what the defensive tackles can do in front of them, but it's definitely heartening to see (or hear of) more coverage acumen from players like McMillian today and Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor over the course of the last two weeks.
- Hargreaves and Keanu Neal are announced starters in the second, and both looked like it on Saturday, with VH3 just looking like VH3 and Neal appearing fast and aggressive. Neal also really skied for the ball in a high-point drill — I knew he was fast and knew he could hit, but I'd never seen him get up quite like that before.
- The rest of the secondary, however, feels like it's still in flux. J.C. Jackson, Brian Poole, and Jalen Tabor all got significant work with the first team at corner, and Jabari Gorman played a lot of safety, and I'd imagine those four players and Marcus Maye will produce the three starters Florida still lacks, but I'd have a hard time calling anything for any of them at this point.
- Also: This didn't occur to me until just now, but I didn't see Maye at all. Jackson and Duke Dawson both shed the non-contact jerseys they wore in a Friday scrimmage, as did Hargreaves, but Maye, who's been in and out of that orange top throughout camp, was nowhere to be seen.
- No field goals today, and the only punting was in a punt return drill.
Here were the players working as returners:
Working at KR: Brown, McNeely, Dunbar, Showers, Debose, Taylor, Jackson, Thompson.— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) August 16, 2014
And in another PR group: Hargreaves, Robinson, Brandon Powell, Debose, Worton.— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) August 16, 2014
Throw of the Day
Harris putting a pass on the money to Sousa just barely edges Grier's best throw, a strike to Worton in the seam.
Run of the Day
There wasn't one.
Catch of the Day
I imagine it was probably McMillian's interception, but, again: I didn't see it.
Play of the Day
Grier to Worton for the TD takes this spot.
Coach of the Day
Travaris Robinson wore long sleeves for a record 2,482nd day in a row.
- If you were paying attention to my tweets, you know that I was noting the music as it was played, but it really peaked early: "We Ready" is an all-time great pump-up song, and "Seven Nation Army" nearly as good, but lapsing into Creed and Bon Jovi doesn't do much for me, and the brief rap interludes of "Back in the Mud" and the fun nostalgia trip of Kanye/Khaled/T-Pain's "Go Hard" were fine ... but then we got the Charmin-soft B.o.B/Bruno Mars joint "Nothin' on You," which is much, much better-suited for the radio than The Swamp. One good thing about all of the music: It was loud.
- Other than Maye, I didn't notice anyone missing. (And, really, Maye was not conspicuous by his absence.)
- Mack Brown led players in a pre-game shouting session. He seems like a good choice for that role.