The Florida Gators football team has gone through five practices and finally put on the pads on Monday afternoon and that signals that football season is very close to returning.
Gator Country has been at all of the open practices and this podcast, Andrew Spivey and Nick de la Torre discuss how the Gators have looked so far in practice and who is standing out.
Of course it wouldn’t be a podcast about the team if we didn’t hit on the quarterback battle as both Nick and Andrew break down the position.
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Andrew: Gator Country, Andrew Spivey, Nick de la Torre. We’re back. If you hear a little excitement it’s because football season is back. Nick, how does it feel to smell the green grass, hear the pads popping, hear the coaches holler, hear some players hyping in? It’s football season, baby.
Nick: It’s nice. The thing I took away from yesterday was I don’t know how these guys maintain their weight. Some of them even gain weight during camp. I’m out there for half an hour, and I sweat through my shirt, and I’m not even wearing pads. I’m just standing still. I’m not going through drills or anything. It is hot. I’m sure these guys can’t wait for the indoor practice facility, and I know some of us out of shape media guys can’t wait for it too, because we wouldn’t mind getting into the AC to watch our 15 minutes of practice either, but we’re babies. We’re not athletes.
Andrew: The difference is, Nick, after practice, after they sweat all that, they go eat a couple of T-bones. They put on that weight back. You go home, and you eat your healthy meal, and they go home and eat their non-healthy meal. That’s where it is. It is an interesting standpoint to get back on the heat thing. McElwain is running his practice in the middle of the day, and I thought that was pretty interesting that he did that. Muschamp tried to push his later in the evening to stay out of the heat, but McElwain wants to go in the middle of the heat and I guess kind of put the pressure on of what’s going to happen when you’re physically tired. What’s going to happen mentally?
Nick: It’s kind of, I know Will Muschamp, especially as camp got closer and closer to the season he wanted to start scheduling practices around the start time of the game, to kind of get guys into a routine of this is what game day’s going to be like. With Florida’s first three games, first two home games and then at Kentucky all being at night, it’s going to be a little bit cooler, but why not see what your players have? If you have a two hour practice and it’s 98 degrees, 78% humidity, you’re going to be dog tired by the middle of that practice, just because the heat bearing down on you, but you still have to be able to pay attention to the details.
There was a huge offensive install yesterday, so already the gears are turning at 1,000 miles an hour on every offensive player’s mind. Now they’re getting tired. Now we’re into practice, and Jim McElwain and the coaching staff are still there getting on them making sure they’re doing all the minutiae properly, making sure they’re doing all of those little things properly. Mac is really a believer in if you take care of the little things the big picture comes into play. So he’s always harping on the details.
You’re going to be tired in the fourth quarter of a game, so why not put yourself in a situation in fall camp where you’re not taking losses or getting wins, put yourself in a position in fall camp where you’re mentally training yourself to be able to focus on those little things so that by the time that fourth quarter comes, and you are tired and the game is on the line, those little things are just second nature. It’s just muscle memory now.
Andrew: I know, to get into my next question for you, we know Saturday there was a couple guys go down with cramps and heat exhaustion, that kind of thing. What have you seen from Mike Kent’s workout program? Do you see that the guys are staying more energized? Are they in better shape right now? What’s your take on that compared to the past staff? I want to say that Jeff Dillman was a great strength and conditioning coach, don’t get me wrong there, but it definitely seemed like the guys were tired in the fourth quarter compared to other teams.
Nick: I don’t know if I would necessarily say that. I think Florida was very well conditioned. Jeff Dillman’s weight lifting philosophy and strength conditioning philosophy was centered around the Olympic lifts. So we’re talking about deadlifts. We’re talking about snatching, all of the power compound movements. That’s going to make you strong. If you look at Olympic lifters, power lifters, they might not look like a bodybuilder. They might not look like a Greek statue all cut up, but those guys are strong.
What Kent is doing is kind of working more on fast twitch kind of stuff. It might not be, we’re going to see how much you can one rep max on the deadlift today. It might just be we’re going to take some weight off, but we really want you to explode through the movement. When you’re doing that, when you’re doing more reps at a littler higher intensity kind of stuff, a little bit less of a rest time, you’re going to burn a little more fat. You’re going to exert a little bit more energy, and I think you’re seeing guys are bigger. You look at a guy like Keanu Neal. We were talking about Keanu yesterday, and my goodness. He was gigantic, cut up, shredded.
I think Kent’s program is more centered towards football and stamina more so than strength. I mean, just because they’re not one rep maxing on the bench press or deadlifting doesn’t mean they’re not going to be strong. These guys are lifting a lot of weight. They’re going to be strong, but I think they’re going to be a little bit in better football shape with Kent’s style of training.
Andrew: I think the difference is Kent’s workout program is more about getting the muscles and the ligaments that are used for football stronger. His is more of a football oriented workout. It reminds me of Scott Cochran at Alabama. It’s a lot of let’s go high reps, less weight, burn you out in the weight room so when you get on the football field it’s a piece of cake. That’s kind of where it is. We’ll see what the fourth quarter brings. Of course, McElwain’s offense is going to be pounding and grounding, so it’ll be interesting to see.
Let’s go to the football practice here. We’ve talking this talk crap for six months now, it seems like. Let’s get on the football action. We got five practices down? Going into two a day on Tuesday. General thoughts on the offense, Nick.
Nick: The offense? I’m really excited about a couple players on offense. Really excited about Demarcus Robinson.
Andrew: Hold on. Jordan Scarlett’s got to be in there. Don’t even talk about him. Go ahead.
Nick: Jordan Scarlett’s in there. Love my St. Thomas boys. Jordan Scarlett is going to be a big impact player in this offense. Demarcus Robinson, I’ve seen some kind of new learning things from him as far as running routes incorrectly, and that’s kind of across the board, especially as they install more and more of the offense. Guys are kind of thinking a little bit more. Once that becomes second nature to them, and they know the terminology, and they know what’s installed they’re going to think less, and you’ll see those mistakes start to drop, hopefully. At receiver CJ Worton has really impressed me. Antonio Callaway has really impressed me.
I even see someone like Chris Thompson being used in some ways, on some pop passes, some screens, those passes where the quarterback is taking the ball from under center, planting that back foot, turning and throwing right away. Just to get a guy who has speed and shiftiness in his game, just to get the ball into his hands quickly and then let him do something, rather than relying on Chris Thompson to say, I need you to run a seven step in, need to run a seven step post, ten step post, need you to run a stutter go, slant go. Make it simple for him. You are very fast, and you can make people miss. We’re going to get you the ball quickly, and then do that.
Offensively I’ve been really impressed with Fordham transfer Mason Halter. He’s a guy who is bigger than I expected. When you think about an FBS player, or an FCS player, a former Division II player, you might think they’re a little bit smaller. Halter carries his 300 pounds very well. Tall kid, very smart. He’s been working at left tackle. I’m not going to say, Mason Halter’s worked at left tackle the 30 minutes, 45 minutes that I’ve been able to see practice, he’s your starting left tackle. McElwain has said we’re going to work him in slowly. He played left tackle at Fordham, working him in slowly that progression starts at left tackle, and then you see what else he can do. From a footwork standpoint, from a strength standpoint I’ve been very impressed with him as well as David Sharpe, Tyler Jordan, and even Cam Dilliard. I haven’t seen any snapping problems from Cam Dilliard, which is the first time you’ve ever heard me say this, and that’s a very good sign for him moving forward.
Andrew: Definitely. I’ve heard a couple things as well. I’ve heard that the staff is very impressed with a couple of the freshman. Nick Buchanan, I’ve heard a lot of positive things about Nick Buchanan. I’ve heard some positive things about Ivey, Martez Ivey, and Jordan Scarlett as well. The common denominator that I continue to hear on the offensive line is that they believe the offensive line is going to be good enough to be serviceable this year, and that whether they have the eight guys they really want or not they’re going to be serviceable. As you and I have talked about before, they feel like they can mix and match a little bit and be okay with it. Then back to your point on Demarcus Robinson, the number one thing that I continue to hear about him is that he’s grown up, that he’s more mature. He’s more focused on football.
Nick: That’s important. We mentioned on the message boards that he is rooming with Will Grier during fall camp. That’s good. Will is a kid that you’ll never have to worry about getting in trouble off the field, so to have Demarcus, who’s been suspended for off the field issues before, to room with a kid like that is a good influence.
I did want to touch on Nick Buchanan. Monday in practice I saw Nick Buchanan. They were doing half line drills. A half line drill you’ll cut it in half, so you’ll have the center, right guard, right tackle line up, or left tackle, left guard, center line up, and two defensive linemen going up against those three. So I saw Nick Buchanan completely stone Taven Bryan twice in drills, and that is not saying anything bad about Taven Bryan. Taven Bryan is one of the strongest defensive linemen on the team and a very good player. I think that says more about Buchanan and his size, his strength and his ability than it says anything negatively about Bryan. Nick Buchanan is a guy, I think as McElwain tries to find those eight offensive linemen that he can trust and build a rotation with I think Nick Buchanan’s kind of working his way towards that group.
Andrew: Yeah. I think the same thing. I think that there is a consensus with Nick Buchanan that he can play guard and tackle, and he’s a big boy and strong as an ox, but I think the thing that we forget about him is he was a guy that was accepted into Cal Berkley, guy that was accepted into Stanford. He’s a smart guy, and that’s big for a guy that’s going to end up possibly playing guard and tackle in the offense. Again, McElwain’s offense is not a difficult offense to understand. It’s just an offense that’s very predicated on doing your job at the guard and tackle position in the run blocking game. He’s not going to be his own blocking scheme. He’s more of a, you have this man, you have this man, you have this gap, and that’s what you got to take care of.
Nick: Yeah. I think we are seeing some signs that the offensive line could be better. An area that I want to see more at is tight end, because I really feel right now that there’s a pretty big drop off after Jake McGee. I’m not seeing enough from C’yontai Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby after him in terms of being able to be in every package and being able to be a guy that this coaching staff isn’t just putting in in the red zone or just when they have a play where the tight end will start on line and then flex out into the slot or motion somewhere.
Andrew: I think that the thing that, with C’yontai, with Goolsby is I see C’yontai Lewis as what I used to call a flexed out tight end, or what a lot of people call a slot receiver now for the tight end. I don’t see C’yontai Lewis ever being the guy that’s going to exactly get down there and pound a defensive end in a run blocking scheme. Then it does surprise me that Gooslby hasn’t, because Goolsby now up to 245, am I correct in that? 240, something like that.
Nick: He’s a big boy.
Andrew: So that does surprise me that he’s not able to get in there and be that end line tight end on a third and two. He can’t line up and at least get some leverage to push his defensive end back some, or be able to go at a play exit pass. I kind of thought that him and C’yontai would be a great combo together, because Goolsby could be your in line guy and C’yontai was kind of going to be your third down/pass option tight end. The thing even with Jake McGee is this. I’m not even sure Jake McGee is that guy at the tight end position that could really line up and knock Jon Bullard off the ball.
Nick: I don’t know if there’s any tight end that is going to line up and knock Jon Bullard off the ball. I did see Jon Bullard toss McGee to the side a little bit yesterday, but McGee did do well against some of those smaller defensive ends, looking at guys like an Alex McCallister type, so the guys that are relying on their speed more so than their power. I think McGee can handle those kind of guys. You’re not going to want McGee to line up against a Kendeche or a Bullard. Those guys have that strength, that unhumanlike strength. Is Jake McGee your goal line tight end that you bring in to pound the ball behind? No. But he is much better as a blocker than anyone behind him on the roster right now.
Andrew: I agree with that. I definitely agree with that. Let’s go to the most talked about position battler in college football, the quarterback position. Let me say this before I toss it to you, Nick. There is no quarterback being named starting quarterback, and it is stupid to say that it is. It’s 21 practices, let’s let 21 practices go out, or at least let school start before a quarterback is named, so one of them isn’t transferring. Nick, go ahead. What have you seen? What have you heard? I know your prediction’s still Will Grier, but what have you seen?
Nick: We’ll start by saying that fans might not recognize it, but college football can be a dirty game, and you’re not going to get a starting quarterback named before classes start. If classes start, a kid enrolls in a class, steps one foot into the class, he’s locked in for that year. So he would have to then transfer and sit out next year. It’s not a situation where if you name a starting quarterback after classes start you know you’re going to have those two guys for this season. Is that fair to the kid? No. You just hope that everyone is being honest and open about the situation, at least behind closed doors. They don’t have to be honest and open about it to me, but at least be honest and open about it to the kids that are involved in it.
To say that the quarterback battle is over, which I’ve seen on the internet, I think it’s premature. If practice is two hours, we’re seeing 15 minutes. The coaches know when we’re out there. They know what we’re seeing, so it’s a very scripted 15 minutes, and then we leave. Then we don’t know what’s happening after that. I’ve heard that Treon Harris has looked great during 11 on 11 stuff when we haven’t been there. So I think to name a starter after five practices is premature. I think even if the coaching staff had picked a starter by now I think that would be premature. There’s so much time between right now and when the games start that I think it would be a disingenuous move for the coaching staff to eliminate somebody. That’s not going to help them. Keep the competition going.
See if maybe Will Grier has taken a sizeable lead, but maybe over the next 20 something practices, or for the next three weeks Treon Harris closes that gap, and if right now you say, Will Grier’s our starter, that doesn’t help you. That doesn’t help Treon, and I understand some people can make the argument you want a starting quarterback named so the team can rally around him. My argument to that is there’s probably four teams in the SEC that have a starting quarterback named. Alabama doesn’t have a starting quarterback named.
Andrew: Ohio State doesn’t.
Nick: They have three in the race. Calm down with that. The quarterback race is not over. I still think based on what they can bring to the offense that Will Grier, his physical traits, his ability, I think his footwork is better. I think his accuracy is better. I’ve seen Treon really struggle with out routes, really forcing some passes into double coverage. He got picked off yesterday at the end of the segment that was our last segment to see trying to hit a 5’8” Brandon Powell, when Brandon Powell’s being covered by DeAndre Porter and Marcus May over the top. That’s not a battle the quarterback or the wide receivers are going to win very often. I think it’s too early to call.
Andrew: I agree. It’s just not smart. Use the 21 practices. Yes, you say it doesn’t help Treon Harris for Will Grier to be named the job. It doesn’t help Will Grier, because as long as there’s a quarterback battle you’re pushing the intensity. You’re making it game like atmosphere in practice that in my opinion is something that’s very tough to get. I like it a lot. I like that there is a quarterback battle going on right now. Again, do I think Will Grier’s going to win the job? I do. I have made no mistake about that. I think we’ve both said that since spring football, or before spring football, but I’m not ready to name the starting quarterback either, and it’s not my job to. That’s Jim McElwain’s job. Let’s just see what happens after 21 practices. Who knows? Will Grier may not pick up the rest of the playbook. Treon Harris may, and Will Grier may look like crap the rest of the spring.
Nick: Right. There’s so much more to install and to do. To call it right now would mean that they’ve installed the entire playbook, everything that is going to be in the offensive playbook is already in, so this guy looks better. He must be the starter. Then also we talked about how the line looks better, but we’ve seen in the past where Florida’s kind of picked a quarterback that was more mobile, because the line was going to be bad. You didn’t want to get a guy killed. You didn’t want to have drives ending because of sacks. You wanted to have a guy that had some escapability, someone that could improve, someone that could make something happen on the fly when things break down. Treon Harris has shown that he can do that.
There’s also the argument that when the bullets have been flying you’ve seen what Treon Harris can do. He came in against Tennessee on the road, down 9-0, led two scoring drives. Florida had an over 500 record with Treon Harris as the quarterback last year, as the starter. You don’t know what you’re going to get from Will Grier. You know what I mean? He had ridiculous high school numbers, but you haven’t seen him play in a meaningful college game, any college game, not a spring game. So there are some questions about how he handles that. McElwain talked on Monday about maybe seeing some live quarterbacks in blitz drills, and I say shenanigans. Don’t think that happens.
Andrew: But it would be a good thing. It would definitely be a good thing. Unfortunately, offense is not the only thing going on right now. A little defense is going on right now, not really much competition going on for starting jobs. What have you seen from Geoff Collin’s defense? What have you seen from the staff, the assistants on that side of the defense? Really how good is this defense looking so far?
Nick: The defense is phenomenal. Going down the line, I’ve seen a combination of these five guys starting on the defensive line, Alex McCallister is your bar none starter at the rush position, which is like the buck position. We’ll say the rush position is like the buck position a couple more times before we’re going to expect you guys to get on the same page and know that. So he’s starting at the rush position. In the inside I’ve seen three guys really working with the first team, and that’s going to be Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie, and Taven Bryan.
Caleb Brantley to me looks the best he’s ever looked at Florida. His first move looks great, and the biggest thing I see with Caleb is you never really challenged him physically. You never said, you don’t have the talent or anything like this. For him it was always the mental side of the game, and I saw on Monday Coach Rumph really getting on Caleb for a rep that he took, and rather than hanging his head he says, let me get another one. Right away lines back up, fixes it, and gets that immediate praise. So instead of saying, coach is getting on me let me go to the back of the line and pout over here, he said, let me get right back in. You just told me something to do. I’m going to show you that I can do that and I’m coachable. For him to get the mental part of the game maybe that is what will separate him from his first two years at Florida into this year where it looks like early on that he’s ready to take that next step and become that All SEC player that people thought he would be coming out of high school.
Then on the other side, the other starter that is without question is Jon Bullard. Jon Bullard the last couple years with Muschamp you kind of saw the older guys, the senior guys, get some extended vacation during certain periods. Dominic Easley would probably do one rep, if he did a rep, in some drills, and then he would just watch, rest his body. Jon Bullard’s in there. He’s working every play, every rep, every snap. That’s your four, five. They’re obviously still looking for guys like Khairi Clark and some more guys inside to really come on.
Then at linebacker I love what we’ve seen from Alex Anzalone, Jarrad Davis, the freshman Rashad Jackson, who I think everyone assumed would need a redshirt year, does not look like a freshman. Physically he doesn’t need a redshirt year, so we’ll see if he can get the playbook down and make an impact this year. Then obviously Antonio Morrison, I did not expect to see him running. Antonio Morrison looks good, obviously a huge brace on that left knee, not really limping, not really favoring the leg at all. Then he’s like having another coach on the field.
For as abrasive or whatever as he can off to the media, some kids just don’t like doing media. Antonio Morrison is a coach’s best friend on the field, because he’s holding everyone accountable. He’s holding the coaching staff accountable. I know on Saturday he reminded a coach that everyone’s already gone through this drill, let’s go to the next one. Let’s do that. Randy Shannon kind of looked around, and said everyone has gone through. Antonio Morrison holds Jim McElwain, water boys, players, he’s holding everybody accountable on the field.
Andrew: Let me touch a little bit on Brantley real quick. You hit on that about being coachable. One thing that someone told me is that he and Lawing didn’t connect. Lawing was the guy that didn’t connect with Brantley and didn’t get through to Brantley, and Rumph and Brantley really connect with each other. That’s what’s pushing Brantley to be a better player. You say, he should have connected with Lawing. Sure. As a football coach you have to know what buttons you can and cannot push with a kid, what makes a kid click and not, and that’s something Lawing never did. We’ll see how it really goes with that. It’s good news to hear on Morrison. Hopefully he can come back. It is good news that he’s out there taking the mental reps.
Nick: I don’t even know if he needs to take the mental reps, but I think the best thing is having him out there to help the other players, to help the younger players, and help Alex Anzalone. Morrison, when I asked him on Media Day about Anzalone he raved about the job that Anzalone did taking control of the defense, and Morrison will tell you, the position that I played, the position that Anzalone plays, we are the quarterback of the defense. Everything, and Morrison takes this to heart, falls on my shoulders with the defense. It’s a big responsibility, one that he takes very seriously, and he raved about how Anzalone kind of took that burden onto his shoulders and continues to do so as Morrison works back.
Then we’ll move on to the secondary. I wrote it, and I believe it. Florida’s secondary is more impressive in person than on paper. Vernon Hargreaves, as good as advertised, but then you look at guys like Quincy Wilson and Jalen Tabor. They are going to make names for themselves this year, and then in their junior seasons the following year. Right now they’re kind of in Vernon Hargreaves’ shadow, but I’m telling you these two guys are big, over 6’, 190 pounds, maybe 200 pound defensive backs. Kind of that new era of defensive back that you’re seeing in the NFL right now. Don’t just say that Florida only has Vernon back there. They’ve got two other All SEC type cornerbacks in Wilson and Taber.
Then you move to safety. Keanu Neal had a ridiculous one handed interception. Marcus May is playing easily his best football that I’ve ever seen him play. You still have Duke Dawson, Brian Poole. Florida’s secondary is ridiculous.
Andrew: I had someone tell me this last night. I was talking to an Alabama fan, and they were like is it just Vernon Hargreaves in the secondary? I’m like, what? Really? Is that the national perception it is? One of the NFL writers came out with that Top 10 the other day of the best corners, and Tabor was Number 5. It’s like, yes, Tabor’s probably the second best corner, but Quincy Wilson, Brian Poole, they’re not getting any love. It’s Keanu Neal. He’s not getting any love. All reports that I’ve heard is Marcus May’s having his best fall camp so far, and he’s really picking things up. That’s another player. Then you haven’t even thought about Duke Dawson yet, who played a lot of meaningful games as well. The secondary’s nasty. Pick your poison. You’re not going to throw to Vernon, so you’re going to really test Quincy and Tabor over there? Good luck with that.
Nick: That’s really it. Somebody was asking me about Florida’s defensive backs, and my answer was, Florida better be able to stop the run, because there’s not going to be many people that want to pass on this team.
Andrew: Definitely. Nick, we’re kind of running here. We’re running way over our time limit that we have. I know we got a little away from it. It’s football season. We’re all kind of a little jacked up Mountain Dew that Geoff Collins drinks. Any final thoughts real quick? I know Florida has a scrimmage on Friday. So we’ll have plenty of news and notes from that as well. Any final thoughts?
Nick: Final thoughts, I got some blowback yesterday on Twitter for putting out a picture and a video of Johnny Townsend. I was trying to show how the other half of the football team lives during practice. Punters are people too. Don’t forget about them. Thank your special teamers.
Andrew: They do nothing. Nothing. Nothing in practice, but they are people. If Austin Harden’s hitting field goals, nobody cares. If Johnny Townsend’s hitting punts, nobody cares. So let’s get football. What are we here? 25 days now to first game?
Nick: Soon. It depends on when people are listening to this, but very soon.
Andrew:` Very soon. There it is. Nick, say your thing and let’s sign off this bad boy.
Nick: You stay classy, Gator Nation and Gator Country.
Andrew: Gator Country, stick with us. We’ll have plenty of news for you guys as we head into that opening game. Later, Gators.