The Florida Gators held their annual spring game on Saturday in front of 35,834 rowdy Gators fans all of them eager to see Kurt Roper and his new offense. Roper’s new offense was on display and impressive early, scoring on seven of the first nine drives in the first half.
Jeff Driskel and the quarterbacks commanded the up tempo attack with poise, confidence and most importantly speed. Driskel and the first team offense averaged just 2:47 on their scoring drives in the first half, a far cry from the long, drawn out scoring drives in 2013.
The offense impressed and showed the fans promise of things to come but the defense stepped up in the second half, forcing the offense into three-consecutive three and outs. Overall it was a good day for the Gators, albeit a day that ended in a tie.
Some of the A-list names weren’t on the field, Vernon Hargreaves and Dante Fowler were held out of the spring game so the coaching staff could throw younger players into the fire and see how they would react. Of course, there were also injuries that forced others like Marcus Maye and Leon Orr to miss the game but for the most part Florida went “good on good” with the first team defense squaring up against the first team defense.
There are new faces on both sides of the ball that stood out and introduced themselves to Gator Nation today as well as some old faces that fans are used to seeing stand out.
Here are the top five performers from each side of the ball.
We’ll include Hardin on offense here for this story. Hardin had what might have been his best practice of the spring today when the pressure was the highest. Hardin connected on all four of his field goal attempts today (43, 42, 35, 24), striking the ball well and earning the praise of his head coach.
Hardin’s four made field goals today matched his total from the entire season in 2013. He’s a critical player for a team that has a small margin of error. If Hardin can connect in the fall like he did today the Gators will be a tough team to beat.
Will Muschamp on Hardin:
I thought Austin Hardin kicked outstanding. The one missed extra point was a bad snap and the holder had a hard time getting it down.”
The talent is undeniable and Robinson put it on display today catching five passes for 53 yards and a score. He also made the play of the day, burning Jalen Tabor on a short out route, then put a ankle breaking move on Jabari Gorman before slipping another tackle and finding the end zone for a 35-yard score.
If Robinson can stay on the field this season he will have a breakout season. He is too talented not to and this offense is geared to exploit that talent.
Jeff Driskel on Robinson:
Demarcus Robinson is a home run threat on every play.”
Normally a position change isn’t a good thing but for Trenton Brown it was. Brown spent all last season and the majority of spring camp at right tackle but was unable to take over the starting job despite a solid showing. Brown was playing too well to keep him out of the lineup so the coaching staff decided to slide him inside to right guard.
Brown showed fans why the staff wanted to keep him in the lineup today, stifling blockers and blowing up Jarrad Davis on a pull block in the second half.
Will Muschamp on Brown:
You’ve got to get your best on the field. We’re going to get him in a situation where we did one-on-one board drills every day. When you have a guy like that height, you worry about putting him inside because of pad level, especially when you play some of those not smaller, shorter stature defensive tackles it’s hard to get under their pads. He answered our questions pretty quickly that he can get his pads low and do what he needs to do when he wants to. He’s a guy on the one pull today with a beautiful block on Jarrad Davis, really cleaned out the side for us there.”
In what might be the feel good story of spring camp, Thompson continued to impress in Florida’s new spread offense. Thompson is playing both the slot and outside receiver and tallied four catches for 39 yards and a score on the day.
Thompson didn’t really have a role in the previous offense but the speedy receiver from Gainesville High School is finding a niche in this new system.
Ahmad Fulwood on the importance of Demarcus Robinson and Chris Thompson:
“It’s a huge part for our receiving corps because I mean we lost Trey Burton and Solo so those are two great players. We understand that you know we have to step up and we have to make forward movement in our play. So we’re working hard, you know we’re taking those first team reps, splitting them so we’re just doing a really good job with it.”
Kelvin Taylor got most of the afternoon off on Saturday, carrying the ball just four times. That opened the door for the rest of the running backs and Brown charged through it.
He finished the scrimmage with nine carries for 60 yards and a score on the day.
Will Muschamp on Mack Brown and the running backs:
I thought running back, was very pleased with Adam Lane today. Kelvin made a really nice run. Mack made a couple nice runs, you get Matt Jones back in the fall.”
Washington wasn’t cleared for spring practice until the week before it began and spent a couple of practices in an orange non-contact jersey. When that jersey came off, Washington made up for lost time and showed just how physical of a player he is.
Washington isn’t the biggest safety on the roster but he can hit with any of them. He has also looked good in coverage. Washington is a fast, instinctual player over the top who puts himself in good position to make plays and has the speed to cover a lot of ground.
Early reports out of camp were that Harris was getting coached the hardest out of any of the safeties. Will Muschamp didn’t hold his tongue when correcting Harris on the field and the safety took that coaching well.
Harris excelled today in the spring game and looks to be completely healthy from two knee surgeries that kept him on the sidelines for his freshman season. Harris finished the day tied for the lead in tackles with six and was constantly in a position to make plays.
Jarrad Davis on Marcell Harris:
“I feel like a lot of guys really stepped up. The secondary looked really good. Marcell Harris and Keanu Neal, those guys looked good all spring.”
With Vernon Hargreaves sitting this one out, Tabor and Dawson spent the entire scrimmage repping with the first team defense and Dawson edged out his counterpart on Saturday.
Jarrad Davis on the young cornerbacks getting a lot of work today:
I feel like it was a great opportunity for a lot of younger guys to get out there.”
The Florida coaching staff doesn’t spend much time in Casper, Wyoming so when they went there to recruit Bryan, Gator fans should have known they must have really thought highly of the defensive lineman.
Bryan has been lauded by Will Muschamp this entire spring for playing with great technique, a high motor and great fundamentals. Bryan put that on display today totaling two tackles for loss and a sack. Bryan likely would have ended up with more than one sack if not for that pesky red non-contact jersey on the quarterbacks. Bryan is an off-the-radar prospect to keep an eye on this offseason and into the fall.
Bullard got the VIP treatment later in the day with the coaching staff opting to get him some rest and let younger players get action but Bullard was impressive while in the game.
Bullard blew through the line, beating Tyler Moore easily on his way to one of two non-recorded sacks on the day. Bullard has adjusted well to his new role at defensive tackle
Bullard had a great day today and will be a critical piece of the Florida defense this season.