Andre Debose said good bye to The Pit and hello to the practice field for the first time this spring Monday afternoon as the Florida Gators began their final week of spring drills. Debose, a highly touted wide receiver from Sanford Seminole, missed all of last season due to a torn hamstring that required surgery to repair. During Florida’s first 11 practices Debose had been doing conditioning work in The Pit but Monday he ran routes full speed, caught three passes and actually took some mild upper body contact in his first full practice since last August.
If healthy, Debose gives the Gators another go the distance threat in the slot where he figures to play the hybrid role of receiver and tailback along with rising junior Chris Rainey, who has had a tremendously productive spring. Add in freshman Robert Clark, who caught a 65-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Trey Burton in Monday’s practice, and the Gators figure to be substantially upgraded in the slot this fall. After averaging 1,400 yards (rushing and receiving) and 14 touchdowns per season from the slot the three previous years, the Gators slumped to 350 yards and one touchdown in 2009.
Quarterback John Brantley was elated to see Debose on the field once again. Debose, who runs a 10.5 100 meters,
“He’s a heckuva player, fast as can be and I’m just happy to see him out here running around,” said quarterback John Brantley. “It can only get better from here. He’s only going to get faster so that’s a plus. He’s been telling me all spring that he wanted to get back out here so he was really happy today.”
The return of Debose highlighted a very good day for Florida’s wide receivers. There was only light contact during the day so the receivers had a bit of an advantage, but routes were run crisply and there were only a couple of drops. It was a particularly impressive day for rising senior Carl Moore, who had five catches for 117 yards during the 11-on-11 portion.
“I’m happy to see him [Moore] back out here,” Brantley said, who praised all his wide receivers. “He’s doing a heckuva job. He’s making plays. He’s catching the ball when it’s thrown to him and he’s blocking when it’s not thrown to him.”
QUARTERBACKS: Once the offense adjusted to give left tackle Xavier Nixon help in keeping William Green out of the backfield, Brantley looked very good throwing the ball. Although he was picked off once by Jon Bostic while under duress from Green, Brantley had some excellent throws including a 20-yard bender route to Moore, a 23-yard out to Omarius Hines, a 45-yard connection with Moore and a 62-yard touchdown to Hines, who simply abused freshman safety Jordan Haden.
Brantley was impressive throwing the ball but once again was encouraged by both offensive coordinator Steve Addazio and quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler that he has to become a more vocal leader.
“I’ve been trying to work on that this spring,” Brantley said, admitting that he sometimes feels guilty when he has to get in the face of a teammate. “It’s tough because I’m not too vocal but it’s coming along.”
Trey Burton had one of his more impressive days throwing the ball. In addition to his long bomb to Clark, who got behind freshman corner Josh Shaw, he had a nice 13-yard completion to Debose and a 10-yard strike to Frankie Hammond on a slant.
RUNNING BACKS: The day was devoted entirely to the passing game, so nothing to report here except that Emmanuel Moody wasn’t at practice (class on Mondays and he has a bruised shin from Saturday’s scrimmage) and walkon Ean McQuay was in a yellow non-contact jersey.
RECEIVERS: Moore and Hines looked the part of starting wide receivers. Hines had four catches for 109 yards and a touchdown. Hines has always looked the part of a possession receiver but he got to show off his speed Monday and did a good job of separating from the defensive backs.
Rainey turned in another productive day. His best play was taking a shovel pass from Burton and turning that into an 18-yard highlight reel play in which he made three people miss on his way to open space.
Deonte Thompson had two nice catches for 24 yards. He got open behind the secondary twice but was overthrown.
Probably the best play of the day for Hammond was an excellent block to help Xavier Nixon with William Green which gave Brantley the time he needed to make the long completion to Moore.
In the seven-on-seven portion, T.J. Lawrence made a nice move and showed a burst of speed to get deep into the secondary for a 35-yad gain on a seam route.
Not much to report from the tight ends since they weren’t thrown to very much. Jordan Reed had one nice catch for 10 yards while Gerald Christian made a catch on a shovel pass that he turned into an eight-yard gain and he made a good move to get wide open on an out pattern but was overthrown.
Tight ends coach Brian White was earning his pay Monday with some heavy duty coaching of both Reed and Christian. Reed is a converted quarterback while Christian is an early enrollee freshman.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Xavier Nixon’s struggles with William Green continued. Green was so quick off the line Monday that Nixon was jumping the count a half second early. Over on the right side, David Young and freshman Ian Silberman had their problems with Earl Okine, who had his second straight good day at practice.
Mike Pouncey (center), Mo Hurt (left guard) and Marcus Gilbert (right tackle) all spent the day looking on after their individual work. Starting left guard Carl Johnson has dressed every day but hasn’t taken any contact work this spring and right guard James Wilson missed his third straight practice after getting dinged up last week during a scrimmage.
Pouncey’s replacement, sophomore Nick Alajajian, continued to struggle with the shotgun snaps. He had nine snaps on the day that either dribbled on the ground or sailed high past the quarterbacks and another five snaps that required Brantley and Burton to field the position like a shortstop.
The first unit offensive line for Monday had Alajajian at center, Jonnathan Harrison (left) and Jon Halapio (right) at the guards with Nixon at left tackle while Young and Silberman alternated at right tackle.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Another really good day for Green and Okine. Green has really come on the last three practices and has become a nightmare for Nixon to block. He had two sacks in Saturday’s scrimmage in which he beat Nixon. Monday he would have gotten credit for a sack (whistle blew the play dead) and three hurries. He was so quick on the edge that the only way he could be contained was to bring in a wide receiver or fullback to help Nixon with a chip block.
There was nice pressure up the middle from Omar Hunter.
Leon Orr had his share of struggles but he’s starting to figure things out. He needs to drop 10-15 pounds and toughen up a bit, but he can definitely move his feet. He got into a tussle with Alajajian after Burton completed a pass to walkon wide receiver Josh Postell.
LINEBACKERS: Bostic’s interception was the best play of the day from the linebackers. He did a good job shadowing Jordan Reed on a crossing pattern and then jumped the route to make the pick.
Jelani Jenkins looked very good making his drops into coverage and it was a productive day by rising senior Lorenzo Edwards, who has looked vastly improved in the last couple of practices.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: Freshman Jaylen Watkins had the best play of the day when he stayed with Thompson, made a nice break on the ball and knocked it to the ground.
Freshman Josh Shaw seems to have problems when the ball goes over his head. He’s not bad in coverage if the play is in front of him but he struggles with anything that requires him to turn and run with the receiver.
Moses Jenkins didn’t make any plays Monday but he didn’t have to. He was good in coverage all day long. Jenkins is making a very strong statement that he will be the man to beat for the field corner job in the fall.
Matt Elam continues to impress when he’s in the game at safety. He will definitely be on the field a lot this fall, most likely as the third safety when the Gators run their 4-2-5 package.
Starting safeties Ahmad Black and Will Hill should be as good as any safety tandem in the country. Hill continues to look good breaking to the football while Black is never out of position to make the tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Chas Henry continues to show why he might be the best punter in the nation. Even when he doesn’t get all of the ball, it still has plenty of hang time and comes down wet.
Plenty of time was devoted Monday to getting blocks and slowing down coverage in both punt and kickoff. New special teams guru D.J. Durkin looks like he’s still auditioning gunners for the coverage unit and trying to find guys who can create space for returners by knocking the coverage off stride.