It’s Monday morning and the sun is trying to break through the clouds but already Florida’s freshmen are going full speed on the practice fields. The freshmen won’t be practicing with the veterans until Tuesday so there’s a lot of teaching going on and at positions such as safety, the instruction is one-on-one.
The learning that goes on is good, but what is most important in these freshman-only sessions is that the Florida coaching staff finally gets to work with the newbies and see how they react to coaching. Up until Sunday’s first practice session, the rules dictated a hands-off policy so this is the first opportunity to get on the field under practice conditions. Even though all the freshmen were enrolled in Summer B, the coaches couldn’t instruct on the practice field and the contact with them on campus was limited.
To get to know his recruits, Meyer has had the freshmen over to his house on a couple of occasions and the assistant coaches have had the players they’ll be coaching to into their homes.
“We’ve been over to my house, we’ve done a couple of other things but 10-15 years ago this would have been their first day on campus,” said Meyer. “Their mothers and dads would be drop them off and then go.”
Meyer got into the habit of spending time with his players in his home back in the days when he was an assistant coach, a habit he’s carried over now that he’s the head man.
“When I was an assistant coach I would have the players over at my house all the time,” he said.
This time when it’s all football all the time is something that Meyer relishes.
“I love that,” he said. “That’s something I’d rather do than anything else, spend time with the players.”
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Brandon James, the waterbug quick kick return specialist from St. Augustine, spent most of the Monday morning session at cornerback. James will be given a serious opportunity to win the kick/punt return jobs but the coaching staff is impressed with his speed and athletic ability so they’re looking for ways to get him on the field. With depth issues at cornerback, the 5-7, 175-pound James will be given a serious look there and he’s likely to be tried as a slot receiver and running back as well.
During the Monday morning session, James got burned a few times but it was obvious that he is quick to learn. He showed plenty of recovery speed.
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Both Riley Cooper and Jamar Hornsby looked good in pass receiving drills. Cooper looks to be every bit as fast as the 4.37 40-yard dash he was reported to have run as a high school senior. Hornsby is deceptively fast. He’s tall and smooth so he doesn’t look like he’s moving all that fast but he gets great separation. Cooper and Hornsby worked on the outside all Monday morning.
On the inside at the slot positions, Percy Harvin and Jarred Fayson continued to display blazing speed and quick moves. In terms of speed and athletic ability, they are mirror images although Fayson is perhaps a couple inches taller and maybe 15-20 pounds heavier. Both of them seem to have an extra gear which kicks in once they have the ball in their hands.
Trent Pupello continues to look impressive as a pass catcher. He’s 6-4, 256 but he runs crisp looking routes.
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Utah transfer Butch Rowley, who played high school football at First Academy in Orlando, is getting the reps as the number one quarterback in the freshman practices. Freshman Tim Tebow is working out with the veterans due to Florida’s quarterback depth situation.
Rowley is also listed on the depth chart as a long snapper.
The Gators have two walk-on quarterbacks working out with the freshmen. Michael Guilford is a 6-0, 180-pounder from Blountstown while Andrew Blaylock is a 6-1, 190-pounder from Durham, North Carolina. In the two freshman practice sessions, Guilford looks to have the better arm.
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Marcus Gilbert has added about 15 pounds since signing day. The big offensive tackle from St. Thomas Aquinas played high school football in the 280-285 range but he’s added about 15 pounds of upper body muscle. The 6-6 Gilbert still looks lean at 300 pounds. He looks like he could add another 15-20 pounds easily without losing any quickness.
Jim Barrie, meanwhile, has slimmed down considerably. He played high school ball at Berkeley Prep in Tampa in the 305-310 range but he reported for summer duty at 280. Barrie is going to be backing up Steve Rissler and Eddie Haupt at center.
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Among the cornerbacks, Jacques Rickerson will require the least amount of coaching to see the field. The 5-10, 175-pounder from St. Augustine, looks very good in coverage. He’s got good instincts for the ball and has exceptional recovery speed once the receiver has made his break.
Wondy Pierre-Louis and Markihe Anderson both had some nice moments in coverage but it’s obvious that they’re both learning. Pierre-Louis has shows exceptional lateral quickness.
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Jermaine Cunningham has worked out with both linebackers and defensive ends. He’s 225 now, a full 15 pounds heavier than where he played last year in high school. It’s obvious watching him that he has the kind of athletic ability to play linebacker but if he grows and can add weight without losing speed, he could be a total nightmare as a defensive end.
A.J. Jones has worked at linebacker and safety. He looked more comfortable as a linebacker Monday but he’s just not big enough to play there yet. He’s listed at 181 although there are reports that he’s up to 192 now. With his speed and ability to hit, he should be able to make the transition to safety without much problem.
Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe will both be on the field as freshmen. Spikes looks the part physically and it’s obvious that he’s got the instincts to play either the strong side or middle linebacker spots. Doe hasn’t lost any speed with the 16 pounds of added muscle. He’ll be training to back up Earl Everett on the weak side.
Lawrence Marsh looks like a beast. He’s listed at 277 but looks even bigger. Brandon Antwine also looks a lot bigger than the 278 that he’s listed. Marsh and Antwine look to be quick learners. They responded well to everything thrown at them by Coach Greg Mattison Monday morning.