For a moment there, it seemed like old times at Florida’s Monday football practice. There was the quarterback coming down the line on the option, reading the defensive end who went with Emmanuel Moody, who was the pitch man on the play. The moment the defensive end committed the quarterback turned the ball upfield and was 15 yards into the secondary before the whistle blew.
It was just like the plays they drew up for Tim Tebow only it wasn’t Tebow running the option, it was John Brantley. Maybe he won’t be running the option 10-12 times a game the way Tebow did next season as the Gators shift to more of a passing game to suit their personnel, but with that one play, Brantley showed the option isn’t going to go away any time soon.
Nor is Florida’s running game.
Except during an early goal line drill, Monday’s practice was limited contact except along the offensive and defensive fronts but the running game looked like it hasn’t missed a beat from last season when the Gators averaged 5.6 yards per carry and 226.1 yards per game, which led the Southeastern Conference. Emmanuel Moody broke two very long runs before he had to leave practice early to get to class and Mike Gillislee continued to run with tremendous confidence, showing a nice combination of speed and make you miss moves. Gillislee had one nice run of approximately 25 yards when he hit the hole on the left side, cut sharply to the left to avoid a tackle and then squared his shoulders north-south and turned on the jets.
The passing game got some very good work as well, particularly in the seven-on-seven two minute drills in which Brantley’s flavors of the day were named Carl Moore and Deonte Thompson. Moore showed no signs of the back injury that kept him out all last season and even showed a burst of speed that maybe we haven’t seen before. Thompson and Brantley have worked so much together that they can almost complete passes in the dark.
Some of the young receivers also showed up. Early enrollee freshmen Solomon Patton and Robert Clark are so far as good as advertised. Both of them have terrific speed and change of direction, but watching them work with receivers coach Zach Azzani, it’s obvious they are coached up easily. Tight end Jordan Reed made a couple of very nice catches including one on a 15-yard out where he extended himself, made the catch and got the feet solidly inbounds before his momentum took him out of bounds.
Here is a position by position look at the offense:
QUARTERBACK: Brantley throws lasers when he has a chance to set his feet. He makes the tough throws look easy, particularly the throws outside the hash marks that can move the ball quickly down the field. It’s easy to like his accuracy over the middle. While he does find Moore and Thompson easily, he proved over the course of the practice that he does a good job of looking the field over and going to the open receiver. There were only a couple of occasions when it seemed he locked onto one receiver. If there is one thing that he will have to continue to work on during the spring it is pocket presence, which means keeping his feet moving in the pocket while finding open throwing lanes. Trey Burton had another on again, off again day throwing the ball. He had some really nice throws during the two minute drill to Gerald Christian but struggled with a couple of throws that should have been easy completions. He seems to have a low release point and it’s not always the same release point, but that is something that will be corrected in the offseason. When it comes to running with the ball, Burton does have that Tebow look about him. In a goal line situation, he bobbled a snap, had to sidestep William Green, then rolled right, turned the corner and turned what could have been a busted play into a very impressive three-yard touchdown.
RUNNING BACK/FULLBACK: Both Moody and Gillislee looked very good turning the corner and finding open space. Moody had a tough run for a touchdown in the goal line portion while Gillislee scored on an option pitch in which he did a nice job of squaring his shoulders to the goal line so he couldn’t be denied the end zone. Gillislee dinged his ankle a little bit midway through practice but walked it off and later broke his long run. Steve Wilks shows no signs of the ACL injury that kept him out most of last season. He is a viable option in the passing game and made once nice catch on a dumpoff that he turned into a 15-yard gain. Wilks also had a tremendous block at the goal line in which he took Brandon Hicks’ legs out, which allowed Gillislee to almost walk into the end zone. T.J. Pridemore doesn’t get the ball thrown to him when he’s at fullback but he does a great job as a lead blocker in the blast plays off tackle and as a goal line wingback. Wide receivers Robert Clark and Solomon Patton both got option pitches when they shifted into the backfield.
RECEIVERS: Justin Williams had the catch of the day. He slipped and fell to the ground a little five yard turnaround but managed to reach up and catch the ball while landing on his back. Moore and Thompson both had a very consistent practice catching the ball. Deonte had a terrific block when he got ahead of Patton after a shallow cross. T.J. Lawrence had a couple of nice catches, too. He really needs to establish himself this spring. This is his third year. It’s time. Clark and Patton could be electric if they can do in real game situations what they’re showing in practice. These guys are home run hitters. Jordan Reed still doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do all the time, but he’s got great hands and really seems to have a good sense for finding open space. Gerald Christian is a phenomenal athlete who simply needs to add 15 pounds of muscle to become a very effective tight end. When he gets his hands on the ball, he makes the catch.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Steve Addazio did some shuffling on the line today. It’s obvious he’s trying to find the best combination and build some depth. The first unit O-line Monday was Mike Pouncey at center, Mo Hurt and James Wilson at the guards, and Xavier Nixon and Marcus Gilbert at the tackles. Pouncey really had a good practice although he got beaten badly one time by Omar Hunter, who is having a really strong spring at nose tackle. Nixon also had a great day except for one play when Justin Trattou beat him off the edge. That had Addazio running from the sideline screaming some unrepeatable words along with, “Why is he [Trattou] in the backfield, Xavier?” Jon Halapio got into the guard rotation. As a straight ahead driver blocker, he might be the best of the guards except for Carl Johnson. CJ will start at left guard. He was dressed Monday but didn’t get any contact. Sam Robey and Nick Alajajian also saw some snaps at center. When Alajajian took his turn at center, Mike Pouncey lined up as the right tackle where he looked dominant. Ian Silberman needs to add 20 pounds of muscle but he’s got terrific feet and seems very coachable. Jonnathan Harrison and David Young didn’t play poorly at the tackles but they didn’t do anything to distinguish themselves, either. Young probably needs to move inside to guard. He’s a fine straight ahead blocker but seems to struggle making that quick step to cut off a pass rusher off the edge.
IN THE PIT: Andre Debose (wide receiver); Kyle Koehne (center) and Matt Patchan (offensive tackle). Desmond Parks (tight end) was dressed but in sneakers and no pads.