Day 8 spring practice: Reed to wildcat

Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio said last fall that Jordan Reed had the potential to be a brute force in the wildcat package. Monday afternoon, on a whim according to quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler, Reed shifted from tight end to quarterback and for 30 minutes ran the offense, showing some real ability as a power runner in the Tim Tebow mode and a strong although not terribly accurate arm.

“We decided to come out today and let Jordan run that package,” Loeffler said. We were a little bit limited on numbers today and he did a great job. We’ll see where that package goes in the future.”

Reed was recruited to Florida as a quarterback but showed so much ability with the ball in his hands during his redshirt freshman season last fall that plans were made to move him to tight end where he could be the heir to All-American Aaron Hernandez, who left early for the NFL Draft. He has been showing real progress as a receiver during spring drills and has become a favorite target of quarterback John Brantley. Reed caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Brantley in Saturday’s scrimmage and he had two very nice receptions, one good for 30 yards, Monday.

But where Reed really turned heads was running the football from the shotgun when the offense was turned over to him in the final 30 minutes of Monday’s practice. Reed was at his best running the ball, hitting the hole hard and moving the pile forward. On those occasions when he broke clear of the linebackers, he showed some elusiveness and surprising speed.

Although he wasn’t very accurate — and that could be because he hasn’t been throwing much lately — Reed did show a very strong arm and threw a fairly tight spiral. He did make a very nice throw to Frankie Hammond for a touchdown in the left corner of the end zone.

With Reed taking the snaps, the Gators also let freshmen Solomon Patton and Robert Clark line up at tailback. Although neither of the two early enrollee wide receivers carried the ball between the tackles, they both showed speed and elusiveness on jet sweeps.

“Slowly but surely we’re finding out who can carry the ball and go in motion and do those Chris Rainey/Percy Harvin type things for us,” Florida wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni said.

Asked if Reed might return full-time to quarterback, Loeffler said “no” but he did leave the door open that Reed might be taking snaps in the wildcat in the future.

In other news on the offensive side of the ball Monday:

QUARTERBACKS: John Brantley had a sharp day throwing the football although three of his deep throws hung up in the gusty wind, one of which was intercepted by Will Hill. Brantley’s final deep ball of the day was an on the numbers completion a good 40 yards downfield to Deonte Thompson, who was forced out of bounds after the catch, good for a 50-yard gain. Brantley enjoyed good protection throughout the day so his passes were much crisper than they were Saturday when he completed fewer than 50 percent of his throws. In contrast to Saturday when he threw only two completions that traveled more than 10 yards in the air, Brantley had at least 15 passes that were in the air for anywhere from 10-50 yards on Monday.

Brantley and Jordan Reed seem to have a real connection going. Brantley found Reed wide open three times, one good for 30 yards. Reed ran a nice route on a linebacker to get wide open and Brantley delivered a dart.

It wasn’t a great day throwing the ball for freshman Trey Burton, but Loeffler wasn’t concerned. Right now Florida’s quarterbacks coach just wants Burton to familiarize himself with the footwork, play calls and check downs with the offense. There will be time to tweak the mechanics in May, June and July.

“There’s a lot of things going through that young man’s mind right now,” Loeffler said. “He’s just worried about getting under center properly right now. That’s the normal and the natural progression for the guys [quarterbacks]. You’re going to work from the bottom up. You work on the footwork and on the mind and slowly but surely work on the fundamentals. That will slowly but surely progress as we move forward.

RUNNING BACKS: Mike Gillislee broke a couple of very nice runs Monday and he had a good block to pick up a blitz. Chris Rainey saw some snaps at tailback. He is going to be that hybrid receiver/running back in the slot. He took a snap, blew through the hole and then made Brandon Hicks miss badly with a fairly indescribable move in which his hips went one way and feet went the other. Emmanuel Moody was in a yellow no-contact jersey all day.

When the Gators are in the I-formation, Steve Wilks is at fullback. He had two punishing blocks Monday. T.J. Pridemore had a nice catch from Trey Burton on a little wheel route out of the backfield that went for 20 yards.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Carl Moore was conspiculous in his absence from Monday’s practice. When asked why, wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni acknowledged the absence and added, “When I find out some more information I’ll let you know.”

Deonte Thompson made two nice catches but the play of the day was the deep ball he caught for a 50-yard gain. Rainey also ran a crisp route that left Matt Elam in the dust, caught a 20-yard pass from Brantley and then turned it upfield for another 10-15 yards. Omarius Hines once again had a good day catching the ball and running good routes.

It was a good day for Frankie Hammond, who made four or five very nice catches on 15-17 yard routes but also went deep to catch the touchdown pass from Reed. Hammond’s play drew praise from Azzanni, who said the redshirt sophomore is coming into his own.

“I can’t say enough about him. What a tough kid. He knows all the positions. He can play anything we want. He shuts his mouth and works his tail off. He’s the kind of guy that I like and we like around here. He’s going to be a big, big part of this offense.

OFFENSIVE LINE: The first unit offensive line Monday had Mike Pouncey at center with James Wilson and Mo Hurt at the guards and Xavier Nixon and Marcus Gilbert at the tackles. The second unit line consisted of Nick Alajajian at center, Jon Halapio and Jonnathan Harrison at the guards and Ian Silberman and David Young at the tackles. Once again Carl Johnson was dressed and participating in individual drills but did not take any contact.

The line was far more efficient protecting Brantley Monday with Gilbert at right tackle and Pouncey at center. In fairness to backup Nick Alajajian, he is learning to play center on the fly (commandeered from tackle last week due to injuries to Kyle Koehne and Sam Robey). Pouncey has handled the transition from guard to center quite easily. He is in total command when he’s at center although he does occasionally sail a snap.

In the fall, the Gators will be stacked at guard with Carl Johnson starting at left guard with Wilson and Hurt on the right side. Sophomore Jon Halapio is going to be heard from.

At tackle, Nixon continues to show terrific footwork in pass protection. Gilbert looked very good Monday. He was able to handle the speed rush off the edge. He sat out Saturday’s scrimmage and Neiron Ball and William Green seemed to spend the entire day in the backfield. That didn’t happen Monday with Gilbert in the lineup. Early enrollee freshman Ian Silberman is going to be very good when his body (he’s a skinny 280 now) catches up to his ability. At 300 or so pounds he is going to be a dominator on the outside.

Stephen Alli (wide receiver); Desmond Parks (tight end); Andre Debose (wide receiver); Kyle Koehne (center); Matt Patchan (tackle) and Sam Robey (center).

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Franz Beard
Back in January of 1969, the late, great Jack Hairston, then the sports editor of the Jacksonville Journal, called me on the phone one night and asked me if I wanted to work for him. I said yes. The entire interview took 30 seconds. It's my experience that whenever the interview lasts 30 seconds or less, I get the job. In the 48 years that I've been writing and getting paid for it, I've covered Super Bowls, World Series, NCAA basketball championships, BCS championship games, heavyweight title fights and what seems like thousands of college football, baseball and basketball games. I'm a columnist and special assignments editor for Gator Country once again, writing about the only team that ever mattered to me, the Florida Gators.