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  • Will Grier and Treon Harris are battling for the backup job behind Jeff Driskel. / Photo by David Bowie

Five things we
learned from open practice

Written by Nick de la Torre, August 17, 2014, 6 Comments,
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The 2014 Florida Gators are going through a complete makeover. Despite a brand new offense being installed, Will Muschamp, Kurt Roper and the Gators coaching staff opened the doors and invited fans and media in to watch the team. After eight open practices and 15 practices this fall we have learned a lot about what the Gators will look like this season. These are the five biggest takeaways from what we saw this fall camp as the Gators inch close to Idaho and the 2014 revenge tour.

1. The backup quarterback battle is the biggest fall camp story line.

Two years ago, Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett divided Gator Nation. Half were team Driskel, half were team Brissett and each side labeled the other a hater for picking a quarterback that they wanted to see start for Florida. So much drama. In 2014, the team and position of QB1 is in no doubt. This is Jeff Driskel’s team. But those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Will Muschamp is not a foolish man, he learned his lesson when Jeff Driskel went down and the Gators didn’t have a backup quarterback ready to take over. That will not be the case in 2014 as the Gators plan to have a quarterback ready to go and the backup quarterback will get snaps in the very first game of the season. The only question that remains is who will that be. Treon Harris and Will Grier are the clear-cut two in the race — ahead of Skyler Mornhinweg — but both freshmen have had their ups and downs this fall. The Gators will likely turn to a freshman to backup Driskel, but which one still remains to be seen.

2. Offensive line depth is still an issue

This predates Muschamp and goes back to the Urban Meyer era. Florida hasn’t recruited or held on to enough offensive linemen in the past six seasons. They’re paying for it now with a lack of depth. It’s why Muschamp has tried to reach into the junior college ranks to pull linemen in the past but the issue with depth still remains. Currently, D.J. Humphries, Trip Thurman, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore and Chaz Green are the starters with Trenton Brown and Rod Johnson the other two players the coaching staff feels comfortable with moving forward. In theory, you would like to have a solid two-deep on the offensive line but having eight to nine is more realistic. The Gators will be fine if they can go through the season without injuries to the line but if a couple linemen go down, so will the offense.

3. Questions remain at safety

Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins plugged the Josh Evans and Matt Elam hole last year but right now only Keanu Neal has stepped up and into a starting role. Neal has a bright future ahead of him and has the talent to become a household name but he needs someone beside him. Duke Dawson has gotten a lot of work but an injury has sidelined him and slowed his learning process at safety down. Physically, he’s everything that Muschamp looks for in a player at safety but there are a lot of mental responsibilities that go along with playing safety for Muschamp and Dawson will need time and experience to fully grasp what will be asked of him back there. Marcus Maye has made a move to nickel back — and his athleticism is in full display playing there — but will still play some safety. He’s the leader in the clubhouse to start next to Neal followed by Dawson, Jabari Gorman, Marcell Harris and Nick Washington.

4. The defensive line is better than expected

Finding a lone player to replace Dominique Easley is impossible but the Gators are progressing on the line and will replace Easley with a litany of players. In the spring Muschamp was very worried about the young players taking the next step but some of those worries have been alleviated by the play of Jay-nard Bostwick, Joey Ivie, Gerald Willis, Caleb Brantley and others. The defensive line may not have the same talent level that it has the past two or three season but they are a much deeper unit than they have been in the past. Even Neiron Ball is getting looks on the line — and getting after the passer — in pass rush situations.

5. This offense is fun to watch

With the launch of the SEC Network, there have been replays of the glory days of the SEC and all the past national championship victories. It reminded me of a time where watching the Florida offense was fun. Chris Leak hitting Dallas Baker in stride for a touchdown. Percy Harvin breaking the hearts of opponents and making Gator Nation swoon with his quick feet and playmaking ability. The past four seasons have been more black and blue than orange and blue for the Gators but that is about to change. I found myself sitting out at practice, enjoying the offense. Kurt Roper’s spread scheme has injected life into the offense and fans will notice a difference when they tune in this fall. You can’t schedule bathroom breaks for when the offense is on the field this season, the team will score points, they’re going to move the football and most importantly — other than winning games, of course — they’re going to entertain the fans who pay to watch them play.

Nick de la Torre

About Nick de la Torre

A South Florida native, Nick developed a passion for all things sports at a very young age. His love for baseball was solidified when he saw Al Leiter’s no-hitter for the Marlins live in May of 1996. He was able to play baseball in college but quickly realized there isn’t much of a market for short, slow outfielders that hit around the Mendoza line. Wanting to continue with sports in some capacity he studied journalism at the University of Central Florida. Nick got his first start in the business as an intern for a website covering all things related to the NFL draft before spending two seasons covering the Florida football team at Bleacher Report. That job led him to GatorCountry. When he isn’t covering Gator sports, Nick enjoys hitting way too many shots on the golf course, attempting to keep up with his favorite t.v. shows and watching the Heat, Dolphins and Marlins. Follow him on twitter @NickdelatorreGC

  1. snowprintAugust 17, 2014, 7:04 am

    The big question is not depth on the offensive line, but whether the starters are any good. Unless there has been a dramatic change, UF’s defensive line is not great. I base that on their performance on the field last year. Even the bell cow, Dant Fowler, was not a good player last year. Durkin said he came close to being a dominating player last year, but also didn’t show up for some games.Now, like last year, we are being told that UF’s defensive line is dominating in practice. We found out that the only player who was dominant last year was Easley, that the reports of guys like Fowler and Powell being “unblockable” only applied to when they were facing their teammates. So is the defensive line better this year? Or is the offensive line still very bad? I don’t know, and probably won’t know until September 20. I don’t believe a word from the coaches. I thought Brown was too big to play inside, but the coaches said he was flexible enough to do so. Now Trip Thurman is listed as a starter. Trip Thurman? If he’s starting, it’s apparent to me that Brown can’t play inside. Then there’s the reports of Neiron ball and Alex McCallister becoming pass rushing phenoms. Have they become great players or are the tackles again employing the “matador” technique they deployed last year? We won’t know until UF plays a good team, that happens a little over a month from now.

    • Chosen12395August 17, 2014, 12:05 pm

      Man I sure hope you are NOT in a position of influence on anything that actually matters in life you have some of the most annoying and negative post there are. Have you been at the practices Nick has spoken of? Nick along with Andrew and the staff here on Gator Country have been giving us the best information they have and giving an opinion based on what they have seen. They are NOT coaches but they have an eye witness account of practices thus far. Why not have a little optimism for once. You are entitled to your opinion just as we all are but for the LOVE man learn to give some constructive criticism and be more positive!

    • SCOTTYBOY68August 17, 2014, 4:37 pm

      Snowprint is actually not far off. What he is asking is what a lot of people have been thinking; could it be that the players just aren’t that talented? I agree 100% that this is what was reported last year because this is what they saw in camp. If they dominated in camp last year then it was only our own OT’s getting killed because last year no one saw it on the field in games. After Easley went down that killed us for sure. I for one can’t wait for the season to start to see if our ends can put pressure on the QB or if our tackles are getting manhandled, that will tell everything. One thing for sure is that for whatever reason we shouldn’t be in this problem after 3 full and one 1/2 recruiting class under CWM. Hopefully we can get some big leads and get our backups some much needed experience before the SEC games come around.

    • Nick de la Torre
      Nick de la TorreAugust 24, 2014, 12:13 pm

      Thurman and Brown have both been getting first team reps inside.

  2. chrise9885August 17, 2014, 2:17 pm

    We made the trip to Hog Town to watch practice.
    I am looking forward to the start of the football season. We’ll be there cheering for our beloved Gators.
    I do think that there MUST be more than 4 wins for the team… Yeah, DUH!!
    Hopefully the team will be happy to hit someone other than their teammates.
    Go Gators!!

  3. COMountainGatorAugust 17, 2014, 7:31 pm

    Snowprint is beyond negative. I agree we should guard against the usual preseason euphoria but uninformed negativity is irritating. Was Driskel a poor QB last year because of skill or the fact that he hasn’t had a decent QB coach since he’s been at Florida? Could part of the Oline performance been coaching and the QB holding the ball too long. I love Roper demanding the ball be thrown within three seconds.
    I think we will surprise a lot of opponents this season and the negative nellies will find something else to whine about.

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The 2014 Florida Gators are going through a complete makeover. Despite a brand new offense being installed, Will Muschamp, Kurt Roper and the Gators coaching staff opened the doors and invited fans and media in to watch the team. After eight open practices and 15 practices this fall we have learned a lot about what the Gators will look like this season. These are the five biggest takeaways from what we saw this fall camp as the Gators inch close to Idaho and the 2014 revenge tour.

1. The backup quarterback battle is the biggest fall camp story line.

Two years ago, Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett divided Gator Nation. Half were team Driskel, half were team Brissett and each side labeled the other a hater for picking a quarterback that they wanted to see start for Florida. So much drama. In 2014, the team and position of QB1 is in no doubt. This is Jeff Driskel’s team. But those who do not learn from the past are condemned to repeat it. Will Muschamp is not a foolish man, he learned his lesson when Jeff Driskel went down and the Gators didn’t have a backup quarterback ready to take over. That will not be the case in 2014 as the Gators plan to have a quarterback ready to go and the backup quarterback will get snaps in the very first game of the season. The only question that remains is who will that be. Treon Harris and Will Grier are the clear-cut two in the race — ahead of Skyler Mornhinweg — but both freshmen have had their ups and downs this fall. The Gators will likely turn to a freshman to backup Driskel, but which one still remains to be seen.

2. Offensive line depth is still an issue

This predates Muschamp and goes back to the Urban Meyer era. Florida hasn’t recruited or held on to enough offensive linemen in the past six seasons. They’re paying for it now with a lack of depth. It’s why Muschamp has tried to reach into the junior college ranks to pull linemen in the past but the issue with depth still remains. Currently, D.J. Humphries, Trip Thurman, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore and Chaz Green are the starters with Trenton Brown and Rod Johnson the other two players the coaching staff feels comfortable with moving forward. In theory, you would like to have a solid two-deep on the offensive line but having eight to nine is more realistic. The Gators will be fine if they can go through the season without injuries to the line but if a couple linemen go down, so will the offense.

3. Questions remain at safety

Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins plugged the Josh Evans and Matt Elam hole last year but right now only Keanu Neal has stepped up and into a starting role. Neal has a bright future ahead of him and has the talent to become a household name but he needs someone beside him. Duke Dawson has gotten a lot of work but an injury has sidelined him and slowed his learning process at safety down. Physically, he’s everything that Muschamp looks for in a player at safety but there are a lot of mental responsibilities that go along with playing safety for Muschamp and Dawson will need time and experience to fully grasp what will be asked of him back there. Marcus Maye has made a move to nickel back — and his athleticism is in full display playing there — but will still play some safety. He’s the leader in the clubhouse to start next to Neal followed by Dawson, Jabari Gorman, Marcell Harris and Nick Washington.

4. The defensive line is better than expected

Finding a lone player to replace Dominique Easley is impossible but the Gators are progressing on the line and will replace Easley with a litany of players. In the spring Muschamp was very worried about the young players taking the next step but some of those worries have been alleviated by the play of Jay-nard Bostwick, Joey Ivie, Gerald Willis, Caleb Brantley and others. The defensive line may not have the same talent level that it has the past two or three season but they are a much deeper unit than they have been in the past. Even Neiron Ball is getting looks on the line — and getting after the passer — in pass rush situations.

5. This offense is fun to watch

With the launch of the SEC Network, there have been replays of the glory days of the SEC and all the past national championship victories. It reminded me of a time where watching the Florida offense was fun. Chris Leak hitting Dallas Baker in stride for a touchdown. Percy Harvin breaking the hearts of opponents and making Gator Nation swoon with his quick feet and playmaking ability. The past four seasons have been more black and blue than orange and blue for the Gators but that is about to change. I found myself sitting out at practice, enjoying the offense. Kurt Roper’s spread scheme has injected life into the offense and fans will notice a difference when they tune in this fall. You can’t schedule bathroom breaks for when the offense is on the field this season, the team will score points, they’re going to move the football and most importantly — other than winning games, of course — they’re going to entertain the fans who pay to watch them play.

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/ Photo By David Bowie.
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