As I watched, nestled in the chilly press box between Nick de la Torre and Alex Gray, the Florida Gators put in a glorified football practice that fixed both 11-on-11, 1-on-1, punt protection skeleton, and a host of other drills that both captivated and lulled fans at various points of the day, I left with a clearer picture of what the Gators football team may look like in 2013.
While it was tough to watch every player, on every play, on both sides of Florida Field, I came away with areas of praise, a few areas of concern, and a lot of “well, let’s re-address in August”.
Areas of Praise
• The Florida Gators defense will again be a top-flight unit. Between Dante Fowler and Dominique Easley on the line; Antonio Morrison and Neiron Ball as linebackers; and Louichez Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins in the defensive backfield, Florida should return another top-10 defense. All phases of the Gator defense shined today. The Gators even got a few surprises from redshirt freshmen Bryan Cox, Jr. and Alex McCalister; and newcomer Daniel McMillian – who all showed that they have great skills and an ability to contribute this season.
• The Gators offensive line, all things considered played well. Max Garcia and sophomore D.J. Humphries were the stars of the day, consistently blocking and getting to the second level. Jonotthan Harrison also was very consistent snapping the ball and holding his own, as was Kyle Koehne holding down the guard position. The Gators still need to see improvement from Nebraska transfer Tyler Moore and converted defensive linemen Quinteze Williams, who both struggled in all phases of the day, to put it nicely. But with only six players, the Gators offensive line certainly deserved praise.
• Running backs Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor both played great today. Jones didn’t get many snaps as he has already assumed the role of starter, but freshman Kelvin Taylor did great stepping in. Walk-on Mark Herndon also had a couple of good runs and a touchdown on the day. The Gators also experienced some exceptional fullback blocking from Rhaheim Ledbetter and Hunter Joyer.
Areas of Concern
• Quarterback play was again an issue. Jeff Driskel dropped back 21 times on the day but did not throw a deep ball, nor was he exceptionally accurate on short throws. His one running touchdown on the day would have been a sack in normal game play. Furthermore, the Gators displayed an extreme lack of depth with Tyler Moore and Skyler Mornhinweg struggling. If the Gators don’t shore up of the quarterback position, it could be another long season under offensive coordinator Brent Pease.
• The wide receivers were almost non-existent today, except for a couple of good plays by Demarcus Robinson and Quinton Dunbar. They all struggled to get open and as a result of poor quarterback play; they did not catch many balls.
• Tyler Moore’s biggest area of concern is not his talent or ability – he is very talented. However, his footwork and hips need to improve if he is going to play tackle in the Southeastern Conference. In my personal opinion, if Moore moved into guard, he would be more successful. He has a great fame and is a space-eater.
• The kicking game also struggled today. Both Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips were shaky on their consistency. They both have the ability to put it all together, yet today they did not.
• Andre Debose did not have a bad day but he needs to catch the ball on kick-offs on his chest or he is going to risk more botched punt/kick returns. Debose catches the ball in the air about 10 inches in-front of his helmet and almost dropped a punt today. He had one catch on his chest and that also happened to be his longest return.
• Kent Taylor needs to add some weight and improve his pass catching. As the “passing tight-end” he dropped a few easy balls.
In my opinion, the top-10 best players from Saturday’s Orange and Blue Debut were:
1. Louchiez Purifoy
2. Dante Fowler
3. Neiron Ball
4. Max Garcia
5. D.J. Humphries
6. Dominique Easley
7. Antonio Morrison
8. Jonotthan Harrison
9. Kelvin Taylor
10. Demarcus Robinson/Kyle Koehne (too close to decide)
The Gators still have a lot of improvement to make, especially on the offensive side of the ball. However, they did a lot more “good” than “bad” throughout the day. There is 117 days until summer practice; we will see how far the Gators have come then.