As the Gators matched up for the first time in pads and with officials this spring, there were several questions about the offense that needed to be considered.
First, in Urban Meyer’s past spring workouts, it’s usually been the defense that has shined early, but with only two starters returning, would they still be able to dominate the early scrimmages? Second, under Meyer no one has established himself as the go-to-guy in the backfield, so who, if anyone, steps up? And third, we know what Tim Tebow can do with the offense, but last fall he was asked to run much more than pass. Now that he’s the leader of the squad, he obviously needs to throw just as often. So how will Tebow respond to being “the guy” and can any of the newcomers challenge his preordained status as the starting quarterback next fall?
To answer the first question, the defense stopped the offense more often, but the offense is progressing after the first three workouts. During the 7-on-7s, though, the only thing that has slowed the offense has been itself. Some errant throws, mainly by freshman quarterback Cameron Newton and several drops have been the only bumps in the road. In past camps, corners and safeties would knock down passes and even pick a few off, but things have changed as veteran receivers like Andre Caldwell, Percy Harvin, David Nelson, Louis Murphy, Tate Casey and Jared Fayson get little challenge from inexperienced corners.
Things were different during the scrimmage. It took some time for the offense to get going, but once they did, they had success. On the first play of the first series, Tebow dropped back and saw nothing but green grass between him and the end zone. On the next couple of plays, though, some solid coverage forced Tebow to scramble and throw it away.
Center Drew Miller is still getting used to his position with several bad snaps, and there were some other miscues, but on a whole, the offense competed better during the first scrimmage than they have in Meyer’s prior camps.
The second issue pertains to the backfield and whether or not, Meyer’s offense can produce a 1,000-yard back this season. In the early stages, the search for the preeminent back is still on.
Kestahn Moore is quicker through the line, but once he gets to the linebackers, he’s not getting very far.
Mon Williams exploded onto the scene during last year’s match-up with Western Carolina, but fundamental concerns and a lack of knowledge of the offense have kept the Texas-native on the sidelines. With an opportunity this spring to show what he can do, Williams has shown much of the same. He has great potential and explosiveness, but has been chewed out for not holding the ball correctly and for not finishing off runs.
Brandon James appears to be the most consistent performer, and we know he’s a guy Meyer likes. He lined up with the first team on Friday, but Moore saw more chances with the first group on Saturday. But James’ toughness is unmatched by the other tailbacks.
Most fans who witnessed Saturday’s goal-line scrimmage had to be shocked when they saw one of the Gators’ goal-line looks. With the departure of Billy Latsko, there is no clear-cut fullback for short yardage situations. So, the Gators have turned to 6-2, 317-pound offensive lineman Maurice Hurt. He lined up several times behind Tebow, but he’s so big that on one snap Tebow and the backfield all ran into each other.
The third and final question deals with the quarterback situation. A fractured foot has sidelined Bryan Waggener for the remainder of the spring leaving the Gators in worse shape than they were in last spring. Tebow is inexperienced as the regular starter and Newton is still figuring out where he is. But Tebow looks like a seasoned veteran, connecting time after time with his receivers during the scrimmage.
The two things that stick out most for Tebow are his cadence – on one occasion he had all four defensive linemen jumping – and his decision-making on the option. Last year, he kept the ball on most option plays, but he is now including his teammates more, showing how dangerous the Gators can be with that element of the offense.
Newton is a physical specimen and has improved greatly over the three days with two things standing out most. First, he’s more accurate when throwing downfield. During today’s 7-on-7s, he hit several passes of more than 20-yards, including strong throws to David Nelson and Cornelius Ingram. Second, he appears to be more comfortable when he rolls out of the pocket. He struggled on the short throws during the 7-on-7s where he had to stay in the pocket and throw, but when he was able to roll-out during the scrimmage, he had no problem on passes of 10-yards or shorter. He made nice short throws to Fayson and Tate Casey and delivered Aaron Hernandez’s first touchdown on a bootleg.