Everything Billy Napier said after Florida’s first spring scrimmage

The Florida Gators are eight practices into spring camp and held their first scrimmage of the offseason this afternoon. Here’s everything Head Coach Billy Napier had to say post-scrimmage.

Opening Statement:

“You know I think in spring ball when you get to practice six, seven and eight, you know, you find out what type of team you have. And I told the staff, I’d find out what type of staff we had, and I think we made progress this week. You think about today, we’re kind of at the halfway point, scrimmage No. 1, first time we’ve tackled, first time we’ve kind of managed the in-game situation piece as players, and I think it’s really reflected what I’ve seen for the first seven. You know, I think practice has been very competitive. We’ve got a group of veteran players that are doing a good job kind of setting the tone and being a really good example, and then I see the young players, some of which were here last year, and some of which we just got here, are continuing to make progress, so I do think that I’ve been pleased with what I see. I do think that the next two weeks are going to be critical, you know, I think that’s the big takeaway with the players walking off the field was we’re halfway and it’s important that we have a great focus over the next two weeks, so critical two weeks to come. We’ve got to get really specific about the areas where we need to improve, you know, we’ll present plans to the players individually, the position groups, the units and the entire team. I do want to talk about this past weekend, we had our Chalk Talk and it was an A+. I thought it was well-organized. We had more coaches than we’ve ever had, and we had representation from all parts of the organization from an NFL standpoint, and really good for the high school coaches, good for our players, and certainly from a professional development standpoint, really good for our staff. So it’s been a good weekend, and we finished the right way today. We’re two weeks out from the Orange and Blue game, and I’m really excited about, you know, what’s to come. So critical two weeks coming up, what do we got?”

On if he needs to know what they need to improve upon at the end of the next two weeks: 

“Well, I think you’re, we only get to get on the grass with the players so many times, right, especially with pads on, so from a process standpoint, from a fundamental standpoint, I think each individual player is in a little different place, and part of coaching is getting someone from point A to point B. And even though we may have some veteran players, they’re all still growing and developing, there’s still things to learn, right, so at this point we try to get really specific with each player, so we’ll take tomorrow and Monday and we’ll basically evaluate each player individually and say ‘Ok this kid has some direction over the next two weeks, narrow the focus’ and then we back up, each position coach will think about his group as a whole, and then the units, you know, we’ll get together offensively and defensively, the special teams group, and think about, okay hey, ‘cause most of your concepts are built at this point, you know, you got probably 80 percent of the installations in, now you get specific with fundamentals, special situations, maybe position flexibility, right, moving guys around. We’ll flip our four core special teams players, you know, guys that will play on all four phases, things of that nature, but yeah, no doubt, and look when we get done April 13, we walk off the grass out here after the Orange and Blue game, we’ll build plans for OTAs, right. They take about three weeks off before we come back for summer school and then we’ll get specific, you know, I meet with the players twice a year individually. Once back in January and then I’ll meet with them before we start in the summertime.”

On DJ Lagway:

“First of all, I would say he’s impressed me with his ability to learn and retain information. He picks it up really quickly. His ability to take it from meeting room to walkthrough and then to do it in a practice setting, today was really good for him. He had to play the situations as they arose throughout the scrimmage. I think the big next step for him is the game-management piece. I actually asked him on the field today, ‘Did you play poker growing up? Did you actually play cards growing up?’ If you played Texas Hold Em and you get a three and a four, you fold your cards and you go to the next hand. He obviously didn’t play poker growing up but sometimes you get dealt a bad hand and you got to learn how to play the next hand. Play the next play, managing the situation thinking of your decision-making relative to the game and the team within that setting. I think he’s done a really good job in a practice setting but today was new for him. Every day is a new learning experience for him but he’s a quick learner and he did a lot of good today. I think he made some plays with his feet, played with the twos most of the day. I think that’s where he’s at. I think he’s got physical talent, he’s picked it up quickly and now it’s just about the game-management piece next.”

On Florida’s offensive line continuity:

“Yeah, the pocket’s been cleaner. I think that’s one of the bright spots so far. The length on the edge has just been the major difference maker. I think the ability to, the two portal tackles, Devon and Brandon, have done a great job. And they’re getting quality work because of Kam and Austin being banged up, right? So that forces Fletcher and Caden into the action with the twos and they’ve done a great job. So, you’re literally, you’re out there with the first and second group and you’re 6-7, 6-7, 6-8, 6-7 and a half. You know, we’re just much better on the edges and you get Austin and Kam back for the summer, so yeah. Jake and Knijeah and Damieon, obviously have experience. Bryce Lovett has been a bright spot. He has developed nicely. He’s been one of more impressive young linemen. Christian Williams is doing good things. Rod Kearney showed some position flexibility, being able to play center and guard. So, Rob’s good job with that group. You know, we’ve added some quality players. And I think John, just in a short amount of time, coach Decoster’s helped our group improve.”

On the offensive line’s progress:

“Some of them a little better than I thought, to be quite honest wth you. To see, yeah, all those young kids, I think we were right in the evaluation process, I guess is what I would say. We took some height, length, developmental players and I think they’re going to be good players for the Gators.”

On any intriguing standouts in scrimmage:

“Yeah, I’ve got one for you today. Now, this one might not be the story you want. But there’s a player out there today, and you guys and I have talked a lot about our walk-on program and how important it is. We were lacking in that area when we got here, and we’ve built, I mean I would say, we’ve got 116 players out there right now and I think this fall we may be at 130, 135 for the first time. There was a play today, Tyreik Norwood plays edge for us, okay? And he dropped into coverage today and intercepted the pass, okay? And you would have thought, I mean that both sides went nuts. Because, Tyreik Norwood is a sixth-year player. He’s a guy who was in school here, came to the walk-on tryout, gave us a million reps on the scout team., tears his ACL. Okay, this guy is construction management, right? He’s in grad school. Okay, he just tore his ACL. I mean, most people will say, ‘Hey, my football career is over, right?’ But this guy went through the rehab process, returned to play. He’s out there as a sixth-year player that’s a graduate student in construction management and picks off a pass, and the players went crazy. So that’s probably not one that you’ll write about, but I think it is a sign that the walk-on program matters. He’s having a good experience. He’s been involved in the GatorMade piece, he has access to the resources the other players have. And I think it’s important on a football team that you appreciate everyone’s role. So, that was a good one. Now, I thought today, it was much like one through seven. It was competitive. You know, there’s bright spots in all parts. I thought we made plays on defense, I thought we had great energy, we tackled well today. Thought he secondary in particular, we tackled well. We made the offense turn the ball over, you know, the offense had a couple of turnovers in the red area. Pretty clean for the most part. There’s a few penalties I would say I was disappointed with. But overall, it was back and forth. I would say the defense probably got the best of the offense today. But there were bright spots on both sides. I thought the kicking game was really good. I thought we got good, competitive work in all six phases of the team.”

From an operational standpoint, how has the radio technology been adjusted in practice? First time coaches being on the field:

“It was good, really good. I think the coach to player communication piece has been a huge change first of all, in terms of how you operate, but it’s been a blessing to some degree. It’s really helped our operation on offense and I think for DJ that’s just a huge advantage, the ability to talk to the quarterback all the way up to 15 seconds, right? It’s helped him play cleaner as a young player and it changes your approach a little bit in terms of strategy and how you execute your offense, and I think it will change the defensive approach a little bit too, relative to maybe how the game has been played in the past. The headsets were clean today, there’s a handful of things that we can clean up as you would anticipate. Ron was upstairs, Jon was upstairs, good communication there, D and D, field zone, everything was really clean, it was good.”

What does Graham need to improve on? How is he progressing?

“I think Graham is in year two, he’s starting, you think about what Graham did last year, right? He moved to a different country and learned a new language, essentially. New group of people. Graham starts with a leadership presence and credibility. He starts in January, essentially this is his team to some degree and I think that’s probably the big takeaway. He has a voice and a presence for the month of January, February, and March. Now we’re in the football piece where that’s even more impactful because he’s communicating with the players each day. I mean Graham I think has earned the respect of his teammates with the way he prepares, right? I mean this guy lives in the building, very process oriented, he’s maximizing all parts of his day, and he’s an example. We talked about the quarterback kind of being the standard bearer for the entire organization. Think about good teams, typically the quarterback sets the pace. He’s done that, we are trying to get Graham to be more aggressive without being careless. I think the narrative on him coming in, obviously everybody talked about the interceptions at Wisconsin and all that. He proved that he could play clean ball last year and then i think now I think it’s about trying to improve the calculated risk, let’s try to be aggressive and manage the game and eliminate careless play, but let’s try to go create more explosives and distribute the ball, be the point guard and push the ball down the court.”

On where the team is strength and conditioning-wise:

“I felt it was good (on Saturday). I think we ran a little bit afterward too. Our bigs, I think, are in a lot better place. I think we’ll have some numbers for you here at the end of the spring and we can sit down but I think all the body comp stuff is going to prove to be exceptional. Ultimately, I think what we’re trying to do here is build the best player development team of people that we can. We want the players to have the best resources and the best expertise in those areas. I think the strength and conditioning paired with the sports science, throwing Jake (Sankal) into the mix and I think the injury prevention component with the training room, the recovery, I’m pleased with that. I think we’re in a good spot. I do think in the beginning of spring ball, no matter how much work you can do in the beginning, football conditioning is a little bit different. We’ve hit our rhythym. I think our bigs have are in a better place and the scale, I think we’ll look up the lean mass numbers and we’ll be happy with all that.”

On the strides from Grayson “Pup” Howard this spring:

“It’s been great. He’s taken advantage of the reps that are available because of Shemar (James) and Derek (Wingo) being out. He’s one of the most productive players out there today. I think when we look back at his stats, there was a lot of production for him today. He’s a good communicator. He’s got an edge to him, he’s big, he’s long. I think he cares about the place. He came back. There’s something about Florida kids. I think there’s a connection to the place and a pride there. He cares about UF.”

On DB transfers improving the secondary:

“Yeah, the key deal is the experience piece, right? When you look at all three of the DB’s that we added through the portal, a ton of experience.And then, Aaron Gates was banged up last year. So to get him back, he’s a healthy, very talented player. Devin Moore, he’s finally healthy. He’s got presence out there. And throw that in there with Jason back and then all those rookies that played last year, Jordan, Sharif, Bryce, Ja’Keem, DeDe. I always hate leaving somebody out here, but overall that’s a deeper group and I think we’ve added some good experience. I was pleased with the way we tackled today. In particular, those guys did a good job getting the runner to the ground. We need to play better back there, right? And I think Will’s done a good job and I think we’re a work in progress, but I like what I see.”

On the narrowing the focus the next two weeks:

“I just think we’ve taught a lot, right? There’s a lot of information that’s been taught. We’ve observed players and we’re kind of in a rhythm, right. We’re installing quite a bit. The volume of the installation will go down and it will become more about the development piece with each individual player. So less information for them to take on that’s new each day and more about not what to do but how to do it and why to do it a certain way. And I think that’s where the back half of spring really presents opportunities. You can refine that – the how-to and the why-to it. Just not get a mental error and know what to do and try to do it. I think now it’s about the little things. So I’m hoping we can get that done. It’s a critical two weeks to come here.”

Nick Marcinko
Nick is a recent graduate from the University of Florida with a degree in Telecommunications. He is passionate about all sports but specifically baseball and football. Nick interned at Inside the Gators and worked part time with Knights247 before joining the Gator Country family. Nick enjoys spending his free time golfing and at the beach.