For the most part, the football team practices and works out behind closed doors. On Thursday night, those doors were opened and more than 1,000 fans and media descended upon the Florida Gators for their first chance to see the 2013 version of the football team getting ready for the season.
While family and friends of the players have been allowed to watch practice, today was the first time that the team has had a real audience to play in front of and they didn’t disappoint.
I focused on the defense tonight, while Richard focused on the offense and we’ll both be giving our instant reaction on what we saw from each unit.
Florida’s secondary has been talked about as being the best unit on the team but not tonight. Tonight, that distinction belonged to the defensive line.
For the first time ever, we got to see Jon Bullard, Dante Fowler, Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell on the field at the same time and man, that is one impressive pass-rushing combination.
Dominique Easley and Dante Fowler gave the offensive line all they could handle and then some. Their speed and quickness off the line is impressive and Florida’s offensive line won’t be the only unit this year that has trouble keeping that group in front of them. Early on in the first practice, Fowler beat D.J. Humphries during a one-minute drill and was able to jump and bat down an attempted pass from Jeff Driskel. The pass was almost intercepted and showed just how athletic Fowler is – especially at his new slimmed down weight.
We’ve heard the coaches and players say that Ronald Powell is back to full health but tonight we can finally say after seeing it with our own eyes, Powell is back, he’s fast and he’s ready to go. There may be a brace on his twice surgically repaired knee but there is no caution in his game. Powell was cutting at full speed, pursuing plays and taking on blockers like he did before the surgery.
Darious Cummings also impressed tonight. He has a good get off for such a large player and he did a good job against Jon Harrison tonight. The unit will benefit from getting Damien Jacobs back for depth purposes but the players we saw tonight looked ready to start the season today.
Bryan Cox is an under the radar player to keep an eye on. Cox used his redshirt season to his advantage, adding considerable size to his frame and a ton of strength to go along with that size. Cox looked very good tonight going up against Chaz Green and Trenton Brown, two players who are much bigger than he is, and he more than held his own utilizing both speed and power moves.
The first thing that stood out about the unit – besides Antonio Morrison being back in the middle – was just how much Florida is counting on the young players to play key roles this season. Jarrad Davis, Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian all got a lot of playing time and for the most part didn’t look like the freshmen that they are. Davis had a big hit on Kelvin Taylor (as big a hit as you can have when you’re not tackling fully) and Alex Anzalone had a nice pass breakup early on in the practice. The young trio will be asked to play and contribute as freshman and they looked ready to handle that role tonight.
There was no fluff from the coaching staff when they said that Neiron Ball had acclimated to his role at inside linebacker. Ball looked comfortable out there playing in the middle and it will be interesting to see how his role in the defense develops into the season.
Antonio Morrison is back at practice and was a full participant today. Morrison played fast and physical but is still adjusting to more responsibilities in coverage. He got beat on an underneath route twice that I saw.
Michael Taylor had a solid practice. He didn’t stand out really for any positive or negative plays, just was where he needed to be at all times. He looked like a very reliable player that the staff can count on as a veteran leader in the group.
The unit that is generally regarded as the deepest and best on the team didn’t struggle today but did give up some big plays. Marcus Roberson – Florida’s best cover corner – played the victim to several highlight reel catches from Demarcus Robinson. This speaks more to the talent and progression of Robinson than to what Roberson is as a player. I wouldn’t worry about Roberson, Thursday just wasn’t his night.
When practice opened up with a one-minute drill, the defense came out in a dime formation. Loucheiz Purifoy and Roberson at each corner position, Cody Riggs and Jabari Gorman at safety, Brian Poole at nickel and Marcus Maye playing as the sixth defensive back. I still think that in a base package you will see Maye as one of the two starting safeties. He had a very good practice and, as some have pointed out, has a very similar playing style to Matt Elam.
On the other hand, Gorman struggled. He was in the starting dime defense but didn’t look comfortable at all tonight and had a couple of blown coverages on the back end.
Keanu Neal had a very good practice. It seemed like Neal was around the football whenever he was in and he appears to be slightly ahead of fellow freshman Marcell Harris. Harris looked fine, just not as impressive as Neal on the night. Neal had the defensive play of the night when he met Adam Lane coming out of the backfield. The hit drew a loud “ooh” from the crowd.
Nick Washington struggled a bit tonight. Towards the end of scrimmage, there were mostly freshmen on the field and the quarterbacks threw Washington’s way three consecutive plays. Washington gave up receptions to Demarcus Robinson twice and Alvin Bailey another time. He is very talented physically; it just wasn’t a good showing for whatever reason on Thursday.
Vernon Hargreaves was not at practice today. Gator Country was told that he was dealing with a very minor injury and that he should be back for Florida’s scrimmage in the morning on Friday.
Top Five Performers
- Dante Fowler – Fowler was the best player on the field Thursday night. That’s saying a lot when you consider the talent around him.
- Ronald Powell – Ronald Powell is back. He played fast and fearless on Thursday and looked ready to have a bounce back season.
- Bryan Cox Jr. – I came away very impressed with Bryan Cox tonight. I wrote that he had greatly improved in the spring and tonight he showed even more progression. This is a player that is going to make an impact on the field this fall.
- Marcus Maye – Maye looked to be far and away the best safety on the field in my opinion.
- Darious Cummings – I’ll take the road less traveled and leave Dominique Easley off the list. Easley had a very good practice and is hands down the best interior lineman on the team, but it is more expected out of him than the player who comes in fifth on our list. With Damien Jacobs out, Cummings filled in nicely on the inside. I could see a scenario with Cummings and Jacobs rotating at nose tackle while Leon Orr is watching from the sidelines.