Strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman is about to begin screaming from under the shade of a bucket hat. Nobody’s done anything wrong — yet — but soon he’ll be screaming. He’s a coach, and that’s what he does. Defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson is wearing a sweatshirt, it’s the middle of August, but it doesn’t matter to him. Luckily tonight is a cool evening as far as August in Florida is concerned but that doesn’t stop him from sweating through it in twenty minutes. If you ever wanted to know that Robinson weighed “soaking wet” as they say, after practice might be the time to break out the scales. During the spring there were track pants involved in his ensemble, on this particular night he opts for shorts.
Fans fill the stands to watch players do drills. Pre-practice walk through is over and players gather to stretch in positionally grouped columns, this is when Dillman begins to scream.
A few yards away head coach Will Muschamp surveys what looks like organized chaos to the average fan, but it isn’t. It’s football practice.
“Very intense. We get to the point. We practice really hard for a good two hours and then we get off the field,” offensive lineman Tyler Moore said. This is how Moore describes practice.
They do get to the point, wasted time is wasted reps and football coaches hate wasted reps. The team gathers near a goal post then scatters across the two fields to begin work.
During first period, the quarterbacks break off with someone quite familiar to their position, former Gator QB Chris Leak, now an offensive graduate assistant. They do light work on option pitches back and forth amongst themselves, a few minutes later an air horn sounds and the players move.
A John Deere gator with two speakers loaded in the back faces the field, coaches don headsets and the two-minute drill begins. “The crowd machine” is what the speakers are dubbed, and they blare the sound of 90,000 people screaming onto the field as Florida works on the precision needed to win a game themselves or stop their opponents from doing the same under high pressure.
Things move fast, the two-minute drill is over, and the team breaks again for positional group drills or “individual work” as it is called. This time it’s special teams and the gunners work on getting by blockers to tackle a return guy. The return men work with wide receivers coach Joker Phillips while the offensive linemen work off to the side on footwork.
Picture a bunch of guys 300 pounds attempting to move as lightly as possible on their enormous feet. That’s what the ladder drill teaches as the road graders tiptoe in and out of the rope ladder laid out on the ground in front of them.
Their defensive counterparts work on hand placement and footwork on the other side of the field. They must maximize reps, their time is short, an airhorn sounds again and the team is on the move.
There is a spring in the team’s step tonight, maybe because they’re forced to have it — football coaches aren’t exactly ones that take kindly to loafing around — or maybe it’s because the eyes of eager fans are upon them.
“Practice is always fun for us just to have the people that support us come and watch us. That makes us want to practice even better for them. They show us love, so we show them love back with our performance,” BUCK Dante Fowler Jr. said.
Joker Phillips is Florida’s new wide receivers coach, and he’s an active one. In a particular drill Phillips has a receiver run right at him as he does the same to mimic a defensive back, then Phillips drops into an athletic two point stance, his receiver mirrors to simulate the stance needed to square up and throw a block that may spring a running back on a run broken outside the tackles.
In another drill, a member of Florida’s support staff stands ten yards from a receiver. He is stationary as the receiver runs directly at him, as the wideout gets as close as physically possible he jabs a foot in the ground and breaks towards the sideline, it’s a drill that teaches precision in route running, something that was not Florida’s strong suit last season.
A few periods later, Robinson — T-Rob as his players call him — is bent slightly at the waist, and lined up in the face of one of his defensive backs. His sweatshirt might as well have been thrown in a puddle and his hands are behind his back, he squats and the defensive back opposite him begins to zig-zag up the field in short staccato jab steps, almost diagonally moving up the field. T-Rob mirrors to demonstrate for his players, it’s a drill that teaches footwork to his DBs, and he watches as his players rotate through his spot as their battery mates act as a replace holder at the wide receiver spot.
On the other end of the field, defensive line coach Brad Lawing and offensive line coach Tim Davis have their position groups working on the pitched battle that envelopes every snap of every play of every football game you’ve ever watched. Lawing is teaching things like swim moves and joint manipulation. Davis is showing how to kick step and set on a perfect base, not too wide and not too narrow. Sam linebacker Ronald Powell lines up in a three-point stance, offensive tackle DJ Humphries does the same. They fire off the ball and collide in the trench warfare that they were born to be apart of, Humphries stops Powell’s momentum in its tracks, he gives no ground, he wins this battle.
To finish things, Florida runs 11-on-11 for the last 20 minutes of the day. Freshman safety Keanu Neal knocks running back Adam Lane flat on the turf, not an easy task for the 204 pound safety to do against the RB built like a bowling ball at 5’7” 222 pounds.
WR Demarcus Robinson brings oos and aahs from the crowd with a one-handed catch. While they’re exciting for fans, the highlight plays are commonplace among players.
“We have highlights every practice, you’ll see it out there, it’s hard to say there’s just one play. We’ve got a lot of guys out there that are really great athletes so you’re bound to see something every practice,” offensive tackle Chaz Green said.
Scrimmage period concludes, practice is over. Players walk to the stands and sign autographs for a bit and then trudge to the buses that will take them back to their locker room at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Ronald Powell is the last to leave the field, signing until there is nobody left, then walking off as trainers and support staff clear the equipment from the field.
The players load up and the buses pull out. Tomorrow they’ll be back to do the same thing all over again. Dillman will yell, T-Rob will sweat and the Florida football team will aim to get better.
As the old adage goes “practice, makes perfect.”