The Week That Was: Five thoughts on week one of fall camp

The Gators completed their first full week of fall camp with a scrimmage on Sunday. It was an eventful week, filled with a major injury, head-turning newcomers and an offensive line shakeup.

During the week, our coverage mostly consists of reports based on what the players and coaches say in press conferences.

This is the first edition of a weekly feature that will be a little bit different. In this series, I’ll give you my somewhat subjective thoughts on five of the biggest storylines from the previous week. I’m sure you’ll all agree with everything I say.

Here are my thoughts on the week that was.

1. Losing Jaydon Hill hurts, but it’s not an earth-shattering loss.

The junior cornerback tore his left ACL during practice last Sunday and will miss the entire season. You’ve got to feel terrible for him. He tore his right ACL as a high school senior, but the Gators still wanted him as part of their 2019 class.

He worked extremely hard to recover from his injury and be a major contributor as a reserve last season. He was going to be a starter this season and get plenty of chances to make a name for himself with opposing teams likely to shy away from testing Kaiir Elam.

And now, he has to start at the bottom all over again. Hill is a guy that everybody can root for, and his latest setback doesn’t seem fair.  Let’s hope that he’s able to recover physically and mentally in time to play in 2022 and have long-term stability in both of his knees.

However, as long as the Gators don’t lose another cornerback in camp, they’ll be able to fill Hill’s shoes fairly easily. It might seem crazy to say this given how awful the secondary was in 2020, but they should be able to overcome injuries better than most other positions on the roster.

They have great depth at cornerback, possibly elite depth if some young players figure things out quickly. Avery Helm probably steps into the starting spot. All he does is run the 40-yard dash in the 4.3-4.4-second range and leap as high as 40 inches into the air. He only played in the bowl game last year. So, he’s light on experience, but there’s no denying that he’s a special athlete.

Missouri transfer Jadarrius Perkins flashed some during the first week of camp, and redshirt freshman Ethan Pouncey was a top-200 recruit. Texas A&M transfer Elijah Blades practiced with the team for the first time on Saturday, and his experience and physicality mean that he’s likely to play a bunch of snaps right away.

Oh, and then there’s five-star freshman Jason Marshall, who is holding his own against some of the Gators’ top receivers. He looks like a future first-rounder.

You never want to see somebody get injured, but the cupboard is far from bare at cornerback.

2. How in the world was Nick Elksnis only a three-star prospect?

A couple of years from now, we’ll be talking about his as one of the biggest hidden gems in the 2021 class, and not just at UF.

He has everything you could possibly want in a modern tight end. He’s long (6-foot-6), strong (243 pounds) and highly athletic, and he catches almost everything that touches his hands.

He’s going to be Dan Mullen’s next “unicorn” shortly. Unless the opposing defense has a 6-foot-6 linebacker who runs the 40 in the 4.5-4.6-second range, there’s no way you can consistently cover him. He’s already terrorizing UF’s defense, making several contested catches between multiple defenders over the middle of the field.

His only real weakness is blocking, and that’s easily correctable with some technique work with position coach Tim Brewster and game experience.

He has an incredible set of receiving skills that you cannot teach, and he’s going to embarrass some recruiting experts when he gets selected high in the NFL Draft in a few years.

3. The decision to start Kingsley Eguakun is a bit of a head-scratcher.

This is in no way intended to be criticism of Eguakun. He may turn out to be an incredible offensive lineman, maybe even an All-SEC type of player. But, if you’re going to make this move, why do you not move Josh Braun or Stewart Reese to right tackle?

Not to beat a dead horse, but Jean Delance has been the weakest link up front over the past two seasons. Reese started 27 games at right tackle at Mississippi State and was known as a fringe all-conference type of player at the time. Braun was one of the highest-ranked tackles in the state out of Suwannee High School.

If you believe Eguakun is one of your five best linemen and want to get him in the lineup, that’s fine, but I just can’t see the justification for keeping Delance in the lineup if this is your line of thinking.

Is the offensive line really better with somebody who’s never started a game playing center and either your most experienced player or one of your most ferocious run-blockers sitting on the bench?

We’ll find out soon enough.

4. Emory Jones has shown improved accuracy on the intermediate and deep throws.

Yes, what we get to see through the lenses of Mullen’s phone is an extremely limited sample size, but he hasn’t produced any “What the heck was that?” moments like he did several times in the spring.

He’s completed several deep balls to Jacob Copeland in one-on-one receiving drills, and he’s done a nice job of adjusting his throws based on the coverage. One of his completions to Copeland was dropped in over his outside shoulder perfectly. He seems to have a better grasp of the concept of throwing receivers open; he doesn’t throw every pass with the same velocity and trajectory anymore.

Jones has also fit several passes into tight windows over the middle of the field.

He’s probably never going to be as accurate of a passer as Kyle Trask, and that’s fine. He doesn’t need to be. With defenses having to devote an extra defender in the box to defend against his running ability, he’s going to get a bunch of one-on-one opportunities on the outside. He doesn’t need to make the spectacular throws, just the ones that are wide open.

So far, so good toward that end in the fall for Jones.

5. The energy and competitive balance in practice seem to be just right.

We didn’t get to watch any portions of practice during the pandemic-affected 2020 season, but the 7-on-7 and 11-on-11 segments must’ve been some of the most lopsided competitions ever held on UF’s practice fields. Trask, Kyle Pitts, Kadarius Toney and friends probably scored whenever the heck they wanted to.

So far this fall, it’s hard to say which side of the ball is better, and that’s a good thing. The offense will make some big plays, but then the defense will bounce back with a couple of breakups in a row. The offensive line will open up a lane for a nice run on one play, and the defensive line will stuff them at the line on the next snap.

And then the energy level seems to be just right. We’ve seen some chirping, shoving and even ball-throwing after reps, but it’s not to the point where it feels like they hate each other. It’s the right blend of competitiveness and team chemistry.

Obviously, once we get into the season, one side of the ball may outperform the other and divisions might occur within the locker room, but everything seems to be going well at the moment.

Ethan Hughes
Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and also wrote for for two years before joining Gator Country in 2021. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars. You can follow him on Twitter @ethanhughes97.