DAY 7: Big defensive plays set tone

As Florida approached the halfway point of spring practice Saturday, there has clearly been an effort to amp up the intensity level at practice over the course of this week. No one could previously accuse the Gators of any sense of complacency. But if there was even a hint that practice had been a little “quiet” to start the spring, that notion would have been crushed on Saturday as Urban Meyer sent the Gators through their seventh day (of 15 alloted) of spring drills.

The defense turned in a superb effort on Saturday morning as middle linebacker Brandon Spikes made the play of the day with an early interception of Tim Tebow that he returned for a touchdown. Markihe Anderson would follow that up with a beautiful pick of John Brantley on a ball that looked to be uncatchable.

While errant throws were one issue, the defensive line took advantage of a shuffled offensive line to make numerous sacks on the quarterbacks over the course of the day. Jermaine Cunningham, William Green, Omar Hunter and Earl Okine all registered sacks over the course of the scrimmage. Cunningham also managed to strip Tim Tebow of the ball as Tebow attempted to make a pass during the latter stages of the scrimmage.

Even with a few injuries, the play of the defensive line was very solid for the length of the morning. The first-team line was Jermaine Cunningham, Jaye Howard, Omar Hunter and Justin Trattou. Duke Lemmens, Earl Okine, Edwin Herbert and William Green all worked with the second team.

It wasn’t all bad news for the guys trying to move the football, however. The offense did manage to make several spectacular plays and was led by a strong performance from tight end Aaron Hernandez on the afternoon. He had several catches on the day, but none were bigger than a crossing pattern from Tim Tebow that Hernandez took all the way for a long touchdown. In a game, replay might have had him out of bounds at the one as it appeared a touchdown-saving tackle by Janoris Jenkins kept Hernandez from getting the ball over the flag. But without the aid of instant replay, the score stood.

Carl Moore, Deonte Thompson and Frankie Hammond (who beat Moses Jenkins on a long pass play from John Brantley) also had nice performances. Thompson would start the practice off on a good note, as he took a short pass from Tebow and made a nice play to shake Wondy Pierre-Louis out of his shoes to tack on a couple of yards to the catch.

The big news of the day was a shake up along the offensive line. Carl Johnson, who had previously spent the majority of the spring working at left tackle, made the shift to right tackle for the afternoon. The move shifted Marcus Gilbert to left tackle, and also moved David Young into the line up at right guard. Left guard James Wilson and center Sam Robey kept their normal places in the rotation for the day.

The second team line for the day had walk-on William Steinmann at left tackle, freshman Jonotthan Harrison at left guard (he has spent the majority of the spring working at tackle), Corey Hobbs at center, Byran Jones at right guard and freshman Nick Alajajian at right tackle.

INJURY REPORT: Guard James Wilson would get banged up a little bit toward the end of practice and Corey Hobbs entered the lineup with the No. 1 unit to take Wilson’s place for the final third of the day.

Wide receiver David Nelson grimaced in pain after twisting his ankle during the scrimmage. Nelson would be taken off in a cart for further evaluation. His status wasn’t immediately known following practice.

Dustin Doe and Carlos Dunlap, who both dressed for practice yesterday, were held out of drills today as a precautionary measure.

NOTES: Tebow turned in a typical effort on the day. His passing was solid and his feet were very active as well.

Walk-on Chris Scott of Lemon Bay H.S. in Englewood made a number of great runs for the offense. He looked even more impressive on Saturday than scholarship backs Emmanuel Moody and Chris Rainey. Listed at 5-11 and 212 pounds, Scott started the spring listed as a defensive back, but has made his mark at running back.

Fullback Steve Wilks made his first notable appearance of the spring. He made two catches on the day, both of which drew a number of “attaboys” from coaches and players.

Freshman linebacker Jon Bostic has continued his strong play over the course of the spring. It’s only a matter of time before he will be pushing guys like Lorenzo Edwards, John Jones and Lerentee McCray for a spot in the rotation at linebacker.

The battle at corner should get really interesting between now and the start of the season. Markihe Anderson, Wondy Pierre-Louis and Adrian Bushell have all shown flashes of excellence on the field this spring. If Jeremy Brown can get healthy, he certainly has the confidence to be added to the rotation as well. Throw in the fact that Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins have struggled at times this spring, and I think that there could be a real fight for playing time in the secondary this fall.

As posting a practice observation thread this morning, Ahmad Black makes one play a practice that just makes you shake your head. The safety position for Florida is absolutely loaded, but Black is the one player back there who doesn’t have to keep one eye on what’s going on behind him. Simply put, he is now one of the best players on this defense, period.

RECRUITING UPDATE: Florida practices have been a favorite stop for top prospects around the state this spring. With the Florida Relays taking place Friday and Saturday next door at the Percy Beard Track, the number of top prospects who stopped by the Sanders Practice Fields was even more impressive than usual.

The biggest prospect (figuratively and literally) to take in the festivities on Friday was Jacksonville Bolles offensive line prospect Brent Benedict (6-5, 290). Benedict competed in the shot put at the Florida Relays, and then took advantage of the trip to Gainesville to take in some of the sights and sounds in Gainesville. While Benedict was quite familiar with the football facilities due to a couple of previous trips to UF, this was an opportunity to check out the school and surrounding community. Benedict dined at Orange & Brew in the student union for lunch and certainly seemed pleased with the overall experience.

One prospect long rumored to be close to a commitment to the Gators is Gerald Christian of Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer High School. The 6-3, 220-pound Christian made the trip to Gainesville this weekend to take in practice on Friday. While Christian insisted he still has some visits to take before making his choice (Miami and South Florida were two schools he specifically mentioned), Christian did say that Florida is “by far my No. 1.” A good sign, indeed.

A pair of top in-state wide receivers – Chris Dunkley (5-11, 170, Royal Palm Beach) and Kenny Shaw (6-0, 175, Orlando Dr. Phillips) – made it in this weekend. Dunkley took in the festivities Friday, while Shaw passed up a chance to see the Garnet & Gold spring game at Florida State (rumored to be his favorite school) to come to Gainesville on Saturday.

Coming all the way from Hialeah, a trio of talented thoroughbreds had the opportunity to take in a Florida practice Friday. The No. 1 defensive end prospect in the state of Florida, Corey Lemonier (6-4, 230), came along with highly-regarded DT Calvin Smith (6-4, 265) as well as fast-rising DB prospect Ravone Carter (5-10, 167).

While the Gators are just starting to get to work on the Class of 2010, a couple of prospects who should be big names in the Class of 2011 were out on the practice fields Friday as well.

Fresh off a fourth-place performance in the 100 meters at the Florida Relays, Mike Bellamy (5-10, 170, Punta Gorda, Charlotte H.S.) is a nice looking back. Bellamy turned in a time of 10.85 seconds at the Percy Beard Track on Friday afternoon, which is a tremendous time for a prospect who is only a sophomore at this point.

Bellamy finished the 2008 season with 29 touchdowns and 1,995 yards rushing. The talented prospect played coy with reporters on Friday, mentioning that he had a pretty good idea of where he wanted to go to school, but wasn’t ready to talk about it publicly yet. As for his thoughts on Florida, Bellamy was very enthusiastic about getting a chance to see the defending national champs out on the practice field. “I’m liking it,” he said of the Gators efforts on Friday. As for whether or not he would fit in the Florida spread offense, Bellamy didn’t seem to have any concerns. “I’ll most definitely fit into it,” he said.

Phillip Ely (6-0, 160, Tampa Plant) is coming off a big-time performance down in Tampa at the Badger Sports/New Level 7-on-7 Pass Camp and was in Gainesville on Friday along with Plant head coach Robert Weiner. Ely started seven games for Plant last year, throwing for 1,767 yards and 19 touchdowns with 10 interceptions. Most importantly, his team went undefeated in the games he started. Look for a full update coming from Ely very soon. While it’s still very early for the young QB, the Gators figure to be a team squarely in the mix for his services.

Another young prospect to watch out for is Lake City Columbia DT Tim Jernigan (6-2, 265), widely considered to be one of the top underclassman prospects in the state. After practice, Jernigan was spotted talking with Urban Meyer, and top 2010 Florida commitment Trey Burton chatted to the talented young defensive line prospect as well.

And finally, a name that is really heating on on the recruiting boards, South Lake DB Nick Waisome (5-9, 155), made the short trek to Gainesville to watch former teammate Jonotthan Harrison in action. Waisome, who has been a star on the spring combine circuit, noted that the practice was “on a different level out there.” The young phenom had previously visited UCF for a practice recently. While there is almost two years left to go in his recruitment, Florida has clearly made a good first impression. Waisome said of his experience on the Florida campus: “I’m liking it.”