Good start for freshman defenders

I caught myself in an unusually happy mood this morning on the way to a practice that began before the sun rose in the east. Usually if I’m watching the sun rise it’s because someone or something has kept me up all night. I think my good mood was there because for the first time in several years — yes even the championship season — I can envision special things from this Gator football team. This was a practice of freshmen and most of them won’t even contribute much this season but still, I’m caught up in the excitement about a team that has a chance to be very, very good. Watching the freshmen who play on the defensive side of the ball, I came away thinking that this program is in good shape for many years to come.

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Maybe they just grow them better these days than in years past but it just seems that the freshmen arrive bigger, stronger, and faster than ever before. More likely, it is the level of talent that is being recruited at the University of Florida. Bolstered by three consecutive top three recruiting classes, Urban Meyer and his staff have a team that has almost reached that perpetual reload status.

Watching the freshmen Monday, it was evident that some of these young guys have a chance to make an immediate impact.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE: The rumors haven’t been positive for one John Brown, but Monday morning nobody got more pats on the back from defensive line coach Dan McCarney than Brown. He looked quick and decisive, just what he needs to show when playing. Of course it was mostly drill work, so when the pads go on and everything is racing around at break neck tempo we will find out about how fast Brown is picking it all up. Ronnie Wilson was out there and physically looked spectacular. He moves very well and runs as well as any lineman including the defensive ends. He will likely be the tallest defensive tackle outside of Matt Patchan so leverage will be key when the pads come on and they start hitting. If today was a test, he would get an A for physical readiness. Omar Hunter was a little heavy and struggled when the defense had to run. The staff is all about a defense that runs well. Still, he is as quick as anyone in short stretches and has an overpowering punch and quickness with his arms as well as his feet. He will play, but does need to trim down. Patchan looked huge compared to his spring weight and has to be up more than 25 pounds after recovering from mononucleosis. The key for him like others will be if he can maintain the quickness he had in the spring where he was much too quick for the offensive linemen at times.

BEST PRACTICE: Goes to John Brown who was constantly getting the praises of Dan McCarney on the day and looked very quick. Wilson was a close second. He really looked good for a guy that hasn’t played football in a year.

DEFENSIVE END: Earl Okine looks all of 270 pounds right now and has a dominating physique. I think he has to mature into that body weight a little and looked like it was dragging him down, but you can really see glimpses from Earl that he will be special. William Green was the smallest lineman, but man he wasn’t small at all. Surprisingly, he looked in the 230 range already and much more solid than I was expecting today. He has the quickest first step of everyone out there in a group of linemen that are very quick.

BEST PRACTICE: Green was very quick and was pushed by the staff a lot today.

LINEBACKER: Brandon Hicks worked out with the freshmen even though he is a sophomore in 2008. They need enough bodies for each position and Hicks looked great. He is one of my picks to make an impact this season. One of the more surprising physiques on day one is that of Lerentee McCray. I would say he looks like a solid 220 or better and that is after running track in the spring where he was competing in state long jump competitions. I’d say McCray is as big as Hicks or really close to it already. Brendan Beal is getting bigger and I honestly don’t know if he should get too much bigger. Not that this should count against him but he got caught up in coverage on Jeffrey Demps one time and that got a laugh from Meyer. A little bit more size from Beal and he will be headed to the front four in my opinion.

BEST PRACTICE: I will go with McCray who surprised me with his size and still looked lightning fast like he showed in high school.

CORNERBACKS: Janoris Jenkins just has that lean body muscle look to him where he is thick but toned and very muscular. He is smooth and started where he left off in the spring. Jeremy Brown looks like he has already added weight since the spring and is another smooth corner. I don’t know if these two need to play this fall, but it will be hard to keep them off the field. Vince Brown is a walk-on and Gator great Vernell Brown’s younger brother. He is smaller, but a good player in his own right. Adrian Bushell gets an incomplete as he was out there in shirt and shorts and apparently not able to participate. I will assume it is from not getting clearance from the Clearinghouse.

BEST PRACTICE: Tough call but in a close one it goes to Janoris Jenkins, who assistant coach Vance Bedford seemed to appreciate a lot today.

SAFETIES: Before it is all over Will Hill may be the most important new addition to the Gator football team. When I first saw him I was quite surprised at how filled out he was and almost worried that it might be too much for the position. He seems to have gained at least 15 pounds of thickness since we saw him at the Under Armour All-American Game practices in January, but he also seemed to run very well today. We will have to keep an eye on him when everyone gets together and see how his speed compares to the other safeties on roster. T.J. Lawrence was a surprise move to safety from receiver but he looks the part. I would say he has the muscular look of a Major Wright back there, but we will have to see if his ball skills take over when the pads come on and he is an instinctive player like a Wright is and a Hill seems to be. He got a lot of extra work today and had to do things a few times over, but that is expected from someone that probably switched positions very recently.

BEST PRACTICE: Hill looked fluid and with his added weight could be a real force in the secondary. I am optimistic that he will be a huge impact this season.

ODDS AND ENDS: I am sure Cody touched on this in his report, but Jeffrey Demps took a short pass from the quarterback in 7-on-7 drills and headed outside from a dead stop. His speed was absolutely unreal and the flat-footed Beal and both other linebackers were left far behind by the speedster who went racing up the sideline. Meyer chuckled at Beal and just started screaming “Speed, speed, speed!!”

Coach Bedford on his way out of the gate was getting on all the fans and media in attendance and joking around when he said, “It’s early in the morning and you guys are all here and have no lives!! But, you sure love your football!!”