SPRING: Defense edges offense at goal line

The defense edged out the offense during today’s goal line scrimmage at the Florida practice facility. Nobody stood out more for the unit than defensive end Derrick Harvey, but there appears to be no shortage of speed and talent.

Redshirt junior Derrick Harvey (6-4, 245) and sophomore Jermaine Cunningham (6-3, 230) started at defensive end in both the initial goal line work and when they were working on the running game. Redshirt freshman Lawrence Marsh (6-5, 284) and Trent Pupello (6-2, 275) worked with the second unit.

The tackles rotated a bit more, which included offensive guard Ronnie Wilson (6-3, 316) out with the first group briefly when they lined up to start the goal line work at the start of practice. Wilson did the vast majority of his work at offensive guard though. For most of the time the starters at tackle were sophomore Brandon Antwine (5-11, 265) and redshirt senior Clint McMillan (6-1, 275). Senior Lutrell Alford (6-1, 306) and redshirt freshman Terron Sanders (6-1 304) made up the second unit.

The first group of linebackers remained the same- Brandon Spikes (MLB), Dustin Doe (WLB), and A.J. Jones (SLB). The second group of linebackers consisted of redshirt sophomore middle linebacker Jamaal Deveaux (5-11, 232), redshirt sophomore strongside linebacker Roderick Blackett (5-8, 225), and redshirt freshman weakside backer Chris Pintado (5-11, 216). Redshirt sophomore Ryan Stamper (6-1, 227) saw plenty of time with the second group as well. I’m not sure if the coaches were trying to send a message to Stamper or just wanted to give these other guys a first look.

Redshirt junior Marcus Manson (5-11 207) and freshman Joe Haden (5-11, 183) remained the first up at cornerback. Tony Joiner (5-11, 217) lined up at strong safety, while free safety Kyle Jackson (6-1, 201) rounded out the first group. Dorian Monroe (5-11, 200) and Bryan Thomas (6-1, 203) seeing most of their time on the second unit. Redshirt freshman Jamar Hornsby (6-2, 195) also saw quite a bit of action today.

The Gators started out with a brief goal line drill. They ran six plays, four of which were won by the defense. The only two wins by the offense were both courtesy of offside penalties.

On the first play, weakside linebacker A.J. Jones blasted forward as though he had been launched from a rocket pad and hit the back. Brandon Spikes assisted on the play, but Jones’ display of speed was nothing short of sensational. Quarterback Tim Tebow dropped the snap on the second play and the defense came hard. Strongside linebacker Dustin Doe stuffed the run on the following play. Jamar Hornsby came up fast on the left side to keep the runner from moving forward toward to the goal line on yet another play. Again, the offense won the other two plays due to flags.

The coaches lined them up for the an extended man-on-man drill. They determined the defense won those drills 18-17. I won’t list all of the match-ups, but some of the more significant demonstrations featured impressive blocking by receivers. Andre Caldwell beating Tony Joiner, Cornelius Ingram won all three of his match-ups. Ingram beat Manson, Bryan Thomas, and another defender. True freshman tight end Aaron Hernandez (6-2, 239) bested Corey Hobbs and Brandon Spikes. Hernandez had already beaten Spikes during the Circle of Life drill. Another receiver who loked awfully good blocking was David Nelson (6-4, 208) who really pounded Jamar Hornsby. Jarred Fayson (6-0, 200) beat Bryan Thomas.

Offensive lineman Carl Johnson struggled mightily last spring in these drills. Johnson struggles no more though. He whipped Cunningham and another player. Dustin Doe beat Kestahn Moore.

They worked on the run a little, which is where the offensive line eventually began to establish itself. Tebow took the first play off the left side and ran to daylight. Spikes laid a nice hit on Moore at the line of scrimmage on the second play that dislodged both the football and his helmet. McMillan got over to make the tackle on Mon Williams on the third play. Harvey beat Medder and got a tremendous jump on the fourth play, wrapping up Moore for no gain.

However, things began to take a definite offensive turn. Moore took the ball and ran up the middle before cutting back to the left to open field. It was a great move. A bad snap by center Drew Miller sailed over Tebow’s head on the following play. Tebwo then faked the ball up the middle and kept it running left around the end to open field. Another bad snap by Miller, forced Tebow to go low for the ball.

Tebow then took the ball running right, cut back to the left and found daylight for another considerable gain. Perhaps the best run of the drill occurred when Brandon James took the ball up the gut and when a defender came over, spun to escape the grab, running free through the defense.

In my opinion, this was the most consistent and best the offensive line looked on the day. They clearly began to dominate the defensive front after that fourth play. Miller had a couple bad snaps in the drill. However, he did a fine job during the remainder of the scrimmage.

The Gators concluded today with an extended round of red zone/goal line drills. Tebow and the offense began from the 12 yard line. He took the first play left and turned outside for a huge gain. Tony Joiner yelled at the defense to play with some emotion.

The ball was then placed at the 7 yard line. Tebow had plenty of time to throw the ball, but the coverage was very good on the first two plays from scrimmage. One of his passes fell incomplete, while the other was caught by Caldwell. The coverage by Manson was good though.

Later, Harvey had a big hit on Williams in the backfield. One play later, Caldwell took a reverse from right to left and made a beautiful cut and accelerated into the endzone from 7 yards out.

Tebow later tried to throw a pass to Percy Harvin that fell incomplete. Spikes had good coverage on the play. Tebow did a beautiful job of putting the ball at the only spot possible, but the velocity and coverage by Spikes definitely prevented Harvin from adjusting to the ball.

A play later, Nelson ran a quick slant that Tebow drilled into him for a touchdown. Tony Joiner had solid coverage on the play. Nelson did a terrific job hauling in the pass and fighting for position.

Cornelius Ingram dropped a ball at the goal line that hit him square in the hands. Doe had the coverage, but was a step behind Ingram who should have had the score. Tebow overthrew Caldwell on the following play. The defense ran a double corner blitz that pressured Tebow to get rid of the ball.

The second team highlights began with a Cam Newton pass to Hernandez dragging across the right side for a score. Antwine and Hornsby then blew up a run by Chevon Walker that netted maybe a yard. Tate Casey then hauled in a pass from Newton for a score. He lofted the ball over 5-8 Roderick Blackett. Newton pulled up on the play with what appeared to be a cramp.

Later, with the ball at the 8 yard line, Alford totally collapsed the pocket for Newton, who was stopped for naught on the play. Newton then drilled a ball that was tipped by Hernandez and picked of by a defender in the endzone. The player was wearing a jersey that wasn’t on the roster, so we have no idea who he was.

Fayson ran a reverse to the left side and was provided some daylight by a fabulous block by David Nelson on Bryan Thomas. However, the defense quickly hemmed him up for little gain.

The second offensive unit finished their turn with a pair of touchdowns. Newton hit Hernandez on a short pass that he hauled into the endzone. One play later, Brandon James took the ball and blew over right guard/tackle slot into the endzone. He finished by playfully taking a series of bows to the first team defenders who were watching their teammates, just beyond him.

The scrimmage was concluded with the ball at the 2 yard line. The first team defense popped Moore in the backfield and jarred the ball loose for a fumble. Dorian Monroe came up with the ball.

The most impressive player up front is obviously Harvey. It wasn’t a bad day by anybody along the front four, but nobody really established themselves on this first day in pads. There is no question that the coaches would love to have Javier Estopinan out there. He is expected to play a major role in the rotation. The lack of size and/or experience was evident at times today.

I was much more impressed with the linebacker play. They too have a long way to go, but there were several plays they made on sheer athleticism. Most impressive to me were the plays they made up for despite taking a bad angle or finding themselves out of position. Obviously, that must improve. But, at this point in practice, they got away with a few. What a talented group of linebackers.

Joe Haden and Marcus Manson had some pretty good moments on day one in full gear. I’ll be excited to see them next week. With so much of the work focused on goal line drills, we didn’t get to see much in the way of solid coverage downfield. They did work a bit in seven-on-seven drills, but there was really nothing significant to see there.

We expect to see much more next week when wee can see the downfield coverage and potential pass rush.