GAINESVILLE -- The Gators held their first of four open practices on a beautiful Thursday evening in front of over 1000 fans at Dizney Lacrosse Stadium.
Florida conducted its traditional 16-session, 2+ hours practice complete with 1-on-1 drills, multiple 11-on-11 sessions and lots of special teams work.
My observations of the night’s events…
* Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel was indisputably the top storyline of Thursday’s practice. The junior was sharp with his decision-making (especially during 7-on-7 skeletons) and threw the deep ball better than I’ve ever seen from him. Overall, Driskel looked crisp and confident.
* Demarcus Robinson is going to be a stud, ya’ll. Shoot, he’s already Florida’s top WR (yes that’s like being the skinniest kid in Heavyweights, but still). The freshman sent the crowd into a frenzy with the evening’s highlight play: a ridiculous one-handed snag, beating Marcus Roberson for a touchdown. Robinson was a star in 1-on-1 drills, much to the chagrin of Florida’s top-notch secondary.
* Dante Fowler Jr. was the best player on the field Thursday. No one -- not even left tackle D.J. Humphries (who otherwise had a strong practice) -- could block Fowler in 1-on-1’s. The menacing pass rusher abused tackles Trenton Brown and Chaz Green, recording multiple sacks during 11-on-11’s.
* Ronald Powell appeared fresh and played with lots of energy. The SAM backer displayed no signs of limited mobility and scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery on the first “scrimmage” play.
* Keanu Neal, a freshman safety, has received plenty of buzz lately and for good reason. Neal had a strong practice and blasted freshman tailback Adam Lane on a crossing route.
* Others who looked good Thursday: WR Quinton Dunbar, DE Joey Ivie, S Marcus Maye, LT D.J. Humphries.
* As good as the Driskel-Robinson connection was, overall, Florida’s offense remained traditionally stagnant during 11-on-11 sessions. The first-team line couldn’t block Fowler or Powell, while the running backs made minimal impressions in a “thud” atmosphere.
* Marcus Roberson is a potential All-American, but he might want to delete Thursday’s practice from his memory. Roberson was slow, sluggish and seemed disinterested. Not surprisingly, the junior was torched on several deep balls by Robinson, Solomon Patton (Driskel’s best throw of the day) and Dunbar.
* Bryan Cox Jr. was a spring star, but his name has yet to be mentioned this fall. Now we know why. Coach Will Muschamp and position coach Brad Lawing constantly scolded the defensive end for poor technique. Cox was manhandled by Florida’s first team tackles in 1-on-1’s.
* UF’s tight end battle remains unchanged. Clay Burton (who did fine Thursday) appears to have a stronghold on the first-team job, as backup underclassmen Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor received minimal reps. So much for the supposed improvements.
* Oh, Adam Lane. I had such high hopes. Florida’s freshman tailback -- he of the MJD comparisons (5’7”, 220) -- had a rough go of it Thursday night. Lane dropped two passes in skeleton drills, missed a couple assignments during 11-on-11’s and was straight tattooed by a teammate over the middle. We’ll check back with him on Saturday.
Others who struggled: WR Raphael Andrades, WR Ahmad Fulwood, OL Trevon Young, CB Jeremy Brown.
* Mack Brown’s fumble (on a poor exchange from Driskel) led to a quick defensive touchdown and resulted in Brown’s brief “benching” from the drill.
* Mr. Trenton Brown. Florida’s mammoth tackle (6’8”, 365) wilted under the bright lights on Thursday. The junior transfer had a brutal showing in every setting. Brown was lost in protection, slow off the ball and utterly confused all night. His only reprieve was sideline lessons from starter D.J. Humphries. Name a pass rusher (really, go) and they probably beat Brown off the edge.
* Florida better pray Driskel never gets hurt because its backup quarterback group is scarier than a M. Night Shyamalan film. Tyler Murphy was very average, and Skyler Morhinweg (RFR) and Max Staver (FR) were awful in minimal reps. Major accuracy concerns here.
THIS AND THAT
Octavius Jackson (OL), Alex McCalister and Jaylen Watkins (DB) all worked out with trainers during practice. Later, Jon Halapio (torn pectoral) joined the group after taking part in non-contact drills… Freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III was sidelined with a minor injury. … Injured nose tackle Damien Jacobs, tailback Matt Jones and fullback Hunter Joyer did not appear to be in attendance. … Valdez Showers (H-back) and Darrin Kitchens (LB) wore orange non-contact jerseys. … Freshman Trevon Young was seen working as an offensive tackle -- not tight end. … Purifoy took zero offensive snaps.
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