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August 08, 2014

Competition for backup QB remains "even"

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GAINESVILLE -- The Gators hope to sort out their quarterback depth chart by the “15th or 16th practice,” according to coach Will Muschamp.

Jeff Driskel, who looked sharp during Thursday’s open practice, is cemented as Florida’s starter, but the battle for the backup job remains “even.”

Freshmen Treon Harris and Will Grier, along with sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg are splitting reps with the second team.

Harris and Grier both struggled with accuracy issues Thursday night, but Muschamp praised their “it” factor and intangibles -- especially so early in their careers.

“Those guys have shown some really good things as far as arm talent and poise,” he explained.

“The No. 1 thing that strikes me with both young men is they have a very positive way about themselves with the players. I think I call it the ‘it factor,’ they both have that as far as how the players respond to them. You can see a reason why they were where they were in high school and the accomplishments they have are very easy to see. They’re very talented guys, but I look at more the intangible part of that position, and they both have that.”

Meanwhile, Driskel continues to impress in Kurt Roper’s spread offense, with Muschamp saying the redshirt junior signal caller is completing 70-75 percent of his passes over the first four days of camp. 

“His timing has been very good,” Muschamp said. 

“He’s thrown the ball well. He’s making very good decisions in the run and pass game.”

SECONDARY SHAKEUP

Vernon Hargreaves III made national headlines with his injury scare Thursday night, but the rest of Florida’s defensive backs had a chance to shine without their All-American leader.

Muschamp praised the play of junior corner Brian Poole, who appears close to securing a starting job as the boundary corner opposite Hargreaves.

Sophomore Marcus Maye, normally a safety, has “done a fabulous job inside” as a nickel cornerback.

Keanu Neal, a sophomore, and senior Jabari Gorman are the frontrunners for the two starting safety spots, per Muschamp.

THIS & THAT

As part of his tour through the league, SEC head of officials Steve Shaw is in Gainesville to meet with Florida and discuss rule changes, pace and procedure. … Muschamp chalked up the kickers’ issues Thursday to poor snaps and holds. He remains adamant, though, the competition between Austin Hardin and walk-ons Brooks Abbott and Frankie Velez is open.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Hargreaves III exits with knee injury (oh & other practice observations)

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GAINESVILLE -- On a toasty summer evening, Florida’s first open practice gave nearly 1,000 fans reasons for optimism heading into a critical 2014 season. 

Then, waaaay out in right field, a sizable brawl broke out and star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III ended up carted off the field with a left knee injury. 

Hope curtailed.

************************* [UPDATE] *************************

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A scuffle between the secondary and wide receivers started following a heated tackling drill -- some 100 yards away from the stands at the Dizney Lacrosse Stadium. 

Freshman cornerback Duke Dawson and wideouts Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades threw punches in the scrum involving roughly 20-plus players. When the fight broke up, Hargreaves limped away and sought immediate medical attention. He was taken to the tent and had his left knee wrapped with ice before leaving the field on a cart. 

Florida coach Will Muschamp's next media availability is Friday afternoon. 

As for the rest of practice, the Gators conducted their usual 17-session workout, complete with 1-on-1 drills, 11-on-11 work and more. Here’s 10(+) observations on Thursday's proceedings. 

1. Shankapotamus 

Florida’s kickers still stink. Austin Hardin opened the practice shanking several field goal attempts, while walk-ons Frankie Velez and Brooks Abbott didn’t fare much better. 

2. Steady as she goes

Quarterback Jeff Driskel was sharp all evening, displaying visible improvement on his sideline throws and deep ball touch. The junior signal caller had complete command of Kurt Roper’s offense, and exhibited a real connection with transfer tight end Jake McGee and sophomore wideout Demarcus Robinson. 

3. Deja vu anyone?

Florida’s offense was fluid and crisp, but the instillation remains a work in progress as the pace never hit a dizzying speed. The Gators ran all sorts of varied formations, including pistol sets, diamond backfields and wide receiver sweeps  (see: shades of Meyer’s spread). The offense also teased a steady dose of vertical passes. Bummer alert: lest we forge, Brent Pease’s offense featured many of the same motions, shifts and crazy formations during open practices too. So…

4. MonStar 

Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was a beast. See: the sun always rises in the east. 

5. Gamechanger?

Robinson had a couple drops during skeleton drills, but the “freakish” wideout was dominant during scrimmage sessions and corralled a deep touchdown (< 35 yards) over Brian Poole on one play. 

6. Position battles

Florida’s offensive line opened 11-on-11s (L-R) with D.J. Humphries, Trip Thurman, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore or Trenton Brown, Chaz Green. Roderick Johnson also worked with the first-team at right tackle. The second-team line (L-R) featured David Sharpe, Antonio Riles, Cam Dillard, Moore or Brown, Johnson or Andrew Mike. 

Before Hargreaves exited with the injury, Poole started opposite the sophomore stud in Florida’s base defense. Keanu Neal and Jabari Gorman played safety, while Marcus Maye (who also played plenty of safety and later donned a non-contact jersey) manned the nickel. Later, three freshmen corners -- J.C. Jackson (non-contact), Duke Dawson and Jalen Tabor -- split reps with the first-team. 

Former linebacker turned fullback Gideon Ajagbe is now working with the tight ends. 

Freshman speedster Brandon Powell appears to have leapfrogged Adam Lane (and possibly Mack Brown) on the depth chart at tailback. Powell saw plenty of reps behind Matt Jones and starter Kelvin Taylor. 

8. Flying robot 

Florida’s very own drone got great look -- much better than I did -- at the team’s offense and defensive line during numerous drills Thursday. 

9. Highlights 

Freshman tight end DeAndre Goolsby snagged a nice 20-yard touchdown pass from Driskel during a two-minute drill. Gooslby also pancaked a pair of teammates (Alex Anzalone & Justus Reed) during blocking drills; Neal leveled tailback Matt Jones near the sideline following a long reception; Powell showcased his speed and twitch with a two-step juke and dash for a long touchdown during 11-on-11s; Dawson grabbed an interception off a tipped pass; Jon Bullard played well at both end and tackle, while freshmen linemen Gerald Willis and Khairi Clark provided solid penetration at times.   

10. Lowlights

Dilliard’s snaps; The rookie quarterbacks. Treon Harris and Will Grier both labored with accuracy issues. The two freshmen (especially Grier) have cannons but their touch and footwork need continued development; Freshman offensive lineman Travaris Dorsey’s fitness; Humphries in any 1-on-1 matchup against Fowler.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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