Practice observations: Defense

The Gators had their first of two open practices on Friday. As Florida tries to rebuild some key parts from last year's defense, this spring will be an important part of adding depth and finding starters. The Florida pass rush had a good day on Friday while the secondary was able to take advantage of some errant throws, including two interceptions for junior Jabari Gorman.


It was entertaining to watch the defensive side of this coaching staff work with the players. Will Muschamp and Travaris Robinson split the secondary, but Robinson was the headman when the safeties and cornerbacks worked together. When they split, Robinson worked with the cornerbacks and Muschamp worked with safeties, keeping the two coaching the positions they played in college.

First-year defensive line coach Brad Lawing is a very active, vocal coach. He's very hands on with the defensive linemen and multiple times took a player off to the side after a rep and worked on a few improvements. When Lawing would spend time in a player, Bryant Young was close by to make sure everything else was in line.

No change with D.J. Durkin on Friday. Even though he was named defensive coordinator, he coached the linebackers as actively and for as long as he did during last year's opening practice.

Former Florida defensive end Duke Lemmens was working with multiple defensive linemen throughout practice and had a clipboard in his hand during 11-on-11 drills.

Defensive line

Muschamp was true to what he said on Tuesday at his pre-spring press conference. Dominique Easley didn't take a ton of reps on Friday. He wasn't injured and was in good spirit talking to other players, but he's not the emphasis of this spring. The Gators need to develop depth along the defensive line, and having Easley take every rep of the spring isn't the way to do that. He was on the field and took some reps, but it wasn't the reps a normal starter would take during practice.

What looked like the starting defensive line consisted of Easley and Damien Jacobs at defensive tackle with Dante Fowler and Jonathan Bullard off the edge. Bullard would've had at least two sacks during the 11-on-11 portion of practice if he was allowed to hit the quarterback, but his battles with D.J. Humphries were fun to watch.

Fowler went up against transfer right tackle Tyler Moore multiple times, and speed was the key factor when Fowler had success.

Alex McCalister is listed at 238 pounds but still needs to add a lot of weight. He went up against Moore one time and used his speed to get around him while the quarterback rolled the opposite way. It was fun to watch McCalister run after him. He can really go.

Freshman Joey Ivie also would've had a sack if quarterbacks were live on Friday.


The highlight of the practice from an entertainment standpoint involved sophomore linebacker Antonio Morrison. Tight end Kent Taylor caught a short pass and was going up field with it when Morrison grabbed him around the neck and threw him down. Keep in mind this was in shorts and no pads. Muschamp was furious and screamed, with a few choice words involved, for Morrison to get off the field.

D.J. Durkin also had a few words for Morrison on his way to the sideline, and Muschamp screamed at the sophomore linebacker from the other side of the field, "are you trying to be a tough guy?" The players were being reminded almost every play not to tackle and keep each other off the ground before Morrison did this. It's obviously not what the coaches want in practice, but from a middle linebacker, it's not exactly the worst thing in the world.

Morrison's bigger than last year, and as one person in the middle section of practice put it, "that guy looks terrifying." He really does.

Michael Taylor didn't practice much on Friday and spent a lot of time on the sideline with Easley, with the two walking through a few techniques on how to get off blocks.

When the second team linebackers were in the game, Alex Anzalone worked at the MIKE linebacker with Daniel McMillian at the WILL linebacker. As we've said multiple times before, the two are similar in the Florida defense, so it isn't much news.

McMillian struggled at times in pass coverage, including allowing Clay Burton to beat him once on an intermediate route.

The one guy that jumped out to me the most for his weight gain was Neiron Ball. He's listed at 6-3, 235 pounds, but he looks even bigger. The difference is in his upper body. This shouldn't be a surprise, either. Muschamp said during the 2012 season that Ball would greatly benefit from a full offseason of weight training after he wasn't able to do that last year. It looks like he has.

Ball didn't make any big plays on Friday, but it's easy to see that he has added weight and should help the pass rush.


The Florida secondary, as expected, had a strong practice. Even without Loucheiz Purifoy, who is spending the first seven days of practice at wide receiver and looked good there Friday, the secondary played well.

Jabari Gorman pulled down two interceptions on different plays. The first one came on a dump off pass from Jeff Driskel to tight end Colin Thompson about five yards in front of the line of scrimmage, and Gorman stepped in front of it.

Later in the 11-on-11 portion, Gorman tracked down a jump ball thrown by redshirt freshman backup quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg. He caught the ball at its highest point and made the play.

Jaylen Watkins also had a good day in coverage. He's going to be a valuable part of this secondary because of his versatility. He lined up at cornerback, safety and nickel while excelling at all three positions. Watkins said on Twitter after practice that he dislocated his finger.

Marcus Roberson is up to 195 pounds, and it's easy to see the gained weight. He looks much stronger than last year.

Fightin Gators Top Stories