I think early observations this spring with Jeff Driskel in the two practices is that he looks to be moving along in his progressions while in the pocket. He appears to be doing it quicker and he was certainly hitting and throwing a lot of deeper balls, especially on Friday of the two days that we saw. This is a good sign.
However, we have to remember that they aren't hitting the quarterback right now and I think that has been an issue for the last three years at the position. I am not sure how you get around it, but if they get comfortable back there for weeks on end how are they supposed to really figure it out when the proverbial bullets really start flying.
Remember Driskel got hurt heading into the fall last year, so I am not exactly sure what to do about that. All we can go on now is that he looks to be reading more than just the first option in the play and sometimes hitting the second or third guy in the progression. That would be huge.
One of the things that Driskel has to figure out is who the guy is he is going to come back to and KNOW that he will be there for him on any play. Jordan Reed was that guy he looked for when things fell apart or he had to hurry, but Reed is off to a hopeful NFL career early.
"I think that's something we've got to work through, because now we've got to create those situations where we've got to find that guy for him," Pease said of finding a safety valve for Driskel to get the ball to. We've got to put people in positions where he does have that guy he can rely on, whether a receiver's there or he finds a tight end he has a comfort zone with or Trey, or the running backs.
"One thing we've got to do a lot better is, from a running backs standpoint in our throwing game still, is they've got to get out. We only hit the running back on a couple check downs when we went back and evaluated ourselves. I mean, that's incredible. Other than designed screens, they only have about four passes to them. They should be in the 40-50 range if you're going to throw the ball off, because it's just a check down. It's a simple throw. They should have 5-8 yards if not breaking one.
Driskel seems to be finding more receivers
"…It doesn't have to be down field all the time, we'll take those nice little 5-yard throws and let them run with it afterwards."
As far as the backups are concerned, I liked what I saw from both Tyler Murphy and Skyler Mornhinweg from an accuracy standpoint. They both move around fairly well also. The issues they need to work through are a timing thing for Murphy and he held the ball much too long, way too many times in the two practices we watched. For Mornhinweg, he has trouble with the deep stuff. His motion with the football I believe will limit him in the moderate to deep passing game.
At running back Matt Jones got better from day two to day three, which were the two days we saw. I think he has lightened up a little bit and really looks much healthier than he seemed a year ago. Maybe he is just more comfortable after the injury or just more familiar with the offense, but he seems to be playing and not thinking out there.
He had a fumble and a drop on the first day we watched. Those things aren't going to go over well with this staff and especially the head coach who values turnovers and lack of them for offense as the key stat in any game. Jones came back the next day and really ran hard and held on to the ball.
Although he is the biggest back by a few inches and 20+ pounds I just don't see Jones being the power back they want. He is best when trying to create something and not trying to run over someone. He is really quick for his size and I think a pretty good and elusive runner.
Jones looks to be a little quicker than last year.
"Other guys are going to get reps and be able to be productive," Pease said. "Just like Mike (Gillislee). I mean, Mike was a 1,000-yard rusher but you saw Matt come on and Mack do a few things here and there. So you're always going to have that guy that you want to build depth on. I don't want to put it all on one guy and all of sudden he's outa, what are you going to do now. There's going to be – Brian will have three or four guys ready."
I think Taylor May be the best runner of the group, but you can tell his head is spinning right now with all that he has to learn. It will be real interesting to see where he is at by the time the spring game rolls around. He is especially behind on all of the blocking assignments. To be expected for a guy that probably toted the ball 75% of the time his team had the ball in high school.
Time will tell on Brown, non-contact practices aren't made for Brown's running style. He is a guy that bumps and slides off of contact with his powerful legs compared to kelvin who can make you miss inside of a phone booth sometimes. Again for brown, it is going to be all about the blocking assignments… can he handle them.
I can really see Trey Burton lining up this year in the back of the I-formation. He won't be a liability in protection and he can run the ball. This isn't a year to see a repeat 1,000 yard rusher in my opinion.
At fullback the Gators added a couple of players at the position by moving them from other spots on the roster, but it really doesn't matter a healthy Hunter Joyer will get every meaningful snap at the position.
Joyer was probably in the top three on offense a year ago in terms of the level of play game in and game out. When a block was needed and it was his assignment, that block always came. He made life pretty easy for Gillislee and Pease agreed.
"As we look back Hunter was one of our most-consistent, better players," Pease said. "He did a lot of things that really worked in Mike's favor this year and helped us in the run game. So we still got Hunter, encouraged that he's back.
Joyer seemed to trim down just a little bit and looks faster. He is a really good pass catcher and maybe that can be utilized in an offense that is looking for answers to the missing Jordan Reed.
Ledbetter was pretty much non-existent in the two practices we watched, while Ajagbe showed nice hands and some explosiveness on one big play he made on the highlights we showed. It might be a good home for Ajagbe as he was headed nowhere on defense. He has good size and decent athletic ability, he showed good speed and ball skills on the big play.
Expect Trey Burton to play some fullback as well and the tight ends sometimes wind up in the backfield to block on plays.
Burton should play a major role again.
The receivers did a little more than expected, especially the first day we watched. I saw guys getting open and making plays down field. I saw guys getting some separation from defenders that I already know can play the game. The hitting wasn't going on, but I liked what I saw.
And it starts with the addition of Loucheiz Purifoy to the unit. The cornerback who stands a good chance of being an All-American at the position this year, will take the first seven days of practice and work as a receiver.
Purifoy's speed is unmatched on the team and he has excellent ball skills and body control. This makes for an electric play maker if they can just get the ball in his hands. He showed quite a bit of ability running end-arounds and getting the ball in the open field in the passing game and doing some things with it.
We were told that Florida receiver coach Joker Phillips really stressed that this offense and the receiver position needed more speed, and Purifoy really brings that to the table. Purifoy brings that and more to the table and it sounds like they could game plan for him.
"We know he's a defensive guy but when you have a talent like him… he can step on the field and give us something offensively," Pease said. "We want to make the defense scheme against you a little bit, but more than just understanding the foundation of what we're trying to do and use his talents.
We could see bows from Purifoy after touchdowns.
We also glimpses of flash from senior Andre Debose. That isn't the thing that got me the most excited about him. The fact that he was in on the first snap with three receiver sets means the staff is starting to put some trust into Debose. As we have seen, it has never been about his talent, but it has been about his consistency and work habits week in and week out. Can he be a guy that they can depend on? Seeing him line up on the first play of team drills was an eye opener… and a great sign.
He also took advantage of it. He made a couple of plays in there and caught the balls thrown his way. This is his "contract" year, can he take advantage of it.
I haven't gotten to Quinton Dunbar yet who was probably the Gators best receiver a year ago. Dunbar in my opinion doesn't have the quicks or the speed to be the number one guy, but he is a really good second receiver. He has the knack for making the tough catch, on Friday he made a few tough catches, but I thought he lost his concentration a few times and made things tougher than they need to be.
With Purifoy running the end-arounds and Solomon Patton still on the mend from injury, we didn't see much of Patton. Still, I expect his role to grow a bit as he was the main guy on the sweeps last year and only caught one pass. Patton is small in stature, but ultra-quick and fast. Joker Phillips will want to get him on the field with those last attributes.
Freshman Latroy Pittman had a couple of strong days of practice and now that he will spend his second spring in the offense he should get more looks in the passing game. He and fellow freshman at the time Raph Andrades were actually put into a lot of big time playing moments a year ago and now with the jitters shaken out, they should both make some kind of move this fall.
Last but not least is the freshman Demarcus Robinson. We saw enough in just a few plays to know that he is a difference maker and that he posseses some skills the others don't' have. However, his head is swimming and it will probably be later in spring before he can line up right without a coach placing him on a play and get the play book. The mental part is so hard to judge, but the fact he arrived early on campus and graduated high school early is a good sign that he will be able to handle it.
Before the pads came on the tight ends were active in the passing game. We saw hands and nimble foot work after the catch from juniors Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook, something we never saw a year ago.
Sophomore Kent Taylor was active on both days. I like his persistence, but he definitely needs more strength and size to his frame. It appears that freshman Colin Thompson is still trying to get his feet under him after foot surgery that kept him off the field last year.
For Pease, he is looking for the group to provide some mid-range help in the passing game.
"Jordan did a great job, especially after the catch," Pease said. "But I think some of those more intermediate routes, I know we used him downfield at times, that might be a little limiting because he had speed, he could vertically stretch the field. But I think some of the shorter and intermediate stuff I think those kids can provide that."
Taylor should be able to stretch the field for them but the offense is really in need of tight ends that can block at the line of scrimmage and do some things in the passing game as well. The older guys had a good day showing their pass catching skills. Thompson should eventually provide a good mix of both, Taylor as well when he adds some mass.
The scary part about the offensive line right now… they have six healthy scholarship linemen competing at the start of spring. Guard Ian Silberman is out for a while, as is starting guard Jon Halapio. Guard Jessamen Dunker is indefinitely suspended from the team and junior tackle Chaz Green will miss the spring recovering from an injury.
It is a good and bad thing for the remaining guys and the staff. It means the others will get more reps, it also means they will practice a little lighter to stay away from more injuries.
Two big cogs along the offensive line are transfers Max Garcia from Maryland at guard and Tyler Moore from Nebraska at tackle. They have been pressed into duty fast and are in the first unit at the start of spring.
I got a better look at Moore in the first two days and liked his feet and strength. His mistakes were mental which are going to come from a guy in the first year of any system. I like the way he pushes defenders deep and out of the quarterback's passing pocket.
"They're definitely going got get the opportunity," Pease said of Garcia and Moore. "It's going to be important because those guys have to be some of the foundation of the main five upfront. It's going to be interesting because everything is new for them. Although Max has been here, he's heard it (knows the offense since he has been here for a year) but Tyler is a little bit new. It's exciting to see what they can do because they look like they can move around and really good about they're learning capabilities. They're kids that have shown to have really good work ethic and accountability up to this point."
Jonotthan Harrison will be a third year starter at center, something that is very hard to find anywhere. We know what we will get from Harrison, dependable and strong. His second year in the same offense should help a great deal as well at getting better.
Freshman D.J. Humphries is working a new body and has gained some weight. His feet and quickness are pretty unmatched on the line, it is a matter of him getting the mental part down and getting his body in the right place to do battle. He has provided great battles already with the defensive ends that are being thrown at him. All of this work this spring is going to be a great thing for him.
Humphries will get a chance to live up to his recruiting hype
Senior Kyle Koehne has had his share of important moments on the field already. He is pressed into starting duty right now with Halapio being out, and has started in the past. He is a solid player, but I honestly couldn't give a report on his play in two practices with limited contact.
The last of the healthy guys is Trip Thurman. The sophomore has been able to work at both tackle and guard and they really think he is a quality lineman on the squad. Pease believes that Thurman just has to get that hunger enough to want to jump into that starting lineup, even if it doesn't happen.
"Trip is in a situation where he has been a backup to a lot of positions," Pease said. "He's very valuable to us that way. We want to see him go out and compete, not accept that role and step in there to establish himself."
It is absolutely scary how thin the line is at the moment. Getting four guys back will at least give a two deep and then you add the freshmen and junior college transfer in the summer, but these numbers are still scary.
I think the way to look at the offense is to compare it to a year ago. What looks to be improved and what isn't?
Quarterback play should be better. Driskel is a year older and in the same offense two years in a row. In the two days we watched he showed a lot more of the ability to go through his progressions to get to an open receiver.
We can't expect the running game to be quite as good, at least not early. Nobody has proven themselves to be a Mike Gillislee yet, although would we have said anything like that about Gillislee last year. I think they all can play, and I think with the right tight ends on the field, the run blocking could be a bit improved.
The passing game has a long way to go from last year and I expect it. They need play makers and Purifoy and Robinson are a couple that weren't in the mix last year. They will get more in the fall, but those guys will have to play catch up in learning the offense. Still, this group has a little pressure on them to perform this year and it appears they may be able to do that. How big? We don't know.
We mentioned the blocking from the tight ends and that is where I think this group is going to help this squad immensely. Maybe Driskel becomes more of a running threat with good blocking tight ends on the field, the running backs improve because of it as well. They showed me a little about what they can do in the passing game, but that is still to be seen when the real hitting starts.
I don't know where to go with the offensive line. I love the additions of Moore and Garcia. I think Humphries will be decidedly better. Chaz Green will be solid and Halapio and Harrison will be three year starters in the middle. Depth is a real issue, but I think it will be a good group come fall.