It is really hard to grade most of the line when the pads aren't on. No hitting means the line can't really get in on run plays and do their thing in the backfield. What you can see is when they are called upon to drop in coverage, or if they break free off the edge for a sack or tackle in the backfield. We can also report on how they look "on the hoof".
Let's start with the physiques. On the good side you have guys like Bryan Cox, Caleb Brantley, Jaynard Bostwick, and Taven Bryan. These guys look the part and that wasn't really the case for most of them last year. Cox looks really sturdy now; he has filled out a solid 260 pound frame. Brantley has toned up drastically, he looks really good to me, and this is what we had heard. Bostwick looks solid and toned as well. Taven Bryan is a man. He is unbelievably built for a true freshman. I cannot wait to see these guys get after it with pads on.
45- Antonio Riles; 57- Caleb Brantley
The guys that didn't look the part to me just yet were both BUCKS. Alex McCalister needs about 25 pounds still. He is a rail and will have a hard time facing 300 pound SEC linemen. Maybe expected, I thought Jordan Sherit was a little light too. It doesn't help that he is in line with 265 pound Dante Fowler who looks like a beast, but still think Sherit could use more strength and muscle.
As for the play… like I said it was a day where you really can't judge the interior guys. The guy to me that really was noticeable was Cox. He seemed everywhere and may have actually been playing some BUCK as well. I know he had a couple pf pass break ups and a couple of quarterback pressures /sacks on the day. As I wrote earlier in the week, he was always active last year but didn't show up on the stat sheet. Today wasn't that case. Let's see if this continues and then into the fall.
At linebacker it is a little different. They have to figure out the two middle backers (MIKE and WILL) out and who will be on the field. It appeared for the most part that in passing situations the MIKE and WILL were Antonio Morrison and Jarrad Davis. Neiron Ball also got a lot of work in pass situations. When they went to defend the run game it seemed to be Michael Taylor and Jarrad Davis. The one common name was Davis for the most part.
To me the better players on the day were Ball and Taylor. Again, there was no tackling involved, so they were playing a lot in space, but it seemed those two were the main guys making the plays.
On one play during team drills, Taylor came in so hard he smacked helmets with an offensive lineman. It was the loudest thud of the day. Taylor came to play on day one.
I like the look of this unit including freshman Daniel McMillian who seemed to get more action than I can ever remember from practice, albeit we didn't see much of practice last year and he never made it on defense in the fall.
We'll start at safety. The only one that looked physically different to me was redshirt freshman Marcell Harris, he seemed to have slimmed down a little bit and he looks good. He showed no issues from his leg injury from high school and ran around well.
They actually all had their moments, but the guy that stood out the most to me was senior Jabari Gorman. I had him for an interception and three pass break ups on the day. He is probably an inch shorter than any of them, but he is built a little sturdier and he isn't afraid to mix it up. He plays physical and isn't afraid to play man defense. Maye and Gorman got most of the playing time.
Neal left the field injured and limped back to the locker room after practice, but was in good spirits. It didn't seem serious.
The one that struggled was Harris. It makes sense, since he was the only one that didn't practice at all last year and he just recently started feeling 100% ready to go. It wasn't for a lack of trying, but Harris was the subject of the ire of Muschamp and Travaris Robinson a few times on day one. Freshmen growing pains in my opinion, I think he will better for it down the road.
The corners started strong, but it was clear they were plum worn out by the end of practice. With 10 receivers out there and just 4-5 corners, the number of reps was quite a bit unfair.
Vernon Hargreaves was Vernon Hargreaves to start practice. He jumped on Quinton Dunbar in the first 1 on 1, he was everywhere breaking up passes… then he got tired. He truly struggled when he was tired and that is something he will have to work through.
The best receiver / defensive back battles came from sophomore Demarcus Robinson and freshman corner Jalen Tabor. First of all, Tabor is a beast physically. He is the tallest corner, the thickest, and maybe the most ripped. He is one hell of a good looking athlete. He plays physical and he loves to get in the face of receivers. Robinson made Tabor look silly on the first 10n1 rep, with a short pass that he made a double move to get by. On the second rep, Tabor put him in his place and locked him down.
We will have to see how good of a true man cover guy he is, but when he has safety help, he plays fearless. It is so hard to play that way for a freshman, so props to him.
Muschamp did light him up on one play after Tabor got caught peeking in the backfield on a play telling Tabor, "Quit watching the quarterback, you are watching him complete passes."
Brian Poole surprised some by playing outside to start the practice. Thought of as mainly a NICKEL guy, Poole got a good bit of work outside, although it seemed when the staff got comfortable with Tabor outside, they moved Poole back in. Poole was successful outside. He picked off a medium pass and defended a deep ball on the day. We all know he is a physical player.
Nick Washington had the first interception of spring ball and probably surprised on the day. I like that he plays confidently, and he is a cerebral player.
I don't think he played bad, but I didn't really notice Duke Dawson a great deal. He absolutely looks the part and is as put together as almost any of them. He can run and likes to be physical, so I am sure we will see more of him.
Defensive player of the day: I am going to go with Poole. I liked what he was able to accomplish outside. He could give the Gators a dependable / great player both inside at NICKEL and outside at corner. With teams running fast paced it is an invaluable thing to have someone so versatile.
Eyeballing the other side: Just for a change up I wanted to mention one on the other side of the ball. Alvin Bailey seemed to make a lot of plays for the offense and a lot of them came in the deep field. He really does get open from the slot position. He also can make something happen after he catches the ball. The Gators need so much of that; we can't count enough of it.
We will be back on Friday to bring you more.