Practice observations: Running game (8/8)

The Gators went into full pads for the first time on Friday night, and even though they weren’t hitting at full speed, there was still more contact than on Thursday. This allowed for more actions in the trenches on Friday.

My star of the practice was sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor. Matt Jones is fully healthy and looked good, but the Gators will be hurting their offense if Taylor doesn’t lead the team in carries. Last season, it was easy to see that he had cutting ability and was able to make tacklers miss.

This fall, his cuts look even quicker. When he’s in a one-on-one situation in close quarters, it’s rare that Taylor is tackled or even hit hard. He is so shifty and always seems to be falling forward. Taylor put on a show on Friday with his moves, and Florida even got him included in the passing game some. He is set for a big year.

Jones does look to be in good shape and back to where he was before the injury. He’s a good athlete that should still get carries in the backfield, but he’ll also be involved in the passing game.

Jones also got revenge on Friday. He was flattened by safety Keanu Neal on Thursday, and he lowered his helmet to deliver the blow on Neal Friday. The entire offense was fired up about it and rallied around Jones.

Brandon Powell might be a factor this season, but he didn’t get much work with the first team on Friday. The speed is still easy to see, and Jones actually called him the “next rising star” on the team. When Powell was on the field with the first team, he was with Taylor in the backfield with one running back on each side of Jeff Driskel in the shotgun.

Florida used that formation in a few different ways, once sending Jones in motion from the same formation before the snap.

The offensive line didn’t have a great night on Friday. There were times when the Gators ran the ball well, but for the most part, the defensive line won the battle in the trenches. In fact, the defense as a whole was a big winner on Friday.

The Chaz Green battles with Dante Fowler were fun to watch. Green had a good night at right tackle.

The best night on the offensive line went to center Max Garcia. Muschamp called Thursday his best practice of the fall, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Friday took over the top spot for Garcia. The snaps were consistent after not being accurate in the spring.

The interesting notes on the offensive line were in the alignment. For the second straight night in open practice, Trip Thurman took most of the first team reps at left guard while Tyler Moore and Trenton Brown split reps at right guard.

Muschamp deflected talk that Thurman should be viewed as the starter, noting that the three are in a battle for two guard spots. Thurman is also serving as the backup center.

Looking at some of the freshmen, Andrew Mike and David Sharpe stand out. Mike could use some extra weight, which will come in time on campus, but he showed good technique and won more battles than he lost. Sharpe has all the physical tools and looks like he has been on campus for five years.

On the defensive line, Fowler stole the show for the second straight night. The best news for Florida is that he’s putting together consistent practices and not taking plays off. There’s no reason to believe Fowler won’t have a massive junior year.

In the live 11-on-11 drills to end practice, the offense started with a 3rd and five situation. For the first five plays, they picked up zero yards. Darious Cummings was a major part of that, blowing up the middle of the line for an easy stop on the ground or creating pass rush in the middle.

Joey Ivie also had a strong night on the interior, mostly coming with the second team. He’s up to 288 pounds and carrying the weight well. He said on Sunday that he still feels as fast as he did at defensive end, just using the added weight to be stronger up the middle.

My biggest surprise on the defensive line was Jordan Sherit. He bounced around some last year, even seeing time at tight end, but he made an impact on Friday. The 6-4, 247-poudner delivered some big hits in the Oklahoma drill, and in one-on-ones, he dominated a few reps against Roderick Johnson, who Muschamp said on Friday is the first offensive tackle off the bench. Late in practice, Sherit was getting reps with the first team.

On Thursday, my responsibility was writing about the passing game. Still, I couldn’t help but notice Gerald Willis’ impact. It was the same thing on Friday, but I was able to watch him a little closer. This guy is going to make an impact this season.

On one play, Florida handed off to the speedy Brandon Powell, who took the handoff and went left. Willis came off the backside of the play and ripped Powell to the ground with a swift move. He looks great in the early part of open practices.

The linebackers showed the activity that was needed last season, and they were a big part of the defense winning on Friday. Michael Taylor had a good night, and the lost weight is noticeable in his improved pass coverage after really struggling in that area in 2013.

The biggest hit of the night would’ve come from Jarrad Davis if the pass was caught. Florida was working on the 3rd and five yardage, and Driskel threw a wide receiver screen to Valdez Showers. The pass was a little low and Showers dropped it, causing Davis to pull up before making contact. If he didn’t pull up, we would be talking about the hit of the camp. Davis is so instinctual and read the play almost immediately.

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