Practice observations: Running game (8/13)

The Gators practiced without Matt Jones, Adam Lane or Kelvin Taylor on Wednesday. Even with the limited numbers, Florida struggled to run the ball effectively as the defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage.

It has been written in every practice report, so we’ll just go ahead and throw it out there now to get it out of the way. Dante Fowler is unblockable. There’s no other way to put it. With Vernon Hargreaves III still somewhat limited, Fowler is the best player on the field. He’s consistent and changes the game.

Outside of Fowler, Wednesday was about the backup defensive linemen. And that’s great news for a Florida coaching staff that has voiced its concern about the depth of the defensive line since the 2013 season came to an end.

Joey Ivie stole the show and was the talk of the position going into Tuesday’s practice. For the last two days, that has changed. Caleb Brantley looks like he could be putting it all together and making an impact on the defensive line. At 6-2, 295 pounds, he has the size and the potential to make an impact inside.

In the last two days, he’s showing that he could be reaching it. Consistent effort has been an issue, but on back-to-back snaps during the live portion of practice, Brantley flew into the backfield to blow up a run play and was in the backfield to force a sack of Will Grier on the next snap.

The highlight for Brantley was actually at defensive end. The young players scrimmaged at the end of practice, and Brantley used a swim move on freshman Andrew Mike, blowing by him and recording what would’ve been a sack if the quarterbacks weren’t in non-contact jerseys.

Ivie had another good day. He continues to look strong enough to hold his spot on the defensive line, even against 350-pounder Trenton Brown.

The Gerald Willis show also continued on Wednesday. It’s rare to see a freshman come in and impact the rushing and passing game, but that’s exactly what he is doing. He would’ve had at least two sacks of Grier if quarterbacks were live and would’ve added one tackle for a loss in the running game.

Willis has been working exclusively at defensive end this fall, but he has the size to slide down to defensive tackle. However, with how well Willis is playing at defensive end, it probably wouldn’t make sense for the coaches to add an extra position to his responsibilities after he has only been on campus for a few months.

If the Gators struggle with depth on the inside and Willis continues to practice well, he could start opposite of Fowler and allow Jonathan Bullard to see more reps on the inside.

Alex McCalister had his best practice of the fall. His speed gave even the first team offensive line some issues off the edge, adding at least one sack.

Taven Bryan returned to practice on Wednesday after battling strep throat. Will Muschamp said on Monday that they weren’t sure when he would return, and the Florida coach didn’t sound optimistic. His return was an early surprise, and he even made a tackle for a loss in the live portion of practice.

If you think that’s a long list of defensive linemen that had a good day, you’re right. And because of that, it was hardly a great day for the offensive line.

The best player, again, was center Max Garcia. The snaps were miserable to end the spring, but they’re much improved now. He’s also a big, physical lineman that the Gators can and have run behind this fall. He moves people on the inside of the line.

After that, it was a lot of struggles. D.J. Humphries struggled on Wednesday, which is usually what you would expect for the lineman lined up against Fowler. However, the issues went even further than that. There were times when Humphries was simply overpowered.

Trip Thurman did make it back to practice on Wednesday but didn’t practice. He will likely be the first offensive lineman off the bench and serve as the backup center.

In the backfield, Mack Brown worked as the starter with three scholarship backs out. He showed pretty good hands, especially during seven-on-seven drills and made some nice plays to bail the quarterbacks out after bad throws. Driskel hit him on a perfect throw down the middle of the field.

Brandon Powell and Mark Herndon each saw reps with the first team, but they took less than Brown did.

Muschamp quotes multiple times that his team played 70-80 percent in the nickel last season. Because of that, Florida is mostly playing with two linebackers on the field.

The two working with the first team are usually Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor. It’s easy to see the lost weight on Taylor. He’s faster and has improved his pass coverage skills because of it.

Morrison has looked much more active this fall and is making more plays. It’s especially easier to see this when the defensive line has as good of a day as it did on Wednesday. When the defense can keep offensive linemen off the linebackers, Morrison seems to play well.

That puts Jarrad Davis with the second team. It certainly surprised me, but Davis has seen a majority of his reps with the second team. He’s probably the third linebacker when Florida has that many on the field, but that hasn’t happen much this fall.


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