What we’ve learned in fall camp

The Gators finished fall camp late last week before turning their attention to game prep against Idaho.

The passing game should be much improved: I can feel the eye rolls as you’re reading this, but there’s no reason to believe Jeff Driskel doesn’t take a big step forward this fall and have a strong season. This has been the best camp of his career, and that shouldn’t be a coincidence with an offense built for his skillset.

On Thursday, Florida safety Jabari Gorman was asked if he remembered any times that the defense intercepted Driskel in practice because it didn’t happen in any of the open practices. Gorman thought for a second, shook his head and admitted that the secondary hasn’t intercepted Driskel to this point of practice.

The secondary is younger this year and doesn’t have much experience besides a few players, but Driskel’s results are still encouraging. He looked in command of Kurt Roper’s offense and is the visible leader of what the Gators do.

Add to that the improvement of multiple offensive weapons, and the Gators will be much better throwing the ball. Ahmad Fulwood looks completely different this year and is practicing like a go-to receiver. Demarcus Robinson still has the athleticism to be a weapon down the field, and Quinton Dunbar heads into his final year as a solid possession receiver. The receivers are deeper and made more plays in camp than at any years in recent memory.

The offensive line has to stay healthy: If Florida wants to have a bounce back season, this one is imperative. It’s also out of the players’ control for the most part, but the Gators don’t have a choice but to stay healthy on the offensive line. That’s not meant to be a knock on the second team offensive linemen, but Florida simply can’t handle losing the veterans on the first team.

The offensive line was already a disaster last season. Injuries played a big part in it, forcing Max Garcia and Tyler Moore to play outside at offensive tackle when the coaching staff clearly likes them more on the inside of the line.

Assuming Moore and Trenton Brown are the two starters at guard, Florida’s two best linemen off the bench are Trip Thurman and Roderick Johnson. Thurman heads into his fourth year without any starts, and Johnson is a redshirt freshman with a lot of upside. The eighth offensive lineman is likely freshman David Sharpe, and it’s not usually a good idea to trust freshmen on the offensive line.

The benefit of the starting unit is that it’s three seniors and two juniors. That experience is an important part of making the offense better this year.

Freshmen will play at multiple positions: Pick a position and there’s a freshman ready to make an impact as soon as this year. At quarterback, the winner of the backup job between Will Grier and Treon Harris will play immediately. Brandon Powell is ready for snaps at running back and C.J. Worton will play at receiver. Will Muschamp even said that tight end DeAndre Goolsby could get on the field this fall. We already mentioned Sharpe on the offensive line.

Gerald Willis looks ready to play on the defensive line, and the secondary is loaded with freshmen that will play. J.C. Jackson, Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson have all gotten reps with the first team defense. Dawson is even learning the safety position if he is needed there. Florida doesn’t have any scholarship freshmen on the roster at linebacker.

Last season’s 4-8 record caused the Gators to miss on a lot of talent in the 2014 class, but they still managed to bring multiple immediate impact talents to campus.

Numbers on the defensive line aren’t a problem: This feels like what I’ve written about most during the fall, but it really is one of the biggest stories out of camp. Florida needed multiple second-year defensive linemen to step up and provide extra depth, and they did just that.

It started with Joey Ivie. Practice was open the day Florida went to full pads, and by the midway point of that practice, it was clear he was different. He has the strength to hold the point at the line of scrimmage but still has his quickness from playing defensive end last season.

Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick weren’t far behind, putting together strong second weeks of practice. The competition also has to be considered, since most of it was coming against the second team offensive line that has had plenty of problems.

Alex McCalister has become a trusted player off the edge, and he has the speed to be a force in the pass rush. The Gators desperately need that. They struggled with the pass rush after Dominique Easley was lost last season, and Dante Fowler should see plenty of double teams this year. McCalister needs to make an impact in the pass rush.

We currently know nothing about special teams: And this isn’t just because of their inconsistencies in practice. It’s just really hard to judge this position based on what it does in practice. Last season, Muschamp opened the kicker job up multiple times in practice. He gave it to the kicker that performed best that week, and it was often Austin Hardin that did the best.

It didn’t translate to the games. Whether it’s Hardin or Frankie Velez kicking for Florida this year, the Gators need more consistency. We won’t know if things are better or not until the games start and they’re kicking in front of stadiums and on national television.

The same goes for the punters. Kyle Christy is the most consistent punter on the roster right now, but if he wins the job over Johnny Townsend, he’ll have to show he can regain his magic from 2012. The ball looks great coming off his foot now and it did in the spring, too. But we won’t know if Christy is truly back until the lights come on in The Swamp at 7 p.m. on August 30.


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