Notebook: Grier showing no rust in practice

The suspension of Florida quarterback Treon Harris opens up a battle for the backup job between Will Grier and Skyler Mornhinweg.

Will Grier was expected to redshirt this season. The former Army All-American in high school came to Gainesville for spring practice and showed off a big arm and athleticism to makes plays on the run. Treon Harris came on late in fall camp and won the backup job, meaning Grier would likely redshirt.

Grier got clearance to practice on Sunday. The sexual assault allegations against Harris came Monday morning, ending in an immediate suspension for the freshman.

Whether Grier or Mornhinweg wins the backup job won’t be decided until Saturday, but there’s no question where the upside is. It’s on the right arm of the freshman. Mornhinweg started the final three games of last season and struggled to move the offense.

“We’re going to have to be smart with what we call, how we call it and when we call it,” Roper said of the backups, regardless of who would be in the game. “It’s maybe a different package than what Jeff carries going into the game.”

It might seem like a stretch to think Grier could get on the field if needed on Saturday after only a week of practice following three weeks off, but Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has been impressed with how the freshman has looked this week.

“He's done a good job and he's looked normal to me,” Roper said. “He's looked fine. He's got the same tempo and explosiveness in the arm. He's got the same movement skills. I don't see any limitations physically, so he's done a good job. He missed enough time but he wasn't out of meetings.

“He didn't miss a meeting, but he wasn't able to get reps during that time like he'd been able to do. So you lose a little bit there but he's had a good week."

Since his return, the Florida coaches have focused on Grier’s feet. Roper said he has shown a lot of improvement in his footwork. In camp, Grier struggled tying his feet into what the timing of the play is, whether it’s a play action or normal drop back. It’s now fluid, allowing him to make more plays in the offense.

“He's a fast-twitch guy,” Roper said. “He can move."

The coaches have been working with Grier to hold the ball higher before he throws. He has been holding it near his belly button, and Roper wants it higher at his chest to get the ball out quicker. The Florida offensive coordinator thinks they’ve made progress with it but won’t know for sure until he’s in a game.

“When the lights come on, you learn a little bit more,” Roper said. “When the bullets are real and when the pass rush is real, we are going to learn if that muscle memory is going to take place or not. It has to, it’s an important deal.”

RECEIVERS NEED TO PRODUCE MORE: The Gators have run the ball well this season, averaging 189.8 yards per game. It’s the passing game that needs work. The blame has fallen on the shoulders of Jeff Driskel in recent weeks, but the Florida coaching staff is doing its best to avoid that happening any more.

They want more production around Driskel. There’s no debating that Driskel needs to play better, but the pass protection has struggled at times and Florida receivers have 15 drops already this year.

“I think our biggest focus is our execution in the pass game,” Roper said. “The way you try to get it better is really for guys to have a complete understanding of what we’re doing, to have complete understanding of what their responsibilities are.”

Those responsibilities have included more time on the JUGS machine in practice. It doesn’t matter if it’s before, during or after practice, the JUGS machine is usually running. When the team is in special teams drills, all the receivers that aren’t on special teams jog over to it to get some extra work in.

“The biggest thing is we have to have great confidence in knowing what we are doing,” Roper said.

NEW NAMES INVOLVED THIS WEEK: Searching for more production from the receivers, the Gators could make some changes to give new players a chance. After dominating fall camp, Ahmad Fulwood hasn’t seen the field much this season. That will change this weekend. The focus at the outside receiver spots has been Quinton Dunbar and Demarcus Robinson, but the coaches want to give Fulwood a shot against LSU.

“I think you'll see Ahmad more in this game,” Roper said. “You're going to see a larger role for him. You're going to see him out on the field more, and hopefully that creates some opportunities to make some plays.

In the slot, Roper only listed Latroy Pittman and C.J. Worton, who returned to practice this week from a broken hand. Florida coach Will Muschamp was raving about Worton on Wednesday, even saying he could start against the Tigers. Whether he does or not remains up in the air, but it sounds like the freshmen receiver will have an expanded role on Saturday.

“CJ is just one of those guys that can catch the football,” Roper said. “He's got really good ball skills, and he's got really good short-area quickness. Top-end speed is important. All those things are important, but the ability to catch the football is the first thing that a wide receiver has to do and he seems to have really good ball skills.”

For a group of receivers struggling to catch the ball, Worton’s return is welcomed.

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