It didn’t take long this fall for us to see Jim McElwain the most angry he has been during an open practice session. Midway through the part of practice that was open to the media, his voice could be heard echoing through the lacrosse stadium. The Florida coach lit into his receivers, screaming “18-22 yards” and making sure they took the attention to detail seriously.
The quarterback position had a clear winner on Saturday. Will Grier was much sharper than Treon Harris in the four practice periods that were open to the media. He hit back-to-back 40-yard touchdowns on corner routes to Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson. His throws were crisp and accurate, getting the ball to receivers close to the line of scrimmage and allowing them to make plays. He had some low points -- a throw behind Brandon Powell 20 yards down the field that was broken up by Keanu Neal -- but there weren’t many.
Harris simply wasn’t as sharp. His throws down the field seemed to float, allowing the defensive backs to makeup ground and break them up. Many of his throws to the sideline were too high and over the heads of receivers, even throwing one over an open Demarcus Robinson. Right after Grier hit back-to-back corner routes for 40-yard touchdowns, Harris airmailed one and threw the next short of Alvin Bailey.
On the throw to Bailey, Keanu Neal was in coverage. The junior safety jumped and caught the ball with one hand, mostly because Bailey had his other arm pinned to his body. Neal held the ball all the way to the ground to finish an impressive interception. He had a strong day in coverage on Saturday.
Brandon Powell’s impact on the offense has been written about a lot, and through two open practices, you can see the Florida coaches want to get him the ball as many ways as possible. He ran routes down the field on Saturday, but most of his routes out of the slot were designed to get him the ball and make defenders miss. Players were in shells on Saturday so tackling wasn’t allowed, but Powell has some moves after the catch and speed that should make him a weapon for Florida.
The biggest standout of the pass catchers was Jake McGee. He’s going to be exactly what the Florida offense has been searching for since Jordan Reed left. He doesn’t have the speed or elusiveness that Reed has, but McGee has soft hands and looks like a trusted member of the offense.
I spent a lot of time watching Randy Shannon coach the linebackers. It’s easy to see why he has the reputation that he does, pointing to every minor detail his players need to improve. His job is also made easier by a leader at the position -- senior Antonio Morrison. There were multiple times in position drills where Morrison was yelling at his teammates to get things right, telling them often that these were drills they worked on all summer and should know by now. He was going through drills, lining up with Alex Anzalone as the first-team linebackers, and didn’t seem be favoring his knee much.
The one linebacker that looks the most physically different is Jarrad Davis. He has added a lot of muscle and looks much different than even last season. He hasn’t been limited in the portions of camp we’ve seen after his knee injury last season. The only thing that kept him off the field at times on Saturday was a helmet malfunction, and he scrambled around the field trying to find someone who could fix it so he didn’t have to miss a rep.
Freshman Rayshad Jackson also has a good frame. He’s listed at 6-0, 221 pounds but looks like he could use some more weight. He does have a good frame for the position and seems like he moves well.
The list of players who have bulked up in the offseason is long. There’s a lot made every offseason when a new strength coach comes to town about the changes, but you can see it with this group. The sophomore cornerbacks -- Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson -- have noticeably bulked up from last year.