Scrimmage Observations and Analysis

In the second scrimmage of the preseason, the defense bounced back from a poor outing on Wednesday. Inside, I break down how both the offense and the defense performed. Which players looked sharp? Who looked sluggish? Read on for complete news, notes, observations and analysis from the tonight's scrimmage at the Swamp.

Saturday night's scrimmage in the Swamp was a reversal of scrimmage No. 1 on Wednesday night. The defense created turnovers, tackled better and played with more emotion despite missing two key starters and enduring several nicks and bruises. The offense was a little flat, which happens during camp as we get toward the half way point. and things had come too easily for the offense.

I like to call it "Camp Legs," a point where you must have emotion and determination to step up and make big plays and Saturday the defense had more guys take advantage of their chances.
Big Plays are a result of three things:  
1) Supreme execution and effort.
2) Broken or busted coverages and defenses.
3) Missed tackles, especially at the 2nd and 3rd level of defense.

Wednesday's scrimmage  was littered with all three of these circumstances but not Saturday's and the defense solved items No. 2 and No. 3 while receivers struggled to execute the opportunities.

The quarterback showdown continued to be somewhat of a mystery with each guy doing something positive and negative.

Chris Leak could not duplicate his scrimmage No. 1 performance, but he did do some good things. He led the team on a 95-yard touchdown drive and he displayed more scrambling ability tonight.

Ingle Martin struggled early but finished strong capitalizing twice in the redzone by finding Ben Troupe one-on-one with Keiwan Ratliff and Carlos Perez on a quick post. The throw to Perez was a big time throw.

Gavin Dickey also displayed good scrambling ability and had some drops but did not move the chains.

Finally, Justin Midgett, who appears headed to a redshirt. actually played quite well and showed a quick release in picking up some good yardage. I believe the plan is to separate him and Leak for the future, but I am not so sure he isn't the second best quarterback right now.

My quarterback grades are all the same: B-. I thought they all did some good things but did not get results in the open field for touchdowns. Each guy had some plays that made you go hmmm, but for the most part they were not helped by some of the cast around them.

Offensively UF looked to establish the run and for the most part did so in the open field. Deshawyn Wynn continues to push Ran Carthon for the starting job. One thing I like about Wynn, and a reason he shows he could be a great back in the future, is that he no matter when he gets hit he always falls forward. Jimtavis Walker and Ciatrick Fason did a nice job and Fason held onto the ball. The one thing the backs did not do was break tackles in the second level to make big plays.

Randy Hand started at tackle after Lance Butler struggled with Darrell Lee on Wednesday. That will be an ongoing battle for the right tackle spot. I think Max Starks at right guard is going to be a "Genius" move by Zook and his staff. He is dominant right now and Tavares Washington had a good scrimmage as well.

The biggest disappointment of the scrimmage was the receiving corps. They were flat and did not respond to a more physical approach by the secondary. Carlos Perez and Ben Troupe were solid and had good scrimmages. But the young receivers struggled while Dallas Baker and Reggie Lewis dropped very catchable balls. Kenneth Tookes did some nice things but overall it was nothing like Wednesday night. Jemalle Cornelius scored on a scramble play in the redzone area from Chris Leak. UF started a veteran corps with OJ Small at the slot and Perez and Kight on the outside.

Defensively, the defensive line got solid performances from the tackles. They did get some more penetration at times and were much more competitive especially versus the two's. Ray McDonald and Eric Holcombe had good scrimmages while Mo Mitchell played situationally. Travis Harris started for Bobby McCray and looked good. He also lined up at LB in some 3-3 and dropped in passing situations from the end spot. Ron Dowdy's play continues to slip while Kenny Parker is holding up fine. Mo Mitchell and Kenny Parker were the starters.

The linebackers are banged up with Taurean Charles out and Brian Crum leaving the scrimmage. Channing Crowder continues to play well and had a tackle for a loss and an assist on a sack. He came unblocked on one occasion against Leak. He is an every down player who can play in base, nickel and dime. He can rush the passer, drop in coverage and attack the run. Overall the linebackers did a better job of taking the backs out of the passing game with "token" blitzes that force the backs to pick them up. This was a nice strategy by Charlie Strong to get his young LB's more involved.

The secondary was very good Saturday. Guss Scott had a very good scrimmage and Keiwan Ratliff was more aggressive as well. Cory Bailey really got after it and Jarvis Herring bounced back from an average  scrimmage the other night to deliver the biggest hit of the night on Dallas Baker. Charlie Strong played a lot of "Squat" cover 3, which gives the quarterback the look of "man-free" but baits him into throwing into zone. It also allowed Matt Jackson, Dee Webb and Ratliff to get involved in the run defense. Reynaldo Hill had an interception plus a safety blitz caused another fumble.

The defense made the necessary improvements from scrimmages one to two to give hope that this unit will be much better. Keiwan told me they (the defense) had not even tackled till Wednesday night and that they were just "bumping" up until that point. The offense did not execute the passing game as well and the receivers did not make as many plays as they did in scrimmage No. 1. The offensive line is going to be good and it did a good job in the redzone offense and two minute offense.

Notes and Thoughts...

… Put me down for Ray McDonald. This is the third time I have written about him and he continues to make plays. I think he will be a major contributor this fall. Reggie Lewis is in a slump, dropping a few more balls. He looked lethargic in his preparation and may be sliding down the depth chart. He was running No. 1on Monday and may be third after tonight.

… Ron Dowdy is battling hard but he has slipped to third team because he cannot get any movement and the rise of Mo Mitchell, Ray McDonald.

… Ciatrick Fason loves the sideline when he runs. He will bounce anytime he can to the outside and use his speed to make big runs.

… I like the way Justin Midgett throws the ball with his quick release before the receiver comes out of his break. Justin's major problem is when he gets pressure he really forces some throws that make you scared if you are a coach.

… The wide receivers all looked "dead legged". It was as if they were running with ankle weights on.

… The defense was better prepared Saturday as evidenced by the fact that Strong could substitute based on personnnel. This is because they had a coach in the box as well as the young players learning the system.

… Dallas Baker needs to get tougher. He is legit but SEC head hunters are going to come looking for him.

… Ingle Martin, Chris Leak and Gavin Dickey all scrambled on third downs for big runs and first downs.

… Cory Bailey was much more active and gave the defense a boost.

… Eric Wilbur hit a 51yd punt to the 10 yard line on his first attempt. We all stood and cheered.

… The sack of Chris Leak that resulted in a strip for a touchdown was directly the fault of the running backs. UF had the right protection and play called but both backs whiffed on the block.

… Mike Degory really struggled with his shotgun snaps. He was wide left to Leak a lot of times,  one resulting in a loss. The quarterback should be able to catch anything he gets his hands on but look for Degory and Leak to work on this in practices to come.

… Speaking of Leak,  he threw an interception to Hill on a play for Chad Jackson. Jackson ran the wrong route leading to the turnover. To Zook and Zaunbrecher's credit they said it was a miscommunication. One thing Leak can improve on is his run game footwork. Several times he took the wrong step on a handoff but it did not lead to a turnover. Repetitions will sharpen this up.

… New starters for this scrimmage were: Randy Hand, Mo Mitchell, Johnny Lamar, Jarvis Herring.

… Next week the practices are closed to the media and fans. Media may go the last 30 minutes so coverage will come extensively from the last two scrimmages. Look for UF to continue to get experience for the young defensive tackles and linebackers and possibly scale back on the contact. It was a physical first week and the players will have Sunday off. We are two weeks away from the debut of the 2003 Gators in The Swamp, but maybe two months away from seeing this team reach its full potential.

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