SPRING: Pads Are On - Let The Games Begin

Saturday's practice was loaded with excitement! Today marked the first day the Gators knocked the dust of their pads, and they were really taking out months of frustration on each other. GatorCountry was all over it, and there's plenty of things to be excited about as we wind down our first week of practice.

Today was Junior Day, and the sidelines were loaded with prospects and family. You could tell the coaches wanted to put on a show. They started the practice off with the first "Circle of Death" of the year. The team crowds around in a circle...and two players go head-to-head grappling to see who's tougher and who can get the other on the ground. Definitely a great way to start off! This lasted for a good 20 minutes,

It was difficult to see from outside the circle, but you could hear the crunching of helmets and shoulder pads as the players took shots at each other...the circle of players erupting and jumping out of the way as the players wrestled each other to the ground. Recruits and family members were running up to the edge of the circle, only to be pushed and shoved back numerous times, as the players did everything they could to stay on their feet. It got the crowd fired up...and it was hard to tell whether the juniors watching were either excited about the opportunity to join in...or scared to death. The mothers on the sidelines probably didn't like it one bit. Either way, it was a great way to open up the morning.

The coaches then got the offense and defense to go head-to-head in one-on-one match-ups. They formed 8-10 lines with the offense on one side and defense on the other in a quasi Oklahoma drill. Coach Meyer would then go down the line, and have the players square off, seeing who dominated the individual battles. He would name a winner of the two, and it really fired up the players. It was basically the Circle of Death minus the circle. It was a great chance to see who individually looks good out there.

A few names that really stuck out here were Avery Atkins, who won every match-up he faced. Avery continues to impress. Reggie Nelson of course made this list...he's tough as nails and beats up on anyone he faces; Brandon Siler dominated his match-ups; Marcus Thomas looked good; and Dallas Baker really looked pumped up.

Brandon Siler is extremely vocal. He's always bouncing around out there shouting out instructions to some of the younger guys. He keeps the adrenaline flowing, and is definitely a crowd favorite. Marcus Thomas is another vocal leader.

You can tell these guys are really close. They'll knock the tar out of each other and wrestle, kick, and beat the other person until the whistle blows...then they're best friends again, helping each other up. It's a great atmosphere and you get the vibe that the team is truly bonding out there. Everyone is pulling their weight and working together.

It appeared that the defense won overall in the one-on-one match-ups, although it was pretty close. Meyer looked pleased. Louis Murphy struggled as well as McIntosh. It looked like Coach Hevesy was jumping all over Carl Johnson as well. Carl looked out of shape, but it's definitely expected this early in the spring.

The real highlight of the practice was the red zone scrimmage (please see the video). The offense would start at the 20 yard line and get four downs to score. Then the second string offense would come in and do the same. The offense looked fairly good. Leak looked very composed and cool out there. He even ran a draw up the gut for a score one series...diving head first, which was a surprise. He does have the red-shirt on though. Leak's passes were on the money and were very efficient. Keep in mind these were all short routes.

Manson was on the first team...Wynn only ran once. Manson had a couple of great runs, one to lead of the first series for a 15 yard score up the middle. The defensive line was doing a great job of jamming the middle for the most part, however. Siler and Earl Everett definitely look good early on stuffing the run. Siler was pulled out a little early with what looked to be a cramp in his thigh.

Tebow looked great in the red zone as well. He really looks comfortable with the short routes. Coach Mullen got on him for scrambling a little early once. He told him to stay in the pocket and throw the ball. Tebow, for the most part, seems like he's learning pretty fast...but it's difficult to tell without blitzers hitting him full speed. Many times the blitz was there, but had to slow up to let him throw the ball to allow the play to continue and because of his non-contact jersey. He needs to get a little faster, but that will come with time.

Nyan Boateng really stood out in the red-zone scrimmage. He scored three times, twice from Tebow and once from Leak. Nyan is ran routes and caught everything that came his way. Look for him to make an impact this year if he keeps it up.

Markus Manson had a few great runs today, but it appears that he's getting thrown around out there in general. He didn't do well in the Circle of Death or the head-to-head exercises. He was on the first team though, but I'm guessing the coaches are probably still trying to test the backs to see if anyone steps up.

Cornelius Ingram has found a new home I think. He looks so incredibly good out there and it's exciting to think about him on the field this fall. He's gotten so big and has great hands. He hasn't lost any speed either with his added weight. He'll be a great weapon in this offense and should be a favorite target for Leak this fall.

One player who also stands out as making a name for himself this spring is Curtis Carr. He's a red-shirt sophomore and has been working with the DB's. I've noticed him making a few plays this week, and he continues to prove himself. He's got great hands and is extremely tough. He knocked Reggie Nelson on his back actually in one of the drills. Very tough kid...keep on eye on this one.

There were plenty of juniors for the coaches' junior day and family out there today and I wouldn't be surprised to see a commitment or two this week. Hollywood should have somewhat of a complete list for you tomorrow. The energy and excitement level at the practice was sky-high. The coaches looked pleased and there were plenty of wide-eyed prospects. Hopefully the game tonight will only add to it.

Injury Updates…

Kyle Jackson, Andre Caldwell, and Jon Demps were all wearing orange jerseys. The orange jerseys signify an injury of some sort. I'm not sure what happened with Kyle Jackson, he was practicing at full speed on Friday and looked great. He may have got his bell rung or something, but appeared to be fine today.

Reggie Lewis sat out the practice today for unspecified reasons. He was out there in The Pit. Jermaine McCollum was wearing a cast on his right arm today. He hurt it yesterday falling backwards on it in one of the interception drills, but was practicing in full pads today...so it's probably not that serious.

I'm not sure if he was injured but Jim Tartt sat out the team drills and Simon Codrington was inserted at left guard in his place.

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