Spring Quarterly Report: Hot and Cold

The Gators finished their fourth spring practice on Monday finishing a little more than a quarter of the spring's 15 practice schedule. Here is a little look at what happened on Monday and also who is looking good (hot) and not so good (cold) as we move forward. Check inside to see my perspective on spring practice so far.

The quarterback spot is a tough one. We know what Tim Tebow can do in this offense, yet this time of year it is the time to reign Tebow in from his normal playing style and get him to sit in the pocket, go through his reads, and learn to throw a better and prettier ball. We have actually seen all of that this spring and still, it just isn't as pretty as him running the offense that Tebow does and the way he normally does it.

Tebow has improved on his intermediate route throws in my opinion. His passes are more crisp and on a rope...they don't hang for the receiver. He has been great on corner routes to Carl Moore and Aaron Hernandez among others. I wouldn't call him COLD, for purposes of this story, but John Brantley was definitely the HOT one on Monday.

One thing we saw from Brantley on Monday was the ability to run. The offense and defense got after it and were hitting hard. Although they weren't allowed to tackle Brantley, he was still getting popped a little by the defense and they still had to stop him. On a couple of occasions, Brantley went untouched for long gains on short yardage plays and he did it using his feet and making the correct reads on the way the defense was playing him and the running game. You can see a couple of these runs in the highlight video.

We also all know that Brantley throws a pretty ball, nothing has really changed there. He has however begun to really pick up some of the intricacies of the offense like reading hot routes and the like. Like Tebow, he has also been on with the deep corner routes. They look to be a staple of this offense this season, at least from early reports this spring.

Wide Receiver/Tight End: Who is cold?

There is one guy I will consider cold right now at receiver and that is Deonte Thompson. For whatever reason, he has not been a big target of the quarterbacks in the last couple to three practices. He also seems to be running with the second set of receivers as the Gators were using a big look on Monday with the likes of Carl Moore, David Nelson, and Justin Williams in the first unit.

This was supposed to be Thompson's breakout spring and it just hasn't happened yet. It is of course only the first quarter of practices down, but Monday we saw Tebow trying to get him pumped up as well. It is almost as if he is down on himself out there. On one play Tebow hit Thompson for a short pass and he was popped immediately by Major Wright and went down. Tebow ran over to him and yelled for Deonte to get mad and yell "hit me harder, Dog...hit me harder!!". Deonte just ran back to the huddle emotionless. Most observers would like to see him have a fire lit under him this spring.

Receiver/Tight End: Who is heating up?

A few players in this category are heating up and about to be hot. Tight end Desmond Parks continues to make plays in the passing game and even more importantly has shown a great deal of intensity on the playing field. He and William Green got into a scuffle at practice on Monday and Parks went toe to toe enough for Green to have to try and kick Parks to get him off of him. On another play, Parks caught a pass from Brantley and barely had enough time to turn his head up field before major Wright smacked him. Parks went to the ground and held on to the ball. If Parks can play aggressive, learn the offense well, and put on a few more pounds, he will play in 2009.

David Nelson is warming up but would be in the hot category if he would get thrown the ball more. Nelson hasn't dropped a ball that I have seen all spring, something that plagued him in his younger days. He will be a big factor in this offense when all is said and done and will play a lot in the vacated slot position. Another key thing he has provided is leadership. Freshman receiver T.J. Lawrence is another warming up out there and consistently making plays. He made a beautiful catch on a Dig route with three defenders right on him on Monday. Lawrence told me after practice Monday that nelson was a big reason for him getting better.

Receiver/Tight End: Who is hot?

Aaron Hernandez is the biggest and most used target on offense right now. Hernandez catches everything thrown to him and knows what to do with it when he does catch it. Tebow looks for Hernandez all the time right now.

Carl Moore has had more long pass plays than anyone at practice and is a totally different player from mid season last year. He is a bona fide weapon with good speed and great size and the quarterbacks love throwing to him. He will catch the ball in traffic and has, and he also has the speed to go deep on the edge and he has done that a few times too.

Frankie Hammond is the young gun that is hot right now. Hammond catches absolutely everything thrown to him. He has the knack for the spectacular diving catch and has done so a lot of times. He has speed and quickness and although we haven't seen him do a lot of juking for scores, he still gets open deep and makes the play when the play is there to be made.

Running Back: Who is cold?

Chris Rainey is running third right now. He is hobbled a little by a healing groin, so it is to be expected somewhat. We have maybe seen just a couple of nice runs from Rainey so far this spring and he should be in double digits by now. An ailing offensive line is not helping. However, he did have a very nice run over the right side where he cut back behind David Young at guard and Marcus Gilbert at tackle and went untouched into the secondary during running drills.

RB: Who is heating up?

Jeff Demps missed a couple of practices with track season going on, but he still hits the hole harder than anyone when he was out there. On Monday he got a ton of reps and even with a banged up offensive line, Demps lowered his head and shot out of a cannon for yardage in to the middle of a crowded line.

RB: Who is hot?

Emmanuel Moody had a better Saturday than Monday, but he has been the most consistent runner this spring. Moody has shown power, speed, and the ability to break tackles so far this spring. He will get more reps in these 15 practices than ever before and he may be the one guy on offense that needs them the most. He is really starting to understand this zone blocking scheme and his responsibility to ride the block forward until he sees a crease and cut it back. I don't know if he will start in the fall, but he should get equal to more carries than the others if he continues knowing what to do when on the field.

Offensive Line: Who is cold?

There are a number of guys not playing right now due to injury. Mike Pouncey, Matt Patchan, Jim Barrie, have missed the entire spring so far. Maurkice Pouncey and Mo Hurt both missed Monday and will be watched carefully as they mend their respective issues. All of these have to be considered cold.

These injuries have made it very difficult on the offense in my opinion. Right now, Carl Johnson is the only returning starter practicing and he is playing a different position moving from guard to tackle.

Also on the list has to be center Corey Hobbs and guard Byran Jones. Neither has been seen getting a lot of work on the field.

OL: Who is heating up?

David Young is starting to show his flexibility. He has been playing some right guard and right tackle depending on the situation and injuries. On Monday he was inserted in the first unit at right guard with the absence of Mo Hurt. Young has trimmed down a little from last year but is big and athletic enough to play either spot. Coach Addazio told me in the off season he really thinks Young is a masher and may be more suited for the guard spot in the long run, but will get a look in both places.

Marcus Gilbert has found a home. Last year he was the sixth best lineman and needed to play out of position at left guard when Jim Tartt and Carl Johnson couldn't start the season. He struggled there and was finally replaced when Johnson became healthy. This spring he is back to his natural right tackle position and performing well.

OL: Who is hot?

Carl Johnson is becoming a leader out there. Sam Robey messed up a snap during running drills and caused a couple of linemen, including Johnson to jump out of their stance before the ball was snapped. Johnson popped up and went and gave the business to young Robey who is doing a pretty good job filling in for starter Maurkice Pouncey. I would say that Johnson is the most consistent among the starters at the offensive line and the fact he is showing these leadership qualities is huge for a unit that lost three seniors from the championship team.

James Wilson has made it easier on the staff to move one of their key cogs in the middle of the line to tackle. Carl Johnson started most of the season at left guard last year and having him and both Pounceys return for 2009 would be huge for the interior of the line. Johnson's need to play at left tackle meant someone was going to have to step up and fill in and it appears the Gators will not miss a beat on the interior with the insertion of Wilson.

Defensive Line: Who is cold?

We haven't seen much at all from defensive tackle Troy Epps. Epps is up to 306 pounds right now and looks like a fire plug out there, I am guessing injuries have kept him away from action. Carlos Dunlap hasn't even dressed out for practice this spring. Terron Sanders has dressed but not been able to play in any contact drills. Brandon Antwine has not dressed at all either.

Of the participants, Edwin Herbert has been all but MIA. We haven't seen much if anything from him and that shouldn't be the case for a 20 year old junior, even if he did transfer in from junior college.

DL: Who is heating up?

Lawrence Marsh is a steady player and is starting to be that guy that breaks into the backfield and makes plays. Getting consistent play making out him in his junior season would be huge for this defense. More consistency in doing so is the next step.

Justin Trattou has taken a back seat to Duke Lemmens for a couple of practices, but made some big plays on Monday and saw some time back on the first team at the end of practice.

Earl Okine is learning a new position and still just a freshman. He is the the most intimidating looking player on the field for the Gators and at times he plays like it too. He will be a great player when all is said and done, in the meantime he is getting better.

DL: Who is hot?

Duke Lemmens has quick feet and now he doesn't get pushed around by the tackles like he used to. He weighs in at 260 and as he told me after practice, it is a better proportioned 260. Lemmens has a good first step, but his key is his tenacity and the fact he never gives up on a play. He is a player nobody thinks about adding to this defense so doing so would be huge.

Jaye Howard is probably the hottest rising player on the team. He is starting to make a lot of plays in the backfield and make it very difficult for the offensive interior to do anything when lined up against him. Some caution has to be observed with all the injuries to the interior of the offensive line, but Howard is consistently making plays more than anyone else inside.

The next guy on the list is Omar Hunter. The redshirt freshman came into camp in a lot better shape and is just so intelligent and quick with his 315 pounds that he makes life difficult for offensive linemen. He has improved his stamina and makes a lot of plays now by continuing to fight, playing patient and letting the game come to him. On Saturday he was beat three times in the one on one drills because he attacked high and the offensive lineman got under him. A little bit of coaching and we saw him playing lower and pushing around the offensive line on Monday. Brandon Spikes noticed Hunter on two consecutive plays Monday and went over and praised him after the second.

Linebacker: Who is cold?

Brendan Beal is out as is Brandon Hicks. Lerentee McCray is the one that I expected to see a little more out of this spring. The sophomore from Dunnellon has the size and speed to be a big timer but has been all but non existent on the playing field so far.

LB: Who is heating up?

True freshman Jon Bostic is the guy that is catching my attention. Especially in the passing game, Bostic can run with the best of them down the field and has defended the wheel route from the running backs as well as anyone. On Monday he broke up a long pass to Chris Rainey and followed it up with a pass break up on a pass to tight end Desmond Parks.

John Jones is another guy that has made some plays and a name that all but disappeared off the roster last year. Jones is playing behind A.J. Jones and is doing very well making plays every day in practice.

LB: Who is hot?

Dustin Doe is going to make it very hard for Ryan Stamper to get on the field at weak side linebacker. Stamper has played well, but Doe seems to really be making a move and playing very well, especially in the running game. Right now, I think he is playing the best of all the linebackers and that is a very solid to spectacular group.

Defensive Backs: Who is cold?

Jeremy Brown has not participated in drills yet with his back condition.

This is a group that surprised a lot of people last year and it is a group that doesn't have many, if any weak links on the roster.

DB: Who is heating up?

Wondy Pierre-Louis had some moments last season where he was not happy and his play dictated that he not see action on the field. Reinvigorated, Pierre-Louis has played very well this spring and is starting at one of the cornerback spots when the Gators are in a nickel defense moving starter Janoris Jenkins inside to be that nickel defender.

Dorian Munroe has played very well this spring and Urban Meyer calls him the fourth starter at safety (along with Ahmad Black, Major Wright, and Will Hill). Munroe plays at strong safety and isn't a play maker per se, but is solid in there playing the position.

Dee Finley is a true freshman with his head spinning around for sure. However, he is an instinctive football player and is exceptional in the running game and making tackles. As he matures in the defense mentally, Finley should progress and has all the tools necessary to be a top safety in the SEC. He has size, speed, and toughness.

DB: Who is hot?

Adrian Bushell is really pushing. Every day he makes plays and I would bet has made more big plays this spring than any cornerback on the field. He is tough, physical, and fast. He breaks on the ball probably better than any of the starters at this point in time. He will push to play very early and often and has gotten a lot of work in the nickel meaning that we could see him out there and Janoris Jenkins slide back outside in the nickel.

Will Hill is a special player. His interception on Saturday was a thing of beauty coming out of nowhere to steal the ball out of the air at the goal line. He is also a big time hitter with all the physical qualities wanted at the free safety position. It will be nearly impossible to keep him off the field in the fall. As a matter of fact, Hill and Munroe got a lot of work with the first team defense on Monday and I expect that to continue.

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