Practice Day 5 Thoughts

The biggest news of the day should have been the absence of John Brantley and the "conspiracy theorists" reasons of why he was absent. Instead the day was highlighted or lowlighted, depending on one's view, by the post-practice "confrontation" between Florida head coach Urban Meyer and a member of the media about a recent article that was written. The beat goes on at the University of Florida.

The confrontation after practice by now has been beat up and down in the media and we aren't done with it either, but this is intended as a practice report, and so it will be.

The day started off surprising with the absence of junior quarterback John Brantley. The Gators have had numerous injuries this spring and a lot of players have been missing from the practice field. All of those injuries, some to starters, pale in comparison to the absence of Brantley who must be ready to go for the Gators in September to have any semblance of a successful season on offense.

On Monday, Brantley evidently tweaked his knee a little bit, supposedly hyper-extending. But, from most accounts leading up to the day, he was going to be able to practice. When he didn't appear, a lot of red flags went up and the rumor mongering started. As it turns out, Brantley was suffering from strep throat and a high fever and was kept away from his teammates, that according to the school's SID office.

Without Brantley at practice the quarterbacking was left up to Trey Burton and a little from punter Chas Henry, who was an excellent high school quarterback. Henry fared very well given the circumstances and surprised many in attendance with his deep ball throwing and accuracy on those deep balls. He actually threw two touchdowns against the second team defense and looked great doing so.

Burton got a lot of work on the day and looked poised in doing so. He made some great decisions and threw some great passes and there were a few he would still like to have back. There are times when Burton really displays a fine touch and then other times when the ball kind of gets away from him. Sometimes those throws are in the dirt, and other times, it seems to leave his hand a little unorthodox and high and kind of floats out there giving defenders a chance to make a play on it.

One thing about Burton that we will see is that he is a very gifted runner. Just a little over three years ago, Burton was a tailback. He still has a lot of those skills in him and will be the fastest quarterback Florida has fielded in some time. He isn't small either at 6-3 and 225 pounds, only 11 pounds lighter than Tim Tebow weighed in at the NFL combine.

At running back, it wasn't particularly a big day. Emmanuel Moody didn't do much and then ended up tweaking his ankle and ended up the day on crutches on the sideline. The talk is that the injury isn't serious and he should be back soon. Mike Gillislee ran hard, but didn't break any really long plays on the day. Still, in my opinion , he is establishing himself as the work horse when it comes to short yardage running. He had a couple of nice bulldozing runs on Wednesday, including one that led to his helmet being ripped off and still continuing on for about three more yards afterward.

At receiver it was likely Justin Williams best day of practice in his five years. Williams has been somewhat of an enigma at Florida because he seems to have all the physical talent in the world. Still, that talent has seen very few plays on offense. Williams caught three touchdowns on two corner routes and a short slant that he caught and took right up the middle. Getting Williams as a major contributor this year would be an unexpected bonus to this receiving corps.

One funny thing that came out of Wednesday's practice was the strong play of Deonte Thompson. Thompson was the object of Meyer's defense in the confrontation after practice and the rumors going around were that Thompson was really upset following the outrage over his perceived dis of Gator super hero quarterback Tim Tebow. Only one writer of the eight that interviewed Thompson took that slant on things but it was enough to create a national uproar.

Well, Thompson came out Wednesday and may have had his best practice of the month. He caught the long ball and short passes and looked like a man on a mission with each. He was the recipient of a Trey Burton touchdown pass on a streak route to start off the 7-on-7 drill.

Stephen Alli had another strong practice and was the only other receiver to make noise that I saw. Alli is a huge target and has shown the ability to be physical, which is the part I was most worried about with him. He has size and speed and has the chance to be a really great receiver at Florida.

Jordan Reed had a couple of more excellent plays again on Wednesday. To me he is the clear favorite at the position even though I think Gerald Christian has played well at times. Reed caught one pass in traffic that you can see on the highlight reel. He also caught one sideline pass in the two minute drill and headed up field untouched for a while. He really is a surprisingly good athlete.

There were a ton of bad snaps on Wednesday, It wasn't any one particular center, there were just a bunch that got away from Burton and were not on target. That has been a pretty strong point so far this spring, so I don't think it is really that much of an issue.

On defense, the line was pretty dominant on Wednesday and the most I have seen from them in a while. Jaye Howard, Justin Trattou and Omar Hunter all had big days among the starters. Earl Okine had a couple of nice plays back to back and his teammates were all over him for doing a great job. Maybe there is a fire there after all. In all, the line really made it very difficult for the offense to do much.

Jelani Jenkins continues to be on fire. He intercepted a short pass from Burton and took it the distance the other direction. He runs as well as anyone and is great on backside pursuit of the play. He isn't huge, but he loves to hit and really knocks the ball carrier for a loop whenever he does make contact. He will play a lot this season.

I noticed they played a lot of situations with two of the bigger backers in at the same time. I saw plays with Lorenzo Edwards and Jon Bostic. Some with Bostic and Beal, some with Beal with Edwards, and so on. I was quite intent on checking to see if they were using four linebackers in there and that was never the case. It just appears that they are either looking to see where some of these bigger backers fit, or they like having the size out there as they run pretty well too.

I think it was Jeremy Brown's best practice overall this spring. He made three plays that I saw and two are on the highlight film. He had two pass breakups and then an interception on a short out route. The defense went nuts when he finally got the interception as Brown has been really busting his tail all spring. He is right up there at the top of the depth chart and it continues to be a battle for the starting spot opposite Janoris Jenkins between Brown, Moses Jenkins, Joshua Shaw, and Jaylen Watkins.

Speaking of Janoris Jenkins. He has been on lock down all spring. To me, it is not even close that this is his best spring of the three he has been on campus. The quarterbacks rarely look his way because he usually knocks the receiver out of their pattern before they ever get a chance to do anything. Once he is in the pattern with them, he seems to have better speed than in years past and runs with these quick receivers. It appears to me that Jenkins is leaner, yet probably stronger than he was a year ago.

Special teams look out...

One interesting thing I noticed was the use of Stephen Alli in the back of the blocking formation on kicks. They seem to have pinpointed Alli as the Jarvis Moss guy to high jump behind the line and try to block field goal attempts. While he never really got into it, he was constantly eyeballing the snap and hold to try and get the timing down for the jump and block.

Injuries still there...

The injuries are many and still growing, or so it seems. Here is the list.

QB John Brantley (illness), RB Emmanuel Moody (ankle), WR Chris Rainey (hamstring), WR TJ Lawrence (undisclosed ailment and tested in hospital), TE Des Parks (wrist), OL Matt Patchan (knee), OL Carl Johnson (shoulder), OL Kyle Koehne (shoulder), OL Sam Robey, DT Brandon Antwine (shoulder), DT Terron Sanders, DT Lawrence Marsh, DT Leon Orr (knee), S Josh Evans (ankle)

Evans was overheard saying that he will be out for another two weeks which will put it right at the end of spring practice. Lawrence was rumored to have a situation at morning workouts and taken to the hospital and is supposedly undergoing tests. He and Brantley were not at practice at all. Brantley, Moody, Rainey, Robey, Sanders, and Marsh all appear to be day to day.

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