The Florida Gators are now a week into their fall practice session. There’s still a long way to go, but the Gators have been mostly impressive to this point. Well, as impressive as a team can be throughout its first week of fall practice, anyway.
Here are the five players that have really stood out so far:
5) RB Jordan Scarlett
It’s somewhat difficult for running backs to establish themselves so early in fall practice (especially when the Gators only put on their pads for the first time yesterday), but Jordan Scarlett has done just that. He’s displayed nice vision taking handoffs from center, choosing the largest holes to go through in 11 on 11s and waiting patiently for those holes to open up if need be. He hasn’t dropped or bobbled any handoffs in the portion open to the media yet, either, which is obviously a good thing. He’s also looked good catching a couple of passes out of the backfield. Look for him to be a serious threat on wheel routes. The transfer of Adam Lane makes it all but a certainty that he will be the number two back this season behind Kelvin Taylor.
4) WR Antonio Callaway
Another freshman who’s had a great fall so far is receiver Antonio Callaway. He was once thought to be a consolation prize when Ryan Davis signed with Auburn, but he’s making Davis look like a distant memory with his performance so far. He’s looked sharp from the get go, and has done all the little things right. He’s been outstanding in blocking drills, using good technique and a strong initial explosion to stonewall defenders. He’s also been one of the few receivers not to get singled out by Jim McElwain or Doug Nussmeier for lazy route running. On the contrary, he’s actually been very sharp running routes, making quick, crisp cuts and doing a pretty good job of getting open against what we all know by now is an outstanding secondary. And while drops have plagued the Gators’ wide receivers thus far, Callaway has been one of the few sure handed pass catchers. I’d be stunned if he doesn’t get some playing time early and often this season.
3) SS Marcus Maye
Vernon Hargreaves and Jalen Tabor have received most of the hype among the Gator defensive backs, as they should. But safety Marcus Maye has quietly had a fantastic first week of practice. He’s rarely caught out of position, which is a must for all safeties- especially given the multiple disastrous plays the secondary was responsible for last year. Maye’s notable plays so far this fall include intercepting Treon Harris twice, covering at least 20 yards to break up a bomb aimed for LaTroy Pittman, and punching the ball out of DeMarcus Robinson’s hands just as he initially accepted the pass. He’s been a sure tackler (or whatever the substitute for tackling is in various fall practice drills) as well, especially in the open field, where it counts the most. The way he’s playing so far, Maye seems like a lock to start at strong safety.
2) OL Martez Ivey
Due in large part to the Gators’ lack of depth on the offensive line, Martez Ivey appeared to have a good chance to start at tackle anyway. That was before he arrived, and really impressed coaches with his play. Ivey has some natural athleticism that just can’t be taught. For example, he has a strangely successful sort of juke move. That’s right, a lateral juke… as an offensive tackle (I don’t know if “juke” is really the right word, as it usually describes somebody trying to get away from a defender, rather than try to run into them, but it’s the best word I’ve got). On the rare occasions he does get beat off the snap, he’s able to quickly shift laterally and regain his balance, set his feet and deliver the initial punch to the defender, at the right pad level and everything. Like nothing happened and he didn’t just get beat, which again, doesn’t happen often. He has quick feet in general and a strong explosion out of his stance, which when combined with his natural strength makes it extremely hard to get past him. He’s drawn strong praise from senior guard Trip Thurman and Jim McElwain, and I have to believe he’ll at least get some real playing time in week one if he doesn’t start.
1) QB Will Grier
Grier has easily been the MVP of fall camp to this point. Given the way Florida’s last two prized QB recruits (John Brantley and Jeff Driskel) never even came close to matching their sky high expectations, I’m hesitant to just go off on a fawning spree about Grier, but… he’s been really, really good. Jim McElwain has said there isn’t much separation between him and Treon Harris, but I have to think that’s just because he doesn’t want Grier to get a big head and think he’s got the job locked up. Grier has displayed an outstanding arsenal of skills in the open practices. He’s confident, a trait no Gator QB has consistently displayed since Tim Tebow. He has a great arm, both in terms of strength and accuracy. Not just on deep throws, but on some of the underrated throws a QB has to make, like swing passes, which have to be thrown so the guy can catch it while never breaking stride and just continue at a full spring once he catches the ball. He also hasn’t really made a bad decision in terms of which receiver to throw to, and never locks in on one receiver. Oh yes, and he can run, too. At this point, it almost feels like Grier has to do something really stupid, like get arrested, to not start at QB.