Florida fall practice 9/1: Anzalone becoming a leader on defense, Gators work on corner blitzes

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Yesterday wasn’t exactly the best day of practice for anybody on the offensive side of the ball.

That includes Will Grier, who botched an exchange from center and had two passes batted down at the line. That includes Treon Harris, who overthrew two wide open receivers in three plays. That includes the offensive line, which suddenly looked lost against the Florida defense. And that includes the receiver corps, who tallied four dropped passes (in the sample size of the practice I was given).

But on the other hand, the defense flourished all around.

It’s become clear that Alex Anzalone will be the leader of this defense. While Antonio Morrison’s return from his gruesome injury is something to admire, he’s also missed a lot of time, and thus Florida’s defense was missing its leader. But Anzalone has stepped up and taken that role with his dominant play throughout fall practice- and Morrison is OK with it. “Alex Anzalone is the quarterback of the defense now,” Morrison told the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson. “He’s really taken that role over. I echo his calls.”

Anzalone hasn’t exactly lit up the stat sheet so far in his time at Florida (16 tackles in two years), but in a way, this is actually a great sign. Florida is getting a new leadership presence in Anzalone that they haven’t really had yet. Of course, Florida is losing a tremendous leader in Dante Fowler, and though Anzalone is a strong side linebacker as opposed to a defensive end, it’s still great for the defense (namely veterans like Morrison, Vernon Hargreaves, Jonathan Bullard, etc. who have accomplished a lot on the field) to so deeply trust Anzalone before the season even starts.

The Gator defense also worked with some new (at least to me) blitz schemes and stunts. One of the aforementioned blitz schemes involved cornerback Jalen Tabor, and struck me as particularly clever. Tabor would walk around yelling like he was confused and didn’t know what the hell was going on, and Geoff Collins would yell back; Tabor would then wander up to the line of scrimmage shaking his head, like “screw this” and act like he wasn’t paying attention. But the instant the ball was snapped, Tabor would stop shaking his head and take off toward the startled QB. To be completely honest, I have no idea if that was a choreographed routine by Collins or if he and Tabor were just arguing that much and Tabor pretended to be more involved in the yelling match than he was while surreptitiously readying himself to beeline for the QB, though it did look like a scripted maneuver. Regardless, this little trick worked to perfection twice; Tabor made one of the previously mentioned bat downs of Grier, and tipped a second ball (couldn’t tell who was at QB that time) at the line.

I really think Collins’ defense is going to be fun to watch. He loves to put as much pressure as he can on opposing QB’s, and given the speed he’s got on this defensive unit, he’s got a lot of ways he can do it. I expect to see some more corner blitzes from him given how well the ploy with/by Tabor worked yesterday.