After a variety of “first practice mistakes” that left Jim McElwain shaking his head on Thursday, the Gators seem to be heading in the right direction.
Friday saw a torrential downpour soak the city of Gainesville, (read: Rainsville) which forced the team to go inside and stage a makeshift practice in the Florida Gym. But today, the Gators went back outside and had their second real, full fledged practice, and for the most part, it was pretty good.
But not perfect.
The main thing that plagued Florida on Thursday was a large quantity of dropped passes; that number went down a bit today, although there were a few, including one from LaTroy Pittman (albeit on a slightly overthrown pass). But what really set McElwain off was the receivers’ route running, which he again criticized as being lazy and not nearly crisp enough. He didn’t hold back with his words, either.
That said, the receivers were about the only downside of the entire practice. Granted, that’s going to be a very important position for McElwain to develop, but since we’re still very early in the process and the rust is just starting to get shaken off, I’m willing to pardon it- particularly because of the strong performances by the other positions.
Let’s start with Will Grier, who had a tremendous day throwing the ball. Grier displayed a fantastic sense of QB intelligence, hitting the right receivers, not forcing balls into places where they shouldn’t be forced into, and not being afraid to drop it off to his safety valves. He also once again showed off his natural ability, throwing some great deep balls and rarely missing his mark throughout the day, which he highlighted by dropping a bomb into the hands of Ahmad Fulwood for a touchdown and hitting Brandon Powell perfectly in stride on a wheel route.
That performance by Grier, along with a so-so effort from Treon Harris, put Grier ahead of Harris in the QB race. That’s not from McElwain or Doug Nussmeier, that’s just from watching them both. Grier simply looks like the better QB right now, and truthfully, it’s not even close. Harris also had a really rough day on Thursday, plus he missed some time in the spring, which makes me think that Grier could be only one or two more outstanding practices away from being officially named the starter. Dragging out the battle longer than it has to doesn’t do any good for either guy involved, and besides, declaring a starter will give McElwain the opportunity to closer examine other things that need it more than a QB battle that’s really not close so far.
Then there’s the offensive line, which has slowly turned to its freshman class for help- and gotten it. Martez Ivey has been extraordinary so far, and appears to have a good shot to start at one of the two tackle spots on opening day thanks to the quick feet and explosion out of his stance he’s displayed so far. He’s drawn praise from guard Trip Thurman, who singled him out for having a genuine desire to learn and get better. Tyler Jordan has also been very good in the reps he’s gotten at center, where he figures to back up Cam Dillard.
The secondary also impressed. Cornerback Quincy Wilson had a good day, covering DeMarcus Robinson for much of the day and staying with him on many plays, though he did get beat once. Jalen Tabor also had a nice day, working out with the first team and breaking up a well thrown ball from Harris. But it was safety Keanu Neal who stole the show with this one handed interception.
#Gators S Keanu Neal with a sick one-handed INT in practice https://t.co/N67eP59V9w
— Landon Watnick (@LandonWatnick) August 8, 2015
Rounding out the positives from today’s practice was freshman defensive end Cece Jefferson, who is just about guaranteed to see some playing time if he keeps playing the way he did today. He displayed the same nasty combination of power and speed today that he did throughout his time in high school, twice slicing through the offensive line for what probably would have been sacks in a real game. He drew high praise from several teammates, including Thurman, Neal, and DT Taven Bryan. Thurman’s quote had to be the best: “he looks like a young Jon Bullard.”
There are four more weeks of practice to go before the season opener against New Mexico State, so stay tuned for more updates as the Gators continue to get ready to begin the Jim McElwain era.