Dunbar a favorite target at Saturday practice
Published: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 5:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 17, 2013 at 5:18 p.m.
In the preseason projections for the Florida Gators, most were picking senior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar to emerge as quarterback Jeff Driskel's go-to guy in the passing game in 2013.
On an overcast Saturday morning in The Swamp, about 1,000 fans saw just that — a lot of Driskel-to-Dunbar, in what turned out to be the favorite combination of the day.
That was in sharp contrast to UF's first open practice Thursday night at the Dizney Lacrosse Stadium, where the receiving star of the day was true freshman wideout Demarcus Robinson.
In Saturday's practice, Driskel was looking for Dunbar, and he found him quite often. Perhaps the highlight was a 25-yard laser by Driskel that found Dunbar between three defensive backs about five yards deep in the end zone for a touchdown. The two hooked up for several more completions, including one of about 20 yards during 11-on-11 against the defense.
Here are some other observations from Saturday's practice:
*Driskel, who had a tendency to lock onto his primary receiver at times last season, seems much more comfortable now going through his progressions until he finds the open receiver. The 20-yard pass to Dunbar during 11-on-11 was a perfect example. Driskel dropped back and looked to the right side. When he saw his primary receiver covered, he checked down to the next guy and found Dunbar open over the middle.
*Offensive coordinator Brent Pease said he and the offensive coaches were a little stunned when they went back and looked at last year's numbers and discovered how little the running backs were used in the passing game. Since then, there's been a concerted effort to get the backs (especially the tailbacks) involved in that phase of the game. That was evident Saturday. The quarterbacks threw to the backs on numerous occasions, a move that helped the offense move the chains several times. And this was with UF's best pass-catching back, tailback Matt Jones, still sidelined while he recovers from a viral infection. Of the tailbacks who practiced Saturday, true freshman Kelvin Taylor appeared to have the best hands.
*The quarterbacks had to cope with a strong pass rush for most of the practice. It was especially devastating when Dante Fowler Jr. and Ronald Powell were streaking in from opposite edges. When those two are in the game at the same time, the Gators are very fast and athletic up front, especially when you factor in tackle Dominique Easley, who appears to have regained that lightning first step he had before he injured his knee at the end of the 2011 season.
*The players benefiting the most from the pass rush Saturday were the guys in the secondary, especially the cornerbacks. The starting corners — Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson — provided suffocating coverage for most of the day, even when the quarterbacks had some time to scan the field. Florida's safeties — Cody Riggs and true freshman Keanu Neal, in particular — also appeared to have a good day in coverage (even though Riggs appeared to get away with pass interference in the end zone on one play).
*The left tackle on the No. 2 offense Saturday was Maryland transfer Max Garcia, who is the starter at right guard while senior Jon Halapio is out with a partially torn pectoral muscle. Also, true freshman Cameron Dillard ran with the second team at center, while Kyle Koehne took some reps with the No. 1 offense at center. Koehne provides depth at center and both guard positions and is the back-up to Jonotthan Harrison at center. On the defensive line, true freshmen Jay-nard Bostwick and Caleb Brantley got reps at tackle on the No. 2 defense.
*Several players talked earlier in the week about how mammoth offensive tackle Trenton Brown makes everyone else look small. Well, in Saturday's practice, Brown certainly made true freshman linebacker Alex Anzalone look undersized on one play. Anzalone, who is 6-foot-3, 230 pounds, tried to get past Brown on a pass rush, but Brown got his hands into Anzalone's chest and gave him a mighty shove that sent Anzalone flying. Anzalone rolled twice after hitting the turf. Anzalone is not the only defender who has had problems getting around or through the 6-foot-8, 363-pound Brown in camp. Brown, by the way, is running with the second team at right tackle and figures to see significant playing time this season.
*Senior linebacker Darrin Kitchens, a projected starter in the opener, practiced in a non-contact jersey Saturday. He was not on the injury list that coach Will Muschamp revealed to the media before Friday's scrimmage. … Matt Jones watched some of Saturday's practice from the south end zone. Although he looked fine and has started doing cardio work, there still is no timetable for his return.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.