Florida held its third open practice of the spring Saturday, energetically going at it in full pads for a little more than two-and-a-half hours. Here are some observations:
• One of the most noticeable things was the overall play of the wide receivers. It appears they are receiving much better coaching than they did the past seasons, based on their performance Saturday.
The receivers were running precise routes, getting some separation from the defensive backs and making catches, including some difficult ones where players had to lay out for the ball.
Transfers Van Jefferson and Trevon Grimes had another good day, with both catching deep balls, Jefferson on a diving reception for one. Jefferson’s route running appeared close to flawless. Several times, he made quick, sudden moves that created separation and led to big pass plays.
Josh Hammond, Freddie Swain, Kadarius Toney and Rick Wells also had multiple receptions during seven-on-seven and 11-on-11 drills. Toney and Hammond were especially effective working the middle of the field.
Tight ends C’yontai Lewis, Moral Stephens and Kemore Gamble were also much involved in the passing game. Lewis and Gamble each caught several balls down the sideline well down the field. The coaches have said TE is going to be a featured position in the offense, and that showed up Saturday.
• UF coach Dan Mullen has been stressing how important accuracy is for his quarterbacks, saying it’s one of the things he’s looking for the most in a quarterback.
On Saturday, the most accurate passer appeared to be redshirt sophomore Kyle Trask, who was on target for most of the day. He completed several passes through some small windows, an indication how much he trusts his arm.
Not far behind Trask was Feleipe Franks, whose accuracy was spot-on for much of the practice. He did some other encouraging things, including going through his progressions to find open receivers several times. This is an area where he was clearly lacking last season. It appears Mullen’s coaching is already starting to sink in.
Almost predictably, true freshman quarterback Emory Jones struggled with his accuracy, throwing wild high on several occasions. A couple of other times, he threw the ball too hard on short routes that receivers had a hard time securing.
• Here’s something you don’t see very often: wide receivers hitting a blocking sled. But that may happen quite often on the UF practice field, where wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales has made blocking a priority. He said earlier this week that if a wide receiver can’t block, he can’t play. The receivers went at it hard early in the practice, pushing and guiding the one-man blocking sled from sideline to sideline.
• Sophomore cornerback CJ Henderson got an unfortunate draw during one-on-one passing drills, getting Jefferson almost every single time. And Jefferson beat Henderson several times, including on a deep ball from Franks. Jefferson also beat the other starting cornerback, Marco Wilson.
• True freshman Dameon Pierce appears to be making a strong push for significant playing time at running back. He had another impressive day that was highlighted by a 70-yard touchdown run during 11-on-11. Pierce bursted through a small hole on the right side of the line and outran the secondary to the end zone.
• During an edge rushing/blocking drill, Lewis fended off middle linebacker David Reese and tight end R.J. Raymond did the same to outside linebacker Vosean Joseph. But another linebacker, Kylan Johnson, blew around the edge untouched for what would have been a sack.
• Florida’s starters at cornerback and linebacker appear to be good, but depth at both spots is still a concern. The good news Saturday, at least at LB, is that redshirt freshman Nick Smith and sophomore Ventrell Miller, who was suspended last season, each had a big hit and made other plays during 11-on-11. Both appear quick and athletic, with the ability to deliver a big blow.
• Sophomore cornerback C.J. McWilliams made a nice break-up on a deep pass intended for Grimes during seven-on-seven.
• Franks made one glaring mistake during 11-on-11, giving up a pick-six to Wilson attempting to throw into double coverage in the shallow flat.
• The Gators opened practice with some special team drills in which Mullen was very involved. He’s putting an emphasis on special teams.
• Toney snatched a pass away from Miller during 11-on-11. What looked like an easy interception turned into a good gain for the offense thanks to Toney’s play.
• Danny Weldon, a sophomore walk-on athlete from Tampa, stood out on special teams with his toughness and physical play. He made it hard on some scholarship players who were trying to block him. Mullen would call it relentless effort.