Florida freshmen emerging through extra practices

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Florida freshman tight end Kyle Pitts celebrates his 52-yard touchdown in the Gators' win over Idaho on Nov. 16 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

ATLANTA — Along with being a reward for a successful season, a bowl game also provides an opportunity for some of the younger players to accelerate their development through the extra practices and reps.

In regards to Florida, the Gators have multiple young players who apparently have benefited from the extended season and appear on the cusp of emerging as potential impact players in the near future.

“We’ve got a lot of great young guys that are going to come in and continue to progress and contribute in the spring and next season,” junior linebacker David Reese said. “It’s great for them to get the experience and get used to taking reps and getting ready to play in a game.”

Some of the true freshmen began to emerge over the course of the season (one, Trey Dean, became a starter at cornerback). Others have begun emerging over the past few weeks during preparation for Saturday’s Peach Bowl.

In interviews with coaches and some veteran players Thursday, the names of numerous true freshmen came up as players who have a chance to be major contributors in the spring and next season.

Here are the players who were mentioned: quarterback Emory Jones, running back Dameon Pierce, tight end turned wide receiver Kyle Pitts, wide receiver Jacob Copeland, cornerback Trey Dean, linebacker Andrew Chatfield, safety John Huggins, defensive back Amari Burney, linebacker David Reese and defensive end Malik Langham.

The offensive player drawing the most impressive reviews was 6-foot-6 Pitts, who had a 52-yard TD reception against Idaho.

“He’s just like a freak, a freak athlete,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “He’s going to be somebody. He has a tight end body but he can line up at receiver and run past guys and make those tough catches.

“He’s a big target for a quarterback. He’s a favorite target for a quarterback to throw to. Size and ability, he’s a freak. He’s somebody you want to go to when it’s one-on-one coverage. He’s a mismatch on the outside.”

Pitts made progress over the course of the season and has continued to grow as a player during bowl practices.

“He almost makes dudes fall down (with his route-running ability),” junior wide receiver Van Jefferson said. “He’s going to be really good.”

Two other offensive players — Jones and Copeland — also are drawing praise for the progress they’ve shown over the past few weeks.

Jones played almost the entire second half against Idaho and had success running the offense. He can play in Saturday’s game and still redshirt.

“Emory is going to be a really good player,” Franks said. “I love his mentality, I love how he approaches each day. I’m a big fan of Emory.”

Jones is expected to have a package of plays to run in Saturday’s game.

“I think he’s really ready,” junior running back Jordan Scarlett said. “He’s a lot more comfortable now. In the game he played in, he said, ‘I should have done this, I should have done that.’ I like that about him.

“He’s always in the game plan, watching film. He’s going to be a great player in years to come.”

Copeland also is expected to see playing time against Michigan. One of the highest-rated prospects in the 2018 recruiting class, Copeland missed the first eight games recovering from knee surgery. He’s now 100 percent.

“Copeland is going to be a really good player,” Franks said. “As soon as the offense starts to click for him, he’ll really start to make strides.”

Jefferson said Copeland and Pitts have a chance to be special. “I help them out because I know they’re going to be great players,” he said.

On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham seems excited about the ongoing development and potential of some of his true freshmen.

He singled out Huggins, Chatfield, Burney, Reese and Langham.

“Huggins is a guy we’re going to continue to develop. He could be a good safety for us,” Grantham said. “David Reese, we’re getting him some work to allow him to utilize his athletic ability and speed. Chatfield is a guy that I like his work ethic and attitude.”

Burney has seen significant playing time this season and is the heir apparent to standout star/nickel Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, who is leaving early for the NFL.

“He has a lot of position flexibility,” Grantham said. “He’s really fast, he’s a smart kid, got good instincts. He brings a physical presence when he tackles you.

“The biggest thing is his position flexibility. He could play linebacker.”

Langham, a four-star prospect out of Alabama and one of the highest-rated players in the 2018 recruiting class, has played in two games at defensive end. His days at that position may be numbered, Grantham said.

“He’s a big guy that is an end,” Grantham said. “He continues to grow. The more he grows, the question is will he be an end or an inside guy (tackle). Usually, they get bigger, not smaller. He’s moving in that direction right now.

“The biggest thing is we’ll continue to give him a really good strength and conditioning program, develop his size and continue to add weight. If he becomes an inside guy, he becomes an inside guy.”

It’s all part of the process of developing young players. For some Gators, that process has been accelerated by the extra practices and reps.

“All those are guys that we’re really focused to try and develop,” Grantham said. “We’ll try to get it to where as we move forward with our program, into spring practice, they’ve gotten some reps and are familiar with what we’re doing.”

42 COMMENTS

  1. I read an interesting piece on YahooSports recently, which purported that the reason Notre Dame is in the playoffs despite middle-of-the-road recruiting classes for the last three or four years is because, (a) they often target “hidden gems” that don’t have the Wow factor, but nevertheless are felt to be good fits for their system, and (2) they develop players, once they have them, better than just about anybody else. Oh, and they have a pretty small recruiting base, compared to the competition around them too.

    Does that sound familiar to anyone? Remind you of anyone we know? I’m quite confident that these guys are going to come along just fine!

    • Notre Dame has had an class ranking average of just under number 12 for the past five seasons. That is hardly “middle of the road” recruiting. They have finished in the top 10 in class rankings twice during that period and have had mostly higher ranked recruiting classes each year from 15th to 13th to 11th to 10th and then 10th again. You can compete to win championships recruiting with that recruiting consistency. Notre Dame’s recruiting classes over that period are right there with Clemson and Oklahoma. Bama of course, is a completely different recruiting animal. Georgia, too, in recent years (but they played Bama). And it really helps that Notre Dame does not play in the SEC or any conference that matter. And they played a relatively weak schedule compared to most teams in the top 20. And one last thing. Notre Dame can recruit Catholic and others schools nationwide with their brand. Again, hardly a small recruiting base compared to any college program.

      • I think 6 is actually spot on. Even the famous Tampa Gator doesn’t think highly of recruiting classes ranked around 15. Pretty sure there is constant complaining on the recruiting boards from Gator fans when the classes aren’t ranked in the top 10. I don’t think “middle of the road” means classes only ranked in the 60s.

        • No, as referenced in the article, it meant in the teens. I think by “small recruiting base” they meant as compared to Ohio State, Michigan, Penn State, etc. I didn’t think much about it, but probably — while certainly there are a lot of Catholic schools across the nation — the point was most likely that not all of them have good football teams and not all their players are Catholic or even good for the ones that do.

          Point was tho that Notre Dame’s approach struck me very similar to Dan Mullen’s…..find the guys that are likely to do well in your system and then develop them into first class players. I think now that he’s at Florida and has a much bigger pool to draw from, he’ll continue to do that and moreover, get a lot more blue chippers to boot. That’s really all, not trying to defend the article or “inform” anybody — just thought it was interesting. Hell Sparky, I’m not even a Notre Dame fan!

          • Darned it 6 I’m with Tampa here and what he meant to say but felt constrained is why don’t you do better research before posting and clearly define what “ middle of the road” is so you can spare those with higher intellect like him the agony of suffering through your scatter brain drivel.
            Oh, and have a nice day.

          • Ahem. I’ll have you know, Mr CO Jones, that while I may drool occasionally, I have never driveled. Slobbered, yes…but no drivel. And while I’m at it, it’s true that my brain may be quite small — but it’s not by any means “scattered”. It’s all in one piece, what there is of it.

            Hope you guys had a very Merry Christmas, bud…..and slowing down a tad or two.

          • To 6 and his fan club:

            I know you guys hate the truth, solid data, research, facts, and my opinions based on all of that, but take a look below:
            (Average recruit ratings for teams the last five years)
            1. Alabama – 93 average rating per recruit
            2. Georgia – 92 average rating per recruit
            3. Clemson – 91 average rating per recruit
            4. Notre Dame – 90 average rating per recruit
            5. Oklahoma – 89 average rating per recruit
            Four of those five teams are in the playoffs and their individual playoff rankings (other than Georgia, which lost to the higher ranked team, Bama, already in the SEC title game, and Georgia is likely the 2nd best team in the country regardless) go hand in hand with their average per recruit ranking. And Oklahoma is in because they played in a weak conference this year. Ohio State, which has a higher per recruit ranking (only behind Bama and Georgia), should be there and not Oklahoma. Florida, over the last five years, had a per recruit rating of 89, and they are not in the class, talent and roster wise, with Bama or Georgia in the SEC. To get there and compete for championships in the SEC and nationally, Florida and Mullen (regardless of his coaching ability) has to get the average per recruit ranking over the 90 mark. Notre Dame is already there. Again, I know you guys hate it when I present data and facts to back up my opinions, but the above clearly states that Notre Dame has not been a middle of the road recruiting program and Florida needs to get more four and five star recruits and less three star recruits to compete with the Bamas, the Georgias, the Clemsons, and the Notre Dames (those with recruit class mostly filled with four and five star recruits, and classes also filled with top recruit talent). Just facts and the truth, boys and girls. Don’t let them hit you in the rear out the door.

          • That’s an awful lot of effort, researching something that is really somewhat akin to pole vaulting over a mouse turd…..maybe you ought to take it up with whoever wrote the article, since I was simply reporting what I had read and commenting on it in the context of Dan Mullen. Put differently, I don’t have a dog in this race; it was just something I read that struck me as interesting.

            Fan club? Come on Tampa, knock it off. If you hate me that much, just ignore me like I do you. Live and let live, old chap — it’s not worth it — your blood pressure probably goes thru the roof if you even see my name on here, from the looks of your reactivity to this benign thing. I fear you’re headed for a stroke, man.

          • Tampa, I’m sorry you feel that way about the site, but please don’t overestimate my influence on it — I’m just one of many fellow Gators who enjoy it, you obviously included. If my voice offends you, simply turn it off….I’m sure many do….but I must say that you constantly trying to pick a fight with me over every little thing is quite distracting to the majority and winds up reflecting poorly on both of us. You’re too smart not to see that.

            It takes two to feud, pardner. It should be obvious to you that I don’t pay much attention to you after your last few attempts at a drive by provocation — I just ask that you simply do the same. There’s room on here for all manner of people, ideas, and ways of expression, and it’s certainly not the private, personal domain of any one person.

          • Then I suppose we’re done here, at least until you get riled up again.
            Incidentally, “we” do not have an issue — you’re doing all the fighting. Out here.

      • Swamp there was discussion here and someone said top 20 recruiting. So that would make 10 middle. The discussion also said bottom half wouldn’t complete for championships. That i believe is where average and middling comes from. And yes they do have the Catholic game base. We are going to be better this year barring any discipline issues that should be behind us now. I think or talent is good enough to get us a better season next t year.

    • I still believe that Notre Dame should have to be in a conference in order to be playing in the top of the NC games. By letting them in they are omitting a conference winner or loser that had to play one more game. It is only the fair thing to do. Think what it would be like if Alabama went as a loner. It is an unfair advantage and it should be stopped. As far as stars are concerned or rankings – it is the development of the players that makes them potentially great. I used to get caught up in that as well, but have come to learn that it really doesn’t matter. The games still have to be played. GO GATORS!!!

        • Well the golden domers have some tie ins already with the ACC so they may as well go all in and join that weak arse conference.
          How’s Waco this time of year? Remember it’s one of Tampa’s favorite places up there with Jacksonville.
          Peace, prosperity and good will to you and yours

          • I forgot that….well, as beautiful as ever. They’ve got a brand new stadium right on the banks of the Brazos river, right across from Baylor, and poor Art Briles can’t get a job to save his life. His son is doing quite well, tho.

          • ACC may be weak from the middle on down but they have have a couple of national titles and runner-up the last several years. If FSU gets back to where it was and Clemson staying where it is this would be very strong at the top. If Miami and Virginia Tech get it together the league would be fairly strong. In the SEC KY had a good year but they still are not a really strong team. The same goes for SC, Mizzou, Ole Miss. Vandy is not a top25 program. The bottom have oftheSEC is fairly weak.

    • Great post and I agree that player selection and development is key. The team of “war daddies” out west lost to a bunch of teams this year that haven’t beaten them in recruiting rankings in years– including us. Mullen knows how to spot talent and character and build TEAMS.

  2. With Geoff Collins at Georgia Tech, that should make life a little tougher for Georgia….they better win something soon, because the talent wont necessarily want to keep going to athens without better results.

    hopefully this group can contribute next season, either as starters or as much needed depth.

  3. Swampy Tampa…intellectual prowess is often highlighted through wit. Remember your Shakespeare? Anybody can impress with facts. A quick turn of a phrase mixed in lends for entertainment. What’s more healthy than a good chuckle? Don’t be so serious and you might like this site a little more. Why not bury the hatchett with Gator 6? End the Feud dudes.

  4. Seems like some on here might need to remember the quote by Will Rogers: “If you get to thinking you’re a person of influence, try ordering somebody else’s dog around.”

    And if sports was simply a game of stats and stars, there wouldn’t be a reason to even play the games. Go Gators!!

    • Sparky. I can think of plenty of great people of influence who ordered “somebody else’s dog around”. Some did it well (FDR and Churchhill) and some horribly (Hitler). Maybe old Will should have quoted, “If you get to thinking you’re a person of influence, try getting all your ducks in a row first. And do not flat out lie about those ducks to influence easily influenced people.”

      And plenty of teams “play the game”. Only a few play for championships on the Power 5 level.

      • Pretty sure you missed the point in that famous quote. It’s more of a self importance thought. And. I can promise you the best leaders in the history of the world would lose an appendage or three if they got out their car and started ordering my dogs around, here on my little piece of heaven. (They’re not always the friendliest pets to strangers)

  5. Great discussion, if a bit overheated at times. Kudos to 6 for getting it going! Those following recent blogs on this subject know what he meant by “average.”

    If the goal of Gator Nation EVERY SEASON is to see our beloved Gators play for a NC, we can’t even get into that discussion until they break into the Top 25. According to 247, the Gators’ 4-year recruiting ranking is #12. That IS “average” by 6’s reckoning, if all WE here care about is the Top 25. By the same reckoning, Notre Dame’s Composite 4-year recruiting ranking is #10. In my book, that’s marginally above 6’s “average.”

    Now, if we set aside the plethora of below “average” bowl games (like the Potato Bowl played on Smurf Turf,) created for ESPN viewers and below “average” teams (like Western Michigan and BYU) and focus on the NY-6 bowls created for above “average” teams, we ALL have to admit that SEC competition forces the Gators to go for above “average” recruiting rankings every year, in order to qualify for playing in the 2 playoff bowls EVERY SEASON.

    Notre Dame qualified for a playoff bowl this season with their slightly above “average” recruiting ranking because they DON’T play an SEC schedule. Heck, they almost lost to (harmless and lovable) Vandy early this season… in plain view of Touchdown Jesus! Clemson, who recruited much better and developed their players just as well, is going to kill ND tomorrow!

    BTW, our Gators almost lost to Vandy too! THAT goes to show you what “average” recruiting rankings will get you… in the long run.

    Go Gators!!!

    • StlGator. “Average” would be a average recruit rating between 87 and 85. Notre Dame has a recruit average of over 90 the previous five years (including players currently on their roster), and higher than that over the previous 4 years (contains the most players currently on their roster). Florida’s class average over five years is 89, and less than that over the last four years. When Florida’s classes over 3 to 5 years contains recruits that averaged over 90 (and with depth in that area), Mullen will not only compete with Bama like Smart at Georgia, he will Bama in the SEC title game (because he is as good a coach or better a coach that Nick Saban). Simple as that.

      • Swampy, Better recruits are better recruits no matter which service you use to measure them. Using both your numbers and mine, ND has better recruits than UF and I’d be willing to bet that Clemson has better recruits than ND and Alabama has better recruits than all of them.

        While upsets can and do happen, based on recruiting rankings, Alabama will beat Oklahoma, Clemson will beat ND and Alabama will beat Clemson. The only doubts I have are how many favorites will cover their spreads.

        Go Gators!!!

  6. Personally, I don’t think recruiting rankings mean squat. Nor does the * by a players name mean squat. One of the greatest quarterbacks of all time, Aaron Rodgers, was a 0 star rated QB coming out of high school. UCF hasn’t had great recruiting classes yet they are undefeated over the course of 2 seasons and can compete at an SEC level, see AU and possibly LSU.

    Coaching and development, on the other hand, mean everything! There is a reason Saban can poop out great players, he KNOWS how to develop talent. Not just because they are 4 and 5 star recruits. Not to mention , the players he gets fits his system!

    Ivey was a 5* and only played like it in year 5 of his career. The rest of the years there were 3* players that played the same as he did.

    Frost at NU, he has developed what talent he had and were coming on strong at the end of the season. Mac had the same talent we had this season and could do nothing with it, see 4-7 compared to 9-3

    Point is, don’t read into the recruiting rankings too much, our #16 class can be better than Bama’s #1 class in 3 years. Ya just never know!

  7. Wisconsin. It matters if you want to compete for championships, and that does not include winning the AAC conference title or winning consecutive games in that conference. Or even a bowl game that does not matter (what do you think UCF’s record would be if they played in the SEC with the talent level they have on that team?). See the data above for verification of that fact. And yes, coaching matters. For verification of that fact, see games that Nick Saban has coached against Kirby Smart. And, finally, you can always find or cherry pick something that appears to not be consistent to the rule, but that something does not change the rule or the facts that rule prove. RULE (proven by facts): If you want to compete for and win championships on the Power 5 level (conference and national titles), recruit consistently at an average player recruit level of 90 and above. And the higher the 90, the better.