Friday’s opening football practice may have been a breath of fresh air for the Gators eager to put last season’s dismal display behind them. But for nine players, Friday marked their first opportunity to improve in Gainesville.
The two transfer wide receivers, Trevon Grimes and Van Jefferson, were active throughout practice, with Jefferson drawing a loud applause on multiple occasions throughout the afternoon.
The first came on a leaping 25-yard reception over the middle in traffic as Jefferson displayed the ball skills that made him a four-star prospect out of high school. Later, a 65-yard touchdown pass from Feleipe Franks to a streaking Jefferson possibly foreshadowed Florida’s offense in 2018.
And many of Florida’s freshmen early enrollees came to play, with safety Amari Burney the most impressive. The Clearwater native hauled in a pair of interceptions during 11 vs. 11 drills and had several pass break-ups that signaled why Burney’s a candidate to earn early playing in Todd Grantham’s 3-4 defense.
Gators feed on crowd energy
In front of a crowd of about 600, the players seemed to feed off of the energy of performing in front of Florida fans once again. And the crowd turnout might have meant a little more for junior linebacker David Reese, who was participating for the first time in Spring practice after suffering an injury setback last season. Reese felt the defense put on a show that the crowd was craving.
“Oh it was lovely. I’m mad that they only cheered for the offense today, but that’s fine. That’s expected. They’re the loved ones,” Reese said. “But a lot of guys had a lot of interceptions. I think (Amari) Burney had two, Vosean (Joseph) had one, James (Houston) had one, so it was a good turnout today.”
With the aforementioned Jefferson having his moment in the spotlight, Reese said it didn’t come as a surprise to him, considering the two hail from the Great Lakes State.
“Van Jefferson, he’s been around my area and things like that. His dad played in the NFL, so I knew a lot about him before he came here,” Reese said. “So I already knew his ability and things like that. He played football in Michigan, so I already knew he was going to be good.”
A new and improved Jordan Scarlett?
If there were any concerns about running back Jordan Scarlett losing a step, those fears were likely assuaged Friday. By all accounts, Scarlett has continued developing physically since his season-long suspension in the credit card fraud scandal last season, and the time away from the field has given Scarlett an opportunity to fine-tune his craft.
“He looked better. Way better,” Gators offensive lineman Martez Ivey said of Scarlett. “He knows the pass game, he knows the run game. And he’s been around. He’s experienced. That’s a big boost for us in the offense.”
Ivey’s sentiments were echoed by Lewis, who said the Gators will need the Scarlett of season’s past with some unproven talent in the backfield.
“We need a big running back like that. He can hit the holes like the A-gap and bring power to the team on third-and-1, fourth-and-1,” Redshirt senior tight end C’yontai Lewis said. “We need him to bring that power and get those extra yards for us. He’s a good downhill runner. And then he’s a veteran and he knows a lot more about the game than young running backs.”