By Zach Abolverdi, Correspondent
To the delight of Florida’s defense, the Gators held their first spring football practice in full pads Saturday.
The first-team defensive unit danced and shouted in excitement when they first took the field for 11-on-11, setting the stage for an intense period.
The session was open to the media and season-ticket holders, with more than 150 fans making their way to the Sanders Practice Fields.
Two more sessions will be open to the public on March 23 and 27.
Observations from Saturday:
* Quarterback Emory Jones found wide receiver Kadarius Toney on a corner route with cornerback Trey Dean III in coverage. Dean had a pass breakup later in the period.
* Jones uncorked a perfect pass to receiver Trevon Grimes down the sideline over cornerback CJ Henderson.
* Starting QB Feleipe Franks threw a deep bomb to Toney and also hooked up with tight-end-turned-receiver Kyle Pitts.
* Freshman cornerback Chris Steele was beaten by receiver Tyrie Cleveland on a short pass, but locked him down during another rep.
* Franks hit Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain on corner routes before throwing a long touchdown pass to Toney.
* Franks also had a nice pass to Pitts over the middle. He did take a coverage sack during his first rep.
* Jones delivered a strike to Van Jefferson on a slant route and also threw a beautiful ball to Cleveland, who later dropped a pass from QB Kyle Trask.
* Trask found a wide-open Hammond streaking down the sideline for a touchdown. Trask also went deep to walk-on Andres Saldivar.
* Freshman quarterback Jalon Jones struggled with his accuracy and threw one wobbly duck, but completed a pass to Toney on a crossing route.
* Cornerbacks C.J. McWilliams, Nick Oelrich (walk-on) and Steele all had pass breakups during the period.
* The offensive line will be one of Florida’s biggest position battles this spring. The starters Saturday were left tackle Stone Forsythe, left guard Brett Heggie, center Nick Buchanan, right guard Chris Bleich and right tackle Jean Delance.
* Steele and redshirt sophomore defensive end Zachary Carter received reps with the first-team defense.
* Redshirt freshman wideout Jacob Copeland (hamstring) took part in walkthroughs and made a reception.
* Franks threw well-timed passes to Jefferson and Pitts, but an ill-advised one to former Louisville linebacker Jonathan Greenard. The graduate transfer read Franks’ eyes and jumped in front of his pass to make the interception.
* Franks had a couple QB keepers and on one play trucked Oelrich, causing him to cough up the ball for a second before corralling it and continuing to run.
* Trask completed passes to Jefferson, Saldivar and Grimes, which was an impressive throw. Trask also ran the option and pitched it to running back Iverson Clement. Clement lost a fumble during 11-on-11.
* Emory Jones connected with Cleveland on a post route and Jefferson on an out route, while scrambling to find Swain on another play.
* Starting tailback La’ Mical Perine looked smooth as ever carrying the ball, bouncing a few runs to the outside for big gains and taking one to the house.
* Sophomore RB Dameon Pierce was stuffed several times, with Dean and linebacker Ventrell Miller bringing him down on tackles for loss. Pierce eventually broke free for a long touchdown run.
* Malik Davis took a huge hit from safety Brad Stewart and was tackled in the backfield on separate stops by defensive tackles Elijah Conliffe and Kyree Campbell.
* Miller and fellow linebackers Lacedrick Brunson and David Reese all broke up passes during this period.
* Near the end of practice, Brad Stewart dislocated his finger and came over to the sideline. A trainer popped it back in place and Stewart continued playing.