Defensive plays turn heads at final UF open practice

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts is tackled by defensive back Chris Steele during a practice earlier this month at the Sanders Practice Fields. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

After overseeing the morning’s Pro Day, Gators coach Dan Mullen got back to business.

Florida opened its eighth spring practice to the public Wednesday afternoon, and the second-year UF coach repeatedly advised his team to take a page out of his playbook and “attack the day”.

Florida’s final opportunity for the public to view spring practice was attended by more than 150 people and they were treated to considerably more action than the morning’s festivities, which ultimately were closed to the public due to the threat of inclement weather.

While quarterback Feleipe Franks continued his strong start to camp, it was UF’s defense doing most of the head-turning Wednesday.

Red zone

  • Freshman defensive back Chris Steele made a nice pass break-up defending Tyrie Cleveland on a pass from Kyle Trask.
  • Steele later defended Van Jefferson well, drawing a “good job” from the veteran receiver.
  • Cleveland made a tip-toe catch despite physical coverage from safety Brian Edwards.
  • CJ Henderson jumped the route and made a nice interception on a pass intended for Trevon Grimes.


  • After missing Saturday’s practice, redshirt freshman wide receiver Jacob Copeland was back in pads Wednesday. He warmed up separately from the team, however, and seemed still on the mend from a nagging hamstring injury.
  • Trask hit tight end Kemore Gamble in traffic for a would-be touchdown for the period’s first reception.
  • Emory Jones hit Grimes in stride on a slant route. Jones stayed on-target, finding senior running back Lamical Perine on the next play.
  • Freshman quarterback Jalon Jones put his throw just high enough for only Jefferson to make a leaping reception in the end zone.
  • Following a few misfires, Franks found Josh Hammond on an out route for his first reception. His next pass was on target, too, although Franks had to wait a bit for it to develop before Rick Wells could shake the coverage and make the reception.
  • Trask found former walk-on Jaylin Jackson, expected to play a role in the return game for the Gators this season, wide open and delivered the ball on the money.


  • Despite Emory Jones’ pass being tipped at the next level, Kyle Pitts was able to turn his body back in time to make the reception.
  • The defensive line strung together several impressive sequences early in the period. Jabari Zuniga beat the lineman for a would-be sack on Emory Jones. Soon after, defensive tackle Adam Shuler got to Trask before the play could develop. Trask was pressured on a corner blitz by Trey Dean on the next play, forcing the quarterback to overthrow a streaking Gamble.
  • Malik Davis’ first rushing attempt was eaten up by defensive tackle Kyree Campbell. Several plays later, however, Davis would break several tackles and get to the second level.
  • Jaylin Jackson made another impressive 25-yard grab midway through the 11-on-11 period, this time on a pass from Jalon Jones.
  • Franks continued flashing his improved confidence as a runner. On one play, Franks lowered his head and broke several arm tackles on a designed quarterback run.
  • But there were times when UF’s quarterbacks, namely Franks, expressed frustration with the apparent ease with which the defensive line got into Florida’s backfield.
  • Trask hit tight end Dante Lang on a corner route despite solid coverage.
  • Perine continued an impressive start to his senior spring. Despite the inexperience on the line, Perine continued to show he’s UF’s best running back when it comes to finding and hitting the hole. Wednesday’s practice featured an increase in passes to the running backs, and Perine seemed ahead of the pack there as well.
  • Florida has high expectations when it comes to using Pitts in the passing game, but the sophomore tight end mad several drops Wednesday to the chagrin of receivers coach Billy Gonzales.
  • Late in the period, Trask fumbled on the end of a run. Despite diving on and recovering his mistake, Trask still punched the ground in frustration.
  • Franks stiff-armed Brad Stewart on a run and emphatically spiked the ball into the crowd while jawing with the safety. Franks trucked Stewart several plays later while barking “you’re too little” in Stewart’s facemask.
  • Defensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton went down in pain with an apparent right arm injury, but Slaton would return to practice after being observed by team trainers.


  1. O-line has got to step up before Orlando, a great deal will be on their shoulders this critical season. As StL indicates, they ought to be fully prepared by the time Auburn rolls around — but while they’re getting there, a lot rides on the early games too.

    I think they will make it.

  2. It may take longer than auburn, and im not that down on these guys, offensive lines always struggle. its just not the easiest thing. still its not that easy for everyone else as well. Franks pushing them is a good thing, i believe they will play hard, he is just trying to push them along because its not easy to simulate what lies ahead.

    • You’re right mveal. It’s hard to simulate what lies ahead for the Gator OL. That’s why Pat Dooley is trying to tamp down our optimism now.

      The upsides I can see are that we have good experience at QB, RB and WR, which will hopefully be better able to improvise and make up for some of the missed OL assignments. We also have an attacking, blitz oriented Grantham defense that will challenge the OL every day in practice, as was mentioned above with a corner blitz. That will hopefully help speed up the OL’s education.

      OL play in the first third to half of the season may be inconsistent and the team may be leaning on simple offensive plays and defense to carry them until the OL gets its act together. However, by the time we play Auburn, the whole offense better be ready to score at least 28 offensive points against their good D, or we may be looking at the Gators losing the 2nd homecoming game in a row.

      GO GATORS!!!

      • Mveal, as always, makes a pretty good point in a short space, but I see you refining your previous “stab” at my initial question too……which was more than anything else an attempt to get a starting point. While it’s never good to drop an early game, it may be good for them to get beat up and pushed around a little in those games, more so than can be done in Spring and Fall camps……..just not too much!

        • 6, I think it’s usually hard to tell what you have when you’re just going against your own in practice. Were those head-turning defensive plays the result of great defensive play or offensive deficiencies? In this case, I suppose we could be justified in saying the great plays in coverage are primarily due to good play by the DB’s, but a lack of QB protection does help the DB’s make those plays. Hopefully, we won’t be in the same position as two seasons ago when Mac (pardon the reference) talked up the O-line, only to find out against Michigan that they weren’t really good at all. I suppose I could’ve saved a lot of space and just said, “I have no idea”. Go Gators!

          • Joe, I’m pretty sure we’re in no danger or having CDM blow sunshine up our rear ends with respect to the competence of our OL come opening day the way McElwhiner did in 2016. For that matter, our OL players are in no danger of having Coach Hevessy blow sunshine up their rear ends with respect to their competence ANY TIME. There’s always more room for improvement where OL play is concerned.

          • I agree, StL. I didn’t mean to imply a lack of confidence in CDM or Hevesy or that they would blow smoke. I just think it’s sometimes hard to tell exactly what you have until you go against another team. I’m definitely ready to find out, now that basketball is over. There’s this little thing called Gator baseball happening now, though, and that’s worth watching, too. Go Gators!

          • Hey Joe! Been a while since we’ve been on the same string….and I agree, smoke-blowin’ days appear to be over and done with. That should by itself make it easier to form opinions and come to some conclusions, but here I am again in the Spring of the new season once again trying to make up my mind. I’ve been picking StL’s brain on and off so far, and I see that you and Smith have started back weighing in a little on the football side — Mveal and a few others too — so maybe I’ll get a good feel for everything after the O&B game. Then start all over again during fall camp, I suppose.

            One thing for sure tho, I’m glad we’ve got Miami for an opener due to the sense of urgency it creates, and despite StL’s initial misgivings, glad we don’t have another cupcake for homecoming — high risk, sure, but we lay a good tatoo on Auburn in front of God and everybody, man is it ever going to be a combat multiplier in terms of our progression to the playoffs this year or next. I like the old Earnie Shavers model in boxing: Fight anybody who’ll fight you, punch the hell outta them, and walk away with your head held high!

          • Hear, hear, 6!! Or is it “Here, here!”? Either way it’s good to be optimistic about football again. Tough schedule leading off with UM on an untested O-line, but by the time Auburn rolls in I don’t think there’ll be much to fear. Go Gators!

  3. Early O-line performance will be about the Coaching…they have the bodies. If coaching teach proper tech, confidence should come quickly. Its always the unknown of not knowing what to do that creates doubt. BUT, the individuals have to be “bad enough men” to do the job of whipping that monster your facing.

  4. The QB has the responsibility of getting into the right play when a blitz is coming. O-Line communication is critical, and it does involve the QB. Is Franks mad because he didn’t read it? or the O-Line failed to adjust? or the O-Line just got beat? Does Franks correctly change his primary target when he adjusts the O-Line? is he still focusing on “target 1” for too long?
    the O-Line will determine how effective the offense is, but they are just one component of the entire scheme. Can’t wait to see what happens in August! Bring on the Chomp!

    • Very tough questions to answer CalDad. Franks has NEVER demonstrated the consistent ability to identify bitzes and change plays at the line of scrimmage, thereby leading the center to change the line calls. That would, in turn, create the conditions for OLs to miss their new blocking assignments. All we saw, in way too many instances, was Franks being sacked, or running for his life when blitzed.

      If the play called was a pass, in most instances, you could count on Franks looking in the direction of his primary receiver from the moment the team lined up at the LOS to the moment he released the pass in that direction if he thought he could force it in there. Those actions clearly implied he didn’t properly read the defense and make the adjustment to the play at the LOS in the first place. Blaming OLs for missed blocks then is simply unjust to the OLs, who have their heads down, focussed on the guy they’re supposed to block coming out if the huddle.