Now that we’re at the midpoint of spring practice, I figured it would be a good time to offer up some observations from the practice field:
* John Brantley has had a very good spring. Not a great one, but a good one. He still going through the process of transitioning from backup quarterback to starter. He’s adjusting to a new role — and to some new receivers, including two true freshmen (Solomon Patton and Robert Clark) who have a legitimate chance to move into the playing rotation. Brantley also isn ‘t getting great protection because of the injuries on the offensive line. In the fall, when healthy, this offensive line is going to be a strength, and Brantley is going to have more time to do his thing in the passing game. Brantley is having a good spring and is positioning himself to have a big fall.
* Trey Burton has been a pleasant surprise. Some dismissed him after seeing his awkward throwing motion in the first few practices, but this true freshman has gone on to impress with his toughness, his athletic ability and his competitive fire. He’s also doing a nice job of picking up the offense, and his confidence seems to grow with each practice. Despite that awkward throwing motion, he’s got a strong arm and has been deadly accurate at times. He seems to excel as a passer when he is under pressure. When he has plenty of time in the pocket, he seems to try to guide the ball rather than throw it. This guy has a big up side, and he’s quickly earning the confidence of his coaches and teammates. Once this kid learns the offense, he’s going to be a player.
* Redshirt sophomore Frankie Hammond Jr. has emerged as one of UF’s top wide receivers this spring. He’s made a bunch of plays and has been a go-to guy. He’s playing with a lot more confidence and he seems to be thriving under new wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni.
* Jordan Reed has probably been THE surprise of the spring. The former quarterback has made play after play at tight end and has been a big part of the offense. He’s big, fast and has very good hands. He’ll head into the fall as the No. 1 tight end. He also added to his role this week when he went back to quarterback and ran the Gators’ Wildcat package of plays. He made plays there with his feet and his arm.
* Matt Elam is a baller. This true freshman safety has already emerged as a probable starter in UF’s nickel defense. He’s fast, strong, and most of important of all, he’s very instinctive. If he stays on his current path, he’s going to be a star — and very soon.
* The Gators need to get Sam Robey back healthy so he can back up Mike Pouncey at center. Tackle Nick Alajajian has been struggling trying to fill that role the past two weeks, and probably is looking forward to going back to his old position in the fall.
* Jeremy Brown has made a remarkable comeback after missing two seasons with two ruptured disks in his back. Brown doesn’t look rusty at all, and he’s pretty much nailing down the starting role vacated by All-America Joe Haden.
* At the start of the spring, many were speculating that true freshman Joshua Shaw would make a strong run at Haden’s old job. But the true freshman corner who has impressed the most so far has been Jaylen Watkins, who has played like a veteran at times and has made a bunch of plays.
* Chris Rainey has really started to catch on at his new position (slot receiver). He’s catching the ball much better than he did earlier in his career and he’s got a chance to make a bunch of plays in the old Percy Harvin role. If the Gators can get Rainey is space, look out, some big plays are coming.
* With Jeff Demps concentrating on track and Emmanuel Moody limping around on a tender ankle, sophomore Mike Gillislee has spent most of the spring as the No. 1 tailback, and he’s been very impressive. He’s a very explosive runner, and he seems to have the vision that outstanding running backs have.
* Redshirt freshman linebacker Jelani Jenkins has had a huge spring so far, emerging as one of UF’s most consistent playmakers on defense.
* Jon Bostic and Brendan Beal have done a nice job replacing Brandon Spikes at middle linebacker. Bostic is a great athlete who brings a lot of speed to the position. Beal is a big-time hitter with a relentless motor. Jenkins also has seen some time in the middle. This should be a position of strength again for the Gators.