Football coach Billy Napier: Gators to take advantage of pros and cons from first scrimmage
Florida’s first closed spring scrimmage, held Thursday at the indoor practice facility and away from the constant downpour of rain, provided coach Billy Napier his first extended look at his football team in an in-game setting.
Initially, the Gators' defense, led by returning linebacker Ventrell Miller, jumped on Florida’s offense early, with Miller, linebacker Diwun Black and junior defensive tackle Gervon Dexter all blowing up multiple plays during the session, according to a source with knowledge of the scrimmage.
Miller’s talent hasn’t been in question – it’s his availability that was a bit of a surprise.
Ventrell Miller takes part in scrimmage
Due to a conflict with his class schedule, Miller has typically been limited to Saturday sessions, meaning he’d experienced just two of Florida’s seven spring practices after returning to the program from a torn biceps injury he suffered early in the 2021 season.
But Miller was able to participate Thursday, marking his third practice session in defensive coordinator Patrick Toney’s system, and the inside linebacker made sure to remind his fellow teammates of his skill set.
“He did practice today. His schedule worked out this week to get him here on Thursday,” Napier said of Miller. “Inside backer is a room that’s very thin as a result of a few guys being banged up there. Safety room is thin as a result of a few guys being banged up there. We’re lucky. We’re just a couple players away here from not being able to practice the way we want to.”
Leading the first group, Florida redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson had a turnover-free performance while avoiding any high-risk decisions, though the scrimmage wasn’t without a fair share of busted plays.
Having been cleared to return March 14 from offseason knee surgery, Richardson’s expected to earn the starting role with the Gators before the season opens Sept. 3 against Utah, though Jack Miller III hasn’t exactly been a pushover in spring camp.
Aside from the duo, which Napier labeled as “pretty good”, Florida has a pair of redshirt freshmen quarterbacks lacking game experience in Jalen Kitna and Carlos Del Rio-Wilson, meaning UF’s head coach continues to emphasize Florida’s need for depth at signal-caller.
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“We've got some guys that can play winning football. I'm confident in that. I'm excited about the group of guys that we get to coach,” Napier said. “I think that's as simple as I can say it. We don't have any issue there. We need to develop depth in the room. But I think the top half of that group is pretty good."
They may not have made many costly mistakes, but the quarterback room showed plenty of room for improvement.
It put a damper on an otherwise satisfactory showing.
“I think there’s going to be some situational things that we could have done better. I think that was probably my overall, probably the one negative. I think there were a couple of critical situational errors,” Napier said. “But I think that’s part of it, because everything we’ve been doing has been compartmentalized, and the situation is defined. I think when you get to a scrimmage, all the variables are changing, the ball’s moving, you have to change gears mentally. But outside of that, I thought we did a lot good.”
Offensive line taking steps
As for who will protect whichever quarterback earns the starting nod, the Gators continue to stress that the offensive line’s improvement is a gradual process. By way of Louisiana, Florida added offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence, as well as running back Montrell Johnson, as transfers, and both players displayed their familiarity with both Napier’s system and the instructional aspect when it came to Thursday’s scrimmage.
In addition to Torrence, Jacksonville native Kingsley Eguakun was another player whose performance Thursday has garnered acclaim inside the Florida program, according to a source.
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Aside from the pair, the Gators are high on multiple offensive linemen, including Richie Leonard and Josh Braun, but Napier’s call for depth didn’t exclude the team’s protection.
“I think the offensive line is a reflection of the entire team. I mean, we have a pretty good first group we can put out there, and if you really evaluated the team relative to experience, this is a very inexperienced team,” Napier said. “After the first team if you look at the experience, the number of plays that a lot of these guys have played, they haven't played any. So we have a lot of work to do to develop that second and third group."
Napier is clear: it’s less about individual accolades and more about the collective. Now past the midway point of spring practice, Florida must turn its attention to across the board improvement. The scrimmage should provide plenty of teaching opportunities over the final two weeks of camp.
“What we’re focused on right now — we have a lot of good individual players, we’re trying to build a football team,” Napier said. “A lot of film to teach and learn from and ultimately that’s the best thing about a scrimmage. We’re certainly going to take advantage of it.”