FOOTBALL

Quick takeaways from Florida Gators' ninth of 15 spring practices under Billy Napier

Graham Hall
Gator Sports

As overcast skies gave way to early afternoon thunderstorms, Florida football held its ninth of 15 spring practices Saturday under the cover of the indoor practice facility.

The practice session marked UF’s first since Thursday’s closed scrimmage, meaning it was the first opportunity for coach Billy Napier and his staff to implement any corrections or alterations gleaned from the film. 

"There was some good, some bad," UF wide receivers coach Keary Colbert said of the scrimmage. "We made some plays in the scrimmage, and there were some that we left out there, and we've just got to continue to keep working and trying to get better one day at a time."

Saturday also marked the return of a veteran offensive weapon for the Gators. 

Here are takeaways from Florida’s ninth spring practice.

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Nay’Quan Wright returns to practice

Florida Gators running backs Nay'Quan Wright (6) and Lorenzo Lingard (21) do drlls Saturday during spring practice at the Heavener Football Training Center in Gainesville.

Due to a serious left ankle injury, Florida running back Nay’Quan Wright has been unable to practice throughout much of spring camp, putting the onus of the carries on the backfield contingent of Demarkcus Bowman, Montrell Johnson and Lorenzo Lingard. Wright was seen exiting at the start of several spring practices as his workload was limited to off-the-field activities, such as weight training and film study. 

But Wright was an active participant in Saturday’s practice, albeit in an orange noncontact jersey.

He was seen participating in drills, both individual and with his teammates, during the media’s 15-minute viewing portion. Wright went through a pass-protection drill during the first half of practice, and he was later seen working on a footwork drill as the open portion concluded.

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In between repetitions, Wright was getting checked on repeatedly, as a member of Florida’s training staff was frequently seen talking with Wright on the sideline. 

It may not have been much, but Wright’s return is a promising sign for a backfield that’s gearing up for a by-committee approach during the 2022 season. 

NFL GM, player come see Gators

After Les Snead, the Los Angeles Rams’ general manager, was at Thursday’s scrimmage, Napier was quick to point out the NFL presence and how Snead addressed the team.

“A couple of things he said I think really resonated with our players, and a term that they use was ‘we, not me’" Napier said Thursday. Snead "told many stories about individual players on their team really accepting their role, working to earn more, the importance of each individual role, whether that's big or small. Always good to hear that.”

Napier clearly is embracing having pros watch his practices. Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule visited as part of the "Chalk Talk" coaches clinic from March 24-26, for example, in addition to 11 NFL assistant coaches. 

On Saturday, a far more familiar face was seen roaming the sidelines. 

Jarrad Davis, who played inside linebacker at Florida before becoming the Detroit Lions' first-round NFL draft pick, looked on as the Gators practiced indoors. It was unclear whether he offered any instruction, though his presence alone may have been enough to inspire current players to leave it all on the field. 

Danny Wuerffel and Steve Spurrier had to battle bad weather

Davis’ presence was a reminder of the necessity of Florida’s indoor practice facility, which opened in September 2015, at the beginning of Davis’ junior season with the Gators. Davis was a valuable contributor during his first two seasons at UF before becoming a consistent starter in the middle during his third season with the program. 

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When it would rain during Davis’ first two seasons in Gainesville, practice would move into the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, now known as Exactech Arena, and would continue as a walkthrough.

The rain isn’t going away, but it’s no longer the massive headache it once was for the program. As the rain fell Saturday, practice continued uninterrupted.

It was a far cry from Danny Wuerffel's experience with spring football under Steve Spurrier.

Wuerffel, UF's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback (1996), was in attendance for Saturday's session, and he stayed after practice, too — possibly to wait out the rain but primarily to talk with Napier. 

Wuerffel recalled how the forecast would alter Florida's preparation under Spurrier — adding it's a reminder of how expectations have increased, arguably significantly, since Wuerffel was a star on the field in Gainesville. 

"We'd get a little sprinkles and Spurrier would blow that whistle and go 'Yeah yeah, we're going to go in the Florida Gym,'" he said. "I try to tell them, it's hard to know how fortunate you are when you don't know how it used to be. But players are just really, really cared for well, which is what you have to do, but you also hope that they appreciate it and don't sort of expect that this is how your life is going to go."