On a beautiful, breezy Saturday afternoon in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Florida hosted its annual Orange & Blue Debut to wrap-up spring camp. Although the format was more like a traditional practice due to injuries along the offensive line, roughly 15,000 fans watched the Gators for the final time before the season starts on August 31. Here are Five Quick Thoughts on the open 16-session practice.
Where's the O?
Florida finished last year ranked 104th nationally in total offense and things weren't any prettier Saturday in the Swamp. Granted, the Gators were down to just six healthy offensive linemen and several wideouts were either limited (Quinton Dunbar and Solomon Patton were in non-contact jerseys, while Demarcus Robinson battled an ankle sprain) or out (Latroy Pittman), but the offense still managed just two touchdowns on seven 11-on-11 periods. Quarterback Jeff Driskel was inconsistent, especially early, finishing the day 9-of-20 for 70 yards and no touchdowns during scrimmage sessions. UF's receivers struggled getting open and beating press coverage. The running backs, specifically freshman enrollee Kelvin Taylor, were a bright spot, but in all, UF didn't manage a single touchdown until the fourth period when walk-on tailback Mark Herndon dove into the end zone.
Coach Will Muschamp has made it quite clear he's concerned about Florida's kicking situation entering the 2013 season, and it's obvious why. The competition between senior walk-on Brad Phillips and redshirt freshman Austin Hardin remains wide-open, as both kickers struggled with consistency during the final spring practice. The Gators opened the O&B Debut booting field goals, with Phillips having the most success (all relative) and Hardin laboring from any significant distance. At one point, Phillips connected on several kicks in a row from various distances, only to push three straight attempts from 45-yards out wide right. During the scrimmage periods, the two kickers flip-flopped making, missing or drilling the post.
Young defenders make noise
Florida's defense was hardly playing at full speed on Saturday, but the unit still dominated with an impressive collection of top-notch athletes. Dante Fowler Jr. was once again a monster (shocker), but many of Florida's other future defensive stars flashed their potential too, as guys like Brian Poole (defensive back), Daniel McMillian (linebacker), Joey Ivie (tackle), Brian Cox Jr. (end), Jeremi Powell (linebacker) and Marcus Maye (safety) all made plays with the benefit of additional reps. Poole and Cox Jr. really performed nicely working alongside Florida's first team unit. Poole collected two "sacks" on safety blitzes and scooped up a bad snap for a fumble recovery touchdown, while Cox Jr. started in place of injured end Jon Bullard and supplied solid pressure off the edge. Powell ("sack") and McMillian (stayed home and stopped Driskel for no gain on a read option call) made two of the more notable plays on the afternoon.
UF's backup quarterback dilemma
As unimpressive as Driskel's performance was, he might've been tabbed all conference if compared to his signal caller compadres' outings. Redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg were awful on Saturday, giving Gators fans serious pause at the thought of what might happen if Driskel ever got hurt. Murphy led the offense for one hellacious 11-on-11 period; a session which included at least four "sacks" and a touchdown return on a botched snap. Mornhinweg wasn't much better, as he also struggled with accuracy and pocket awareness.
[Update: As first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, the Gators will add 23-year-old walk-on quarterback Chris Wilkes, a former Ole Miss commit who was playing professional baseball in the San Diego Padres organization, over the summer.]
The Gators found themselves a starting left guard Max Garcia, a transfer from Maryland, played in front of fans in the Swamp for the first time and did so very well. Although some of Garcia's first-unit mates were iffy in pass protection, the junior guard was not one of them. Garcia showcased some firm footwork, strong balance and solid leverage, constantly stoning Florida's defensive tackles in both 1-on-1 and scrimmage situations. During one battle, Garcia stood up Leon Orr before simply tossing him aside.