Five Takeaways from the third week of fall practice

Aug 21, 2022 | 1 comment

As the Florida Gators continue their first fall camp under new head coach Billy Napier, the team allowed the media to watch and film 15 minutes of multiple practices throughout the third week of camp. It’s nearly impossible to make final judgments from such a small sample, but some observations can be made.

Here are five observations from time spent at the practices as well as the various media availabilities from the third week of camp.

1) Guess who’s back (sort of)?

After missing time due to a bone bruise on his foot, Ricky Pearsall is back on the field.

Last week, Pearsall was first listed as “out indefinitely,” but his condition improved to day-to-day, and was all suited up, albeit with a boot on his injured foot. He also did not participate in position drills, but was training off to the side.

On Friday, Pearsall returned to position drills still in his black non-contact jersey and did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage. However, his quick return to the field, although limited, is a bright spot, especially there’s still nearly two weeks until Utah rolls into town.

In my observations for the first week of practice, I stated that Pearsall is Florida’s next big playmaker at the receiver position. Even with the injury, I still believe that’s the case.

Returning wide receiver Trent Whittemore says Pearsall’s experience brings a lot of benefits to the receiver room.

“Yeah, I think he provides a spark to the receiver room. He’s a great player,” Whittemore said. “He’s got a lot of wisdom and skill, and he’s been willing to share that. And, I’ve just enjoyed being around him all summer, watching him run routes and, like I said, just picking each other’s brain on the finer things of being a receiver.”

Although Napier has not given a specific timetable for a full return, it looks as if Pearsall should be good to go when the Utes come to the Swamp on Sept. 3.

2. Injuries, injuries, injuries

Even with Pearsall’s limited return, the Gators still saw a number of players injured this week following the first scrimmage on Aug. 13.

On Tuesday, the defense had five players, including Jason Marshall Jr. and Ventrell Miller, in non-contact jerseys that were participating in team drills.

However, Marshall Jr. did not participate in drills starting on Wednesday and did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage. Miller practiced in a non-contact jersey the entire week and played in the scrimmage.

Offensively, only wide receiver Ja’Markis Weston was a non-contact participant. However, the numbers were with those who did not participate.

Freshman tight end Arlis Boardingham was seen with his arm in a sling and did not participate in practice at all this week or in Saturday’s scrimmage. He was, however, conditioning on the stationary bike and doing light work on the side.

Quarterback Jalen Kitna made his return following an undisclosed minor procedure, but did not see drills until Wednesday.

Jack Miller III was seen exiting the field on Tuesday as the media entered practice with a brace on his throwing wrist. On Sunday, Napier said Miller III would be out for at least the first two games of the season.

3) The battle for QB3 has now turned into a battle for QB2, with one taking an early lead

In my first set of observations, I noted that there’s a quarterback battle in Gainesville, but not for the starter or second-string. Max Brown and Kitna would be battling for the third-string spot behind Anthony Richardson and Miller III. However, with Kitna’s return and Miller III’s injury, that competition becomes one for the second-string position, at least for the first couple weeks of the season. Additionally, that competition has added a third competitor: redshirt sophomore walk-on Kyle Engel.

At the moment, Napier said that Engel and Kitna are a little ahead Brown due to their experience in college and understanding of the system.

Additionally, Kitna looks slightly more polished as Brown throws with a bit of a sidearm motion, mostly due to him playing baseball, but no one can argue that Brown has a nice zip and spiral with his throws.

What none of the three have is on-field experience. Should something happen to Richardson, Napier will have to make a tough decision as to which inexperienced youngster takes the reigns of his offense.

Nonetheless, Napier says both Kitna and Engel have a good ability to move the offense.

“Both of those guys are really smart and have a good understanding of what we do and have moved the team,” Napier said. “I think, in particular, this scrimmage showed that they have the ability to move the team.”

However, it sounds like Kitna will be the backup when Utah comes into the Swamp. Despite Kitna suffering a minor injury and coming back this week, Napier has full confidence in the redshirt freshman.

“No doubt,” Napier said on Sunday when asked if Kitna would be ready in an emergency situation. “Mentally, I think he’s probably one of the brighter kids in that room.”

4) Almost Heaven: Heavener Football Training Center opens

The University of Florida took a giant leap on Aug. 14 when the team moved into the James W. “Bill” Heavener Football Training Center after nearly three years of construction. For the new staff, it creates a strength going forward in recruiting as well as a way to improve the experience for current players.

“I think we’d be remised here if we didn’t thank all the people who contributed to the fundraising, the investment, the contributions and all the people that came before us as well. That positioned the program for future success,” Napier said on Monday.

The veterans of the team already feel the improvements to their experience with the center’s opening.

“It was really eye-opening. Breathtaking. State of the art. One of the premier facilities around the country,” fifth-year safety Trey Dean said.

“We’re just so thankful that we have the opportunity to be in a facility like that. It was a dream come true for sure,” Trent Whittemore said.

Whittemore added that his favorite part of the facility is the general location, saying it’s extremely helpful that everything is so close together now.

Napier echoed Whittemore’s comment by explaining that the staff estimates that there is an 36-minute difference total between transportation from the old complex to the practice field and the transportation from the new facility to the practice field.

“I also think it’s going to help our organization from the efficiency standpoint. Can’t express our gratitude loudly enough,” Napier said. “Just so thankful for all those that have invested and contributed there.”

5) Former and current players agree: it’s Richardson’s time to shine

Representing current players from this week’s media availabilities, Whittemore spoke briefly on his assessment of his quarterback. Whittemore said Anthony Richardson’s confidence has grown as it’s become clear that he will be the starter.

“I think a big thing for him is kind of being the guy and not having a ton of questions around that. I think that helped his confidence a lot,” Whittemore said. “I think he’s grown just from a QB standpoint of reading the field and delivering really great balls.”

Following Friday’s open portion of practice, former Gators Trey Burton (2010-2013), Brandon Siler (2004-2006), and Kevin Carter (1991-1994) spoke to the media. All were asked about their assessment of Anthony Richardson, and all agree that the quarterback wearing No. 15 is special.

“Well, your first impression of him is, ‘Damn, this kid plays quarterback?’ Physical monster. The kid looks so impressive just (in his) height and size. He has a cannon for an arm,” Burton said.

Burton added that he’s really excited to see Richardson’s progression as a quarterback with reading defenses and leading the offense.
Carter echoed that statement by saying Richardson is “severely talented,” but that he must continue to work on his decision-making.

“That’s an art form,” Carter said. “You can have the best coaches, and you can install the best scheme. But in crunch time, if you’re not a decision maker, if he doesn’t keep himself out of harm’s way to keep himself healthy, if he knows when to run, when to slide when to check down when to keep the chains moving when to get off the field when to win the battle of vertical field position. Those are all high-level football IQ things.”

For Siler, Richardson’s size, listed at 6 feet 4 inches and 232 pounds, stood out to him first.

“My first impression was he’s f*ckin huge. He’s crazy big. When I look at a guy like him, I’m like, ‘That’s an NFL body.’ You just have to put it together,” Siler said. “I’m pretty sure this year, he’s going to hit that thing running and rock out and show you exactly what he can do with that body.”

When asked what a collision between him and Richardson would be like, Siler kept it simple.

“He would have slid,” Siler said with a smile.

Richardson, although not publicly announced, will look to make his second career start, and first in the Swamp, on Sept. 3 against Utah.

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