Five Takeaways from the first week of fall practice

Aug 8, 2022 | 1 comment

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

Here are five early observations from time spent at all three practices as well as the various media availabilities from the first week of camp.

1. Discipline, discipline, discipline…

Throughout the 13 total media availabilities this past week with 12 different players and coaches, the words “discipline,” “disciplined” and “undisciplined” were used a total 35 times.

As Napier took the helm of the program, it was clear that discipline was an issue for his new program, which led to a complete overhaul that extends to even what the players wear.

“This year, Coach (Napier) focused on the little things, and one of them is discipline,” running back Nay’Quan Wright said. “We all have to wear the same gear to practice. Everybody has to have white cleats and white socks… That’s just little things that you focus on that’s building up discipline and having everybody on the same page.”

In fact, Wright said this implementation of discipline extends to every hour in camp, from bathroom breaks to workouts, being documented so the players can create a routine.

According to tight end Dante Zanders, Napier and the staff even counted the number of undisciplined penalties committed by the team game-by-game from the 2021 season, things such as holding penalties, false starts and offsides. They wrote the information down on a piece of paper and showed the team.

“It was shocking and embarrassing,” Zanders said.

Throughout the three open sessions, this attention to disciple was evident, where Napier and running back coach Jabbar Juluke were heard getting onto running backs Lorenzo Lingard and Trevor Etienne for bad routes and lack of separation.

In fact, Juluke made Etienne run a footwork and stiff-arm drill three times before he perfected his mistakes.

On the offensive line and tight end group, coaches William Peagler and Rob Sale were getting on to players every now and then for a missed assignment and were quick to correct mistakes.

In the receiver group, coach Keary Colbert consistently reminded the receivers to put the ball in their outside arm, something that they were inconsistently doing.

All of these are simple habits that can be broken, but they must be fixed quickly before undisciplined play hurts the team the way it did in 2021. As the mistakes lessen, expect the staff to continue emphasis on discipline.

2. There’s a possible quarterback competition brewing, but not for the starting spot.

247 Sports’ Nick Kosko recently ranked the quarterback battle between Anthony Richardson and Jack Miller III as the No. 10 competition in the country. Although he noted that Richardson has practically won the job, even putting the two on the list is a bit absurd.

Although the open portion of practices did not include offense versus defense or depth-chart specific lineups, Richardson is the clear starter as he has taken most of the first reps in the drills. Factor in the spring game performance, Richardson is the clear starter, and Miller III most likely won’t see the field barring a Richardson injury. However, there is another quarterback competition brewing in Gainesville: Jalen Kitna versus Max Brown.

Kitna and Brown have taken the reps in drills together behind Richardson and Miller III. Both have made on-target throws with a good velocity and tight spiral. Take it with a grain of salt as most of the routes the team ran in the open portion of practices were short routes, but both made good throws. Factor in that Napier is not showing favoritism towards older players, Brown may very well be QB3 by the time the season rolls around.

3. Ricky Pearsall is the next big playmaker.

Florida’s most recent addition to the receiver room is Arizona State transfer Ricky Pearsall, who not only earned the famed No. 1 jersey but has impressed in camp so far.

From personal observations from the three open sessions as well as various videos posted on Twitter by other media members, Pearsall has shown early tools to success at a high level: quick feet, sure hands and an athletic ability to adjust wherever the ball is thrown.

However, take it with a grain of salt. All of the observations made on Pearsall the first week were on routes on air and usually short distance, but from what was observed, he can still be a capable playmaker.

“I’m excited to see what Ricky Pearsall can do,” safety Rashad Torrence II said. “Just the energy he brings and having a new face. Most guys come in kind of timid, and he came in with the energy that he belongs here, and we’ve embraced that. He’s a nice piece to have.”

With no clear-cut starter in the room outside of Justin Shorter, Pearsall makes a compelling case to become the starter in the slot position.

4. Jaydon Hill’s recovery is about what one should expect.

Jaydon Hill missed the entire 2021 season after tearing his ACL on August 8, 2021, the first day of the 2021 fall camp.

Hill was seen in the indoor practice facility rehabbing and training, and it looks like he regained quite a bit of speed and agility. He trained alongside offensive linemen Richard Gouraige and defensive back Dakota Mitchell, who were both dress out in black non-contact jerseys.

However, Hill was seen in shorts and a shirt, meaning he’s not quite ready to return, according to Napier.

“Jaydon Hill is currently not able to participate. I think a little bit of that is to be determined based off his recovery and rehab process,” he said. “We anticipate getting him back later.”

Due to ACL tears usually taking a year to fully recover from, it makes complete sense the staff is taking their time rehabbing Hill. Don’t be surprised if Hill in unable to go against Utah, but also don’t be surprised if he finds his way back onto the field shortly after.

5. Quantity is not an issue for the offensive line or tight ends, but quality might be.

Known for what’s called “12 personnel”, Napier’s offense is known for using a two-tight end set with massive offensive linemen. To create depth, the coaching staff moved over Dante Zanders, Griffin McDowell and walk-on Noah Keeter from other positions and brought in true freshmen Arlis Boardingham and Hayden Hansen.

On the offensive line, Florida returns five players from last year’s team with starting experience and welcomes Louisiana transfers O’Cyrus Torrence and Kamryn Waites.

In total, combining scholarship and walk-on players, the Gators have 22 offensive linemen, although two have appeared to move to the defensive line, and nine tight ends. However, quantity doesn’t always mean quality, especially for the tight end room.

Outside of Keon Zipperer, there is nearly zero in-game experience to go on. Despite the young talent in the room, it’s hard to judge truly how talented and productive the group is until they play a game.

On the offensive line, there’s a lot of trust and confidence, at least according to running back Nay’Quan Wright.

“I see some guys that are hard workers, consistent, lots of experience,” he said. “I just like running the ball behind those guys. Those guys are on the same page. They have tremendous confidence. They work with one another. It’s going to be a show, honestly.”

Don’t be surprised if the offensive line is one of the strongest position groups on the team, but also don’t be surprised if the tight end group experiences some growing pains early on.

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