Five Takeaways from the second week of fall practice

Aug 15, 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 three separate practices throughout the second 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 three practices as well as the various media availabilities from the second week of camp.

1) Injuries happen, but it’s no cause for panic just yet

 The injury bug making an appearance in a team’s fall camp is nothing new, and the Gators certainly have seen their fair share of injuries early on. Luckily, none are extremely serious.

Wide receiver Ricky Pearsall had a scare on Aug. 9 after suffering a foot injury at practice and was initially reported as being out indefinitely. However, Pearsall’s outlook for returning to the field improved two days later when he was considered day-to-day and was seen at practice dressed out in full gear with a black non-contact jersey and a boot on his left foot.

Linebacker Amari Burney, corner Jason Marshall, tight end Jonathan Odom, defensive lineman Desmond Watson, defensive lineman Tyreak Sapp, offensive lineman David Conner, and offensive lineman Ethan White were all seen in black non-contact jerseys throughout the week, but were dressed out in full gear, nonetheless. Odom, Sapp, Watson, and Conner all shed their non-contact jerseys before the end of the week, while Burney and Marshall did not participate in Saturday’s scrimmage.

The most serious injury for Florida is quarterback Jalen Kitna, who Napier said needed a small procedure early in the week.

While the name list might seem long, there is no hope lost. Pearsall should be back before the Utah game. It’s slightly concerning that Burney and Marshall did not participate in the scrimmage, but in this case, no news is good news. Expect the decision to keep them out to be more on the side of caution rather than because of a serious injury.

2) There are no unicorns in the tight end room

 After Kyle Pitts left Florida for the NFL, the next question was who would replace him? Gator nation thought it would be former LSU tight end Arik Gilbert, who intended to transfer to Florida, but that never panned out. Kemore Gamble had a solid 2021 campaign but took his talents to UCF after the season ended.

Now entering a new season with a new regime, the tight end room won’t need a unicorn for Napier’s “12-man personnel.” In fact, it doesn’t have one at the moment. I wrote last week that quantity is not an issue for the tight end room, but quality might be. This was evident throughout week two of camp.

There were plenty of drops around the room, especially on Thursday. The tight ends worked on deep routes with the quarterbacks, and while some throws were slight overthrows, the tight ends still got their hands on the ball but couldn’t reel it in.

Most of the open portion throughout the two weeks of camp were spent on blocking technique with the offensive line. As Napier’s offense becomes more run-focused, which is the clear strength of the offense, don’t expect the tight ends to put up any crazy numbers this season.

3) Back to basics for the ‘backers

 It’s not a shock that after lackluster tackling, especially in the linebacker room, the new coaching staff would place a major emphasis on the skill.

On Friday, inside linebackers coach Jay Bateman led his group in a tackling drill with the padded wheel, and the attention to detail was evident. The team worked on angles and “Gator tackling,” when the linebacker rolls through contact similarly to an alligator performing a death roll.

Bateman made Diwun Black redo a drill twice, once due to a Black error and another due to his own. Ventrell Miller had the rep of the day nearly taking Bateman out during his roll.

“It’s real technical I feel like with Coach Bateman. He’s very much a hard critic,” Ventrell Miller said. “You may think you’re doing a drill right, but he’s going to critique the small things. If you want to be a great player, you want to be coachable and listen to those things.”

4) There’s still some conditioning work needed for the Gators

 It’s no secret that the heat and humidity in Florida is miserable, especially in the summertime. On Tuesday, that heat was evident, and it affected the team. The wide receivers dropped the most passes that afternoon, and offensive line coach Darnell Stapleton was heard getting onto a couple of linemen for taking their helmets off to get some air.

Although the heat won’t be as bad when the season starts as the first three games are at 7 p.m. or 7:30 p.m., it never hurts to be conditioned for the heat.

This day should be considered an outlier, though, as Thursday was just as hot, and the team looked fine.

5) The running backs are legit

Florida’s running back room will be the focal point and the obvious strength of Napier’s offense, and that much was made clear throughout fall camp.

Throughout the second week of camp, the running backs worked on pass protection, footwork, and pass-catching. This group was the most consistent out of all position groups.

Nay’Quan Wright and Lorenzo Lingard looked outstanding in receiving and pass protection. Trevor Etienne’s and Montrell Johnson’s footwork cannot go unnoticed as they did not hit a single pad on the ground during step drills. All four excelled in juke and cut drills, displaying nice balance and quick feet.

ITG reported after Saturday’s scrimmage that all four had nice plays, with Johnson and Wright scoring long touchdowns, Lingard having big runs and Etienne making nice plays.

Overall, with the tight ends’ strength being run-blocking, the heavy weights on the offensive line and some question marks with experience at receiver, expect the running backs to get plenty of carries in the fall.

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