Watch & Read: Quality work before spring break

Mar 11, 2023 | 1 comment



The Florida Gators continued spring practices with final practice before UF goes on spring break. Head coach Billy Napier, defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong, defensive back Jaydon Hill and running back Trevor Etienne gave updates on how the practices are going. 

Here are the main takeaways:

Billy Napier

  • As the players head out for the break, Napier explained that there will be a protocol with the strength staff, especially for those on the team who are injured or rehabbing. “We’ll have prescribed work for those guys each day, certainly the guys that need treatment and rehab will be the same way,” he said.
  • Napier spoke about quarterback Graham Mertz and his performance so far in camp. “He’s been very diligent from the first day,” he said. “Really aggressive, often times doing two-a-days, in the building the majority of the day, just really a professional approach, very self-aware.” He added that he’s made a great impression on both teammates and staff, has been a good communicator and his experience is very evident. 
  • With linebacker Derek Wingo in a limited role, Shemar James and Scooby Williams have stepped up to the plate. Additionally, transfer Teradja Mitchell has taken on a vocal role with the defense. “Teradja’s a former team captain at Ohio State, you know, a guy’s been around college football in a successful program,” Napier said. “Very bright, very articulate, guy that communicates at a high level. So he’s making the others around him better with that communication.” On James, Napier said that he’s done a good job buying into the nutrition, recovery and strength and conditioning side of the game. Additionally, Napier explained that although he’s listed as EDGE, Williams has played both EDGE and inside linebacker, saying that he’s got a knack for pass-rushing but good size for linebacker. 
  • Napier also gave an update on the roster numbers. He said the team is at about 105 total players with 27 of those being new scholarship players and five more walk ons that are brand new. His goal is to get to 135. “Part of that is the academic exceptions, it’s going to take us a couple of rotations, a couple of cycles here. We’ve got to retain the ones that we do add to the team, and then the ones that do get into school…,” Napier said.
  • The only full-time on-field position coach Florida has yet to fill is receivers. Currently, graduate assistant David Doeker is working with the group until a permanent coach is hired. “Certainly, while we’re in transition here, great experience for him,” Napier said. “I know the players respect him and appreciate how hard he’s working. Spring break here, we’ll continue to do our homework, but couldn’t be more proud of Doeker, and Doeker’s got a bright future in front of him.


Austin Armstrong

  • The former Southern Miss defensive coordinator and brief Alabama linebackers coach made his first appearance in front of the media after Saturday’s practice. He detailed the decision to join the Gators saying that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. “You know, the two closest places to my hometown are Southern Mississippi and the University of Alabama. We lost my mom in September and all that happens for a reason. Next thing you know you’re coaching at Southern Miss and Alabama. Two closest places to home and you think it’s all worked out, and then you get the opportunity to come to a place like Florida,” he said. He added that Alabama coach Nick Saban gave him good advice after he said he was leaving and said that the opportunity to be associated with Napier and UF is a no brainer. 
  • Armstrong replaced Patrick Toney, who Armstrong previously coached under at Louisiana. “Probably wouldn’t have taken the job here without his blessing of knowing what the situation was,” Armstrong said. “I left comfort. I was at a comfortable place, and he is a dear friend. He’s a better person than football coach.”
  • Armstrong spoke on the changes being made to the defense after Toney’s departure. He said that while there will be minor changes in terminology, he wants to change for the team and not the other way around. “… came in in the very first meeting, I want them to know, because there was a lot of anxiety,” he said. “You know, this would be their third coordinator in three years, right, and I said, ‘Guys, I’ll change for you.’”
  • Florida’s new defensive coordinator gave an overview of what he wants out of the defense. “We talk about Florida DNA. We talk about the Gator DNA. We want to be tough. That tough isn’t acting a fool,” he said. “It’s striking blockers, being mentally tough to handle situational football. We want physicality. When that ball is in the 53 1/3, we’re gonna hunt the ball, and we’re gonna punish the ball carrier.” He added that he wants his players to play with enthusiasm rather than the anxiety they’ve been playing with. 

Jaydon Hill

  • One of the most senior members on the team, Hill will play under his third defensive coordinator in his last three seasons. However, he said the transition to Armstrong has been smooth. “… the defense is basically, it’s a universal defense. Like, how you call it and little tweaks like adjustments, so it’s not really much different than what we already know, you know what I’m saying?” he said. “It’s like different terminology to an extent, some of it just different terminology.” He added that with this being his third coordinator, he’s just focused on playing football because “at the next level, it’s only worse.”
  • After Toney’s departure to the NFL, one adjustment Napier made to his staff was giving Corey Raymond full control over both the corners and the safeties. Hill said this makes communication and learning easier. “With him being over working with all of us, it’s like everybody is hearing the same message, you know what I’m saying, so it’s like, there’s no gray area,” he said. Additionally, Raymond has Hill practicing with both the outside corners and the STARs to fill the void left by Tre’Vez Johnson’s departure.
  • This time last season, Hill was still recovering from an ACL injury that kept him out of the 2021 season. Now, he said he’s never felt better. He added that this spring will provide a good challenge for the team to stay focused, especially with there being a week-long break for spring break right in the middle of the practice season. “it’s like we’re coming back in and pressing resume, so we have to stay on top of it, keep our bodies, you know what I’m saying,” he said.
  • The Gators return two rising sophomores who saw the field early and often last season in Devin Moore, who is recovering from a shoulder injury that ended his season, and Kamari Wilson. Hill said Moore has stepped up to give advice to the early enrollee’s in the same way he got advice last season. “Devin’s game has definitely came a long way, and just seeing how he’s growing has been great,” he said. He added that Wilson has stepped up as the leader and accepted his role.

Trevor Etienne

  • Almost immediately, Etienne and Montrell Johnson formed one of the most talented duos on the country last season, with both eclipsing over 700 yards rushing. Napier said that the two helped create their offensive identity, which Etienne said as a younger guy, means a lot. “I can say that, just, coming from coach Napier that means a lot because [of] the type of man that he is,” he said. “And that just shows that my hard work is not going unnoticed and that I’m able to help the team in a positive way.”
  • Additionally, Etienne credits former Gator Nay’Quan Wright for showing him the way early on. “Nay’Quan stayed on me from day one. And I kind of thought like, when I first got here I’m like, ‘Man, he’s just picking on me.’ But when I look back on it, really he was just trying to help. And he really did help, I appreciate him for that.”
  • The younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars’ running back Travis Etienne, Etienne credits his older brother for the path he’s on now. “Wherever he went I wanted to go,” he said. “So just watching him, I thank him for doing the right thing because I feel that’s like why I’m here today, from just following in his footsteps.”
  • Echoing what running backs coach Jabbar Juluke said earlier in the week, Etienne explained that the two things he wants to work on are pass protection and being a more vocal leader. “It’s really just, like, communication with O-line, that’s really the hardest part for me,” he explained. “Like, learning that terminology and knowing who to get in body position. Like, once I figure out all those things, I feel like I’ll be better at it.” He explained that he didn’t feel like he fully found his groove until the Vanderbilt game, which he believes was his best pass-blocking game. 
  • With Richardson off to the NFL, Etienne spoke on quarterbacks Mertz and Miller III by saying that although he hasn’t really seen Mertz in a live game setting personally, he believes that both are doing extremely well and have done a good job of taking full control of the huddle. He also added that with Richardson’s departure, team’s will now have to respect the passing game more. “Having a (quarterback) that runs a 4.43, you have to stack the box. You have to keep contain,” he said. “You have to keep someone on him. I feel like the passing game is going to open up more now and I feel like we’ll be able to run the ball more effectively now.” 
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