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March 21, 2014
Friday Practice: In-depth Instant Analysis
Florida was back on the practice fields without pads Friday on a day when the gates were wide open for the UF coaching clinic. High school and small-time college coaches from around the state were on-hand as was Friday night's speaker, Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. Florida worked in additional 11-on-11 drills and stepped up the intensity a bit before the pads come on Saturday at 12:50.
THUMBS UP: Tight ends were a black hole in the 2013 passing game, so the fact they were heavily involved in Friday's practice is a good sign. Clay Burton made a few catches, but it was Tevin Westbrook - three catches, 30 yards last season - who became a popular target. Westbrook made numerous catches splitting the defense and creating mismatches in the middle of the field. Overall, the passing game was much more effective Friday than it was in the opening practice. Without losing quality coverage by defensive backs, the Gators got better routes and throws out of quarterbacks for the most part. Jeff Driskel threw one perfect deep ball to Ahmad Fulwood, though it came against a walk-on cornerback, and Skyler Mornhinweg had one of his best practices as a Gator while splitting second-team snaps with Will Grier.
THUMBS DOWN: Practice opened in 11-on-11 drills that were fairly balanced with big plays by both defenders and receivers, but it all funneled down to the kicking game. Austin Hardin and Francisco Velez both missed field goals of roughly 40 yards during the drill. Hardin hit his field goals during separate field goal block drills, while Velez continued to struggle. It's difficult to get much of a read on front-line players when there are no pads involved, but Will Muschamp was not happy with his young defensive tackles. Caleb Brantley and Antonio Riles both had issues jumping offside. They were forced to run sprints - along with Joey Ivie - after practice.
FIVE WHO STOOD OUT
1. CB Jalen Tabor: He'll be firmly planted as the No. 2 cornerback by the end of spring if he keeps playing like this. Tabor was all over the place again today, breaking up a deep ball from Grier to Quinton Dunbar during one-on-ones and jumping numerous routes in 11-on-11 periods.
2. WR Chris Thompson: The Gators need a speedy slot receiver, and Thompson looked like that guy today. Thompson caught everything, made plays underneath and deep and was a constant target for all three quarterbacks. How he stacks up when pads come on will be telling.
3. TE Tevin Westbrook: A receiving tight end would certainly help Florida's current spread offense plans, and Westbrook flashed some ability today. He caught everything that was thrown to him and showed some ability to make plays.
4. QB Skyler Mornhinweg: Give the oft-maligned backup some props. His talent level may not be SEC-caliber, but Mornhinweg made the necessary throws today and out-performed the hyped freshman he is competing with.
5. LB Michael Taylor: The veteran inside linebacker rounds out the list again. Taylor hasn't had many chances to shine given the format, but he has been the Gators' best linebacker in coverage and has the best knowledge of the system.
THIS AND THAT: Safety Keanu Neal (hamstring), Linebacker Neiron Ball (knee) and Gideon Ajagbe (hamstring), did not practice Friday. … Kyle Christy was the more impressive of the Gators' two punters, booming two big kicks during the last period of practice. … Despite conflicting with the Gators' NCAA Tournament game against the Pittsburgh Panthers, Florida was unable to reschedule practice because of hosting the coaching clinic.