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The Gators held their annual Orange & Blue Debut on Saturday, with the "game" masquerading in name only as Florida conducted a puffed-up open practice in front of around 15,000 fans in the Swamp. Courtesy of colleague Bryan Holt, "To sum up Saturday: Defense > Offense … by a lot."
With just six healthy offensive linemen, several wide receivers limited and starting running back Matt Jones tallying just a single carry, UF's defense dominated the 15-session practice, which included seven 11-on-11 scrimmage periods.
While Florida's earlier open practices were conducted with real tempo and intensity, Saturday's scintillating (cough, cough) version was littered with half-speed moments throughout.
Here are Inside the Gators' complete defensive observations from the O&B Debut:
(*** NOTE*** Dominique Easley rarely played any scrimmage snaps and instead participated soley in 1-on-1 drills. Without Easley, who coach Will Muschamp said would likely open the season inside at DT, this was Florida's No. 1 unit. )
Similarly to UF's other open practices, the defense and its multiple moving parts, inserted certain players into the lineup as starters depending on the alignment it what in. Florida opened the scrimmage in its traditional 4-2-5 look, but as the practice progressed the defense abandoned its base call and switched to multiple 3-3-5 and 4-3-4 sets, playing with three conventional linebackers and no BUCK/DE rusher.
* First-Team defense
DE - Bryan Cox Jr., NT - Leon Orr, DT - Damien Jacobs, DE - Dante Fowler Jr., MLB - Antonio Morrison, WLB - Michael Taylor, CB - Marcus Roberson, S - Jabari Gorman, S - Jaylen Watkins, CB - Louchiez Purifoy, CB - Brian Poole.
Darious Cummings (NT), Neiron Ball (SLB) and Marcus Maye (S) all received multiple reps with the No. 1 unit as well.
* Second-team defense constantly changed, but Joey Ivie (DT), Alex McCalister (DE), Daniel McMillian (WLB), Jeremi Powell (SLB), Valdez Showers (S), Cummings (NT), Maye (S) and local walk-on (Buchholz High) Matthew Fuchs (DE) played mostly with the No. 2 unit. Taylor played middle linebacker for the second team too, while Watkins took reps at cornerback. Darrin Kitchens was largely invisible and saw few reps in most scrimmage situations.
Much of the practice's most intriguing battles occurred in mano-y-mono situations. Some of the more prominent/interesting competitions included…
* Fowler Jr. versus Tyler Moore. Fowler Jr. was a menace during scrimmage sessions, but the Nebraska transfer held his own during individual drills. Although Fowler memorable whipped Moore on one snap, the redshirt sophomore recovered and won the next two reps, showing smooth footwork. To the crowd's delight, Fowler demolished Quinteze Williams on one rep, making Williams likely to rethink his transition to tackle.
* Neiron Ball, who had a nice day, bested fullback Hunter Joyer in a special teams blocking drill -- definitely not something you see/hear about with any regularity. Ball also blew up a reverse, chasing Purifoy to the sideline before slamming the two-way star to the turf.
* Morrison flashed all over the field and killed Matt Jones in a pass protection drill.
* Max Garcia, UF's probable starting left guard, topped Orr multiple times in various 1-on-1 reps. Overall, Garcia's day was indicative of the offensive line as whole on Saturday: good in individual drills, simply average (or below when facing first-team line) as a unit. D.J. Humphries did a nice job blocking Easley one time, forcing the end way up the field away from the pocket.
* The WR's vs. DB's sessions were basically a wash, as Andre Debose and Raphael Andrades were the only two healthy scholarship receivers. The defensive backs dominated many of the periods, as UF's wide outs continued to have trouble creating any sort of separation. Demarcus Robinson had a couple great grabs in traffic, including wrestling the ball away from Purifoy one time. But the enrollee, who was still visibly hampered by a sprained ankle, struggled to beat a jam all afternoon. Watkins and Purifoy abused the freshman in press coverage. Both Roberson and Poole collected several pass breakups, although Debose later burned Roberson on a well-run go-route. The best battle of the afternoon involved two guys (WR Ryan Parrish vs. S Valdez Showers) unlikely to see any meaningful snaps all season.
* Ronald Powell (knee), Matt Rolin (knee) and Alex Anzalone (knee) have been sidelined for all (or most) of spring camp, but Jonathan Bullard (hamstring), Cody Riggs (hamstring) and Jeremy Brown (undisclosed) also missed Florida's final practice due to injuries.
* Purifoy wore the defense's orange jersey and took plenty of reps as a first-team cornerback. When he played receiver, Purifoy tossed on a nameless-makeshift blue Gators jersey.
* Much of Florida's pass skeleton, red-zone and 7-on-7 drills were conducted with walk-ons or third stringers (see: Skyler Mornhinweg) competing against UF's first- and second-team defense. Straight good on good, you know?
* The Gators' defense, which had little trouble with Brent Pease's heavy motion offense, actually scored a 'touchdown' before Driskel & Co. did when Poole, blitzing off the left edge, scooped up a botched shotgun snap for a nifty one-handed fumble recovery. Florida didn't score its first real touchdown until walk-on tailback Mark Herndon dove into the endzone near the end of the fourth scrimmage period. For the day, UF registered just two trips to pay dirt, with early enrollee Kelvin Taylor tallying the other.
* Backup quarterback Tyler Murphy's performance was once again rough in an open practice setting. The redshirt junior piloted just one scrimmage period and it was ultimately a disaster. Fowler, Cox Jr. and Jeremi Powell all registered "faux sacks," while Poole's fumble recovery touchdown occurred during the same session.
* The defense played very, very loose coverage during the practice's final scrimmage session -- one-minute drill, offense down by a point -- It was almost as if Muschamp wanted to exit Saturday with something the fans could cheer about, but alas, Florida still couldn't score a touchdown and settled for a miss/made field goal from each kicker. Driskel's longest pass of the day (to Trey Burton) was during the no-huddle drill; only a Fowler sack would've voided it anyways.
* First-year UF players Ivie, McMillian, Cox Jr. and Cummings all showcased their future potential with several impressive showings individually. Ivie owned starting center Jon Harrison twice, and Cox Jr. displayed a good motor and solid pass rushing skills at end during scrimmages. McMillian did drop a sure-fire pick-six, but he also flashed his football smarts, playing his assignment on the read-option and dropping Driskel for a loss. Later, the enrollee linebacker flaunted his good instincts and quick burst by filling a run-gap nicely. Cummings was hit-or-miss, too often disappearing on run downs, but he did destroy Kelvin Taylor on a play-action pass play. Taylor did his job, but so did the JUCO-transfer. Marcus Maye was around the ball quite a bit too. He was chasing the play a bit too much, but he appears to possess as the physical tools to play the position.
* In one of the early scrimmage sessions, Michael Taylor made a touchdown-saving tackle on a nice screen pass to Trey Burton. Brad Phillips would later miss a 37-yard field goal and the Gators walked away with zero points.
* Florida's tight ends were non-existent until Kent Taylor caught several passes late in the no-huddle drill. Poole, Gorman and the linebackers did a great job taking away Driskel's check-down options.