Florida Gators second spring scrimmage: Defense starts fast and offense responds

by | Apr 6, 2024 | 0 comments

After the Florida Gators second spring scrimmage, head coach Billy Napier, shared his insights on the team’s progress, preparation strategies for the upcoming Orange and Blue game, and the performance of individual players. Napier praised the team’s improvement and competitiveness, discussed the strategy for dividing players for the game, and highlighted the performances of Grayson Howard, DJ Douglas, and Tre Wilson. He also commented on the improvements in the team’s offensive line, quarterback play, and defense. Here are the key takeaways from his meeting with the media.


Opening statement:

Billy Napier: “We talked about, last week, how we needed two good weeks of work here. Important. We’re one week into that and I’m going to tell you our team got better. I thought we continued to improve. We got good competitive work Tuesday, Thursday and today was competitive. It was physical. I thought the players played fast. Ultimately, we’re trying to create momentum. I think we’re one week away from the Orange and Blue game and I think we’ve got a great weekend planned. I think there’s like 10 home sporting events. One o’clock kickoff, free admission and I think there’s a unique opportunity for an exclusive meet-and-greet with the players partnering with Florida Victorious next week after the spring game on the field. So, we’re excited about that.

I thought today just in short, the defense started extremely fast and then I thought the offense responded in the back half of the game. Really competitive back-and-forth. One thing we did, we brought in an SEC crew yesterday. We did kind of a rules education deal with the players. We had a team meeting. We had breakout sessions with the position groups. They worked our situation walk-through yesterday and they helped us and called the scrimmage today so that was beneficial for the players. That’s something that we do annually and I thought it was well done. We’re thankful for David Smith and his crew for doing that. Overall, this week is about momentum and we need to take advantage of each day here as we prep for the Orange and Blue game and try to finish this thing the right way.”

On how teams will be created for Orange and Blue Game:

Billy Napier: “Really what we do is we divide the players up to try to make the game as competitive as possible based off of who’s available and then we allow the veteran players on each team to draft all parts of the organization. So we divide the entire organization in half and we give them a little ownership in terms of, ‘Hey, I want this guy to be my OC, I want this guy to be my DC, he’s going to be the assistant head coach.’ They pick their strength staff, they pick their — every part of the building is broken in half and then we give the players some — just to make it competitive, you either win or you lose and I think it’s healthy and it certainly makes it fun.”

When the team divides:

Billy Napier: “Friday I think we, yeah we’ll meet with the veteran players I think at some point Thursday before practice and then we announce the teams post practice and then they have their own Friday prep independent of each other so we try to simulate a Friday and then get them ready for the game.”

On Grayson Howard:

Billy Napier: “I think, first of all, Pup is an incredible young man. He’s extremely bright, he’s got character, he’s smart, he can communicate, he’s really done a nice job of picking up the system. At that position, you got to communicate and you got to do that with confidence and I think you got to be decisive. I think he’s done a good job doing that. Now, he’s got height, length, he certainly looks the part. He’s still a somewhat inexperienced player but I do think he’s a mature young man, good family and he’s taken advantage of the reps. I think with Shemar and Wingo out and then that room’s been banged up at times, so yeah, he’s done a good job. I think the other players around him benefit from his communication. Last week he had some production in the scrimmage. It’s been a good spring, good offseason for him.”

Second recruitment of Grayson:

Billy Napier: “Ultimately we were just a new staff, we were behind in the relationship part upon arrival. I think that he’s the type of kid where I think that’s important to him. There’s a loyalty component there. I think ultimately he’s a Florida kid. I think he had, there was a special space. He liked the University of Florida. I think it just ultimately came down to the relationship piece. And I think sometimes things don’t go the way you think they’re going to go, right? When he did enter the portal we certainly had a great respect for him. We evaluated him as a player. He’s back, right? I think that ultimately it’s a good thing. I think he’s had a good experience and we’re excited about him for sure.”

Speed at WR and length at OT leading to more down-field passing?

Billy Napier:“I’d like to think that. I think today … we’re evaluating one day at a time. But I think what you’re saying is accurate. We’ve been intentional about adding speed to the roster, especially at receiver. There’s no question we needed to pass protect better. I think anybody, my wife would say that we could pass protect better last year. But I think ultimately we added two portal tackles, we had some players coming back at that position and we have two really good freshmen. So we feel better about that depth, and even with two guys out we’re able to field two pretty good offensive units. But there’s no doubt the pocket’s been cleaner. Now, it’s hard for me to get beyond today. I felt we were a little lackluster early throwing and catching. We were a little bit asleep from the jump, 7-on-7, first part of the scrimmage. So I think we need to start faster from that standpoint. But I do think in the second half of the scrimmage we protected better, threw and caught better. The defense contributes to that. But overall you’re exactly spot on. I think we need to protect better and I think the personnel we have will allow us to hold the ball a little bit. That allows us to throw it down the field a little bit more.”

Better offensive line play helping the down field passing attack:

Billy Napier: “Yeah, 100 percent. I felt that with our team once Austin got hurt last year I kind of felt that way about our team the back half of the year, we were kind of calling the game with one hand in our pocket. We immediately went to work in the portal to try to answer that, and also the freshmen players we added. I think 15, when he has time can be extremely effective. He’s proven that.”

Quarterback play and progress in second scrimmage?

Billy Napier: “I don’t necessarily think we started the way I wanted us to today. But I do think we responded in the back half. I think the defense contributes to that. I would compliment the defense today. I thought we tackled extremely well today; the coverage was tighter; the rush was effective. I think that affected the quarterback play. We had a couple of turnovers. We had some tipped balls. But overall, quarterback play, I’ve said this many times, we have to play well around the quarterback. We had some situations today where all the players on offense contributed to that. But the positive thing here is I think at the halfway point I think we kind of regrouped and made some plays at the back half of the scrimmage.”

Do you think about what you are going to show in the spring game?

Billy Napier: “I think you’re thinking the right way. I think ultimately for me we’ve got a format that we use and we’re going to continue to do that, it’s worked for us in the past. I do think we’re deeper, I think in particular at certain positions that contribute to the things that you’re talking about. I think that hopefully will allow us to play cleaner and it to be more competitive and more productive. But overall, we really have a philosophy, we’ve been here for two years I mean I think we’re going to go let them play. We’ve got a lot of young players, you think about the spring game, this is the first opportunity for our fans to watch this 2024 team, in particular a bunch of these rookies, not only the high school players but the transfers. After the spring game is over we’ve got a unique partnership with Florida Victorious to actually meet the team. I think our fans are going to have, it’s an opportunity to be a great experience. We are hopeful we can put on a good show.”

The transfer class and how are they fitting in:

Billy Napier: “I think it’s been positive. I think what I’ve learned and I think our personnel department as a whole, the philosophy here is we’re looking for traits, we’re looking for production, but I think this cycle we put a premium on what’s the extra dimension that they’re bringing to our team. What leadership, what character, and their ability to get along, I think that’s a component that’s really important. You work hard to sign two really good high school groups and then I think you can disrupt that if you make a mistake, It’s a short period of time to make a decision. I think we’ve done a nice job of finding players that not only bring production and experience but also I think there’s a character piece that’s worked. This group’s fun to be around as a whole.”

On DJ Douglas?

Billy Napier:“I think DJ is again, he kind of fits what we were just talking about. He’s a very productive player, he’s got traits, there was a connection there, and certainly he’s done a nice job. I think what I appreciate about DJ is the consistency, we know what we’re going to get everyday. He’s got great practice habits, he’s an effort player, he’s done a really good job of picking up the system. We’re just halfway through the cycle here, and I think that’s the thing to kind of remind ourselves here is look, we’ve got our reload period and then we got our summer offseason and then training camp. He’s off to a good start and certainly I think he will prove that he was a good take.”

How much better is the defense?

Billy Napier: “I think there’s been days where you walk off the field and you’re like ‘man we tackled well, the rush and the coverage was working together, we’ve got more depth, there’s more competition, the effort, speed’. Overall I think the new staff paired with some experienced and a handful of new players, we feel like we’re improving. Thursday the offense dominated the practice. So, I think today was a little bit of a reset button, ‘hey look, let’s get our act together’. I think they showed up and did that. I thought they started really really fast. What I see is the football is cleaner, I think we’ve got two competitive groups on both sides, and then we have a good developmental group after that. The football is cleaner, the alignment, communication, fundamentals. I think we’re making progress. I’m confident the staff changes have been a positive and, overall, you’ve got a bunch of veteran players. A lot of players that played last year for the first time in their career are kind of going through that benefit of being a vet. Again, remember what we talked about. I think that’s the theme here. We’ve finally got a group that has some experience. There is credible leadership. And they’ve worked. I think ultimately what we’re seeing right now it’s a product of a lot of hard work and it’s important. The theme is momentum. I think we’ve got that. Can we keep it this week and kind of finish this first half of the offseason one week from today with the orange and blue game?”

On Eugene Wilson’s jump:

Billy Napier: “I think he’s added a bunch of lean muscle to his frame. I think he’s stronger. I think he’s got confidence from the experience. And even today he was ultra productive today; he made a ton of plays out there today. Much like a Year one to Year two player, you kind of don’t know what it’s like. He was in Tampa going to the prom this time last year. Now he’s been through a full offseason program. He knows what game day feels like and looks like. He’s able to adjust his approach and I think he’s a confident player. We’re going to do everything we can do to get him the ball and allow him to affect our team and be productive as he has in the past.”

Changes on defense leading to a big jump?

Billy Napier: “That and just experience. And we don’t have issues with this team. They do what they’re supposed to do. We’re able to focus on what’s important. They provide the effort, the energy, the work ethic, the accountability. Ultimately, we’ve got incredible leadership, and you pair that with some new faces, new voices, new leadership, a little bit different philosophy here and there, this group encourages each other. This group will confront things that are out of place. They hold each other accountable. And they get along with each other. They can be cutthroat competitive out there and then practice is over and we’re a team and let’s go let’s continue to work hard to improve and get better. I think ultimately it’s what the game’s about and I think we’re finally in that place.”

On tackling improvement:

Billy Napier: “The best we’ve tackled since we’ve been here. And I think in particular in the secondary. Look, that goes back to the fundamentals are cleaner, the ball declares, the DB’s in a position to make the tackle. The fundamentals are better. Experience is better. The defense’s depth. If we can tackle like we did today, if we can create takeaways like we did today, we can play with that type of energy, I think we’ve got a chance to have a good group over there.”

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