Photo: Anthony Richardson; Credit: Zach Goodall
The handful of injuries at tight end during the first set of practices of Billy Napier’s tenure as head coach have certainly impacted the installation of Florida’s new-look offense this spring.
With Jonathan Odom and Nick Elksnis sidelined for the rest of spring and Gage Wilcox having suffered a career-ending injury, a group consisting of defensive tackles, an outside linebacker and a long snapper has transitioned to tight end to keep the offensive install on schedule.
Napier is expected to increase Florida’s usage of 12-personnel (two tight ends on the field at a time) significantly, perhaps by as much as 25 percent of the play-calls, based on how his offense operated at Louisiana. With only one scholarship tight end available in practice – Keon Zipperer – the Gators’ quarterback room has faced a significant challenge while learning the new system, being without depth at a crucial position.
Yet, Napier has been encouraged by what he’s seen from the quarterbacks, particularly the top half of the group.
“We’ve got some guys that can play winning football. I’m confident in that,” Napier said on Thursday. “I’m excited about the group of guys that we get to coach. Yeah. I think that’s as simple as I can say it. We don’t have any issue there. We need to develop depth in the room. But I think the top half of that group is pretty good. “
The Gators’ quarterback room currently consists of redshirt sophomores Anthony Richardson and Jack Miller III as well as redshirt freshmen Carlos Del Rio-Wilson and Jalen Kitna. Only Richardson and Miller, the top half of the room, have appeared in a game in their college careers, combining for just 80 pass attempts thus far. Their relative inexperience lends credence to Napier emphasizing the need to develop depth behind the two.
Napier has endorsed both Richardson and Miller previously, impressed by what the former has shown in camp despite only recently being cleared from a December knee surgery and appreciation of the latter for joining the program as a transfer and providing the quarterback room with some veteran stability.
Those two, as well as Del Rio-Wilson and Kitna, were able to showcase their abilities to Napier in game-like situations during the first scrimmage of spring on Thursday. However, the group also displayed a need for growth situationally, which he attributed to the way practices have been structured.
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“I think there’s going to be some situational things that we could have done better,” Napier explained. “I think that was probably my overall, probably the negative one.
“But I think that’s part of it because everything we’ve been doing has been compartmentalized and the situation is defined. I think when you get to a scrimmage all the variables are changing, the ball’s moving, you have to change gears mentally. But Outside of that, I thought we did a lot of good things. I think overall we took care of the ball for the most part. I think we turned the ball over one time, maybe. It was one of the younger players. that, a lot of good. “
The compartmentalized situations Napier suggested are called field zones by the coaching staff. Napier and his assistants split their playbook into eight sections determined by field position and call specific plays based on that location, as well as situations presented by the opposing defense.
Napier said during his time at Louisiana that implementing field zones into practice and game plans is “one of the best things we’ve done.” But, naturally as the quarterbacks and offensive contributors learn the new system, there have been bumps in the road.
Certainly, the situation has also been impacted by the lack of healthy tight ends, which makes Napier’s general pleasure with the quarterback position encouraging.
That factors into Napier’s assessment of the signal-callers, in addition to the remainder of the offense continuing to learn and adjust to the new offense as well, which comes with its fair share of ups and downs that Napier intends to use as teaching moments.
“Sometimes, when you’re watching the scrimmage for the quarterback you can be critical sometimes. But I think they get too much of the blame and too much of the credit,” Napier said. “I think when a quarterback’s playing well or playing bad it’s usually the result of the players around them playing poorly or playing really well.
“So, a lot of film to teach and learn from and ultimately that’s the best thing about a scrimmage. We’re certainly going to take advantage of it.”
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