Florida Football: Week 1 Spring Practice Stock Report
Spring practice is underway on college campuses across the country, including at the University of Florida. Coach Will Muschamp and the rest of his staff are getting their first real look at not only the progression of returning players, but also some of the new faces on the Gator roster.
Their main goal, of course, will be to begin constructing a lineup capable of repeating last season's run to a BCS appearance.
As expected, some members of the 2013 squad are already impressing with their practice performance. Others, meanwhile, have gotten off to a bit of a slow start.
Here is a breakdown of which Gators have seen their stock rise or fall after the first week of spring practice.
Stock Up: Loucheiz Purifoy
It may only be the first week of practice, but Florida's "experiment" with Loucheiz Purifoy has been noticeably successful. It now sets up an interesting dilemma for the Gators moving forward.
During last Friday's open session, Purifoy broke loose on an end-around and made multiple full-extension grabs. These developments prompted Thomas Goldkamp of 247Sports to remark that Purifoy "clearly has an extra gear" at wide receiver.
It is no secret that the Gators lack playmakers on the outside, which makes Purifoy's performance particularly encouraging. Even if only for five plays each game, having him line up on offense could pose mismatches for opposing defenses and be a huge benefit.
On the other hand, the Gators cannot afford to overwork Purifoy. He was a key member of the secondary last season, and his defensive role should be just as important this year. Extensive time on offense could potentially do more harm than good.
Luckily for the Gator coaches, they have all of spring and summer to formulate an appropriate plan for Purifoy. No matter what happens, it is becoming apparent that we will see him on both sides of the ball in 2013.
Stock Down: Alex Anzalone
Alex Anzalone's stock took a dramatic tumble after he suffered a torn labrum this past weekend. The freshman was participating in a tackle drill at the time of the injury, which required surgery on Monday. Anzalone will miss all of spring practice, but should return for summer camp.
His injury is by no means a crushing blow to the Gators as a team. However, it could prevent Anzalone from making an immediate impact on defense and special teams. Fellow early enrollee Daniel McMillian has been solid during the first few practices, and he now has a significant edge over Anzalone.
The setback may also force Muschamp and his staff to make a few personnel changes at linebacker for the time being. Anzalone began camp as a backup to Antonio Morrison, who moved to the middle. Darrin Kitchens and Neiron Ball could potentially be moved to fill in the gap.
However, Gator fans should not panic. Anzalone was rated a 5-star recruit by Rivals.com for a reason. He is immensely talented and should still see extensive playing time next season. The injury is significant, but it should not cripple the freshman's first season.
Stock Up: Matt Jones
Florida's 2012 offense was predicated on an effective rushing attack, and Mike Gillislee flourished as a result. Matt Jones, meanwhile, looks like he will pick up right where his former teammate left off last season.
His tough running style has been on full display during practice. The main highlight came last Saturday when Jones ran right through Cody Riggs on an option pitch play. It was a prime example of the raw power that Jones can use to wear down opposing defenders over the course of a game.
Jones will be the primary back for the Gators this season barring an injury. However, it was assumed that freshman Kelvin Taylor would take away a large chunk of the team's workload. If Jones continues to impress during the coming weeks, this plan might change until Taylor becomes fully acquainted with the playbook.
I have said Jones has the potential to be a breakout star, and he has proven this assertion during the first days of spring camp.
Stock Down: Jeff Driskel
Jeff Driskel is not locked in a position battle, and his starting job is by no means at risk. However, he has failed to show dramatic improvement over the past few days.
On the team's first day of practice in full apparel, Driskel did not seem to be in sync with his receiving corps. As SB Nation's Alligator Army blog reported, he overthrew his targets during full eleven-on-eleven drills and later threw behind his receivers during other drills.
It is only the first week of practice, which means that Driskel has plenty of time to make progress. However, he will need to make a larger impact on offense if the Gators have any prayer of competing in the SEC East. If you are a Florida fan, you would have liked to see immediate improvement from the rising junior.
Still, there is no need to panic over Driskel's slow start. He has plenty of time to turn things around.
Stock Up: Dante Fowler, Jr.
Dante Fowler quickly made a name for himself last season as he earned a selection for the SEC Coaches All-Freshman team.
As for his performance this spring, let's just say he is giving Nebraska transfer Tyler Moore nightmares.
The Gators are deep at defensive end, so Fowler will really have to fight to stand out among Jonathan Bullard and his other competition. In the meantime, he will be a fine fill-in for Ronald Powell at the Buck linebacker position until Powell fully recovers from his ACL injury.
Even if Fowler cannot work his way into the starting lineup by the beginning of the season, there is no doubting that we will hear his name a lot as the fall progresses. He has proven he can be a handful for opposing teams and, as he is showing now, even his own.
Stock Down: Kick Returners
As disappointing as Andre Debose has been offensively, he has made up for it somewhat by being a huge threat on kick returns. Unfortunately, he and the other Gator return men have only been a threat to themselves thus far.
According to the folks at Alligator Army, Debose, Demarcus Robinson and Marcus Roberson were among the Gators who struggled to even catch kicks under the Florida sun, let alone return them. Whether it was the machine or an actual punter sending them deep, too many footballs ended up on the ground instead of in their arms.
Obviously, this little "episode" is not a huge concern for the Gators. After all, everybody has a bad day once in a while. Still, one of Florida's biggest assets is normally its special-teams play. It is a bit unsettling to see everyone struggling at the same time.
Fear not. These struggles are more likely the result of offseason rust than anything else. No matter, they need to be resolved going forward.