Florida football notebook: Anthony Richardson’s focus among takeaways on Gators’ top players

By OnlyGators.com Staff
August 6, 2022
Florida football notebook: Anthony Richardson’s focus among takeaways on Gators’ top players
Football

Image Credit: Alex Rodriguez, UAA

Training camp began Tuesday as Florida Gators football begins a new era under head coach Billy Napier. The coaching staff and select players held court with local media this week as the focus shifted from the offseason program to Phase 6 of Napier’s process with the playbook being installed for the fifth time ahead of the season.

Improving the Gators’ discipline has been the primary focus of Napier and his staff through the offseason, and while Florida has, by all accounts, taken significant steps forward in that area, it will now be incumbent upon the players to prove that translates to their work ethic on the practice field.

With the Gators now four days into their 22-day preseason training camp, let’s take a look at where many of the team’s key players stand ahead of a season in which most of what transpires will come from the unknown.

QB Anthony Richardson: No single player is more integral to Florida’s on-field success in 2022 than the sophomore signal caller, who impressed in spurts last season. Despite Richardson’s flashes of talent and raised offseason expectations, it must be remembered that he completed just 59.4% of his passes for 529 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions last season. Where he truly impressed was with his legs as he averaged 7.9 yards per carry while rumbling for 401 yards and three touchdowns on the ground. Also key to putting Richardson’s 2021 play in context: He was almost never completely healthy.

As such, all we can do is project what Richardson’s play and overall production will look like in 2022. Some have him among the first-round quarterbacks selected in the 2023 NFL Draft. Others believe he is not among the top four quarterbacks in the SEC entering the season. Napier said this week that Richardson has been trying to keep all expectations at bay while focusing on the season in front of him.

“Part of the job of a player like Anthony … is really not allowing some of this noise to affect your process in terms of how you prepare, your character, your values, your expectations, your standards,” Napier said Tuesday. “When your standards and expectations are much higher than anyone on the outside could have for you, that gives you an opportunity.

“Anthony is very aware. That’s one of the things I really like about him. He has good awareness, good self-awareness that he is an inexperienced player, that he has potential, but also that he can improve. There’s lots to learn.”

Napier’s aim for Richardson is to ease into his role as a leader. As he becomes more comfortable during training camp, the hope is that he will set an example for the other players on the team – not only in terms of what to do on the field but how to carry oneself off it.

“Anthony is focused on the work, and there’s certainly a lot of work to do: improving as a leader, growing and maturing as a person – very much a young person – increasing his football intelligence, developing his skill. There’s just so much more out there for the young man,” Napier said. “Anthony has lots of work to do here. He is fully aware of that, understands that, comprehends those things and has worked extremely hard. His focus is on the work, and that’s exactly where it should be.”

DL Gervon Dexter Sr.: The offseason hype for Dexter has been considerable as reports from spring practice pegged him as one of the standout players not only for his on-field performance by the way he reshaped his body in the weight room. The sophomore spent a majority of his time inside last season but appears poised to play more defensive end given he’s excelled against offensive tackles an defensive coordinator Patrick Toney aims to put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

“He is a real flexible player. … His length will match up with tackles in this league very well. His overall versatility, his basketball background, his athleticism, that lends to help him across the front. You’ll see him play in a variety of techniques and positions throughout the course of the year,” Toney said.

“He has done a really good job of embracing that role. And then the thing I respect about him a lot is he spends a lot of extra time. Every great player I’ve been around has spent a lot of extra time in the film room trying to match their craft on the field, and that’s what he has done a really good job of.”

OL O’Cyrus Torrence: If Dexter is the big man to watch on defense, Torrence holds that same label on the opposite side of the ball. A junior transfer from Louisiana, the 6-foot-4, 347-pound behemoth was so impressive for the Ragin’ Cajuns that he was a Preseason All-SEC first-team selection in his first year in the league. (The only Florida offensive player to be chosen to any of the three teams.) This is no accident. Just ask Dexter, who has gone against him more than most in practice to this point.

“O’Cyrus is a big, big guy, and he can move well. Just the way — his approach. You wouldn’t know you’re going against a pro until you go against O’Cyrus,” Dexter said. “Physically, he does all the right stuff. … When you’re pass rushing against O’Cyrus, you’ve really got to sit down and figure out what he’s doing because if you just go out there and try to rush him freely, it ain’t going to work. He’s been a huge, huge — that was a big gift for O’Cyrus to come to Florida. He’s a great player.”

Torrence said this week that he actually entered the transfer portal not thinking Florida would be a potential destination because he assumed the Gators were stacked up front offensively. Of course, he was pleased when the coaching staff inquired about his availability as he believes his focus on technique sets him apart from others nationally.

Offensive coordinator Rob Sale, a long-time offensive line coach in college and the NFL who remains in charge of that position group for the Gators, clearly feels the same way as Dexter does about Torrence — not just as a player but as the person leading a crucial unit for Florida.

“Unbelievable human first, person and character. Identified that when we were there at [Louisiana]. But he’s big, he’s twitchy. Football comes easy to O’Cyrus, it really does,” Sale said. “We have a plan and a teaching progression to get a freshman to be able to play early if they are ready, but you got to meet us in the middle. … O’Cyrus missed like the first two series [in the] first game of his freshman year and then he started the rest of his career there and he was ready to go. … He’ll have a lot of success here.”

S Trey Dean III: It was a bit of a surprise when Dean decided to stay for his senior season, but the Gators — none more than Toney — were certainly enthused to have a talent of his caliber back. Not only will Dean ensure Florida is experienced on the back end, his familiarity with his teammates and the program made him a key player whose brain the coaching staff could pick as it was formulating its plans for the season.

“The big thing we talk about at the safety position specifically, since that’s my group, not only do we want to be the most gifted players on the field, we want to be the most skilled players on the field,” said Toney, also the safeties coach. “That means we have a mental checklist when we line up. … I think Trey has done a good job on focusing on those areas of his game, the details of becoming the most skilled player on the field. I think you’ll see that translate in the season.”

LBs Ventrell Miller, Amari Burney: Miller, a redshirt senior, could be the key to the Gators’ defense this season given his experience and presence inside, while there are high expectations for Burney to become more effective off the edge during his senior season with the program. “Both those guys, you could see their veteran leadership on a day-to-day basis. Ventrell is one of the more vocal, if not the most vocal leader, on the defense. And then Burney does it through example, being a veteran and having done this for such a long time. He really handles himself like a professional,” Toney said.

“As far as improvement goes, first and foremost, you definitely know the difference from Ventrell Miller is out there for us on defense. He does a great job of taking charge, making calls and then playing extremely fast. Burney has really improved. He has always been a very good edge player. Watching past film, he has done a really good job of being a hybrid player. He has improved from the spring and going into the summer playing in the box, playing physically, really becoming an every-down linebacker.”

LB Brenton Cox Jr.: Co-defensive coordinator Sean Spencer, also the defensive line coach, expects Cox to continue improving his play after a stellar second campaign at Florida where he started all 13 games at EDGE, matched a program-record high in a single game with four sacks and finished the season with 8.5 quarterback takedowns. “That guy’s done an incredible job changing his body type. He was a real muscle-bound kid in the spring. I looked at him, I said, ‘Wow, he’s really big.’ He did look like an NFL football player, but he’s really changed his body and leaned up, slimmed down,” Spencer said. “… That guy is a professional in the way he handles himself day-in and day-out. He is going to work at his craft. He is constantly changing what he does and evaluating it. So, I’m excited about that.”

DL Tyreak Sapp: After taking a redshirt in his freshman season at Florida, Sapp looks poised for a breakout, at least according to Spencer. “He had a heck of a spring. Just unbelievable football, played with great energy, work ethic always. He’s a guy that I use as the example a lot of times in the meetings to show them how we want to practice,” Spencer said. “He’s got great a skill set; powerful kid. We’re excited about him.”

OL Michael Tarquin: Flashing in two spot starts for the Gators last season, the sky is the limit for the redshirt sophomore, according to Sale. “You’re just talking about a guy that approaches everything the right way. It doesn’t matter if it’s film study, prehab, rehab, how you take the field and practice, everything’s 110%,” he said. “… Obviously, we’re expecting big things from him this year, but he’s going to answer the bell. He’s a stud when it comes to his attitude and his daily approach, how he does everything. … I’ll take 20 Michael Tarquins every day all day.”

DL Desmond Watson: Though he did not earn a start last season, Watson played in all 13 games as a reserve and is still a bit of a work in progress. “He’s really bought into doing what he’s supposed to do off the field to get himself right to play. And it’s just more about conditioning because, if you watch the guy, he can move at that size. It’s pretty incredible; it’s like it’s a wonder that he can move like that,” Spencer said. “… What we’re trying to do with Des is just not make him a guy that’s just a two-gap stop guy. We’re trying to make that guy a complete football player.”

DB Devin Moore: A four-star prospect out of Naples, Moore is expected to compete for significant playing time right away given Florida’s secondary is undergoing a makeover behind Toney and cornerbacks coach Corey Raymond. Toney saw Moore’s potential right out of the gate and believes he will have a lot of success with the Gators. “Devin is the first recruit I talked to when I took this job. He has done a really good job, man. He is extremely mature for his age. He is smart. He picks it up fast, very athletic, has great length. He has just done a tremendous job in spring football, and then continued that throughout the summer program,” Toney said.

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