Freshmen impressing in games and practice

Freshmen impressing in games and practice

Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler have made an impact off the edge of the Florida defensive line this season. Linebacker Antonio Morrison has filled in when Jelani Jenkins has dealt with injuries. Those are the freshmen most Florida fans know about, but they aren't the only ones catching the eye of the Florida coaching staff. Plenty of others are impressing with their play in practice.

"I'm very pleased with the freshman class," Will Muschamp said.

It's not just in what the group of first-year players has done on the field on Saturdays this fall. Muschamp's excitement about the group also goes to the practice field where some less heralded freshmen are opening eyes.

The depth at cornerback this season has carried the Gators. Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins have all played well at cornerback, and the strong season for the trio has kept freshman Brian Poole off the field. That wouldn't be the case in most season.

The freshman cornerback was the No. 2 cornerback in the country last season. He has played on special teams this season for the Gators, but Muschamp also sees a lot of upside in the secondary when the Florida defense needs him.

"I think Brian Poole is going to be a really good player for us," Muschamp said. "I think he's playing behind three really good corners. I think he's played well on special teams. This guy is going to be a really good player for us. He's really doing some nice things."

With the Gators losing senior safety Josh Evans and junior safety Matt Elam possibly leaving early for the NFL, the Florida defense is expected to have two spots open in the back end of the secondary.

Marcus Maye could factor in at the position. He's redshirting this season after tearing his meniscus before coming to campus. When Maye started to get back on the field in fall camp, the knee started to sweel and the coaches backed off trying to get him on the field early.

That means Maye will take a redshirt this season. It's not a knock on his talent but more about the coaches wanting to play it safe with his knee. Now that he's back to full speed, Maye is showing his ability in practice.

"Marcus Maye has done some really nice things on scout team," Muschamp said. "He's a guy that can really cover a lot of ground on the backend. He has good coverage skills and a good knack for playing the ball down the field."

There were few players in the freshman class that seemed more certain for a redshirt than Alex McCalister. He's listed at 6-6, 222 pounds as a defensive end for the Gators, but there are still questions about what position he will play on the field.

The Florida defensive coaches took McCalister in last year's recruiting class as a project because of his speed and a frame to fill out under the program of strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman.

"Alex McCallister is a young man we're redshirting, but I think has a big upside for our football team," Muschamp said.

Despite the inability for Latroy Pittman or Raph Andrades to make a big impact on the offense this season, Muschamp did single both out for their performance in practice and their expectations in the future.

Pittman hurt his ankle during the Vanderbilt game, and Muschamp said he was thankful the injury "wasn't as bad as I thought it was when I saw it." Andrades had an increased role against Missouri, and the Gators will need both receivers going forward in the next few years.

Pittman had a big spring

"I think both guys need to continue to come on for us. I think they are both going to be good players for us," Muschamp said.

Freshman Matt Jones has seen time at running back and Muschamp has seen "some really nice things" from him in the backfield.

With Xavier Nixon out on Saturday against the Tigers, freshman offensive tackle D.J. Humphries earned the start on the edge. He enrolled early and went through spring practice with the team. The challenge will be his weight. Humphries is listed at 6-6, 275 pounds, and he'll need to continue bulking up to reach his potential on the edge.

"DJ Humphries got a start this past weekend and I think is going to be a really good player at the left tackle position," Muschamp said.

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