It’s hard to view Ronald Powell’s first two seasons at Florida as anything better than a disappointment.
Powell came to UF as the No. 1 overall recruit in the class of 2010, but his production has yet to live up to the hype. Although the junior Buck linebacker totaled a team-high six sacks in 2011, the majority of those came as the result of strong pass coverage or on plays where the opposing quarterback moved into his path. The Gators struggled to generate pressure off the edge for the majority of the season, and much of the blame fell on Powell.
But, if early reports out of spring practice are any indication, Powell is taking strides in the right direction.
Coach Will Muschamp said Powell was the defensive player of the day in Saturday’s scrimmage, the team’s first of the year.
“He had the most production of anybody up front, and of anybody, really,” Muschamp said.
Powell had a sack, a couple third-down stops and some good pressures, according to Muschamp.
Muschamp added that Powell has had a good offseason, working hard to improve his pad level, hand placement and ability to play against blocks — criticisms that have been talking points throughout Powell’s first two seasons.
“Just overall pleased with his effort and everything he’s trying to do,” Muschamp said.
Run game on point: Despite Powell’s work on the defensive end, Muschamp said Florida’s offense still had a successful day running the ball.
The main architect of that rushing attack was Mike Gillislee, who was named the offensive player of the day and is close to cementing himself as the team’s No. 1 back heading into the fall.
“If he continues down the same path, there’s no question,” Muschamp said.
While Gillislee’s abilities as a downhill runner have been on display for some time, he also did well in pass protection Saturday, Muschamp said.
Gillislee made a few highlight plays in the game, including a 20-yard run on the first series when he made a strong cut that caused two defenders to miss.
“He continues to have a really good spring and a productive spring,” Muschamp said. “Got the ball north and south, did a nice job. He’s got good vision, a good feel for the running game.”
Quarterback competition: Muschamp said “nobody really distanced themselves as far as the quarterback position” during the scrimmage. Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy all continue to split reps, and each had a few bright spots on Saturday.
Brissett and Driskel both had completion percentages around 60, but Muschamp stressed the need for better accuracy, especially in third-down situations.
Muschamp specifically praised his quarterbacks’ ability to manage the huddle and avoid procedural issues in the first scrimmage after only six days of practice.
Freshmen a mixed bag: Florida’s coach also doled out compliments to a few early enrollees. Although neither started Saturday, offensive linemen D.J. Humphries and Jessamen Dunker were both commended for their talent and athleticism.
Linebacker Antonio Morrison drew compliments as a “physical, tough, instinctive linebacker that’s done some nice things,” while wide receiver Latroy Pittman was perhaps the biggest surprise of the bunch.
“Pittman is a guy who is really coming on and doing a nice job,” Muschamp said.
“He’s still swimming a little bit mentally, which is to be expected, but he’s physical, he mixes it in well, he’s made some plays down the field for us. … I’ve been very pleased with his progress to this point, I really have.”
Muschamp tagged Pittman as a hard worker and someone whose strength and physicality exceeds what would normally be expected of a freshman.
Not all of the freshman reviews were positive. Muschamp said defensive back Willie Bailey has speed, length and coverage ability but needs to get physically stronger.
Muschamp also mentioned defensive tackle Damien Jacobs’ need to become more consistent, a criticism that has popped up again and again this spring.
The only significant injury to come from the weekend was to defensive end Earl Okine, who will miss the rest of spring with a back problem. Okine appeared in all 13 games last season, recording eight tackles.
Contact Greg Luca at [email protected].