Young players got valuable reps in final scrimmage

The Gators held their second and final scrimmage of training camp inside the Swamp on Sunday night. While the first scrimmage prominently featured the starters as the coaches continued to install plays, the second scrimmage was all about the young guys.

The coaches pretty much know what they’re going to get out of the veterans by this point, and they don’t have much to gain by playing a bunch of snaps in a scrimmage. The last thing you want to do is lose a key player to an injury that could’ve easily been avoided less than two weeks before the season opener.

Many of the younger players, meanwhile, haven’t played a ton of snaps under the lights in the Swamp. Instead of telling the players exactly what to do and correcting every mistake immediately after it happened, the coaches took more of a hands-off approach. The coaches won’t be on the field with them during games, so Mullen thinks the scrimmage showed them how important every little detail is.

“Any time you go in the stadium, it’s a different mindset,” Mullen said. “There’s pride that you take with playing every time you step foot on the field in the Swamp. So, that’s really the biggest mindset of what we do. Scrimmage-wise, you kind of stay off and let the guys play. You get into scrimmage situations, you want to see how guys … translate everything we’ve learned into a game situation.

“A sack is a drive-killer; you don’t just put the ball down and play the next play. An explosive play is a touchdown; you don’t just put the ball down and play the next play. So, you feel the game situation of what goes on while you’re there, and the players get a feel for how each individual play is going to have an effect on that drive and an effect on the game. You don’t get that as much in practice.”

In general, Mullen said he was pleased with the energy and effort the younger guys played with, and some of them proved that they’re ready to play this season.

One of the groups Mullen had his eyes on the most was the offensive line. He called the first-string offensive line “solid” and added that they didn’t get many reps on Sunday. They spent the night trying to identify some players who might be ready to join the rotation.

Elsewhere, Nay’Quan Wright turned in an impressive game from the running back position. He’s the third-leading returning rusher among the running backs from 2020, and he’s trying to hold off Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman for playing time this season.

“Nay’Quan’s done a great job,” Mullen said. “Nay’Quan’s a really intelligent guy, understands the offense, understands the system, is a really good receiver out of the backfield as well. Being an intelligent guy, understanding the game a lot, he puts himself in very good positions out there on the field, whether it’s understanding the blocking scheme, the protection or route-running. I think he does a great job with that.”

Mullen expects big things out of the running game this season.

“A lot of those [linemen] have played, and I think when you look at the experience with the offensive line and experience with running back, you have the opportunity for more explosive plays out of that position, and you’re seeing it.”

On the other side of the ball, Khris Bogle continued what’s been a big camp for him. The edge rusher tied for second on the team with four sacks last year, and he showed flashes of his enormous potential during the last four games or so. He’s in the middle of a logjam for playing time at BUCK with Brenton Cox, Jeremiah Moon, Andrew Chatfield and others.

Mullen has seen Bogle make progress throughout the offseason.

“I think Khris has really kind of taken another step of being ready to play, has a lot of flexibility within his game,” he said. “He’s a guy that, to me, [has] really stepped up special teams-wise, and that shows. So, I think he’s really kind of taken a huge step forward from a young guy that was just here and there as a rotating guy on the field, getting some reps, into – I guess if we were NFL, and we had to cut it down to 53 – a guy that would be on a 53-man roster.”

The scrimmage was also important for the punters. Oftentimes, they’ll just move the ball to the other side of the field and spot it arbitrarily during scrimmages, and all of the punts take place during a special period of practice. They didn’t do that for this scrimmage. They punted the ball just like they would within the normal flow of a game. Mullen thought all three of the punters did a nice job of flipping the field.

With the final scrimmage behind them, the Gators will spend this week putting the finishing touches on training camp. They’ll go light on Monday with a helmets-only practice. They’ll focus on third downs on Tuesday and red-zone situations on Wednesday. They’ll recap everything on Thursday and do a mock game inside the Swamp on Friday to make sure they have all of the game day logistics and procedures ironed out.

The players will get the weekend off and begin their game week routine next Monday.

Mullen is excited to welcome a full-capacity crowd back to the Swamp for the first time in nearly two years.

“The next time we’re putting the pads on, going in the Swamp, it’s for real,” Mullen said. “Can’t wait to see the Gator fans back out there, the electricity, the energy in the stadium and the environment of getting back to having all our fans there and supporting their team. I know the team’s ready to get back out there and do that and play for real.”