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Florida Gators: 3 takeaways from Billy Napier’s first spring practice

The biggest change so far? A focus on little things that was missing under the previous regime.
Florida coach Billy Napier said the Gators still have a lot to do as they transition between coaches.
Florida coach Billy Napier said the Gators still have a lot to do as they transition between coaches. [ MATT BAKER | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Mar. 16

GAINESVILLE — The Gators’ first spring practice Tuesday gave us a quick peek at how Florida operates under Billy Napier and what we can start to expect this fall. Here are three day-after takeaways from Day 1:

Related: Why Florida QB Emory Jones stayed with the Gators instead of entering transfer portal

1. Anthony Richardson looks fine.

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson suffered hamstring and knee injuries last year with the Gators, but he seems fine this spring.
Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson suffered hamstring and knee injuries last year with the Gators, but he seems fine this spring. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Richardson’s health was one of the biggest stories last year (first a hamstring injury, then a knee injury) and will remain a focus heading into this fall. He had offseason surgery on his knee, resumed throwing last month and was finally cleared for practice Monday.

“Being back, that’s the most important part to me,” Richardson said. “It felt great.”

That’s great news for UF. When healthy, he has shown flashes of being one of the most dynamic players in the country. The fact that he practiced without a brace and didn’t look to be bothered by his leg is an encouraging sign.

Coach Billy Napier said UF is limiting some of the concepts Richardson runs to keep him from moving around too much, and coaches are a little quick with the whistle to protect him as precautions.

“I was impressed with what I saw,” Napier said. “His attitude has been good. I think he’s impressed me with how he retains information, his attention to detail... (The ball) certainly comes out of his hand really well. There’s a reason why people think that he has an opportunity to be a good player. It’s our job to help him become the best player he can be. That’s what we’re going to do.”

2. Small things matter a lot more.

Florida Gators strength coach Mark Hocke met with reporters after UF's first spring practice of 2022.
Florida Gators strength coach Mark Hocke met with reporters after UF's first spring practice of 2022. [ MATT BAKER | Tampa Bay Times ]

When the new staff met with players from last season, one issue kept coming up: details.

“We put a premium on that,” said Mark Hocke, UF’s director of football strength and conditioning. “Making the small things important.”

In conditioning sessions, small things include following that day’s dress code, arriving early and working for the entire 60 minutes. During practice, they harp on things like carrying the ball in the correct hand while running down the sideline.

Richardson said the team didn’t “care enough” about those issues last year.

Related: What we’ve learned about Billy Napier’s army of Florida Gators analysts

“Putting your hand behind the line, or just looking a certain way, hands on your hips, just things like that, because all that stuff correlates when it comes to the game,” Richardson said. “So I feel like the little things messed us up.”

Athletic director Scott Stricklin seemed to agree. In his news conference after firing Dan Mullen, Stricklin was vague but said on-field problems are symptoms of other issues.

“It’s a lot of little things you have to pay attention to,” Stricklin said then. “We have an opportunity here to go get someone who can really focus on those things.”

Napier and his staff seem to be doing so thus far.

3. The program transition remains a work in progress.

Billy Napier said the Gators are continuing to transition.
Billy Napier said the Gators are continuing to transition. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

In the 15-minute window open to reporters, Napier corrected a student assistant who needed to move slightly to the right as he flipped the ball to quarterbacks for a drill. That’s a sign of this staff’s attention to detail, but it’s also a reminder that moving from one staff to another is an adjustment that takes time.

“I think we have a lot of work to do,” Napier said.

That’s to be expected because everything is new. Napier spent most of his first three months on the job recruiting and hiring staff. Now he’s trying to get those newcomers and the holdovers up to speed on how the program is supposed to function.

“Everybody’s got a role,” Napier said. “I think that’s part of the culture that we want to try to create. Every person in that building contributes to our team.”

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