With the Florida Gators set to begin 2014 spring practice on Wednesday, March 19, head coach Will Muschamp media Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics concerning the team. He provided injury updates, offseason player evaluations and went over a number of hot topics entering the season.
Redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose (ACL): Cleared on March 28 – “Has been in our offseason program, has progressed very well, and we’re pleased with his progress and where he is. He’ll be in non-contact situations for us in the spring.”
Freshman RB Brandon Powell (foot): Cleared late in spring practice – “Had a pre-existing issue with his foot from high school, had a small fracture. We decided in February to go ahead and have surgery and put a pin in that. … To that point, in January, had done an outstanding job in our conditioning drills. Great change of direction and speed. We’re really excited about that. He’s one of the guys we’re really excited about. It’s unfortunate that something like that happened from high school.”
Redshirt senior defensive tackle Leon Orr (wrist): Cleared on May 1 – “He has a fractured wrist from the season. It was a situation at the end of the season, he had about a month to go in the year and we felt like it would rehab itself. Going back and looking at it the first of February, we got a second opinion of whether to have surgery. … He would probably have been limited reps anyway with as many young guys as we need up front go help reps.”
Junior running back Matt Jones (meniscus): Cleared on May 1 – “Matt Jones is progressing well. … He will not go through spring. He will not go through non-contact. He will rehab there in the pit during practice but extremely pleased with his progress and where he is.”
Redshirt freshman linebacker Matt Rolin (ACL): Cleared on May 1 – “Doing very well as far as rehab is concerned.”
Redshirt freshman LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder): Cleared on May 1 – “Very comfortable with where he is.”
Redshirt sophomore LB Jeremi Powell (ACL): Cleared on June 1 – “Progressing very well with his knee.”
Redshirt sophomore tight end Colin Thompson (foot): To be determined – “Has not been cleared because of foot issues. The last opinion we got is that he needed to shut it down completely, and we’ll have another opinion when spring is over, but he will not partake in spring.”
Freshman offensive lineman Nolan Kelleher (back): To be determined – “Coming in had a little bit of a back issue and at this time has not been cleared for spring. I don’t know when he will be. We’re going to get a second opinion sometime this week on some things. But he has not been cleared.”
STATE OF THE TEAM
Muschamp spoke for a few minutes about the Florida team as a whole before launching into specifics about players and positions.
“Excited about being on the field. Very frustrating, disappointing fall for all of us at the University of Florida. We need to get things turned back around. That’s what we plan on.
“Starting offensively, drastic change schematically. Going back and looking at some things from 2012 and first part of 2013 with our offense, where we were productive and where we were not productive. … More explosive plays in the run game and in the passing game from the gun. More production, more yards per attempt to incompletion in all situations. Obviously, we’re more comfortable in the gun situations. So that’s why you hire Kurt Roper to come in here, his development at the quarterback position, attention to detail, and very positive with the kids. Very good positive response from our players. They’re excited about where we are right now.
“Haven’t gotten on the field and done a lot as football is concerned. I know from the schematic standpoint, the guys are excited about what we’re doing. That’s good. You’ve got to have belief in what you’re doing. I feel like that was a huge issue for us last season. We lost belief and confidence in what we were doing. It affected our entire team from the offensive side of the ball. I’m excited about that.
“Defensively, we just need to be more consistent – very inconsistent last year. I think it starts up front with playing blocks up front better. We need to be more productive with our front guys, more production from the linebacker position. You go back and look at some guys that have taken a bunch of snaps for us, we need more production from them. We’re inexperienced at the defensive back position, but I think maybe it’s as talented as we’ve been since we’ve been here. Excited about what we have back there, athletically, watching those guys move around.
“Special teams, our kicking situation was atrocious last year. We’ve got to get that fixed. I think from a punting standpoint, Johnny [Townsend] and Kyle [Christy] both have NFL legs. Those guys will punt on Sunday. We just need to let those guys battle it out, and that will be good for our football team. Our coverage units and return units in three years here [have been and] will be pretty good. We need to continue to progress there and make subtle changes within our schemes and what we do. But I’m really excited about it. We’ve got good team speed and good athleticism and enough guys across the board to have very good special teams coverage and return units.
“Really, defensively, we’ve been a top-10 defense for three years and we’ve been good on special teams. Offensively is where we need to make our strides, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
PLAYER EVALUATIONS AND INFORMATION
Muschamp said he will be looking at moving redshirt senior Max Garcia, who started 12 games on the left side of the offensive line (mostly at guard) during his first season playing at Florida, to center. Redshirt freshman Cameron Dillard and redshirt junior Trip Thurman will both work at center and guard.
Redshirt senior tackle Chaz Green missed the entire 2012 season with a torn labrum but has been completely cleared for spring practice and is already turning heads. “[He] has picked it up to another level as far as his commitment, his work ethic,” Muschamp said. “I’m out in here last Friday before spring break, and he’s in here Friday afternoon, working out and absolutely grinding. I mean, the guy has been a great example for our entire offseason program on how he’s handled himself and how he’s worked.”
Redshirt junior Tyler Moore saw plenty of action at right tackle last year but has been moved inside. Joining him there will be senior Trenton Brown, who will see time on the outside as well.
Muschamp praised junior left tackle D.J. Humphries for consistently keeping his weight over 290 pounds this offseason. Humphries has struggled to maintain his girth since arriving at UF but has been able to maintain his weight over the last few months.
Redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson did not play last season after suffering a physical setback early in camp but impressed the coaching staff with his athleticism when he was able to practice. He is a candidate to see a good number of snaps this year.
Muschamp expects sophomore Joey Ivie to play both defensive tackle and defensive end but will work him out at the former position to start spring practice.
Sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson had an underwhelming freshman campaign with off-the-field issues and lack of on-the-field development contributing to his lack of a role. Muschamp seemed pleased with his progress in the offseason in both areas. “He’s working hard; he’s doing everything we’ve asked,” he said. “I’m real pleased with where he is. We just got to continue to move forward.”
Muschamp said one reason why Roper is such a good fit for Florida is because of the presence of redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, who will be able to adjust to the new scheme well because he’s “been exposed to a lot since he’s been here.” Driskel is obviously more comfortable playing out of the shotgun and using his athleticism.
The work ethic and intensity of the Gators’ linebackers – junior Antonio Morrison, redshirt senior Michael Taylor and sophomore Jarrad Davis – has pleased Muschamp. He believes Morrison is humbled from his transgressions a season ago while Davis and redshirt senior Neiron Ball are continuing to step up and improve.
“He might be as well-respected of a player in our locker room because it’s real. He works hard. Football is important to him,” said Muschamp of Davis. “He’s a physical, tough player. He works hard in the weight room. He works hard in the class room. He works hard on the practice fields. He’s got great work habits and was a productive player as a true freshman. I think all of those things combined, he’s a natural leader as far as those things are concerned.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp thanked former players – namely Matt Elam, Josh Evans, Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins and Caleb Sturgis for not just coming back to finish out their degrees but also working with the football team while on campus.
» On the basketball team: “Men’s basketball, undefeated season, 18-0. I was able to go to the game Saturday and used an example to our guys about a true team. When you talk about unselfish, play with relentless effort and toughness, guys that have developed their games in their time here. Casey Prather is a guy who is probably a first-team pick, a guy who two years ago [played] limited minutes and [look] what he did. He battled through it and kept developing his game. Scottie Wilbekin was probably the player of the year in the conference, just watching the year he had. It’s been fun to watch those guys, men’s swimming and diving, indoor track and field, and then soccer there in the fall with Becky [Burleigh]. They do an outstanding job.”
» On whether he has noticed the Gators sporting a new attitude after a difficult 2012 season: “I don’t know that you can put the season behind you at all, you need to have a good memory for that and not let it happen again. We’ve talked about those sorts of things but our guys are hungry, our guys are working hard. At the end of the day, you shut up and have a good memory. That’s kind of been our motto around here.”
» On whether the offensive players working under so many different offensive coordinators is a negative: “Well, I always tell guys the more you’re exposed to, the more you’re going to learn, number one. Number two, if you have dreams and aspirations of playing in the National Football League, look at the coaching turnover of the assistants at that level. Every year, you’re playing for somebody new. Not always, but a lot of times. So learn to adapt and learn a different style and soak in and be a sponge on everything the coach can help you with.”
» On how hard it is to cultivate leaders: “I think that a lot of those guys emerge through adversity. You find out about the guys who really want to be a part of the program when you go through something like that. Those guys that are here are working their butts off. I see a great work ethic and a great resolve with this group. There’s a lot of accountability within the team. That’s something you look for every day. Being a leader is hard. Some guys, you can be a leader on Tuesday and then on Wednesday you don’t feel good. You can’t be a leader in those situations. It’s an everyday thing. It’s a 24/7/365 job.”
» On whether the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut will be a normal spring game: ” I want to have a spring game every year. Last year, I just didn’t feel like it was fair – with six offensive linemen healthy – to put those guys through that. You know, I want to have a spring game. I have all plans to have a spring game every year. I think it’s important for those guys to get out in front of that crowd, the coaches off the field, and make them make calls and communicate and produce. There’s no question. I want to have a spring game every year.”
» On his decision to open practices: “You do the same things, you’re going to get the same results. So, I’ve got some friends in town that are big Gator fans, and they want to come to practice. I’ll let them come. [Smirking] Nah, we’ve got great fans and I’m very appreciative of their support. I’ve had people reach out to me and say, ‘Hey, we’d like to be able to have more access to the team.’ We’re really kind of set in what we do defensively. We are what we are. We are going to make subtle changes based on our personnel. We are what we are on special teams. Kurt and I sat down when I made the decision a couple weeks back and I said, ‘You have any issue with us opening practice?’ He said, ‘I don’t have any issue with what we’re doing.’ I think it’s best for our program at this time to do that.”
» On whether it can be a competitive advantage to have practices closed: “I feel in the first year of a coordinator it is, quite frankly. There’s a lot of things that get out there. It’s not the same as it was 15 years ago. Everybody wants to say this is what we used to do, but it has changed a lot. I do believe there is some competitive advantage from that standpoint. There are things you do pick up, regardless of what coaches in our league say, from people on the Internet and different things we’re able to have access to. You do see things. Everybody’s spring game is televised now. I think in that situation, we need to go do what we do because our guys need to get turns and reps as many times as possible with just 29 practices in the fall before our first game. There’s no question you can pick up things from what people do.”
» On the proposed 10-second rule not being approved: “I didn’t think what we’re doing is wrong. I do think the administration of the game is difficult for the officials. … The officials in our league do the best job as far as administrating the game. When I was in the Big 12, there would be two or three guys moving on offense. This isn’t Canadian ball…I mean, what’s legal? And the ball would [get] snapped and sometimes it was hard for them to get their eyes in the right spots because the ball was getting snapped. To me, it’s not so much a 10-second rule; it is more about the administration of the game. And again, in our league, I’ve talked to a coach that’s a good friend of mine in another league, he said the official will tell him if it’s one or two guys moving we’re not going to do anything, we’re going to let it go. Is that the rules? When we did we change to rules? … If people want to go fast, that’s fine, we got to get lined up and play. We plan to go fast sometimes. That’s a part of the game. You play by the rules. That’s what the rules are.”