With the Florida Gators set to begin 2013 spring practice on Wednesday, head coach Will Muschamp and new defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics concerning the team’s defense.
A NEW MAN IN CHARGE…
Durkin will be entering his fourth year as a member of the Gators’ coaching staff but will begin the 2013 season with a brand new task – coordinating a defense. After spending his career as a position coach and special teams coordinator, Durkin is now the man in charge of Florida’s defense and realizes he has plenty of work ahead of him.
» Durkin on becoming the defensive coordinator: “I’m very excited, excited because of the guys I get to work with both players and coaches. I think it’s a great opportunity. I’m very excited about it. It’s a new challenge. I’ve been doing special teams for a while, so any time you do something for that long, you kind of get in your routine and get to the normalcies of it and all that. It’s exciting for me to have a new challenge and some different things to work on and do.”
» Durkin on his defensive philosophy: “The number one thing that it comes down to is, and I think you’ve seen the identity of our defense, what we as a staff want to build here. We want to be tough, blue-collar team. We want to play with unbelievable effort and enthusiasm in what we’re doing. That’s the way I coach. That’s my personality. That’s what I hope I’ve carried over to our special teams while I’m here and it will be the same thing with our defense. We got a great system in place. We’re not changing terminology and all that. Coach Muschamp, it’s his system and he’s a great defensive mind. It’s been great for all of us to learn that system. To me, that is what this game is all about, being a blue-collar team, both mentally and physically tough, playing with great enthusiasm and great attitude. “
» Durkin on suddenly managing coaches that were his peers as position coaches: “Our defensive staff is pretty darn good, and we work well together. It’s always been a together type thing. Travaris Robinson does an unbelievable job with our DBs. I think he’s the best defensive back coach in the country. To have a guy like Bryant Young with his amount of experience and knowledge in his position and what he brings to the table. And then you bring in a guy like Brad Lawing who has 30+ years of experience coaching that defensive line position. We got a great group of guys. And obviously Will, Coach Muschamp is involved with our defense too quite a bit. We got a great group of guys, great group of knowledge that has mutual respect for one another. We’re all in it for the same thing. We have the same goals, same expectations. To me, it’s just a matter of facilitating things and organizing it the way we’re going to and getting after it.”
» Durkin on his secret to surviving the coaching change and moving up with the Gators: “I don’t know. Good timing, I guess. I’ve always just tried to keep my head down, work as hard as I can, deal with my players honestly and deal with other coaches honestly and just be who you are. It really is good timing. I was very fortunate to be kept on. It’s been great. I enjoy working with Coach Muschamp and I think we got a really good thing going here in terms of the players that we’ve been able to bring in. we got a room full of guys that you enjoy. When we walk in the room to go coach them, you’re excited about it. You enjoy it. Overall, that’s the biggest thing. These guys enjoy playing with each other, playing together, and we enjoy coaching them.”
…CREATES A HOLE ON SPECIAL TEAMS
With Durkin moving to defensive coordinator and Muschamp hiring Lawing to fill the coaching position vacated by Dan Quinn’s departure, the Gators no longer have a special teams coordinator. Muschamp said shortly after promoting Durkin that special teams would likely be coached by committee, a comment he expanded on Tuesday.
“With D.J. obviously moving to defensive coordinator, we went through in special teams and are going to take a staff effort as far as that is concerned. Brian White will coach the punt team; Travaris Robinson will handle the kickoff coverage and punt block and return teams; and Joker [Phillips] will handle the kickoff returns. Really all of us worked in those sections last year but D.J. kind of headed it up. We will all contribute as far as that’s concerned with special teams.”
Muschamp also spoke about what is ahead for junior punter Kyle Christy (recovering from shoulder surgery) and UF’s upcoming kicking competition.
» Muschamp on how Christy’s injury will affect him: “Kyle Christy will be limited due to the shoulder surgery after the bowl game. He won’t do any live work as far as punting. He can drop the ball and punt it, it doesn’t affect his leg.”
» Muschamp on the kicking competition: “Brad Phillips and Austin Hardin – obviously losing Caleb [Sturgis] is a huge blow to our football team – we need one of those guys to step up and certainly contribute for us.”
AFFECTING THE QUARTERBACK
As a team in 2012, Florida registered 30 sacks, 87 tackles for loss and 32 quarterback hurries in 13 games, numbers that Muschamp wants to drastically improve on in 2013. All of that starts with improving the pass rush, which will be his and Durkin’s focus throughout the offseason.
“You talk about the opportunity to get Ronald Powell back, getting Neiron Ball back off injury. Then you get a Dante Fowler, Jon Bullard, those types of guys can all do some things off the edge for us. We’re very excited about that,” Durkin said. “That’s an area we need to improve on this year and is an emphasis for us coming through this spring and into next season. We have to be able to affect the quarterback and not only get sacks but get hits and move the guy and affect them, is what we say. Move them off the spot and the pocket. All those guys I mentioned, plus some others in different blitz packages and different thing we can do off the edge, we feel like we got some dynamic guys out there that can really help us. That’s something we need to get better at.”
» Muschamp on the Buck linebacker position: “Obviously Ronald Powell won’t go through spring, but Dante Fowler and Alex McCalister – you’ll see Alex has beefed up a little bit to 230 lbs – at the Buck position. We will also work from our rabbit package. That will be a combination of our four best rushers so that could be Dominique [Easley] inside and either Jon or Dante inside and some other guys rushing the edges.”
» Muschamp on Easley, whose versatility is a benefit: “Dominique Easley will play both end and tackle. He’s listed as an end. It’s going to be depending on who are best four guys are and our best combination of players. He certainly is going to be one of those four. Where he ends up really depends on the other guys.”
» Muschamp on redshirt freshman defensive end Bryan Cox, Jr.: “Bryan Cox, you see he’s up to 260 lbs., a guy that played linebacker for us last year has really had a good offseason. He’s worked awful hard; he’s changed his body. I’m real pleased with his work ethic.”
» Muschamp on the situation at defensive tackle: “Of the four inside guys, we need some contributions, we need some guys to step up. Joey Ivie is a freshman that’s on campus that I’m excited about. He has good work ethic and fits in with our guys extremely well. We got to get production from those guys as opposed to repping Dominique in there, which I know what he can do. Those four guys need to get as many reps and turns as they can through spring ball. We need to find out what those guys can do and feel good about those guys coming out of spring ball.”
REPLACING THE LINEBACKERS
With Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins out the door, the Gators are tasked with replacing two long-time starting linebackers while simultaneously being forced to find a solution in the third position. Muschamp and Durkin provided some detailed thoughts on each linebacking positions.
» Muschamp on replacing Bostic and Jenkins on the inside: “Antonio Morrison has moved to the Mike and really our Mike and Will in regular personnel is really mirrored. It’s the same position. But when we move to nickel [formation], the Mike and Will have different coverage responsibilities and we felt like Antonio would be better suited to play the Mike and Michael Taylor to play the will. We can always switch those guys back because they’ve played both positions.”
» Durkin on if he has any concerns about Morrison’s size: “No, there’s not. Antonio’s a very physical player to begin with. That’s kind of his nature, his style of play. He’s putting some weight on, some size in this offseason. I think he’ll be just fine. By the time we get to the year, he’ll be about 230 pounds or so. He’s a durable guy. That’s kind of his nature, his style of play. That’s kind of how he fits that role, how he plays the game.”
» Muschamp on the Sam linebacker position: “Darrin Kitchens returns. He will also play the Will and dime. Neiron Ball will also play the Buck as he does a nice job of giving us some pass rush on third down to continue to get more speed on the field. Jeremi Powell is the guy that will also play the Will and dime.”
» Muschamp on freshman early enrollee LBs Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian: “Alex and Daniel have both been guys that have looked good in the offseason program. Both have looked good running around in shorts, and I’m looking forward to getting them out there on the field.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp said members of the secondary will be mixed and matched all offseason with many players playing multiple positions. For more on the secondary, check out the initial version of the spring depth chart.
» Muschamp on how he is trying to improve the team from a quality control standpoint: “Looking back as we head into spring with our football team, as a team the first thing I talked to our guys about is penalties. We led the SEC this year in penalties, and I think out of the 105, 44 I would classify as discipline issues – jumping offsides, illegal procedure, unsportsmanlike conduct – things that we can improve on, self-inflected wounds that we’ve got to move on with. If there’s one thing on our team from year one to year two that I with a bullet point of improvement, that’s somewhere we didn’t take a step forward. That’s probably the only area on our football team. So we’ve got to do a better of job of emphasizing and coaching that. We explored that in the offseason.”
» Muschamp on how the turnover battle decides games: “Turnover margin our first year we were -12, which was 113th in the country and our record was 7-6. This past year we were +15, sixth in the country; we were 11-2. We were -5 in two losses. When we won or tied the turnover margin, we were 11-0. There is no other bigger stat in ball than turnover margin. That was emphasized again to our players yesterday as we head into spring ball. We need to be a better situational football team. When I talk about that, I talk about red zone, one-minute, third-down, all of the critical times in the game where you’ve got to go make good decisions as coaches but also have a great understanding as players of the situation in the game.
» Muschamp on if the Gators will feel pressure from higher expectations: “We totally embrace the expectation that Florida has to go to Atlanta.”
» Muschamp on the early enrollees: “All eight [early enrollees] guys really have [looked good]. They’ve come in and when you walk out there as a coach or a spectator and you see our offseason conditioning, you don’t point at a guy and say, ‘He must be a freshman.’ These guys look like they fit in. They look like they belong, which says something about them.”
» Durkin on the challenge he is faced with replacing seven defensive starters: “One of the great things about this place and what we’ve been able to do is we play a lot of guys on defense. We lost some really good players right there, guys that contributed a lot. At the same time, we have a lot of guys coming back that contributed quite a bit. We’re not just playing 11 guys. We play 20-some guys in a game on defense. We want to continue that, so we got some up-and-coming guys we feel really good about. We’ve had some really good recruiting classes, guys we’re excited to watch. This spring is going to be awesome to see guys go compete for spots. We have a good nucleus of guys coming back that have played a lot for us already in games and then we got the next group coming up. They got to be the guys that get in there, too, so we can play 18-19-20-something guys in a game.”
» Durkin on off-the-radar players that get him excited for next season: “It’s fun to watch these guys as we go through our winter workouts, who’s really working hard and doing things and showing up in terms of the weight room and on the field, running and all that. As we get into spring ball, [finding out] who those guys end up being as well. We got eight mid-year guys that came in here, and to watch those guys out on the field is exciting. From what they’re doing right now in the weight room and out on the field, they look like guys that really can come in and contribute and help us right away. In particular working with the linebackers, Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone, Matt Rolin will be a guy that is out for spring. All those guys have already come in and kind of showed us that they got – not just on the field ability-wise, which that’s why we recruit them when you see that – but also from maturity-wise off the field, learn the system, handle yourself in college as a grown-up and make it through all that to be here when the season gets here. I think with those guys, they can really help us because they’re going to get these 15 practices under their belt and that gives them a great head start as a freshman.”
» Durkin on how much of spring practice is learning compared to improving: “It’s not much different than most springs when you got the group of guys over here that kind of know the system and know what’s going on, which is good. We’re a third year into the system and there’s a lot of things we can move faster on than we have in past springs. But then you got the other group of guys, the newcomers that don’t know it as well. That’s the pace you kind of have to go at. We take the philosophy of we’re going to throw a lot at them, install a lot, keep moving forward and keep moving forward and we know they’re not getting it all but we’re going to go back and hit it again. And then we’re going to go through it again and again and keep hitting on it. We don’t want to slow down. That’s part of what we are and part of what we do. We want to be multiple in what we do and that’s not going to change. Those guys, a lot of times they got the wide eyes for the first couple days as we get through it and then as we get later in spring, they start to relax and get comfortable with it. It’s just part of the process.”