With the Florida Gators set to begin 2013 spring practice on Wednesday, head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease met with the media Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics concerning the team’s offense.
IMPROVING PRODUCTION AT QUARTERBACK
Junior Jeff Driskel returns as the entrenched starter at quarterback and has the full backing of both Muschamp and Pease going forward. Both coaches reiterated that they expect him to take a big step forward in 2013 now that he has a year of action under his belt and can spend the entire offseason continuing to educate himself with the offense and opposing defenses in order to become a better overall player.
» Muschamp on what Driskel has been doing in the offseason: “I think Jeff has really attacked the offseason from a mental standpoint as far as film is concerned, really studying what he can do to be a better quarterback. That’s part of the maturation process in becoming a better player is understandings what you go to do to be successful. […] I think the game continues to slow down for you. First year as a full-time starter, first year in a scheme in a system with new terminology and now you’re not splitting reps 50-50. He’s going to get all the turns and all the reps with the same people, which I think obviously will help us with some throwing game issues.
» Muschamp on what Driskel can specifically improve on: “As a player and as a competitor, knowing Jeff and talking to Jeff, he wants to go back and improve everything. But I think you take things in segments. ‘I need to improve here; I need to improve there.’ Within saying that, year two in the system, the game slows down a little bit. A better understanding of protection, a better understanding of where the ball needs to go, where you’re protected and where you’re not protected. I think those are the things that, as much as anything, that are going to help him to understand that. The passing game concepts versus middle field versus split safety, where to take the ball. I think all of those things, again, that’s easy to talk about but when it’s happening in front of 90,000 people against some of the people we play against, it’s a fast, fast game. Those are things, to me, as far as just the mental intensity of where we need to go with the football in situations. That will slow down for him in his second year. And he’s also not splitting reps. And he’ll be working with the first-team receivers all the time. I think you couple that with a lot of things and I think Brent does a really great job developing the quarterback position and recognizing things he needs to improve on.”
» Pease on what Driskel can learn and how he can improve this offseason: “We got to be a better throwing team. That starts with him. This kid has invested a lot now up to this point. A lot of it is based around understanding protections a lot better and when he has to get rid of the ball and where he’s got to see his reads and just seeing the field better as a quarterback, seeing what the coverages are doing, trying to get the balls to guys and understanding schemes with defensively how they’re trying to attack and confuse him. It will benefit him a ton [to take all the snaps].”
» Muschamp on the back-up quarterbacks redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg: “We need somebody to step up at the backup quarterback position. Tyler and Skyler will have multiple opportunities throughout spring to be in the situations and step forward for us and be a dependable backup for us. […] Tyler is a guy that’s now going into his fourth year as a redshirt junior. He needs to be able to step forward and be a dependable guy we want to put in the ball game. And I have confidence in Tyler; I have a lot of confidence he just hasn’t done it. Sklyer is a guy who came in as a true freshman and was thrown into the fire. There’s nothing tougher than at that position to be counted on to play the quarterback position going back to our first year with Jacoby [Brissett] and Jeff. It was very difficult on both of those young men. I think again, the game will slow down a little bit and he’ll have a better feel for what we’re trying to do.”
» Pease on the quarterback situation behind Driskel: “Obviously Jeff is the guy that is going to lead the charge, but behind him it is going to be Tyler and Skyler. Tyler and Sklyer competing for the back-up spot. I’ve talked to them. Those guys got to step in. They’re going to get some good reps and see who can compete. If not, we got a young kid coming in Max Staver and we’ll have to kind of assess the situation after spring.”
…BUT DRISKEL NEEDS SOME HELP…
In order for Driskel to truly take the next step on the field, the talent around him is going to need to be improved in a major way. Florida lost three of its top-four pass catchers in the offseason and will be looking to get more production out of its wide receivers.
Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar is the top dog at this time, but Muschamp and Pease are also hoping to see junior Loucheiz Purifoy contribute more on the offensive side of the ball while simultaneously looking for freshman Demarcus Robinson and other returning players to be a big part of what the offense is looking to do going forward.
» Muschamp on how Purifoy can contribute at wide receiver: “Loucheiz will play the first seven days full-time as a receiver. I felt like, again, a guy that hasn’t been full-time at that position, it would be good for him to go through the first seven days. It also gives us an opportunity on defense for Brian Poole and Jeremy Brown – a guy for the last two years who hasn’t taken as many reps – to get as many turns and reps as they can. I really think it helps us on both sides of the ball as we move forward. Again, they watch film in our league, too, so you can’t just always put Loucheiz in and throw a screen and run a reverse with him every time he’s in the game. We need to expand his package if we’re going to continue to move forward. He will still remain a corner on our football team, but he’s going to do the first seven days.
» Pease on playing Purifoy at receiver for at least seven days: “We understand Loucheiz is a defensive guy, but I think when you got a talent like him, he can step on the field and give us something offensively and make defenses scheme against you a little bit. It’s more just to kind of learn the foundation of what we’re trying to do [on offense] and use his talents. The time he’s been here, he’s going to understand the defensive schemes. We’re just giving him seven days to get him comfortable with what we’re doing. Up to this point, what he’s done has been very specific. Get him over here for a few plays, here’s what you’re doing, understand this. There’s no adjustments, you can’t adjust anything and play off of anything the defense is doing. Now you’re kind of getting into a set position and you’re seeing how teams are playing against you. You play maybe a couple different spots within there, we can move you around and kind of see the whole gamut of learning the foundation of what we can put in seven days and some of the adjustments that we can do.”
» Muschamp on Robinson’s chances to see the field as a freshman: “He’s looked good in the offseason program as far as the athleticism and those sort of things, but we haven’t done as much football-related stuff, guys covering him and getting their hands on him. Some of the corners we have are pretty good. It will be interesting as we progress. As far as the things I’ve seen athletically, I’m excited about what I see.”
» Muschamp on Dunbar: “I think Quinton Dunbar took a step forward last year. Going back and watching our season, I thought he made tremendous strides as a football player and as a receiver, a dependable guy in what we do and a guy that can do some different things for us.”
» Muschamp on redshirt senior Andre Debose: “Andre is a guy that has had a good offseason to this point and we are looking forward to seeing him show some consistency over a period of time. That’s obviously the challenge there.”
» Muschamp on senior Solomon Patton: “Solomon Patton has been a very effective player for us, really hurt us offensively when we lost him in the Georgia game last year. He was a guy that made a lot of plays for us on special teams and on offense. He’s a guy that I’m excited to get back. He will be non-contact all of spring.”
» Muschamp on sophomore Raphael Andrades, who is also an outfielder on the baseball team: “Raphael Andrades is going to be a part of football. He’s obviously been playing baseball with [head coach Kevin O’Sullivan]. Sully and I are on the same page. He’s going to be in our practice and in our meetings, still splitting time with baseball as we continue to move forward with that.”
» Muschamp on sophomore Latroy Pittman: “Latroy Pittman has had a good offseason and I’m looking forward to seeing him compete this spring.”
» Pease on Pittman excelling early but not getting much work in 2012: “It’s a work ethic, accountability, what you’re going to invest into it, building up a trust factor and building yourself into some packages and you go and got to earn some of that stuff. That’s what you got to do. It’s still tough as a freshman. I think everything changes, the whole picture in front of you changes when all of a sudden you start getting into games, especially when you start getting into SEC games. There’s still a process where you got to mature and understand the speed of the game. That’s part of it. He’s got to grow through that. Sometimes we didn’t give him the stage because you got to build that stage in practice. I want to say we put him out there because we want the kid to be successful. Sometimes you understand you’re not going to put the kid in an unsuccessful situation whether it’s for him or the people around him. You still got to be able to handle that stage, but you got to prepare to handle that stage.”
…AND HAS TO BE PROTECTED BETTER…
With two starters having graduated and another – redshirt junior right tackle Chaz Green (ankle) – out for the spring after undergoing offseason ankle surgery, the Gators are undergoing a major shift on the offensive line.
In the depth chart released Tuesday, sophomore D.J. Humphries (left tackle), redshirt junior Max Garcia (left guard) and redshirt sophomore Tyler Moore (right tackle) were listed as starters. For Garcia and Moore, a pair of left tackles who played at Maryland and Nebraska respectively, the change of position is certainly of note.
» Muschamp on Humphries gaining weight to play left tackle: “D.J. Humphries is up to 280 lbs., a guy that has put on some weight. As a progressing player and a developmental player, you got to continue to gain weight and strength. He’s really worked hard in the offseason.”
» Pease on how Humphries being an early enrollee in 2012 helped his career: “Someone like D.J. Humphries, thank goodness he was in here last [spring] as much as he ended up playing and helping us. If he wasn’t here in the spring time like he was, wow, he wouldn’t have been where he was at or where he’s going to be right now.”
» Muschamp on Garcia playing guard instead of tackle: “We moved Max Garcia inside. Max had a really good offseason. He’s really done some nice things for us, obviously going through the redshirt year of transferring from Maryland.”
» Muschamp on Moore getting some work in at right tackle: “Tyler Moore is a guy we’re going to play a little bit at right tackle. He needs to be able to play right and left because obviously Chaz will miss spring with the ankle surgery he had after the bowl game. It was a little more serious than we thought. He will be fine for fall. We’re just going to hold him through spring right now.”
» Pease on Garcia and Moore changing positions, how they can contribute this year: ”They’re definitely going to get the opportunity. They came in and just how they’ve done in workouts, they’ve been really, really consistent. They’re exciting to watch. It’s going to be important because those guys have to be some of the foundation of the main five up front. It’s going to be interesting because now everything is going to be new for them though Max has been here, he’s heard it; Tyler is a little bit new. Excited to see what they can do because they look athletic in moving around and they’re really good about I think their learning capabilities. They’re kids that have shown to have really good work ethic and accountability up to this point.”
» Muschamp on redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio (knee) and his health: “We feel like he will be ready to go [Wednesday] as far as spring ball is concerned. He may be a little limited in some contact early in spring but certainly will be released after that.”
» Muschamp on redshirt freshman Quinteze Williams switching positions: “Quinteze Williams is a young man who we wanted to move over to the offensive line. A guy that’s got some size and girth to him, he’s going to continue to gain weight. We felt like his opportunities at offensive line were going to be better than on the defensive line. He wanted to make that move.”
» Muschamp on redshirt freshman G Jessmen Dunker, who is currently facing legal issues: “He’s been suspended. I haven’t had any communication with him.”
» Pease on redshirt sophomore Trip Thurman and his opportunities: “Trip is in a situation where he’s been a backup to a lot of positions. I think he still is very valuable to us that way. We want to see him go out and compete and not kind of accept that role. We want to see him go out and compete and step in there and establish yourself. What we try to tell the kids, not just the linemen but everybody, every position for us is open. You want a role? Go earn a role. We’re not giving you a role. So that’s what you got to do. He’s one of those kids in that situation. Go earn what you want.”
…AND HE NEEDS SOMEONE TO RUN THE BALL EFFECTIVELY
The Gators lost a 1,200-yard rusher in Mike Gillislee and are now looking to replace him with a trio of players – sophomore Matt Jones, redshirt junior Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor. Jones is the odds-on favorite to win the starting job out of camp but has most certainly not locked up that gig. Muschamp and Pease are excited to see what Jones, a previously underwhelming Brown, and a brand new piece in Taylor can do during spring practice.
» Muschamp’s overall thoughts on the running backs: “At running back, I think Matt Jones has had a really good offseason. He’s gained good weight, ran well throughout the offseason program. Mack Brown continues to look good, and Kelvin Taylor has been a guy I’m really excited to have on campus. He’s done a nice job of transitioning. […] I think Mack Brown is going to give competition as well. I think we got three guys that I’m excited about seeing. It’s Mack’s turn to step up and be a guy that can do all the things we need to do from the position. Matt Jones, I really challenged him in the offseason to be a guy that can carry the ball 25 times in a game and understand that role and embrace that role. Again, Kelvin’s a high school senior right now. I’ve been very proud of him and what he’s done. He’s come out here and worked.”
» Pease on if he wants a primary back to run the ball: “I want one guy to be able to carry the load but that’s tough to do with the number of plays that you want to run. Other guys are going to get reps and be able to be productive. Just like Mike, Mike was a 1,000-ayrd rusher but you saw Matt come on and Mack do a few things here and there. You’re always going to have that guy that you want to build depth on. I don’t want to put it all on one guy and all of a sudden he’s out and what are you going to do now? Brian [White] will have 3-4 guys ready.”
» Pease on getting the running backs more involved in the passing game as safety nets for Driskel: “One thing we got to do a lot better is – from a running back standpoint and a throwing game still – is they got to get out. We only hit the running back in a couple check downs when we went back and reevaluated. That’s incredible. The running backs, other than designed screens to them, they only had about four passes to them. They should be in the 40-50 range if you’re going to throw the ball because it’s just a little check down. It’s a simple throw. They should have 5-8 yards if not breaking one. Now when you have designed screens, that’s a different story now. Mike did a good job with those. That’s on them a little bit to understand the protections, how to get out better, found the zones you’re sitting into. The quarterback’s saying, ‘Hey, I can’t hold on to the ball forever, boom, find my check-downs.’ It doesn’t have to be throwing down field all the time. We’ll take these nice little five-yard throws and let them run with it afterwards.”
DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE OTHER GUYS
Muschamp believes Florida needs some tight ends to step up and separate from the pack. One guy he is interested in seeing is redshirt freshman Colin Thompson, who sat out the entire 2012 season. “It’s good to get Colin back on the field. He ran well yesterday. I’ve obviously had some foot injuries and we’re trying to work though that with him. We look forward to him being full-speed this spring,” he said.
Though one player is not standing out at this time, Pease is confident that the Gators can match the offensive production at tight end lost when Jordan Reed left school early for the draft. “I definitely believe so. Jordan did a great job, especially after the catch on a lot of stuff but I think some of the shorter, intermediate stuff I think those kids can provide that. It’s got to be kids more on the outside receiver positions that are going to start to open some things up,” he said.
» Pease on junior starter Hunter Joyer: “Hunter was one of our most consistent, better players. He did a lot of good things that really worked in Mike’s favor last year and really helped us in the run game. We still got Hunter, encouraged that he’s back.”
Florida decided to move redshirt freshman safety Rhaheim Ledebetter and redshirt junior linebacker Gideon Ajagbe over to fullback – at least for the first week of spring practice – to give both players an opportunity to contribute to the team this season. Also working at the position will be senior Trey Burton and junior Clay Burton.
» Pease on the new options at fullback: “We moved some people over from the other side where we got Gideon – I have to say his first name because I’m not sure how to pronounce his last name – and then we got Rhaheim Ledbetter. We’re going to e in a situation with some of the tight ends with how we use those kids. Clay and even Trey, the Burton brothers, will be in those spots at times.”
» Muschamp on the position switches and why the Gators chose to move the players: “We’re going to be a two-back team that’s going to be something we do here. We felt like if Hunter was a guy that’s going to be in some one-back stuff for us, he also will be a fullback for us. We didn’t want him shouldering that burden and all of a sudden we don’t have him and we lose our two-back package. That’s not something we needed to do, especially with the unproven tight ends we have. Both of those guys [Ledbetter and Ajagbe], the first seven days are going to give a shot at fullback and kind of see where we are. Rhaheim played running back in high school, is very effective, catches the ball well. He’s got lower body punch and power. Gideon has not contributed much for us on defense since he’s been here and he deserves the opportunity to try and get in a situation to help us.”
» Muschamp on what else Trey Burton will be doing: “The guy does a lot of stuff. He plays in the slot. He’ll play move, fullback/tight end, whatever you want to say. We’ll continue to have a package for him as a quarterback. The guy does a lot of stuff for us.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Pease on finding Driskel a safety net: “That’s something we got to work through because now we got to create those situations; we got to find that guy for him. We got to put people in those positions where he does have that guy that he can rely on. Whether we move receiver sin there or he finds a tight end that he has a comfort zone with or a trey or whoever it is, the running backs.”
» Pease on how far Florida’s offense can evolve: “Every year we’ve always kind of gone somewhere and tried to stay up with the new trends or get better. The one thing we didn’t do, we’re going to bring some people in to visit with but we haven’t done that at this stage because we wanted to evaluate ourselves pretty hard, get through spring ball and then kind of see where we’re at. I didn’t want to go back and change and adjust. Now, are we going to tinker with some things that will make us a little better? Yeah, you have to, because you got to always match who’s in there now. But I think looking back on it, just for us to be more consistent, better at what we’re doing and now with kids that have been around in a second year, I didn’t want to throw too much change in there for them as well as the other coaches. It wasn’t just me, it was all of them, we all talked about it. We wanted to try to get better at what we’re doing and maybe eliminate some things that we weren’t good at, get more consistent and better. Now they’ve all been in the weight room a year and they understand the language and the tempo and the speed. And our kids did do some good things. We weren’t consistent. I think we were overachieving and did some good things at the right times. We got to find more consistently so we can do that stuff on a drive basis, a long-drive basis.”