Now over a week into 2013 spring football practice, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday to discuss some of the latest developments surrounding the team and provide updates on specific players.
RISE AND GRIND
Florida started practice very early in the morning on Friday, a decision Muschamp made not to punish the team but rather provide it with as much rest as possible before the team’s half-practice, half-scrimmage on Saturday.
“We got cranked up about 5:40 this morning with flex, simply just for the turnaround for Saturday. I don’t like leaving the practice field at 6:30 on Friday afternoon and then you come back for a Saturday morning practice. I want to get some recovery time and also be able to review the film and install for Saturday,” he explained.
“It’s really not any magic deal there. We just try to separate the practices. We did this last year and the kids liked it from the standpoint of not leaving the practice field at 6:00 and then coming back and starting practice that early in the morning. That’s really all it is – just for their legs.”
Muschamp was satisfied with the way the Gators responded on Friday as well as the overall mindset of the team this spring. “I’ve been very pleased with the attitude and effort of our guys,” he said.
“YOU’D RATHER SAY ‘WOAH’ THAN ‘GIDDY UP’”
One thing that has been apparent early on in spring practice is the talent, effort and aggressiveness brought to the field each day by sophomore Mike linebacker Antonio Morrison. Muschamp is pleased with his development thus far and excited to see what kind of leader he will be for Florida’s defense in 2013.
“It’s fun. It’s fun to coach a guy that has a lot of passion and energy. I like self-starters. I like guys that go out there and self-start, that self-motivate themselves, that you don’t have to create an edge for them every day. He’s a young man that you don’t’ have to create an edge for,” he said.
“It’s very important for him to play and practice very well. He understands the importance of practice, he understands the importance of work, football is very important to him, success on the field is very important to him. So I don’t’ have to sit there and give him a pep talk before practice to make sure his mind is ready to go.”
In fact, Muschamp actually has to take time to calm Morrison down on occasion. During the open spring practices last weekend, Morrison got a talking to from the coaches after hitting sophomore tight end Kent Taylor too hard during a drill. Muschamp said that he would rather have a player been a bit too rambunctious than too hands-off.
“You’d rather say ‘woah’ than ‘giddy up.’ That’s been my experience. So I’d rather say ‘woah’ and coach that side,” he explained. “If they don’t like sticking their face in the fire, so to speak, than this isn’t the game for them. And [Morrison] likes it.
“There’s a fine line. You want to be aggressive. You want to play with great toughness. It’s my job to make sure we judge the right way on what is too much and what is not enough. And he’s certainly one that pushes the envelope.”
Morrison said Thursday that he understands where Muschamp is coming from.
“Sometimes Muschamp gets on me. ‘They’re your teammates.’ But in practice I just try to play like I’m in the game. Sometimes I got to notice that they’re my teammates,” he said. “Sometimes that can control your game and you will mess up and do the wrong thing, so you got to make sure you balance it up.”
LOSING “THE BEST KICKER I’VE EVER BEEN AROUND”
More than a week into spring practice, the Gators have not yet found a starting kicker. Though it is a process that will play out the rest of the spring and likely into the summer, Muschamp remains distressed about the position at this point in time.
“We need to get better. You lose the best kicker I’ve ever been around. There’s no question it’s a huge concern and we need to get better,” he said.
Without Caleb Sturgis – one of the greatest kickers in program history – in the fold, Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease will have to attack game situations differently no matter which players winds up winning the starting job.
“It changes your approach, changes your game, your calls,” he explained. “We’re doing one-minute [drills on Friday]. … Our guys need to get the ball to the 37-yard line with Sturgis walking on the sideline. Now we need to get a lot closer. And your confidence factor is a little different. It changes everything. Now we cross the 50, you’re on the 42 … now you got to call a vertical route. [Pease’s] call was a lot different than it would have been a year ago.
“It changes the game, it does. People don’t realize that. The luxury of knowing [we can attempt a field goal from the] 37-yard line – anywhere on the field – because [Sturgis] was good from both hashes and the middle. Some kickers are only very efficient from one hash, they want to get the ball to a certain area on the field, nice grass patch. Sturgis, it didn’t matter. He didn’t care. Put it down and let’s go kick it. That’s what his attitude was. Those guys, we need to get confidence in them, they need to get confidence in themselves.”
Though Muschamp has not “seen it” yet from redshirt freshman Austin Hardin and senior Brad Phillips, he remains confident that both have the necessary talent to help Florida at the position going forward.
“Brad has kicked in games before, big games before, and Austin is very talented. I think they’re going to be fine. We just got to get more consistent,” he said. “A little bit of it is you leave a guy that you had such confidence and the team had such confidence in and now you’re a little bit of the unknown. The unknown for a coach is never good and that’s kind of where we are right now.
“I think the ability is certainly there. I really do. I have total confidence in those kids as far as their ability is concerned. They just got to do it and they got to be more consistent. We do need to hold the ball better at times. There’s been some hold situations, more consistent with our swing. There’s a lot of things that we need to improve on there.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia missed practice Friday morning with a back issue but is expected to return to the field on Saturday. “He’s fine, just day-to-day,” Muschamp said.
» With freshman LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder) out for the spring, senior Darrin Kitchens has been practicing as a back-up on the inside behind Morrison. Freshman Daniel McMillian, who was backing up redshirt junior Michael Taylor at Will LB, and redshirt freshman Jeremi Powell are also spending some time at Mike.
» On how sophomore Brian Poole compares to Matt Elam in terms of playing nickel cornerback: “You need to have a guy with a little more girth, got to be a good blitzer, got to be a good run player and have coverage ability. Brian has both. Brian is a guy that’s got some good potential for the position, and I think he’s had six very solid spring days so far. I’ve been very pleased to this point. Young player, consistency in his performance all the way through. That’s what my challenge is for him: day in, day out continuing to do it.”
» On how proficient sophomore running back Matt Jones is in the passing game: “He’s got very good hands. That was one of the things that jumps out at you at Armwood for Coach [Sean] Callahan down there. They got in a lot of empty and put him in the slot and threw him the bubble [screens] and the different things and vertical routes to him. That was one of the things we really liked about him other than his physical run style. [He’s] very good in protection, extremely intelligent. He’s got the whole package as far as a back. Now he’s got to just continue to do it consistently. … He saw the light go off late in the year and you saw his performances picked up and his touches picked up and our confidence in him picked up and his confidence in himself.”
» On how players like Jones can help the intermediate passing game: “I think a lot of the intermediate passing game was to Jordan Reed, so that’s where we’re kind of searching right now. Involving the backs more now and getting the ball to your playmakers is the number one option. Certainly I think our backs are capable of that if we can’t get the production from the tight end position.”
» On what junior fullback Hunter Joyer brings to the table: “He can do so many things. He can be a fullback. He can be a one-back. He can be a short-yardage back. He’s got really good hands. He’s very good in protection. I just think he’s a smart football player. You look back at what he did as a true freshman as a fullback in this league, it was pretty remarkable. A guy that just gives us a lot of variety from the position and flexibility for a defense to have to adjust to.”
» On the status of redshirt freshman G Jessamen Dunker: “Still suspended. We’re going to let the legal process take its course. Once that decision is made then I’ll make a decision.”
» On position groups that he is still evaluating or needs to see more from: “Depth at linebacker, safety, tight end, continue to create some things outside at the receiver position. Those are the ones that would jump out at me where I think we need to make some more positive strides. Consistency out wide – tight ends need to improve. Linebacker and safety are two critical, critical areas of our football team we got to continue to take steps forward.”
» On the offensive line being a bit banged up at this time: “The numbers are right. If we had everybody healthy and a part of the team we’d have 12 guys out there. We had some postseason surgeries. … It limits you from a standpoint of just playing the game. But we segment things so much…we’re able to do things and get great fundamental, technique work. You do miss some of the 11-on-11 and that’s when you play.”
» On complacency: “Complacency kills your program. When you get complacent, you feel good about where you are, that’s not good. You got to be very comfortable feeling uncomfortable in this building.”
» Former Gators G Crawford Ker attended practice on Friday. He was a member of the offensive line known as “The Great Wall of Florida,” which also included Phil Bromley, Lomas Brown, Billy Hinson and Jeff Zimmerman. The Great Wall blocked for quarterback Kerwin Bell and halfback Neal Anderson and helped lead the Gators to their first SEC Championship (which was later vacated).