Spring practice remains underway for the Florida Gators with the team participating in workouts, many of which have been open to the public, for the second-straight week. Head coach Will Muschamp discussed practice, provided injury updates and went over a number of hot topics when he met with the media Tuesday afternoon.
FOUR DAYS VS. FOUR YEARS
Twice on Tuesday, Muschamp made it a point to note that there is quite a disparity between the respective preparedness of Florida’s offense and defense.
“Our team, let’s see, has had four days of installation offensively…and about four years of installation defensively. I think that puts things in perspective a little bit about where we are,” he explained.
Though the Gators defense lost most of its best players to graduation and the NFL Draft, the remaining student-athletes are all familiar with the system and simply building their knowledge base from one season to the next. In fact, Muschamp said Florida has “not cut back at all defensively” with formations or play calling, trying to make things “as hard as possible” on an offense that is much less comfortable in its own skin.
New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has only been able to work with his unit on the field for four days, but Muschamp noted that he is “really pleased with the production” the offense has shown thus far, saying it is “really playing fast, physical” and “really limiting negative plays.” He also praised Roper for his approach to this point.
“He’s got a very good fundamental teaching method as far as his installation is concerned,” the head coach said. “In the interview process, [it was] one of the things that really stood out to me – the simplistic ideas he has about the way we do things. Really good teacher as far as concepts are concerned.
“Our players have caught on really well. I’ve been really pleased. It dawned on me [Monday] as I’m watching practice and seeing us moving the ball, and the confidence and the tempo our guys are playing with, and you’re thinking about four days as opposed to four years. That puts it all in perspective about where you are. We are very pleased.”
Muschamp also believes Roper has injected a much-needed energy and enthusiasm into practice that has simply been missing over the last few seasons.
“I think there’s a confidence level on the offensive side of the ball for the first time in a while that he’s been able to bring,” he said. “There’s no question you see his energy on the practice field and how he coaches the players, coaches every down. He coaches to the players’ strengths and what we’re trying to do. I think he does a really good job at it. I just think he’s a really good fundamental football coach, and he and I are on the same page of what we’re trying to do.”
Could UF possibly go through four days of spring practice without suffering any injuries? Of course not.
Muschamp announced Tuesday that redshirt senior linebacker Neiron Ball sprained his medial collateral ligament and will not participate in the remaining 11 spring practices. Though he “probably could” see the field in some manner, the Gators will err on the side of caution and ensure that he is completely healthy for the summer and fall.
Additionally, sophomore safety Keanu Neal (hamstring – scar tissue), redshirt freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (concussion) and redshirt freshman defensive lineman Jordan Sherit (hyperextended elbow) will each miss some time but should all be back on the field by next Monday.
BUILDING DOMINANCE UP FRONT
One of the quickest ways Florida can improve on offense is by strengthening its offensive line, which lost two starters from 2013, has two others coming back from injury and the fifth player changing positions.
Muschamp admitted Tuesday that redshirt senior Max Garcia and redshirt freshman Cameron Dillard are both having issues snapping the ball in the competition for starting center, which the coaching staff certainly expected this early in practice. He believes Garcia has “done a nice job of making the calls up front” and continues to have confidence in him as the leader of the unit.
At 6’5” and 316 pounds, Johnson has been moved inside to guard where Muschamp believes he can “push to be a starter” right away. Johnson joined the Gators to play tackle and may wind up on the outside eventually but could see more playing time immediately by filling in the gaps for UF.
Below is a projected depth chart for Florida – one has yet to be released by Muschamp – including players that are healthy and active participants in spring practice.
LT: D.J. Humphries, Chaz Green, Kavaris Harkless
LG: Trip Thurman, Roderick Johnson, Drew Sarvary
C: Max Garcia, Cameron Dillard, Trip Thurman
RG: Tyler Moore, Trip Thurman, Drew Sarvary
RT: Chaz Green, Trenton Brown, Kavaris Harkless
RECEIVING SOME PRAISE
The Gators receiving corps took a step forward in 2013 with Solomon Patton and now-redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar both performing well at times. Patton is now gone and Dunbar is entering his last hurrah, meaning a number of youngsters will have to step up if Florida is truly going to show improvement in the passing game under Roper.
Muschamp believes the current crop of pass catchers is the most talented and diverse group he’s had thus far in his tenure with the Gators.
Below is a projected wideout depth chart (including healthy and active practice participants) for Florida with X and Z representing outside receivers and F serving as the slot receiver position. Muschamp confirmed Tuesday that UF would be three-wide in its base offensive set.
WR (X): Quinton Dunbar, Chris Thompson
WR (F): Latroy Pittman, Valdez Showers
WR (Z): Ahmad Fulwood, Demarcus Robinson
Also seeing some work with this group is redshirt freshman walk-on Case Harrison, who Muschamp agreed “does some nice things for us” when he’s been on the field practicing.
Save an injury complication or significant drop-off in performance, redshirt junior Jeff Driskel will be the Gators’ starting quarterback this season.
“Jeff right now has certainly distanced himself right now at this point,” Muschamp said. “Jeff has been through change before, so the more times you go through that stuff, you kind of can handle it and move forward, the maturity takes over.”
Muschamp has Driskel returning as his starter not just because of his experience but due to his high talent level and the fact that Roper is currently designing his offense around the fourth-year signal caller. “I think we’re doing things that are more comfortable for him, and I’ve been very impressed in four days,” he said.
Where Driskel is struggling a bit in practice is overstepping due to a weight transfer issue, which he is working on with Roper. Muschamp said Driskel’s ankle is not an issue, but he is still getting back into the groove of throwing the ball after not doing much work while in rehabilitation for his broken ankle.
Florida’s quarterback development also got a vote of confidence, according to Muschamp, from someone that Gators fans are quite familiar with seeing behind center.
“It was good to see Shane Matthews out there [Monday]. He commented to me about how well he felt like Kurt deals with the quarterback,” he said.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On senior punter Kyle Christy performing much better and whether he has separated himself in the competition with sophomore Johnny Townsend: “Both he and Johnny are punting extremely well, battling it out for the starting job. I think [Christy] is hitting the ball extremely well. We’re charting every kick and there’s no confidence his confidence took a hit. He’s battling for the starting job. We got two guys who got Sunday legs. They both kick very well.”
» Muschamp is pleased with how well freshmen cornerbacks Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson are performing, calling them both “quick studies” with key characteristics including the “willingness” to work and “coachability” on and off the field. They will both be competing for the second starting cornerback spot, though redshirt freshman Nick Washington will also be a strong candidate – perhaps even the front-runner – for the position.
» On sophomore CB Vernon Hargreaves III becoming a leader on and off the field: “From a leadership standpoint, he understands he needs to take the next step there, and he certainly can. He’s got great respect in the locker room because of his playmaking ability but also the way he is as a person, the way he leads his life off the field. He’s a great example of what’s good about college football. God’s blessed him with a lot of ability, but he has certainly taken advantage of his blessings. … He’s such a coachable guy, and you tell him once, and he gets it, and he goes over the film and totally understands it. He’s not combative at all about getting better and improving. He’s a joy to coach, certainly is.”
» On senior Jabari Gorman, who is starting at safety in practice and should lock down the job shortly: “Jabari’s very smart. He’s a guy that gets it. He understands and learns well. He’s seen the game; it’s slowed down tremendously for him over the years. He’s played a lot of football for us and played well for us last year. I’ve been very pleased with his spring to this point. … He understands the importance of the communication on the back end. We’ve just got to do a better job of understanding a mistake there is normally not good for the Gators. That’s where we’ve got to tie some things up.”
» On freshman S Marcell Harris, who is finally able to practice and show off his ability for the coaching staff: “It’s the first time he’s been healthy since he’s been here. I think he’s 100 percent. We put a lot on our safeties in this defense – he’s going through that process now of understanding how much we put on a safety here. It’s hard in the fall, especially with an injury, he wasn’t able to practice as much and be able to do some of the things. And then when you get involved with scout team, you don’t get the fast game day reps that you need to have to develop yourself as a player, but that’s part of it. But I’m pleased so far with where he is.”
» Muschamp said redshirt sophomore Bryan Cox, Jr. has played well in his time at defensive end, which has allowed junior Jonathan Bullard to rep more inside at defensive tackle in nickel rush sets. He continues to look for more consistency from redshirt freshmen Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick, both of whom will be fighting for playing time behind Florida’s veteran defensive tackles.
» On head basketball coach Billy Donovan and his ability: “Billy does a great job, obviously and we got a heck of a basketball team. Really the word ‘team’ is what comes to mind, and that’s what those guys are. … What he’s done here in developing players, winning back-to-back national titles, going to Elite Eights … I’ve said it before: I think he’s the best college coach, period, in the country. I’m not just talking about in basketball, I’m talking about overall for what he’s done here. I don’t think people realize, it’s not an easy job as far as basketball is concerned – there’s no easy job as far as that’s concerned. I think he does a great job. Just a really good person, first of all, and a good friend.”