Gators quarterbacks, kickers trying to stand out

By Adam Silverstein
March 27, 2013

The competition to start at quarterback for the Florida Gators is over and done with at this point but the tug-of-war between redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg to backup junior Jeff Driskel has just begun.

While Driskel gets the vast majority of snaps during each practice, Murphy and Mornhinweg are splitting the remainder with each attempting to stand out from the other. For Murphy, who has been waiting in the wings for four years now, being able to actually play football with the first- and second-stringers has been a welcome change.

“I’m definitely getting more reps. I can’t put a number in my head right now, but I’m definitely getting more,” he said on Tuesday. “It definitely helps. You try to take a lot of mental reps and mentally you know where to go with the ball and what’s going on. But then when you get out there, you have to put the physical step on top of the mental step. Sometimes your body doesn’t work as fast as your mind does. When you get that kind of practice, it really helps you get better and progress.”

Fans looking out for Murphy’s best interest have wondered for years why he has remained with the Gators and not transferred to another school that would play him right away. He explained Tuesday that while transferring was certainly a consideration at one point, remaining in Gainesville, FL is what his heart told him was right.

Read the rest of not one but two more Florida football stories…

“It’s just something I really sat down and thought about. I just feel comfortable here. I’m enjoying it. I always thought if you just keep working hard, you’ll get your chance. So that’s my mindset. I just keep working hard,” he said.

“I’ve built a lot of relationships with guys on the team and stuff like that. It’s a great program. I’m learning a lot at the quarterback position. If playing never works out, which hopefully that’s not the situation, maybe I’ll get into coaching after that or something like that. There’s a lot of great coaches here.”

A major positive for Murphy is the fact that out of all the offensive coordinators he’s had at Florida, Brent Pease and his style may be the best fit for Murphy’s talent.

“It’s an offense I feel very comfortable in. I feel comfortable throwing the ball downfield with the routes and plays he calls,” Murphy said. “There’s also some standpoint where the quarterback is responsible for running the ball, and I feel comfortable with that.”

Mornhinweg, on the other hand, is still getting used to college life and the speed of the game. The second-year player took a redshirt during his true freshman season and is now trying to prove that his raw talent and willingness to learn makes him the best choice to be Driskel’s primary backup.

“I’ve learned the offense and now I’m just kind of able to react and not think as much,” he said. “Coach Pease is really a great teacher. He’s got us to the point where we’re pretty solid on everything. He lets us just go out there and play.”

“Jeff’s a real strong athlete and a great player, but we’ll be ready to go if our time is called and we’ll be ready to help the team, both me and Tyler.”

While Murphy and Mornhinweg are going head-to-head for a backup job, senior Brad Phillips and redshirt freshman Austin Hardin are in what appears to be a never-ending spring competition to eventually start at kicker for Florida.

Head coach Will Muschamp, who was as big a fan of Caleb Sturgis as anyone on the team, is currently dismayed at what he is seeing from his kickers even though he does realize that replacing Sturgis is a tall task for any player.

“We need to get better. You lose the best kicker I’ve ever been around,” he said Friday. “There’s no question it’s a huge concern and we need to get better.”

Inconsistency at the kicker position has been one of the Gators’ least talked about issues this spring yet Phillips was quite clear on Tuesday that both he and Hardin are aware of what Muschamp and the coaching staff expects from them.

“We got to be more consistent. We have the talent to fill his shoes, but Caleb was so consistent that we just got to keep up with what he was doing the past couple of years,” he said. “It’s frustrating at times. Obviously a kicker doesn’t want to be called inconsistent. So we’ve been working on consistency. If you don’t kick as well as you can, you feel like you’re letting the whole team down because you know you have the ability to do it. It’s just us being capable and kicking consistently throughout the spring.”

Unlike Hardin, who has yet to step on the field for Florida, Phillips has some experience in pressure situations. He has served as the team’s primary kicker in two games (Georgia in 2011, Missouri in 2012) and is 2-for-4 on field goals (long: 43) and 2-for-2 on extra points. He has also kicked the ball off 27 times over the last three years for an average of 62.8 yards with four touchbacks.

“Caleb has taught me so much these past four years that I’ve been here,” Phillips said. “He’s helped me with everything from form to even the mental approach to kicking.”

“It’s overwhelming,” he continued. “You got to come in here after a four-year starter; it was automatic any time Caleb stepped on the field. You got to come in, you just can’t think about it. As hard as it is to think about, you got to do what you’ve been doing the past few years and just kick the football.”

Hardin does not have the experience that Phillips does but instead has the pedigree. He was considered one of the top kickers in the country coming out of high school and once kicked a 59-yard field goal. As a senior, he did not miss a single field goal attempt inside of 50 yards, going 13-for-13 otherwise.

Nevertheless, Hardin has also been tabbed by Muschamp and Pease as inconsistent. Over the last few weeks, he has been putting in extra work with Sturgis (as has Phillips) as he attempts to fix some mechanical flaws and improve his consistency.

“I took a lot from him, learned as much as I could while I’ve been here,” Hardin said. “It’s tough to change the different things that you’ve been doing for years now but there are things that need to be changed that are going to help me in the long run. He’s really just helping me out with a few things here and there. Sometimes it can get frustrating, but I’m having fun working with him and learning a lot, as much as I can.”

Muschamp repeated multiple times on Friday how important it is for the Gators to find a full-time kicker – “It changes the game, it does. People don’t realize that.” – but also noted that he believes in both players competing for the job.

“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.”

2 Comments

  1. Michael Jones says:

    Kudos to Tyler Murphy for such a great attitude. One thing is for sure: if you keep working hard and stay true to your team and your teammates, then good things will happen to you.

    He sounds like a great kid and a real credit to our program.

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