Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp spoke at length Friday prior to the team’s second scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. He discussed not only the status of one player in particular but also how the offense is coming along and some individual things he is pleased with following the 10th practice of the spring session.
LEONARD RETURNS TO PRACTICE: AN EXPLANATION
Florida announced Wednesday that sophomore tight end A.C. Leonard had returned to practice following a six-week suspension from team activities that he incurred after being arrested for misdemeanor domestic battery. Though Leonard’s case is still pending, he returned to the team on Monday; however, his status for other activities is up in the air.
“After six weeks of being suspended from our football team, I felt like he’s done the things that I’ve asked him to do from the standpoint of the measures that I took with him to this point. And I’ve allowed him to practice only – only,” Muschamp said. “No decision on the fall has been made. No decision about playing as been made. He still has an awful lot of things to do in order to play for our football team and play for the University of Florida. He’s very remorseful about what happened. He made a mistake. And that’s all I’m going to comment on that at this point. All he has been cleared to do is practice.”
He did wind up commenting further on the situation, however. Muschamp said that Leonard’s status for the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut on April 7 is to be determined and then provided an anecdote to explain why discipline for one player or another is not always cut-and-dry depending on the reason they are being punished.
“At the end of the day, I’m not talking about this situation. I’m talking about just discipline in general. I’ll never forget when I was a defensive coordinator – and I’m not going to say where it was or who the head coach that was involved [was as] it was a guy I have tremendous respect for. We had three players late for a team meeting. When the team meeting got done, one of the players was my position players. [The head coach] went up to the three players and he looked at one player and said, ‘This doesn’t need to happen again.’ He looked at the next player and said, ‘You need to do this, this, this and this.’ He looked at the other player and listed 40 things he had to do. He’s the head coach. He’s the boss. ‘Yes sir.’
“We leave the team meeting and the middle guy came to me, he was my position guy, he came to me and said, ‘I don’t understand why one guy had nothing happen to him, I got this and the other guy, he’s going to have a lot of stuff he’s got to accomplish to work his way back.’ I said, ‘There’s only one person that can answer this – that’s the head football coach.’ So we walked down to his office and I said, ‘Tell him what you told me.’ He repeated the question he asked me.
“[The head coach] said, ‘Obviously you and Coach Muschamp don’t have all the information.’ No, I don’t. He said, ‘The first young man has made no poor decisions since he’s been here. He has done nothing wrong. He was late for the team meeting. We locked the doors, he was late, he had poor judgment and he was late for the meeting. It’s the only thing he’s ever done wrong.’ OK, that made a lot of sense to me. Then he said, ‘You’ve had this happen, this happen and this happen. Now you’re late for a team meeting. Obviously your judgment as a member of this football team is not very good. So that’s why I gave you the discipline I gave you. Now the other guy, he’s what we call a ‘list guy;’ he’s on every list in the building. He’s on the academic list. He’s on the training room list. He’s on the weight room list. He’s on every list in the building. So he has a very hard time with choices and decisions in life. So that’s why he’s got a bunch of stuff to come back from.’
“The point being made here is: I was an assistant coach and didn’t have all the information. The players don’t have all the information. And certainly just anything that’s public you don’t have all the information. Does that make sense? So a lot of times when discipline is handled within an organization – whether it’s a team or whatever it is – if you don’t have all the information it’s really hard to comment on why the discipline was handled in a certain way. Does that make sense?”
QUARTERBACKS MAKING PROGRESS
While sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel continue their fight for the starting quarterback job, the coaches are looking for ways to separate the players from each other. Who is most accurate? Who is in better command of the huddle? Who can be trusted to lead the team down the field at the end of a game? Ten practices into the spring, though both are progressing and playing well, neither has taken that step forward to take a firm hold of the starting role.
“Both quarterbacks are doing well. Neither one has distanced themselves at this point, but I’m very pleased with the progress both guys are making,” Muschamp said. “Brent [Pease] is a really good teacher. He does a nice job with those guys on the field and with our offense. I’m very pleased with some of the things that we’re doing.”
He also explained how Brissett or Driskel can make themselves stand out from the other. “Positive production,” he said. “I stand behind the huddle during all the team drills and watch the demeanor of our offensive football team when they’re in the huddle. It’s easy to look at statistics and say obviously completion percentage, not making mistakes with the football, but it’s also how the guys are responding to a guy. That’s important.”
Muschamp does not expect their performances in the Orange & Blue Debut to determine a starter though he does recognize that being able to perform under increased pressure is important. “It’s one of 15 days,” he said of the scrimmage. “There will be people there. [The media] will be there. So obviously performing on a little bit of a stage, that is important. I’m not being facetious as far as that is concerned, but it is one of 15 days. I’m not ready to name a starter unless I feel like there is true separation at the position and I don’t feel that now.”
CREATING DEPTH AT RUNNING BACK
He may not have earned the starting job yet but senior running back Mike Gillislee is on the way to making that official any day now. It is also sounding like the coaches are quite pleased with what redshirt sophomore Mack Brown has been able to do in the No. 2 role. Those developments, however, do not necessarily mean the Gators have everything figured out and squared away at that position.
Florida continues to search for answers behind Gillislee and Brown and moved two players over to the backfield this spring in order to find increased depth. Redshirt senior tight end Omarius Hines has been taking snaps at running back, and Muschamp mentioned Friday that he is pleased with his anticipation, lower body strength and explosiveness with the ball. “He’s a guy that has really good strength and vision to run the ball and some natural instincts to run the ball,” he said.
Even though Hines is doing some nice things, Muschamp is cautious with leaving him there permanently because he wants to be sure Hines plays where he can best be utilized and that there are enough snaps to go around at running back to ensure that he gets the ball. “That is something that we’re all talking about right now as a staff,” he said. “It was discussed this morning as a matter of fact.”
Also seeing time at running back is sophomore linebacker/safety Chris Johnson, who carried the ball at Trinity Catholic High School. Johnson seems to have found a groove as a rusher and appears to be more entrenched in that role than Hines.
“He’s a tough, physical runner, runs the ball down hill,” Muschamp said. “He’s a guy that you look at physicality in running the ball. He’ll stick his face in there in protection. I’m very pleased with some of the things he’s been able to do in his limited time moving to running back. [...] He’s going to stay at running back at this time. More than anything, the way I look at it is where do you help the football team the most? We felt like at running back, because of his high school film, this guy deserves a chance and he can be a solid player for us at that position.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Wide receivers redshirt junior Stephen Alli (groin), junior Solomon Patton (groin) and freshman Ja’Juan Story (ankle) will all miss the second scrimmage but return to practice next week.
» Florida has been working on various short-clock scenarios in practice in order to create situational football for the team. Muschamp believes it is important to see how the players and staff make decisions when time is running down. “Last season we were 3-4 in games decided by two scores or less. [It’s] so critical making good decisions as a player in those situations – execution in critical times. That’s so critical, especially in this league there’s so many close games,” he said.
» Muschamp said he is very pleased with the attitude of the team and how things have been going in practice overall, especially on Friday. “Offensively we did a nice job executing the four-minute drill as far as maintaining the ball, did some really nice things as far as running the football and being able to kill the clock. Obviously disappointed defensively we didn’t get the ball back. And then some one-minute drives, I thought we did a nice job of executing,” he said.
» There has been a focus on extending plays on offense because all three quarterbacks are good athletes that can scramble. Also, because it is spring, they cannot be hit so it allows the offense to keep plays going. This is good practice for the defense as they will face these challenges against more mobile and athletic throwers.
» On sophomore cornerback Louchiez Purifoy: “Louchiez has done a nice job. Louchiez pulled his hamstring in camp and he missed a considerable amount of time on top of being a freshman. So everything was new to him. From a standpoint of learning and knowledge of the system, it put him behind with the missed practice time. I think he was our leading point getter on special teams this year. He’s probably our best special teams player. He’s a guy early in the year that we targeted and said this guy is really playing well. We got to find a way to get him on the field at corner. As the season continued to progress, we finally got to him. It was late in the year. Maybe should have done it earlier. Quite honestly it was a mistake on my part. Bowl practice was huge for him. He did a great job and of course played very well int eh bowl game. Special teams-wise, he’s really progressed. More than anything, it just takes guys some time to mature and understand what they’ve got to do.”
» On if the team’s internal discipline (penalties and the like) is impoving: “We’ve tried to add extra punishment and different stuff for them, changing that up, continuing to search for answers to be a more disciplined team and understanding that. We certainly have been emphasizing it – not that it wasn’t before and we didn’t before – but I do think that we’ve made some strides. We’re in the baby steps mode at this time. We’ve got to keep chopping away at it.”
» On new offensive line coach Tim Davis and what he brings to the position: “Toughness. He brings his hard hat to work every day and he loves being at the University of Florida. He loves coaching college players. He’s passionate, has got energy. Players are a reflection of their coach. It’s easy to see. These guys are a year older, too. They’re all back. At times we did some good things, and it certainly wasn’t what we wanted at [other] times.”
» On how much smoother the defense is running: “Oh yeah. It’s night and day. Just adjusting something out new formations, new shifts. Last year we were [struggling] and now they handle it. I don’t hold my breath as much before the ball is snapped to hope we do it right.”
» On what he thinks the team’s biggest area of improvement has been: “I’m very optimistic about both lines of scrimmage. I think that is something we have emphasized obviously in the offseason program and heading into spring and then talking to some of our coaches, I trust their opinion. You talk to Dan Quinn and Tim Davis has been in some pretty good places. The physicality of our practices, the way our players have responded in our practices, the way that they’ve continued to have that lunch pail attitude everyday and go out and work, it’s just been refreshing.”
» On if UF has found playmakers: “Not to the consistency level that we need. [...] Have I seen some of that? Sure, I have, but not as consistent as we’d like.”