Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp spoke on Monday about the team’s weekend scrimmage while also previewing the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut set for 1 p.m. on Saturday, April 7 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
QUARTERBACK COMPETITION RAMPING UP BUT STILL EVEN
Though the team has participated in one-and-a-half scrimmages (Saturday’s was cut short at approximately 35 snaps due to lightning), sophomore quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel remain in a dead heat for the starting job.
“Not much separation. Both guys have done some nice things for us. For the few snaps we got in the scrimmage we did a nice job of managing our offense,” Muschamp said on Monday. “They’ve done a really nice job as far as procedural issues, getting in and out of the huddle. We do motions and shifts quite a bit and both of those guys are doing a really nice job of that.”
No matter what happens at the spring game on Saturday, Muschamp does not expect there to be any further clarity in who will start the first game of the season. He said it is “not going to be D-Day” for the players because one good practice will just be intertwined to the other 14 days of competing.
“I don’t know that we will name a starter after spring. We will go into the fall camp [without one]. That to me is becoming more and more evident every day that both guys are guys we can win with. Bottom line. That’s good for us. But both guys are competing at a high level, in my opinion, and they both have done outstanding things throughout spring,” he said. “I’m very pleased with their progress as much as anything in just managing our football team and getting in and out of the huddle and taking a command of the offense. Both of them are working extremely hard off the field. They’re always in the building watching film and doing the things you got to do to be successful. [...]
“The game slows down for older players because they’re able to see and anticipate. Even though we’ve changed some things from a verbiage standpoint, terminology, the game is slowing down for them.”
A MIXED BAG ON SPECIAL TEAMS
Muschamp was quite honest on Monday about the way his special teams unit performed in 2011: “We were really good in all categories, but we were not good in returning punts.” Therefore, Florida is working six players out as punt returners and eight as kick returners in order to get some added production from that unit.
Redshirt junior wide receiver Andre Debose is the team’s best returning threat (showcasing his ability as a kick returner last year) and has improved his hands from a year ago making him a legitimate option on the punting unit as well. He is getting plenty of competition there, however, from sophomore defensive backs Louchiez Purifoy, De’Ante Saunders and Marcus Roberson, redshirt senior WR Frankie Hammond, Jr. and even junior running back Trey Burton. That same group along with redshirt senior tight end Omarius Hines and junior DB Cody Riggs is returning kickoffs as well.
Muschamp is also hoping to see sophomore punter Kyle Christy improve his performance from a year ago. He said Christy “really punted the ball well” on Wednesday and continues to progress though he most show that he can be more consistent. “He’s got the leg. He’s got the tools. He’s got the talent. It’s a matter of doing it all the time,” he said. “As Kyle continued to improve that consistency, that’s’ what enabled him to get the job [in the middle of 2011].”
WORK ETHIC AND MOTIVATION ARE IMPROVING
Looking back on the 2011 regular season following the team’s loss to Florida State, Muschamp lamented that he regretted not pushing the team harder in the spring and the summer but explained he did not do so because the Gators were so banged up that he feared depleting their limited depth even further. He said that is not as much of an issue this offseason and, therefore, he is quite with the intensity of practices and how hard his players are working.
“We’ve had a lot more contact, a lot more working on good fundamentals and those sort of things, but we’ve been able to because of our numbers,” he explained. “That’s where we were a little bit in a tough situation and a tough call in my shoes to make sometimes because of injuries that can happen. Because of our depth now being so much better we’re able to do more of that. The physicality of our football team is much better than it was a year ago; I can assure you of that. It needs to carry over to game day.”
He also noted that the players are finding new avenues of motivation as there are plenty of younger guys in the mix to get playing time for Florida in 2012. “The players have done a better job, in my opinion, of motivating other players to work. Competition at position helps,” he said. “You’ve got some depth and you’ve got some guys and you got a guy that knows somebody can take his position. That’s the best motivator there is – is competition. With better depth that’s been the No. 1 motivating factor.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp said the spring game will be offense vs. defense and not split squads like the Gators have done in the past. “I think it’s important to keep the continuity on both sides of the ball, especially on offense with everything being so new – not dividing up the teams and doing a draft and that sort of thing. Maybe we may look at that next year; we discussed it a little bit this morning,” he said.
» On if he would like to have a main running back or does not mind running by committee: “We’ll let that situation play its way out. You’d like to have the one guy but obviously if it needs to be by committee, we’re going to do what it takes to win games. I’m not ready to say right now what that will be. Obviously I do believe mike has distanced himself to be that guy but again Mike [Gillislee]’s also been a guy that’s been banged up a lot. You got to prepare and have enough depth to prepare for that.”
» On the offensive line: “It’s been a very marked improvement up front from a year ago this time or any time last year.”
» Muschamp is also pleased with the play of freshman wide receiver Latroy Pittman, someone who could very well be working his way into a legitimate amount of field time as a first-year player. “He’s passing some guys up. He understands every-down performance – blocking and doing things you’ve got to do to be successful – reading coverages and seeing coverages. He goes out and makes plays,” he said.
» Muschamp said junior Darrin Kitchens and sophomore Graham Stewart are both repping at Sam linebacker as redshirt senior Lerentee McCray (shoulder) sits out the spring.
» He expects the team’s three injured wide receivers – redshirt junior Stephen Alli, junior Solomon Patton and redshirt freshman Ja’Juan Story – to be back at practice on Monday after being out due to groin and ankle injuries. Overall he says the team is “very healthy” though a few players have “some minor things.”
» On Saunders improving in the secondary: “He’s got to get stronger, got to [do] a better job finishing on some tackles. You miss a tackle back there and it’s a big one. We had two get out of the center on a Saturday. He’s got to improve the tackling aspect of the game.”