4/2: Muschamp on spring game, injuries, updates

By Adam Silverstein
April 2, 2013

Now in the third week of 2013 spring football practice, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday to discuss some of the latest developments surrounding the team and provide updates on specific players.

ORANGE & BLUE DEBUT SPRING GAME PRACTICE FORMAT

Instead of a full scrimmage like the Gators normally run for the Orange & Blue Debut, this year’s event will be more like an open practice that also includes limited scrimmage snaps. Florida will mix approximately 40 scrimmage snaps between individual and team position drills. The format change is being made because the Gators currently only have six healthy offensive linemen and Muschamp feels it would be unfair to ask them to participate in 60-100 snaps over the course of a single afternoon.

“It’s not fair to go into a spring game situation and ask these guys to take 60-70 snaps in a row,” he explained. “That’s not healthy. That’s not good, it’s not good for our team.”

Muschamp also detailed what the team will be doing during the practice/scrimmage (in order): (1) Field goal/point after touchdown drills, (2) punting and individual drills, (3) one-on-one work with the secondary and receivers going head-to-head while the quarterbacks throw the ball, (4) one-on-one work with block reaction for the offensive line, (5) linebackers and running backs picking up blitz protection and coverage responsibilities, (6) two series of scrimmage with the ball on the 35-yard line, a total of 8-12 plays, (7) red zone one-on-one, (8) offensive and defensive line two-on-ones, (9) two series of scrimmage with the ball at the 35 yard line, a total of 8-12 plays, (10) two full cover punts and a punt/punt block drill, (11), two series of scrimmage from midfield, (12) two full cover kickoffs and a kickoff/kickoff return drill, (13) two series of scrimmage from midfield, (14) red zone 7-on-7s with the ball at the 18-yard line, (15) additional drills including pass rushing, (16) backed up punt drill, (17) one-minute scrimmage drill.

“It’s about getting good-on-good work. It’s about getting your best players going against your best players. … You get better when you’re going good-on-good,” Muschamp said. “This is good work. It’s good special teams work. This is a normal scrimmage-type situation for us as far as our football team is concerned. It’s good-on-good and that’s all I’m concerned with.”

Additionally, Muschamp announced that the coaching staff will be wearing microphones so fans in attendance can get a better idea of what is going on throughout the event. Coaches will be explaining each session before it begins and Brady Ackerman will be on the field to ask the coaches questions.

Due to the new format, Florida and the sponsors of the Orange & Blue Debut have made it completely free to the public. Anyone who pre-purchased a ticket for the event will have it refunded in full (special passes are still needed for the premium areas).

Schedule of Events:
9:00 a.m. – Gator Locker Room Yard Sale (outside Gate 9)
10:00 a.m. – Verizon Fan Fest in North End Zone Lawn
10:30 a.m. – Gator Walk
11:30 a.m. – Gates Open to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
11:30 a.m. – Warm-ups begin on the field
12:30 p.m. – Alumni Flag Football Game
1:00 p.m. – Orange & Blue Debut


INJURY UPDATES

Redshirt sophomore guard Trip Thurman, who was announced as seriously injured last week, was diagnosed with a torn labrum in his shoulder and had surgery that will keep him out 4-5 months. The Gators will only have six healthy offensive lineman for the duration of spring practice but will get some injured veterans back (as well as new freshmen enrolled) during the summer and fall.

“He should be cleared for August practice if things go well and he rehabs the correct way, which he will,” Muschamp said. “He works hard. He’s done a good job for us this spring, and I’m real pleased with his progress.”

Additionally, redshirt junior cornerback Cody Riggs and sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard are both still dealing with hamstring injuries. Riggs is listed as day-to-day while Bullard is out for the rest of spring because he has some scar tissue built up around the top of the hamstring that the training staff is helping him work through. Redshirt senior CB Jeremy Brown (groin) is also day-to-day.

Freshman wide receiver Demarcus Robinson returned to practice on Monday but was still limping and not 100 percent. Position coach Joker Phillips is still doing plenty of teaching as far as Robinson is concerned, but he is looking good overall. “He should be getting better as the week rolls on. I don’t think he will be full speed Saturday, but he’s a tough kid and he will practice,” Muschamp said.

OFFENSE – POSITION-BY-POSITION

Quarterback
Muschamp said he is happy with the passing game and the way junior Jeff Driskel is progressing as he heads into his second season as a starter. “I think we’re much more efficient [in the passing game],” he said. “I think we’ve made some vertical plays down the field against some corners that can cover, so that’s been pleasing to see. Jeff has been very accurate with the football. I’ve been pleased with his progress.” Specifically, Muschamp pointed out that Driskel hit some nice vertical throws in practice over the weekend. He is already noticing how much he has improved. “Another year in the system, second year starting, understands where he’s protected, where he needs to go with the ball versus certain looks, where the pressure’s coming from,” he said. “I also think we’re better up front right now. I think we’ll be better in the fall up front. We’ll be better equipped to protect him better, which I think will give him more confidence.”

Wide Receivers
As far as which receivers are standing out, Muschamp noted that the group as a whole has been pleasant to watch before singling out a few guys in particular. “It’s kind of been across the board,” he said. “The one consistent guy has been Quinton Dunbar, he has continued to make plays. I’ve already stated through the season that he improved tremendously. He’s continued to make strides. Latroy [Pittman] has done some nice things. Loucheiz [Purifoy, when he was on that side, did some nice things. Andre [Debose hit a couple plays Saturday. Those guys have answered the call, so to speak, improving at the position. I’ve been pleased with the progress.”

Tight Ends
An issue all spring, tight end continues being a position that Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease are trying to draw additional production from. “We need to continue to come on at tight end,” Muschamp said. While junior Clay Burton has “done some nice things,” the key at the position is sophomore Kent Taylor, who looks more like a receiver right now than a player who is also capable of blocking pass rushers. “He needs to continue to gain some more girth, needs to continue to get stronger. We need to make some strides there. He’s done some nice things in the passing game. We need to continue to improve in the physicality part of it,” Muschamp said.

Running Backs
Sophomore Matt Jones began spring practice as the top guy at the position and has been able to maintain his spot thus far. “Yes. He’s playing very well,” Muschamp said when asked if Jones had distanced himself from the pack. “When we tackle [in practice], they don’t tackle him.” He also noted that redshirt junior Mack Brown, freshman Kelvin Taylor and even sophomore walk-on Mark Herndon are coming along nicely.

Fullbacks
The experiment the coaching staff underwent with redshirt junior Gideon Ajagbe and redshirt freshman Rhaheim Ledbetter moving over to the offensive side of the ball appears to be going great from everything Muschamp said on Tuesday. “Very pleased with the fullbacks. Really pleased. Rhaheim Ledbetter played extremely well Saturday. Gideon has been really productive for us,” he explained. “We were kind of looking into being a 21 team with a fullback with Hunter [Joyer], but one hit and you’re out of it. So you got to be careful as a coordinator, with Brent, how you invest your time with a guy that you don’t have much depth at the position. All of a sudden, we feel very comfortable with that package and that’s something we want to be.”

Kickers
Muschamp has been on his kickers for being inconsistent throughout practice but the position group appears to have made some headway as of late. “Brad Phillips kicked very well [Monday]. We had a couple game-ending situations at practice and he hit both field goals when he was called to. We had some third-down work in the red zone and he kicked every one of them. He’s really kicking well,” he said. “Austin [Hardin] has done some nice things. Frankie Velez has come on as a third kicker that we’ve kind of thrown in the competition. Certainly no one has taken the job yet, but I’m very pleased with our progress there.”

DEFENSE – POSITION-BY-POSITION

Defensive Ends
* Separate story, coming soon.

Defensive Tackles
If the season started today, senior Dominique Easley would be starting inside for the Gators. Muschamp sees Easley’s versatility as a major positive but would start him on the inside because he feels like the team’s defensive ends are further along than the tackles at this point in time. “I think Damien Jacobs is playing very well. He didn’t play as well Saturday as I’d have liked for him to but I think – consistently through 12 practices – he’s improved himself and he’s gotten better,” Muschamp said. “Darious [Cummings] has to continue getting himself in shape to sustain and play, consistency in his performance. Same with Leon Orr, consistency in his performance.”

Linebackers
Florida is still searching for depth at linebacker, an issue that will likely work itself out during summer and fall practice. For now, the one big announcement that Muschamp had is that senior Darrin Kitchens will be practicing at the inside positions going forward rather than at Sam linebacker as he had been previously. Muschamp is pleased with what he has seen from him on the inside and believes he is better suited to play there at this point in time.

Secondary
While cornerback play has been “decent” and Muschamp is excited about all of the returning talent at the position, safety remains a work in progress as the Gators continue to search for answers. Senior Jaylen Watkins, a starting cornerback in 2012, will start at safety when practice restarts. “He’s a guy that we need to get on the field. He’s a good football player and he’s played well for us,” Muschamp said. Junior Jabari Gorman has also continued to improve and will likely be starting at safety next to Watkins. “I think there’s no question he’s had a bunch of at-bats. He’s had a lot of turns and reps to be able to do things, and I got a lot of confidence in Jabar,” he added. Muschamp is looking for safeties that can communicate well, tackle and put people on the ground. Redshirt freshman Marcus Maye, who is still learning the position, is “playing well” and has “nice range” but still needs the “game to slow down” for him a bit.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» After the Orange & Blue Debut, Muschamp will go through exit interviews with all of the players. At that time, he will discuss cross-training some of them so they can have a greater chance to see the field for more snaps.

» On freshmen that enter in the summer earning playing time: “They come in here, and they’re good enough, they’ll start. If they’re good enough, they’ll play. If they’re the best at the position, they’ll start. If they’re not, we’ll go with another guy. That competition will be there in fall camp. … That’s at every position across the board.”

» On an April Fools joke he did on the players: “I tried to play an April Fools joke on them [Monday] and said the NCAA passed a ruling that we had five more practices and it was dead silent on the field. They didn’t really care for that very much. I was giving them the schedule the net week and a couple of the older players, it finally dawned on them that it was April 1st.”

» On his presence on and participation in social media: “I’m involved. Y’all are probably better than me, but I’m involved. I think it’s good. Social media nowadays, they all follow all that stuff, I don’t know. I don’t really know what to say. I’m not like a starting five guy on social media, but I’m on the team. I’m a walk-on. I am definitely…I am battling for reps. I’m just hanging in there, swinging.”

3 Comments

  1. Courtney says:

    Great write up Adam.

  2. g8ter27 says:

    Great story but I feel like I am having deja vy. Six O-Lineman healthy, limited scrimmage….didn’t we do this the last 2 years also?

  3. Michael Jones says:

    Very exciting and great job again, Adam. I tell you, man–I don’t want to jinx them–but I like this team. Like who’s already here and like who’s coming in. Like this staff, too.

    GO GATORS!!!

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