Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday to provide updates on team injuries, spring practice and the upcoming spring game.
Sophomore safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) is at 90 percent according to Muschamp, who said the Gators want to get him back as soon as possible but want to ensure that the injury fully heals first. “He needs to be a part of the spring game. He needs to get in front of the crowd and play,” Muschamp said. “He needs to be in practices 10, 11, 12, 13. I didn’t want to lose him another day [by practicing him Monday].”
Sophomore wide receiver Chris Thompson (undisclosed) has returned to practice, though redshirt freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (concussion) has not yet been given the go-ahead. Muschamp hoped that Johnson would be available to see the field on Wednesday.
RUNNING AWAY WITH THINGS
The Gators will be without junior running back Matt Jones this spring, but the productivity of Florida’s other rushers has apparently filled his void quite well.
Sophomore Kelvin Taylor is more confident running the ball and “much better in protection, which is where he needed to take some big steps,” Muschamp said. Taylor is obviously the most explosive of UF’s rushers and is easily the favorite to start the first game of the season after a strong conclusion to 2013.
Muschamp did not make mention of redshirt senior Mack Brown, who by all accounts continues to play well but has not necessarily improved, but he praised junior Mark Herndon‘s consistency as well as some of the different things redshirt freshman Adam Lane brings to the table.
“He’s a guy that’s very difficult to tackle because he’s got a low center of gravity,” Muschamp said. “That’s’ why we’ve liked him all along in the process.”
No matter which player is toting the rock, every Gators tailback is getting used to running out of the shotgun and taking a different path toward the same goal.
“In this offense, it is a little different for these guys how they’re getting the ball,” said Muschamp. “We still run the counter, we still run the power, we still run the inside zone, we still run the stretch, but their angles to the line of scrimmage are a little different. I think they’ve all adjusted very well.”
A REAL SPRING GAME
The 2014 Orange & Blue Debut is set for Saturday, April 12 – just over a week away – and Muschamp is not worried about fielding a true game as opposed to the glorified practice Florida ran last year due to only having six healthy offensive linemen.
“It’ll be offense versus defense,” Muschamp promised.
he also noted that neither coaches nor players would be conducting a draft to pick teams. Rather, he wants the Gators starting offense and defense to go head-to-head while the second units also compete.
“The draft pick stuff is great, but I don’t know that you want that match-up. I want good-on-good. I want to see the best players going against the best players and being able to, as a staff, match-up guys that we know we need to find out things about,” he explained.
“Our young defensive linemen need to take a lot of snaps. They need as many snaps against as good of players as they can go against. I think that’s important so you don’t get a little bit of a misinterpretation of where you think you are – or more than anything where the player thinks he is. … Those are things, to me, when you have the draft-pick stuff, that makes it hard sometimes.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp is pleased with the overall offensive installation through nine practices but noted that both sides of the ball need to improve tempo. The offense in particular needs to have a “spot the ball mentality,” while the young defense must learn to get ready quicker because they’re going to face some fast-paced offenses this season.
» Quarterbacks freshman Will Grier and redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg are currently splitting reps in pursuit of the second-string job, according to Muschamp, though many that have attended practice believe Grier has already pulled away in the competition.
» Redshirt freshman defensive back Nick Washington is expected to compete for a starting cornerback job but has been practicing at safety during spring practice due to limited numbers. Muschamp said he made a goal line tackle on Monday and picked off two passes over the weekend. “He continues to show up in the right spots and that’s a positive thing, especially early on when you haven’t been exposed to the position as much,” he said.
» Sophomore WR Demarcus Robinson has received rave reviews for his play in practice, and Muschamp is excited about his progress on the field as well as his improved behavior off of it. “He has done some fantastic things in the passing game. He’s an explosive receiver. He’s a tough match one-on-one because of his size, because of his athleticism. He’s got really good ball skills down the field,” Muschamp said. “It’s just sometimes maturing a little bit; we mature at different times. I think we’ve seen some strides there. I’ve been pleased to this point. There’s no question, from a match-up standpoint, there’s a guy that can do some things. And then a lot of it goes into assignments. Are you blocking the right guy? Are you running the right route? Are we sight-adjusting? … That’s part of the maturing process on and off the field.”
» Similarly, Muschamp appreciates that that junior linebacker Antonio Morrison has not only improved his play but his dedication to becoming more mature in his private life as well. “I’ve been pleased with his production as a player on the field. I’ve been pleased with how he’s handled himself off the field,” he said. “We all mature at different levels at different times and certainly he’s a guy that needed to mature, take that next step, and I think he’s done that.”