Florida defense: Quick hitters on Fowler, Bullard, McMillian, Gorman, Maye and Christy

By Adam Silverstein
April 3, 2013

Over the last week-and-a-half of Florida Gators spring football practice, a number of players met with the media to discuss their individual play and the team as a whole. Below are some of the stories, notes and quotes that have fallen through the cracks.

BIG EXPECTATIONS FOR HIGH-WORK ETHIC DEFENDERS

With so many starters now off the team due to graduation and the draft and redshirt junior Buck linebacker Ronald Powell still recovering from his ACL injuries, Florida head coach Will Muschamp is looking to a trio of young players to be impact players for the Gators defense in 2013.

Sophomores Buck Dante Fowler, Jr. and defensive end Jonathan Bullard both impressed as freshman in 2012, combining for 13 tackles for loss and 4.0 sacks. Each player appeared in all 13 games and earned a start or two but now must take the next step and potentially become full-time starters for Florida. As far as Muschamp is concerned, both have what it takes to do just that for the Gators.

“Football is really important to both of those guys, I mean extremely important. There are guys that come in and meet extra, they watch extra film, they come up after practice if they don’t feel like they played well and they’re going to go in a meeting room with a coach or myself and say show me what I’m doing,” Muschamp explained.

“Dante walks up to me every single day and says, ‘What can I do to get better?’ It starts, to me from a maturity standpoint, of off the field understanding what it takes to be successful. A lot of guys, when they are a dominant player in high school, come to college and they’ve never had to work hard, never had to watch extra film, never had to do the extra things to be successful.

“That’s what those two guys do. They work extremely hard at being good football players. God has blessed them; they got ability. But you can walk in the weight room and see how they work; you walk on our practice field and see how they work. They’ve got tremendous work ethic away from just having good talent. That’s the difference in those guys. They’re both mature guys from that standpoint because they want to be really good players.”

Fowler, who said Tuesday that he knows there are “a lot of high expectations” and he is “looking forward to living up to them,” is excited for the season to begin. He has heard all about players making their biggest leap heading into their second year and believes he is posied to continue that trend.

“I feel really good getting my freshman year under my belt, getting to play a lot of reps and experience. I feel really good about that. I feel a lot stronger being able to play against the offensive lineman,” he said. “Getting that experience, just knowing the game and stuff like that, being more mature about the game. I feel really good.”


While Fowler and Bullard are leading the pack, freshman LB Daniel McMillian is proving to be a very similar type of player. According to Muschamp, McMillian displays the same work ethic that Fowler and Bullard have this spring and is a player to watch.

“Athletically, he is the right guy to be coaching. He’s got instincts, he’s got toughness and football is very important to him,” Muschamp said. “He’s up here on Sunday after the third practice, the first day in pads, for two hours watching film by himself. Some young players have a hard time with that because they’ve always been better and they didn’t have to put in the extra time. Daniel, he’s working, and he is the absolute right guy to be coaching.”

THIRD YEAR’S A CHARM?

It has been tough for junior safety Jabari Gorman to get on the field. Over the last two years, Matt Elam and Josh Evans have held down the middle of the defensive backfield and done everything asked of them by Muschamp. Now with just two seasons left in his career, Gorman received a vote of confidence from Muschamp in the offseason and knows the time is now for him to make an impact.

“It feels very weird. That’s just letting me know that times goes by fast,” he said. “You just got to take each day at a time and do the best that you can do. I feel like it’s an opportunity. When I found out that I was going to get the starting position [entering the spring], it was just motivation to get better and better and better and not settle. I just wanted to get better and do things like Ahmad Black and Major Wright and Matt Elam and Josh Evans. I wanted to be like those guys. I wanted to be a leader and make more plays and make as many plays as they did.”

Gorman saw his ascension to the first team not as a gift but rather “strictly [as] motivation, motivation to get better, motivation to have the opportunity to succeed in my position and become more than a guy who is just helping every other play.”

He feels like he is “much better” now in terms of his assignments and is making “more plays now” than he has in each of his first two seasons combined. Gorman also values the fact that Muschamp personally coaches the defensive backs and knows that the extra attention will only make him and his position mates better.

“It’s a great experience being coached by Muschamp because you’re not just playing football, you’re learning the game of football. Before I got here, I did not know the game of football. Now that I know the game of football, I can anticipate much faster. It helps me make more plays,” he explained.

“I’d say he’s been harder [on the defensive backs] just because of the fact that he knows the potential, he wants people to make plays. He wants everybody to do everything that he wants. Pretty much that helps everybody else make plays. It’s kind of hard sometimes because if you don’t do what he wants you to do, you get yelled at. You got to take what he says the right way and not the wrong way because it’s never personal.”

YOUNGSTER COMPETING TO START AT SAFETY

Gorman is not the only veteran vying to start at safety. Senior Jaylen Watkins and redshirt junior Cody Riggs, though both are technically cornerbacks, have been spending plenty of time at safety during spring practice, and Muschamp even said on Tuesday that Watkins would be starting at safety if fall practice was underway. However, redshirt freshman Marcus Maye is nipping at the upperclassmen’s heels and wants it to be known that the competition at that position is far from over.

A four-star prospect that missed the entire 2012 season due to a torn meniscus, Maye did not start practicing with his Florida teammates until shortly after midseason. Muschamp singled him out as having impressive athleticism during bowl practices, and Maye was immediately a player to watch in spring practice.

“Nobody likes to be injured so I had to deal with that. I got back, did a lot of rehab, stayed up and had a positive mindset about everything. I recovered pretty fast. I missed all last year with a redshirt but this year coming along has been pretty good so far.”

Though he had the opportunity to learn the defense in 2012, watching his teammates from the sideline and on film is completely different from actually going through the motions on the field. No longer on the scout team, Maye has been thrust into the action and is starting to feel like his old self.

“I felt fast, felt like I had my explosion back, was able to run, jump, do a lot of stuff that I felt comfortable doing without thinking about it,” he said. “I feel like I’m coming along pretty well. We’re all competing and trying to get better. I’m putting all my effort into it to get better and better. This is the time now that I really have to push myself for playing time, getting ready for game situations and stuff like that. I feel like this year a lot of stuff is new but at the same time, I’ve been here already so I know what it takes.”

Maye is certainly motivated by the open starting position but said he would be practicing the exact same way even if there were incumbent starting safeties. However, considering the job is available, he plans to do whatever it takes to get it. “I’m very hungry to get the job,” he said.

PLAYING GREAT THROUGH AN INJURY

Junior punter Kyle Christy had an outstanding 2012 season. Averaging 45.8 yards per punt with 27 dropped inside the 20-yard line and 22 fair caught, he garnered national acclaim for his efforts and ended the season as a finalist for the Ray Guy Award (nation’s best punter). And it did it all injured.

Christy, who had offseason surgery to repair a torn labrum but has still been able to punt the ball during spring practice, did not suffer the injury at the end of the 2012 campaign but rather before the season began.

“I actually tore my labrum before the season. If I would have had surgery then, I would’ve had to miss the entire season. So I waited until after the season to do it.”

And how exactly did he tear his labrum? “It’s embarrassing,” he admitted on Tuesday. “I fell off my scooter. Dang it.”

Christy said the shoulder “probably hurt for maybe a couple of weeks” but did not give him pain during the season unless he tried to “do something strenuous with my shoulder” like throwing a football. This spring, he has been punting but has not caught any balls from the long snapper. He should be able to do so in 3-4 weeks time.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Redshirt freshman tight end Colin Thompson on Fowler: “I love blocking Dante. Whether I win or not, I don’t really know. He’s a great guy and he’s fun to compete against. Dominique Easley I think would be the biggest force to go against, but Dante is close at number two. He’s very good. He’s very athletic and he’s very big. He’s tough. I went against him at the Under Armour game, so we’re familiar and we like to have a little fun. He’s a great guy and good friend, fun to go against.”

» Fowler on how junior quarterback Jeff Driskel is playing in practice: “He looks really comfortable, just sitting in the pocket making nice throws. I was just watching film [Tuesday], he made a beautiful throw. He’s doing really good. He’s feeling more comfortable in the pocket. … He’s been more mature about the decisions he’s making.”

» Christy on the kickers in practice: “I’m not going to lie, we’re missing [Caleb] Sturgis right now. But the kickers are…it’s definitely not because of lack of effort. They’re trying as hard as they can; I see them work every day. They’re going out there and trying to get better every day but obviously they’re just struggling a little bit right now. I think they’ll get it out of it definitely by the time the season starts they’ll be good to go.”

One Comment

  1. Intuition says:

    Man oh man. I love this team already and they won’t strap up for months still.

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