Florida offense: Quick hitters on Garcia, Jones, Brown, Ajagbe, Andrades and the offensive line

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.

READY AND ABLE TO CONTRIBUTE

A lot has been made over the last two weeks about injuries to the unit, but a huge boon for Florida’s offensive line is newly-eligible redshirt junior Max Garcia, a transfer from Maryland who sat out the entire 2012 season and has accepted a position switch from tackle to guard. Garcia was listed as the starting left guard on the Gators’ initial spring practice depth chart and has received nothing but positive views thus far in camp.

Garcia, who missed a few days of practice with a sore back, explained last week that Florida’s depth concerns on the offensive line are legitimate but the players are doing whatever they can to make it work.

“This spring is tough with the numbers that we have. The coaches are telling us we’ve been doing a great job, but at the end of the day, it’s going out there and doing what we need to do. With the O-line, we’re the backbone of the team, so we just got to keep pushing forward and getting the job done,” he said.

Garcia also spoke about why he decided to transfer to the Gators, noting that he is sure he made the right decision. “I’ve had a lot of support with the coaches and the players. That’s the main reason why I came down here, just because of the players that were here, the players I interacted with on my official visit. We got a good O-line, great chemistry, so the transition has been going really well,” he said.

Though he is now fully in the mix, Garcia had to sit out the entire 2012 season, watching the team from afar as it completed an unexpected turnaround under head coach Will Muschamp. He discuss how that affected him as a competitor.

“Honestly, when we were winning, it wasn’t really hard. With a great season, you’re just happy to be part of the team, happy to contribute. It was good getting recognized at the end of the year as the Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year. The hard work didn’t go unnoticed. The coaches did a good job just telling me I’ve been doing well. I was really excited. It wasn’t really a burden on me. I was just happy to be a part of the team.”

“It was tough on the away games sitting in front of the TV, wishing I could be out there trying to help the team. But for the most part we had a really successful season, so it wasn’t really that tough.”


A SEPARATION AT RUNNING BACK…

After years of hoping to develop a 1,000-yard rusher, the Gators finally found their man in 2012 in Mike Gillislee. And then he graduated. Unlike seasons past, Florida appears prepared at the position with three players ready to contribute for 2013. Leading the pack is sophomore running back Matt Jones, a player who took a while to get going last season but ended the 2012 campaign with 19 carries for 162 yards (8.5 yards per carry) and two touchdowns in UF’s last three games.

Lessons from Muschamp, Gillislee and running backs coach Brian White helped Jones progress throughout the year. The player admitted last week that Muschamp taught him to hit hard between the tackle and not be tentative while Gillislee taught him patience, to run behind his pads and finish his runs. “It was sort of aggressive,” Jones said of his conversation with Muschamp. “It was something I definitely needed to hear. It definitely made my game better.”

Everything about Jones coming out of spring practice has been positive. Muschamp even said Tuesday that he has somewhat separated himself from the pack. Jones’ ability to run the ball with great aggression – combined with his ability to protect the quarterback and his proficiencies caching the ball in the passing game – have helped him stand out in front of redshirt junior Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor.

“I’m working on my conditioning and my stuff this offseason. I got big shoes to fill. Coach talks about getting a lot of carries, but I still got to stay humble and keep myself healthy and stuff like that to get ready. I got a long way to go,” he said. “I don’t think I’m ‘the guy’ yet. I still got a lot of work to do in the offseason. Filling Gilly’s shoes is a lot of pressure though. Whoever wins the battle, it’s going to be hard to fill his shoes. … [Brown and Taylor] are really talented. We’re all competing hard, we’re going hard in the film room. We go hard. Everything we do, we’re going hard at it. Mack runs with power, that I like. K.T. has a lot of great vision and a lot of moves he makes.”

While Jones has stepped up at the position, Brown is far from giving up hope that he can win the starting job. Leaning patience, persistence and hard-work from watching Gillislee for the last few years, Brown believes that he is in the perfect position to finally come through and contribute for the Gators.

“Every year I’ve been here we’ve had a different coordinator. Now I know my plays now, I can play fast. I’m just excited for the season,” he said. “I feel good [as a patch catcher] right now. I always caught balls out of high school. … I’ve been catching every ball this whole spring.”

A TOUGH BUT SUCCESSFUL TRANSITION

When now-redshirt junior Gideon Ajagbe committed to play for the Gators, he assumed that his days of playing offense were over. A running back and linebacker in high school, Ajagbe joined the Florida football program to play the latter position but barely got on the field early in his career as a combination of injuries and talent forced him to the back of the line.

“I went through a few injuries. I had a shoulder injury my freshman year. I had an MCL injury this year. I got hurt the first week right before we played Bowling Green. I was going to play a little bit on special teams starting somewhere, so it really crushed me,” he explained. “I think my faith really pulled me through to be able to have this opportunity, stay the course, not get discouraged but trust him, trust Jesus throughout the whole thing.”

A religious man, Ajagbe gives credit to his faith for putting him in the position – as well as Muschamp for giving him the opportunity – to compete at a brand new position. Though Ajagbe has never played fullback before, the Gators were in desperate need of a backup for junior Hunter Joyer and both he and redshirt freshman Rhaheim Ledbetter are in the process of trying out for the position this spring.

Now going up against the linebackers that used to be in his position group – “It’s fun. There’s like no pressure. I’m not like afraid of them. I love them, they’re my boys.” – Ajagbe is enjoying his time at fullback but knows he has a long journey ahead of him in order to make the position his own.

“I have a lot to learn but I’m happy with Coach White. Coach White has really helped me out, helped me convert and learn how to play the position. I’m still learning a lot. There’s a long of things. I have a long way to go. There’s the whole summer,” he explained.

“It’s very hard because you have to block, you have to be able to catch and at the same time you have to be really tough. Seeing from Hunter, I used to hit Hunter every play during practice. I know where he goes. When I went over to the position, I already knew what was going to happen. At the same time, our coach teaches us to be the hammer and not the nail. Don’t take the blow but give the blow.”

Ajagbe has drawn nothing but rave reviews from the coaching staff and his teammates thus far and appears to be close to solidifying his spot behind Joyer at fullback.

“Oh, he’s a monster. He’s a compete monster,” Brown said of Ajagbe. “The other fullbacks are happy he’s not hitting them in the shoulders no more. Gideon, the impact when he hits you, he’ll knock the guy over. Like [last Wednesday] in practice, he knocked a guy out. Not really knocked him out but knocked him on the ground, pancaked him.”

TWO SPORTS, ONE SPRING

Sophomore wide receiver Raphael Andrades knew it would be difficult to fit playing for the baseball team in with spring football practice but has been dead-set on doing just that from the day he stepped on campus. With approval from both coaches, Andrades joined the baseball team after the football season and is now faced with the tough task of fitting in football practice around baseball practice, games and away trips.

“Coach Muschamp didn’t have a problem with it as long as I did what I had to do in football, and Coach [Kevin O’Sullivan] didn’t mind either,” he explained.

Being away from football for so long put Andrades a bit behind the eight-ball when he returned to practice, especially considering there is a new wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, in the fold.

“With him going out for baseball, it took him a while to get within the flow. The concepts that Joker changed, he changed a few things about how we run our routes or how we come off the ball,” sophomore WR Latroy Pittman said. “I feel like he’s been getting better throughout the spring.”

“I’m getting better. I’m learning about the play concepts more and learning what I need to do in order to play. I have to understand what I need to do and the objective of the play,” Andrades agreed.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy on the offensive line: “I’ve actually been pretty impressed with the way things have been going with the offensive line. They’re getting a lot of reps, so that forces them to progress and they’re getting better. They’ve built a lot of stamina and they’re getting in shape. It just really helps them. I’ve been really impressed with the way they’ve been handling the situation. They’re tough.”

» Murphy on which wide receivers are impressing him: “[Quinton] Dunbar is progressing a lot. He’s really stepped up and taken a leadership role. Demarcus [Robinson] as a freshman, he’s stepped up and shown that he can make some wild plays. Pitt’s doing well. [Andre] Debose is really stepping up. Solo[mon Patton] is doing well. A lot of the guys are doing well and progressing, but I would definitely say Dunbar is making the most progression. He’s really stepping up to be the leader of the group.”

» Redshirt freshman QB Skyler Mornhinweg on the offensive line: “They’ve been working hard. A lot of the credit to the O-line. They’re grinding out there right now. They’re taking it real well, working real hard.”

» Pittman on how much impact Phillips is having with his position group: “Tremendously with the rubs and the run away from man coverage and the splits and twists we do against the [defensive backs]. We have them all confused. It’s real real when you have a coach who really knows what he’s doing. A lot of guys are just wide open and he really emphasizes a lot about [yards after the catch]. He’s just really pounding it into our minds about that.”

» Redshirt freshman tight end Colin Thompson on senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley: “Easley is the man. He’s not to be messed with.”

» Thompson on missing the entire 2012 season with an injury: “It was challenging, a very challenging season for me. it was tough to see us lose against Georgia, being at the game, and then it was tough obviously to see us lose to Louisville.”

One Comment

  1. Michael Jones says:

    Man, that’s good stuff. Can’t wait for football season to start for real. GO GATORS!!!

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