2013 Florida Gators Orange & Blue Debut Review

By Adam Silverstein
April 7, 2013

With the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut now officially in the books, OGGOA is here to take a look at what happened Saturday afternoon on Florida Field inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during the Florida Gators spring game practice and how head coach Will Muschamp felt about the team and his players after the conclusion of the day’s events.

OFFENSE: STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
* Separate story on passing game (quarterbacks, wide receivers) to be posted Sunday.

Running Backs
A starter emerges: Sophomore Matt Jones did not see a lot of action on Saturday by design. Why? Because Jones has played so well throughout the spring that he has all but officially been named Florida’s starter in the backfield. “Matt has really had an outstanding spring. We have a good comfort level where he is as a player,” Muschamp said. “He’s a physical runner. He understands our protections. He’s got great hands in the throwing game. There’s no question he’s an all-around back. He can do everything for us and he’s shown it to us for 14-straight practices.”

Four-deep with a freshman shining: Behind Jones there are three other players competing for carriers – redshirt junior Mack Brown, freshman Kelvin Taylor and sophomore walk-on Mark Herndon. On Saturday, Brown barely got any carries with the vast majority of snaps going to the latter two players. Unlike Jones, it did not look like the coaching staff was resting Brown. Taylor looked dynamic and Herndon made it quite clear why the coaches have praised him throughout the spring with multiple nice runs including a touchdown scamper from inside the 10-yard line. Though Taylor started slow, he showed nice patience running between the tackles, looked decent in pass protection and showed shiftiness breaking a tackle and moving the ball to the outside. Late in the scrimmage, he had a 15-yard run off-tackle and later scored a red zone touchdown from eight yards out when he stuck the ball over the goal line.

Asked about Taylor after the game, Muschamp gushed about how impressive he has been just 15 practices into his Gators career. “Kelvin’s got a really strong lower body. He runs through contact extremely well. He’s got natural instincts in the run game. You get the turns and reps and [need to learn] the protections and all the things that you got to be able to do for us at running back, but [I’m] extremely pleased with his progress,” Muschamp said. “He’s a very talented runner. Some positions are easier than others to contribute as a freshman. That’s a natural instinct position. You get the guy the ball and let his natural instincts take over and run for daylight. And he can do that. It’s the other things we got to brush up on.”


Offensive Line
Numbers turn a scrimmage into a practice: The primary reason why Florida was unable to run a full spring game on Saturday was the simple fact that it did not have enough healthy offensive linemen to go through more than 60 snaps in a single afternoon. Nevertheless, the line looked improved from a year ago and will be even stronger once the injured players are back healthy on Aug. 1. “The offensive line, I’m really proud of those six guys of really going through the last part of spring only six guys going through the whole thing. And we were rotating a fresh defensive line at them every [other] series. Really made some progress there,” Muschamp said. “We feel like right now on our offensive line, going into fall camp, we’ve got eight guys that have played major college football at a high level that we can win with. That’s good depth to be walking into fall camp with. We just got to get those guys back and all those guys will be on target to be back when we start camp.”

Transfers step up: Redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia and redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore both impressed during one-on-one drills and scrimmage situations. Garcia looked unmovable at times; he was strong at the point of attack and did not budge from his spot when blocking in drills. Moore was also stout and kept pass rushers out of the backfield. “Max Garcia and Tyler Moore are two outstanding pick-ups for us,” Muschamp noted. “Both guys will compete to be starters.”

Tight Ends
Plays made but improvement needed: Though one is technically listed as a running back, brothers junior Trey Burton and sophomore Clay Burton each made impressive plays in the receiving game on Saturday. The older Burton reeled in a 15-yard catch from redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy, who showed good patience, rolled out of the pocket and saw his pass catcher sneak open while crossing to the sideline. Clay Burton ran a nice route and caught a ball up the middle of the field from junior QB Jeff Driskel; he even got some yards after the catch to extend the play to a 21-yard gain.

“Tight end we need to continue to improve. I’m very pleased with Tevin [Westbrook], and Kent Taylor is a guy that’s got to develop himself more in the blocking realm of it but does a nice job in the receiving part. Got to continue to develop there,” Muschamp said. “Colin Thompson, it’s great to get him back on the field and working. He’s going to continue to progress and will only get better after missing a year of football because of his foot. Clay has done a really nice job.”

DEFENSE: STILL THE DOMINANT SIDE OF THE BALL

Defensive Line
A quiet day overall: With the defense not going full speed and players rotating in-and-out so much, it was tough to get a read on the interior of the defensive line. Muschamp reiterated that – if the season was underway – senior Dominique Easley would start at defensive tackle. He also said he is quite comfortable with senior Damien Jacobs as well as redshirt junior Leon Orr and junior transfer Darious Cummings.

Affecting the quarterback better: Where Muschamp is most pleased is with the defensive line is its improved pass rush, which he said is “much better right now … than we were a year ago at this time.” He also dealt out individual praise for sophomores Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler, Jr. as well as redshirt freshmen Bryan Cox, Jr. and Alex McCalister, all of whom saw more snaps with Bullard (hamstring) sidelined.

Linebackers
A man among boys: Though he may be a sophomore, Antonio Morrison continues to look extremely impressive and is certainly the apple of Muschamp’s eye. “[At] linebacker I feel pretty comfortable with Antonio Morrison,” he said. “I think he’s playing very well. I think he’ll be as good a linebacker [as there is] in our league next year.”

Everyone else is coming along nicely: Muschamp also indicated that he is pleased with the position group as a whole. “Michael Taylor and Darrin Kitchens have both played and played well for us,” he added. “We got to continue to develop depth there and it’s going to be freshmen, so those guys will get opportunities. I think we recruited the right guys based on the three we have on campus and then seeing Jarrad Davis at the scrimmage [Saturday].”

Taylor and Kitchens did not make any standout plays on Saturday but some other linebackers certainly did. Redshirt freshman Jeremi Powell got around the offensive line for a sack on Murphy. Redshirt junior Neiron Ball wrapped up a receiver on a reverse and appeared to be more active and athletic than he was at any point last season. A year after returning to the field, Ball could make a big impact for the Gators. Freshman Daniel McMillian stood out on consecutive plays. First he batted down a bad pass thrown by Driskel that definitely should have been an interception. On the next play, he ran down Driskel on a keeper and did not allow him to gain any yards.

Secondary
Still sorting out the safeties: Senior Jaylen Watkins, who is moving over from cornerback, and junior Jabari Gorman will likely enter fall practice as the starters at safety, but Muschamp is pleased what he has seen from some other players as well including redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers (who got beat a few times Saturday), redshirt freshman Marcus Maye (who did not do much overall) and sophomore Brian Poole (who showed out in a big way). “We’ve got to shore up some things at the safety position. We’ve got to become more productive. We got to be better communications in getting us aligned and getting us in the right looks,” he said.

Poole is playing both cornerback and safety and looked on Saturday to be everything he was advertised as coming out of high school. On an errant snap to Murphy, Poole swooped in to recover the fumble and would have easily returned for a touchdown from about 35 yards out. He also had two great safety blitzes for sacks and made a big hit on Kent Taylor after he caught the ball on a crossing route. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin praised Poole on more than one occasion.

Cornerbacks as good as they come: The one position that Muschamp truly gushed about on Saturday was cornerback. “I feel very comfortable about the corner position. We have three that can play,” he said. “Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins are all three guys that can line up and get us to Atlanta. And that’s the goal. … Obviously we do have a little bit of a luxury of Jaylen being able to play safety if we needed him to but we’d like for him to be able to play some nickel and corner and obviously some sub safety like we did last season. He was very effective for us.”

Purifoy shined and proved that he can make an impact on both sides of the ball though he was beaten by freshman wide receiver Demarcus Robinson for a nice reception on a contested ball during one-on-one drills. Roberson also looked good but did get burned twice by redshirt senior WR Andre Debose in the same one-on-one drills.

SPECIAL TEAMS: FILLING IN A BIG HOLE

Kickers
Replacing an All-American: The kicking battle has been a point of contention all spring and neither senior Brad Phillips nor redshirt freshman Austin Hardin did anything to separate from one another on Saturday. Consistency continues to be the issue. The players traded off making kicks, hitting posts and missing altogether. “Brad and Austin both have the ability to kick at a high level for us,” Muschamp said. “We just got to do it more consistently.” That has been the message now for 15 practices and yet nothing has changed for the Gators in the kicking department.

OVERALL EVALUATION / ADDRESSING AUBURN ALLEGATION

Overall Evaluation: “Pleased with the day. We got a lot accomplished,” Muschamp said. “Pleased with our work as we continue to move forward into the offseason. We got 117 days until we report. I told our players, ‘You will define your role on our football team as we move forward.’ We’ll have our exit interviews next week, sitting down with our guys and saying, ‘Hey, this is what you need to do to improve, be a coachable player, be a guy that understands coaching and what we’re trying to tell you.’ Obviously the things you do well take care of themselves, in my opinion. It’s the things you need to work on – whether it’s in the film room on your own or in the weight room or out on the field. Our guys got to take control of that. … We have good speed on our football team so we ought to be a good team that can play in space very well. Pleased with spring [practice]. I thought we continued to progress very well. I thought we’ve improved on the offensive side of the ball. We’ve got too many question marks up the middle defensively, especially at the safety position. I thought we made a lot of strides on special teams as a core. It was a good day for us today.”

Addressing Auburn Allegation: “I’ve already responded to that,” Muschamp said. “Really there’s nothing to dignify any other response than exactly what you read [from me]…exactly what you read.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On criticisms levied against Florida for the on-field actions of its players during certain games (read: Georgia and Louisville): “I don’t see us doing anything that anybody else [doesn’t do]. It’s amazing when you play really well against a team like LSU or South Carolina and you play with great emotion and you play with great passion and great enthusiasm. And then you don’t play well in a game and you look like a bunch of thugs. It’s amazing how that works, isn’t it? Yeah, it is.”

» On Kelvin Taylor being slower but shiftier than his father Fred Taylor: “It looks like Kelvin will be Kelvin and Fred’s Fred. Kelvin is a really good football player and we’re excited he’s here. I think he runs extremely well. His strength right now is his contact speeds. He plays fast through contact.”

8 Comments

  1. Daniel Johnson says:

    “On criticisms levied against Florida for the on-field actions of its players during certain games (read: Georgia and Louisville)”

    anyone know where I can read about this? Thanks!

    • There were just general criticisms about some of the on-field antics during the Georgia and Louisville games. People thought the Gators were playing dirty.

      • Vincent J. says:

        Thugs HUH! What about them mutts blocking the Gators from coming on the field at the Fla/Ga game MUTTS MUTTS MUTTS

  2. Basshole says:

    Thanks for the great write up, Adam. There was a lot of good information there. I thought it was funny the WRs were left out until I saw your note…

  3. Michael Jones says:

    Don’t field bad, Roberson. There’s not a cornerback in the country that Andre Debose can’t beat if he’s locked and loaded. As I’ve said throughout the offseason, among the many great things that Joker Phillips brings to our staff and program, I’m hoping that his great relationships with players will help Andre Debose become everything that he can be–for both the kid, because I think he’s a good kid who is sometimes misunderstood, and of course for Gator football. He’s an explosive, electric game changer when his head is in the game.

    Love your hard work, Adam. Couldn’t make it up to Gainesville this past Saturday but your thoroughness is the next best thing to being there.

    • Dominique says:

      I agree. I really think Andre Debose can be special. But passed his potential, if we can at the very least get him to equal his production from 2011, that along with improved play from other receivers would go a long way in the development of this offense.

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