Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media just over one week before the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut spring game to provide updates on individual players and how the team as a whole is progressing heading into its final practices.
Sophomore punter Johnny Townsend, who took over the starting job from senior Kyle Christy in 2013, underwent surgery on his wrist and will miss 8-10 weeks of action. Muschamp expects Townsend to be fine for the regular season and disclosed that Townsend’s injury happened over time – wear and tear through his years of playing football. The surgery does open a door for Christy to prove that he can once again handle the starting job in his final year with the program.
Redshirt senior fullback Gideon Ajagbe has also been ruled out for the remainder of spring practice with a shoulder injury. Though he does not need surgery and likely would have come back had there been two weeks of spring left, Ajagbe will heed the caution of Florida’s trainers, which suggested that he just rest up and get ready for the summer.
Sophomore safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) finally returned to the field but was limited, and redshirt junior right guard Tyler Moore (elbow) has been pushing through a weak arm while wearing a brace. Muschamp noted that Moore did not do any strength training until the start of spring practice.
The Gators also hope to get redshirt freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (concussion) back on Monday and believe freshman running back Brandon Powell (foot) could be able to participate in non-contact work if his X-ray comes back clear.
ISSUES AT THE LINE OF SCRIMMAGE
Florida has experienced some bumps in the road on the way to paving new starting offensive and defensive lines ahead of the 2014 season. According to Muschamp, the Gators currently have “too much separation between our first group and our second group” on both sides of the ball.
In particular, Muschamp is worried about UF’s centers, all of which are fighting for the vacant starting job left open by the graduation of Jonotthan Harrison.
“I’m extremely concerned about some snapping issues that continue to occur,” he said. “I think the first couple practices and some newsness in there, I can kind of get that, but after a while we got to move past that.”
Redshirt senior Max Garcia (who started at left guard in 2013), redshirt freshman Cameron Dillard and redshirt junior Trip Thurman are all taking reps over the ball but none has impressed the coaching staff from a consistency standpoint.
Muschamp is also exploring ways to boost Florida’s depth along the line and gave redshirt freshman defensive tackle Antonio Riles to offensive line coach Mike Summers to see how a change of position – temporary at this time – could help the team.
“I thought he did some really good things [Friday] just moving around,” said Muschamp, who wants to get Riles on the field as much as possible because of his natural ability on the gridiron. “He’s a big body that’s a good athlete, and I think at the guard position would fit very well. Not that he was not doing well at defensive tackle, but we’ve got to continue building depth on both lines of scrimmage and that’s the way to do it.”
Though the Gators are having issues on the offensive line, Muschamp admitted Friday that he has been impressed with what he’s seen from Florida’s offensive playmakers to this point in spring practice.
“A lot of those guys have stepped up and really come on,” he said. “I feel much more comfortable.”
At running back, Muschamp is pleased across the board and excited to see what will happen when junior Matt Jones (knee) is ready to return to the team in the fall. He plans to use Jones both at running back and the “B” position, which utilizes rushers, slot receivers and tight ends depending on formation.
“One of our best personnel groupings is three wides and two backs because of our backfield we feel like we got some talented guys,” he explained.
Similarly, Muschamp complimented many of UF’s wideouts – pointing to a number of occasions in which each made big plays during practice – but also thinks getting redshirt senior Andre Debose (torn ACL) back in the fold will help the Gators add a couple wrinkles they are currently missing.
Muschamp also spoke about how much Florida plans to run redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel. He said offensive coordinator Kurt Roper does indeed plan to use Driskel but will do so in moderation. Muschamp pointed to how Tim Tebow, at times, was overworked carrying the football and how the additional hits became injuries that affected him either later in the game or the following week.
“You have to pick your spots. You can only take so many hits in this league,” he explained. “That’s the dilemma you get in as a coach is how many times you’re letting this guy carry the ball because of how many hits he’s going to be taking. … That’s something we talk about and we go into each game with a plan of what we’re going to do.”