Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday, four days 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.
HE LOVES LONG KICKS, THAT (WAS) A PUNTING PROBLEM
Just one season after averaging 45.8 yards per punt and being a finalist for the Ray Guy award, punter Kyle Christy fell off in a major way. He was only able to average 39.6 yards on 21 attempts before losing his job to freshman Johnny Townsend, who was supposed to take a redshirt and not play during his first season.
Now a senior entering his last season with the Gators, Christy appears to have turned things around and was praised accordingly by Muschamp on Tuesday for his performance in the team’s last scrimmage. “Kyle Christy punted the ball extremely well, really hit the ball well,” he said.
With Townsend (wrist surgery) out for the remainder of spring and expected to miss 8-10 weeks, Christy has every possible opportunity to win his job back entering summer workouts and fall camp. He seems to be making the most of it.
“I think he’s had a good spring, I really do,” Muschamp added. “I think he’s punted well. He’s done some nice things, absolutely.”
Special teams as a whole was abhorrent for Florida last season, especially when it came to the kicking game. Muschamp also praised UF’s kickers for the work they did Saturday, combining to go 14-for-17 on field goal attempts.
“Austin [Hardin] was 7-of-9 field goal-wise; he missed from 47 and 41. Frankie [Velez] was 7-of-8 and missed from 46,” he noted. “So, I thought we’ve made some improvement as far as being more accurate in kicking the football.”
Muschamp provided a number of details from the Gators’ scrimmage last Saturday.
» Florida had 10 explosive plays (five runs, five passes) and was particularly productive in the running game, averaging five yards per carry. UF was also efficient on third down.
» Freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor grabbed an interception off a tipped ball.
» The Gators’ played good defense in the red zone.
» Sophomore wide receivers Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson each caught a touchdown. Fulwood’s was a 52-yard grab, while Robinson converted a third down.
THE BAD…AND THE UGLY
» Florida committed four procedure penalties, which were “four too many.”
» The Gators fumbled the ball twice on offense but neither was lost.
» UF’s defense missed 22 tackles (mostly in the secondary).
» As a consequence of Florida’s efficiency on third down, the Gators’ defense struggled getting off the field.
» UF’s secondary had 18 eye control issues on the afternoon.
» The offensive line, running up-tempo for the first time, struggled with fatigue and still needs to get used to playing a high number of snaps. “Each unit took about 50 snaps; it was a little over 100 plays for the entire scrimmage, not including special teams.”
“Overall, pretty pleased with Saturday,” Muschamp said. “The effort, guys got after it and competed. I think offensively we’re further ahead than where I thought we would be at this point as far as from an execution standpoint. There’s still some things that we’ve got to get better and clean up, but I’m pleased with where we are.”
Injuries continued to pile up for the Gators though none are serious in nature.
Junior running back Mark Herndon got rolled up in scrimmage and suffered a high-ankle sprain. He will miss the rest of spring but does not need surgery. Also injuring his ankle was sophomore linebacker Daniel McMillian, but he is expected to return to practice late in the week and play in Saturday’s spring game.
Just as sophomore safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) returned to the field, redshirt sophomore defensive back Marcus Maye suffered the same injury and is now out of action. It is not known when he will return.
Redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson (concussion) remains out of action despite the fact that he was supposed to return on Monday. The fact that the concussion is lingering is a concern though nothing has been said about it being overly serious long-term.
SECONDARY A PRIMARY CONCERN
It may not be the biggest issue that Florida has at this time, but one of the Gators’ primary concerns – especially because it is so late in spring practice – is the fact that its secondary starters have not yet been named.
Specifically, UF does not have a second starting cornerback or a nickel cornerback with a number of players still trying out for each position.
Junior Brian Poole and freshman Duke Dawson have spent a lot of time at nickel, though Maye is expected to get work at the position once he returns from his hamstring injury. “We need to get better at that position,” Muschamp said. “It’s a position that’s been very productive for us over the years.”
Dawson, Tabor and redshirt freshman Nick Washington are all competing for the cornerback job opposite sophomore Vernon Hargreaves III, but Muschamp is focused on ensuring that the youngers improve their eye control before giving one the job.
“Those guys are definitely in the mix. They are good players,” he said. “Eye control is a major issue. When you get into scrimmage situations and the first time you are on your own and Coach [Travaris] Robinson is not standing right behind you telling you what exactly to do, that’s what happens. You lose your eyes, you start watching the quarterback, you become a spectator in a lot of situations.”
One player Muschamp has been overly pleased with all spring (when he’s been active) is Neal, a hard-hitting safety who could be a difference maker for Florida.
“He did [have a good scrimmage]. He plays very active and is fast. He is a physical player, great toughness, a guy who is really having an outstanding offseason program,” he explained. “Unfortunately, he pulled a hamstring but then we had a re-pull there probably the first practice, maybe should have held him another day or two there, honestly. But a guy who really flashed at the scrimmage. When you talk in terms of playing at SEC speed, he was playing at SEC speed. ”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On how redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel performed in the scrimmage and has been playing recently: “I think he’s throwing the ball extremely well. … He’s very accurate. We create a lot of run pass issues, run pass conflicts, I would say, for a defense with what we’re doing with the run game and off the passing game off of that. To where if we get a bad run box, we’re able to get out of it with a quick gain – whether it’s a slant or a bubble or a quick outside. Jeff has done a really good job. That takes quick hands to be able to get the ball from the play action situation up and out, and I think he’s doing extremely well.”
» On whether the team’s attitude has improved from last season: “I think our attitude is much better and much more positive, especially on the offensive side of the ball. I think our guys have a lot of confidence in what we’re doing. They have a belief and trust in what we’re doing. I think we lost that late in the year. That’s changed automatically without having to do anything. I think in fall camp we’re going to create some adversity like we normally do; our guys need to learn to battle through that. I think they will. I think at the end of the day, when you lose confidence in what you’re doing, that creates the ‘woe is me’ mentality and that’s what we need to battle through and I think certainly we’ve made some strides there.”
» Muschamp remains frustrated with Florida’s problems snapping the ball from the center position. “If we continue to have those, we probably need to look in a different direction. We can’t afford to have that anymore,” he said. “One bad snap is too many.”
» On senior offensive lineman Trenton Brown, who is in his second year with the team: “Trenton Brown’s playing well; he’s playing really well. He’s a guy that’s continuing to improve and get better, there’s no question about that. He’s a guy that we’ll look at as a guard today.”
» On redshirt freshman defensive lineman Antonio Riles, who the Gators have been working out at guard: “Antonio Riles did some really nice things at guard. We’re going to continue to look at that. Very athletic for the position and can get some movement inside. And for a guy that’s only been there two days, I was very pleased with what he did.”
» On how many defensive linemen he hopes can be in Florida’s regular rotation: “Well, in a perfect world you like to have four guys inside and four guys outside. If you’re able to play with between 8-10 players in this league, which normally in my experience is what it’s going to take. Now, you can survive with three inside and three outside, but you’re living a dangerous life with injuries. So, you get one guy hurt, you’ve got a problem. … Realistically, I think all of those guys have the ability to be in that group. I really do. Now, will they take that next step from a maturity standpoint and understand to battle through pain and mental and physical toughness to have it for the position? Because I think they have the ability. I think that’s there. It’s just a matter of how quickly it’s going to come for them at a championship level.”