Florida Gators fans in Palm Beach County were visited by a head football coach for the first time since 2008 and came away both enthusiastic and impressed on Thursday when Will Muschamp dropped by the Expo Center at the South Florida Fairgrounds to discuss his first season at the helm and his expectations for 2012.
After a 20-minute opening statement, Muschamp took questions for another half hour and stuck around to sign autographs for all of he nearly 200 fans in attendance. Below is a recap of some of the more newsworthy and interesting topics that Muschamp covered (and were not included in stories here and here):
» The competition between sophomore quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel has not slowed down at all. “I have the utmost confidence in both guys. They’re working extremely hard here in the offseason. It’s going to be critical – it’s got to become their football team. And their competition will make each other better which will make our offense better and is going to make our football team better,” he said. “Jacoby and Jeff are both guys we can win a championship with. I do know that. [...] We can win with both. I’d like to name a starter. If we have to play both, we will play both. We’re going to do what it takes to win games at the end of the day. If one guy will distance himself then certainly we will name him the starter.”
» Muschamp said Florida had a legitimate opportunity to match-up against and win every game but two in 2011. “There’s a fine line between winning and losing,” he said. “Last year we played two football teams that were better than us in Alabama and LSU. The rest of the games we had our opportunities. Whether it was maturity or coaching or whatever you want to say it was, at the end of the day we didn’t get the job done. 7-6 is not acceptable at Florida; neither is 15-11 – that’s what we’ve been the last two years.”
» Junior safety Matt Elam’s groin continues to be an issue for the Gators but Muscahmp is confident it will be all healed by the time summer rolls around. “He twinged it in the latter part of spring. We really needed to look at the young safeties Valdez Showers and Jabari Gorman – get those guys a lot of reps. Matt’s a good football player. I know what he can do,” he said. “I pulled him the last three practices before the spring game. I just felt like it was another opportunity for someone else to get the reps. I saw him in the weight room [Wednesday]. He looks great and is working hard. He’s a guy that is very instinctive, has great ball skills, toughness. He can cover; he can play in man and zone. He does a lot of things for our football team.”
» His pair of freshman offensive linemen are impressing him: “Jessamen Dunker from here in Boynton Beach and D.J. Humprhies from Charlotte, North Carolina are two really good players. I’d recruit them again. Glad they’re on our football team.”
» Muschamp said he learned plenty of lessons after his first season as a head coach but in the end you cannot change what happened, you can only move forward. “There’s a lot to be learned through last season. You can’t go back and re-do and press the reset button and start over. That’s not what you do. You learn from it, you move forward, and I think our guys have learned from it,” he said.
» Despite the Gators already having a high number of extremely talented players committed for 2012, Muschamp said it is not a preference of his to get recruiting classes done early. “No. My preference is to sign the best players and whenever it happens it happens,” he said. “We’ve been very fortunate. We have a very aggressive staff as far as recruiting is concerned. It’s something we do every day as far as evaluation of players and finding the right type of young men to come into our program. Early on the trail we’ve had some success, but signing day is not until February and you have to hang on to them.”
» Muschamp said redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown will be cleared full-go on July 1 and the reasons for his major improvement health-wise are that he finally had surgery and that his rehabbing is going swimmingly. “He had surgery and that was something that when he got injured in camp there we didn’t think it was as serious as it was and neither did he,” he explained. “We thought it was going to be a week deal and then he would be back. It turned into two weeks and then two months and we’re standing there saying, ‘What’s going on?’ He never had the confidence to come back. He decided to have the surgery. It was one of those deals where you can continue to rehab or you can have the surgery. He decided to have the surgery and obviously the surgery went very well.”
» Junior Buck linebacker Ronald Powell tore his ACL at the 2012 Orange & Blue Debut, but Muschamp is not putting it past him to hit that 4-6 month early recovery timetable if he continues working as hard as he has been up to this point.
“He’s in the training room every day rehabbing. He is working hard. It’s amazing,” Muschamp said. “The last 30 percent of an ACL is the hardest time [to recover]. There’s times where you get back quickly but when you got to start cutting on it and changing direction, who knows? The good lord is the only one that knows what is going to happen with that. No one is working harder and no one has got a better attitude than Ronald does. [...] There is nobody that is going to handle this better. He’s a very mature young man who is working extremely hard. He’s in the training room every day. He got his stitches out last week, and he’s doing everything and more that they’re asking him to do. Who knows when that will happen? When they say 4-6 months, I’m not going to bet against Ronald. We’ll see what happens.
“He’s going to work hard, I know that. The light was going on. He was playing really, really well. I’m really pleased with his effort and his attitude. He told me the other day, he said, ‘This injury has made me a better person, Coach.’ That’s the type of young man you’re dealing with in that guy. He’ll be fine. He’ll work through it. I’m just disappointed for him at this time that this happened. I told him it was a setback. He grabbed me and said, ‘This isn’t a setback. I’m going to be fine.’ So I’m going to believe him.”
» Muschamp raved about senior Mike LB Jon Bostic and how far he has come since last season. “He’s extremely instinctive. He’s tough. He’s hard-nosed. But what I’ve seen from Jon in a year’s time is his maturity level and he’s changed his body in the weight room in the offseason,” he said. “He’s really taken to Jeff Dillman our new strength coach, and his body is changing. He’s getting bigger. He’s getting more explosive. But he’s also handling a lot more of the leadership responsibilities that position requires. Jon’s a guy that had over a 3.0 this semester and has over a 3.0 cumulative at the University of Florida. So be proud. He’s an outstanding young man, and I’m really pleased with his progress.”
» Muschamp on throwing the ball down the field: “I know that everybody wants to hear [that we’re going to throw the ball]. I read your e-mails. I get a bunch of them. I want to throw it down the field, too, but in order to do that you’ve got to protect with offensive linemen, which were an issue for us last year. And you also got to get open every now and then.”
» Muschamp expects the offensive line to be “leaps and bounds” better than 2011. He believes that senior Xavier Nixton, redshirt junior Matt Patchan and redshirt sophomore Chaz Green are “three tackles we can win a championship with” and added that Nixon “is playing better football than he has any time in his career at Florida.” Muschamp also noted that redshirt junior right guard Jon Halapio is “tough” and “hard-nosed” and a player he would take “over any right guard in the country.”
» Redshirt senior guard left James Wilson, who has missed a lot of time due to injury, was the subject of a good-natured and well-intentioned barb by Muschamp. “Jim is a guy that has had some injury problems through his career at Florida. Really he’s got his weight down – that’s been the key, I’ll be honest with you,” he said. “He learned to push away from the table instead of sitting there. His back hurt because of his stomach. I told him the same thing I tell you guys. I tell him that his knees won’t hurt so bad if you don’t carry so much [weight]. It’s not different from me – my back hurts a lot, too.”
» Muschamp cautioned that fans should not be down on the prospects of redshirt junior Jordan Reed at tight end because he is still growing into the position. “You got to go through a growth process as a player,” he said. “It’s not ‘add water – instant player.’ It doesn’t work that way. I wish it [did]. You got to go through the process to become a good player and Jordan’s certainly a guy that can do that.”
» Sam linebacker Neiron Ball (vascular condition) will be “cleared pretty soon” to return to the field.
» Muschamp continues to be extremely high on one freshman linebacker in particular. “Antonio Morrison is a guy that you need to keep your eye on,” he said. “He’s instinctive and tough. This guy gets after it – he likes playing ball. He’s a guy I’m glad he’s on our football team. He’s one of those old throwbacks. He’s a really good football player.”
» Do not be surprised if Florida runs as many as six defensive backs out against Texas A&M in the second week of the season. Muschamp said the Gators might need that many to combat their high-powered offense. His motto to begin the season is “start fast,” and he is excited about playing both TAMU and Missouri this year.
» Muschamp said incoming freshman running back Matt Jones “will have every opportunity in the world to be a starter for Florida next year” just like every other freshman. “I think he is that good,” he said. “Whether or not he is ready for that, he’ll determine that – not me.” Muschamp is always careful to boast about freshmen because, in the past, some potential starters have flamed out while others that looked lost in the beginning wound up being starters by game one.
» Though the Gators do not do “FBI-style background checks” on players, Muschamp said Florida has a very good handle on the characters of kids he recruits. With approximately 150 names on a their recruiting board heading into a season, Florida spends two years on each player, talks to the high school, coaches, family and plenty of other people in the community. “When I was 17, I made some poor decisions,” he said. “And I’m sure there’s some others here that will admit that, too. Some won’t. They’re lying.”
“You can watch the film and see a guy run and jump and tackle and do all these great thing and then we get his transcript and then he’s not going to survive at the University of Florida – he’s not going to be there more than one year. Why are we recruiting this guy? Why are we investing all this money to bring this guy to a great institution, to a situation where Florida is one of the few places in the country where you can realistically win a championship on and off the field. It’s a national championship degree. It’s one of the top institutions in the country and there’s not many institutions that can realistically say that. So don’t fall in love. We have a character evaluation. We have an evaluation of the transcript. We talk to every coach. We talk to opposing team’s coaches because a lot of time the own coach wants his kid to go to Florida so he’ll say he’s a great kid with no problems.”
» Muschamp on the untimely death of Junior Seau, a player he coached with the Miami Dolphins: “This guy is an amazing human being. The most positive person I have ever been around. Upbeat every day. I’m completely shocked at the news and saddened to hear it. He was an outstanding person first of all and a great player. He was a better person than he was a player, I can assure you of that.”
» Muschamp said he uses “that old AOB theory: ass on bench” to help deter players from making discipline penalties.
» Muschamp on whether or not there is a need or any plans for an indoor practice facility: “There are some other pressing needs within our department – it’s not just football. A new academic facility for our players, some possible housing situations. At the end of the day the indoor practice facility, if you want to look at number of days you would use it out of the year… In August I will have lightning probably 3-4 times in the afternoon that might curtail some practice time. Generally when we get it in the season we don’t get it as much. I think we had it one time this past season. Where the indoor practice facility is going to help you is the heat. When you’re able to, when it’s really hot, get guys out of the heat so you don’t lose anybody to dehydration. That’s where that can help you a little bit. But at the end of the day, since 1996, we’ve got three crystal balls sitting in my office and we don’t have an indoor practice facility. I don’t think it’s a very pressing need at this point, in my opinion. I think we do have some other things that are more important that we need to get accomplished.”
» Despite concerns that he would once again be relegated to playing defensive end, Muschamp confirmed twice that junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will play his more natural position inside. “We didn’t know when we were going to get him back,” Muschamp said of Floyd following the NCAA eligibility issue in 2011. “The best thing to do was to put our best four out there and that meant moving Dom[inique Easley] inside as opposed to playing him at end. But [Easley will] play end.”