Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. and sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III represented the team on Monday by participating in the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama.
Below are highlights primarily from Muschamp’s sessions with the media.
BETTER THAN EXPECTED
If anyone is to believe in the possibility of Florida turning things around in 2014, rebounding from its worst season since 1979, it is going to start on the offensive side of the ball. Muschamp knew this and brought in offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to employ a spread offense and make the Gators a more dynamic playmaking team.
Not only will Roper’s offense put redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel back in the shotgun, where he is more comfortable and capable, it should give Florida more space to make plays. Muschamp is already extremely impressed with how much UF has been able to get accomplished in such a short period of time.
“I went back and looked at our numbers from 2012 when we were in the shotgun as opposed to being under center. When Jeff was in the shotgun, our yards were better, our explosive plays were better in both the run and pass game. He was recruited to Florida to be a gun quarterback,” he explained.
“In making that change, I felt like Kurt Roper was a great hire for us from a standpoint of a guy that philosophically is on the same page with me as what we want to be, that’s a balanced offense. …
“In our 15 days of springs, we got a lot more done than I thought we would. He’s an outstanding fundamental football coach, very positive. It was good to see our offensive kids having fun again on the field. Really excited about that. Probably what excites me the most is this is probably the most talent we’ve had on offense in my four years at Florida.”
Freshman offensive lineman Nolan Kelleher will take a redshirt and miss the entire 2014 season after undergoing surgery on his back to correct an issue dating back to high school. It is currently unknown when he will be cleared to participate with the team in practice.
Freshman cornerback J.C. Jackson had shoulder surgery in April and was given a timetable of 4-6 months but should be good to go at some point in August. He will be cleared for non-contact work when fall practice opens on Aug. 4 and will be able to have contact “shortly thereafter,” according to Muschamp.
Muschamp did not name Florida’s second-string quarterback on Monday, but he discussed a plan for what the Gators plan to do with their backup next season.
“We need to develop a backup behind him,” he said. I don’t know who that would be right now, but I would plan on playing that person early in the season, talking about the first game, just like we did with Jeff his freshman year when John Brantley was our quarterback because of the lack of experience behind Jeff. We need to develop that guy and be ready for a situation where we might have to play him.”
Freshman Will Grier and redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg competed for the position in spring but will be joined by freshman Treon Harris in fall camp.
Many around the program expect Harris to be involved in the offense next season even if he is not named Driskel’s primary backup. Due to his versatility, Harris could have a package of plays that would get him in the game as a change-of-pace signal caller for Driskel.
» Muschamp on the specialists: “Kyle Christy and Johnny Townsend both have NFL legs. Their competition will make each other better. Austin Hardin had an outstanding spring – 4/4 in the spring game – a guy that I think continues to improve after going through a rough season. Frankie Velez and Brooks Abbott, a walk on that’s kicked at Virginia Tech, certainly some guys that possibly can help us in that situation. I feel like we can make some amends there.”
» Muschamp on the three main running backs: “Kelvin Taylor had a great year for us. Mack Brown is going into his senior year. Matt Jones missed most of last year and missed all of camp with a viral infection. I think the fifth game against LSU, he tore his meniscus. He’s up over 230 pounds now, carried it extremely well watching him [Monday] morning.”
» Muschamp on his wide receiver corps: “Quinton Dunbar has been a steady player for us. Andre Debose, who missed all of last year with an ACL, to get him back, a guy that can really play in space. I think this offense benefits Andre as well. We played three true freshmen last year – Chris Thompson, Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood – all guys that are a year older, a year more mature, stronger, faster, a little bit more savvy about the game of college football. I think those guys will all make jumps going into this second season. Latroy Pittman and Valdez Showers, two young men as well that have done some nice things for us. So again, we’ve improved our talent level there.”
» Muschamp on bringing on a playmaking tight end: “I think the addition of Jake McGee at the tight end position can be big for us. Jake is an outstanding athlete, had over 40 catches last year at the University of Virginia. That’s a pleasant addition for us.”
» Muschamp on Florida’s experience on the defensive line: “It starts up front. We have senior inside players – Darious Cummings, Leon Orr – both guys have played good football for us. Jon Bullard has played well for us, going into his junior season. Dante Fowler, who is with me today, is an explosive rusher, a guy you have to account for in the protection. We need to create as many one on ones for Dante as we can. I think he has a chance to have a great year.”
» Muschamp on the Gators’ linebacking corps: “At linebacker we have four experienced players, Mike Taylor, Antonio Morrison, Jarrad Davis and Neiron Ball. Neiron can add some pass rush for us on third down in one minute situations. Matt Rolin and Alex Anzalone are coming off injuries from last year. Matt missed the entire season. Daniel McMillian is a young player we’re excited about as well at the linebacker position. I think we have enough players there that can be very productive.
» Muschamp on Hargreaves and his potential: “Our secondary, we’re probably led by Vernon Hargreaves – we are led by Vernon Hargreaves – who had an outstanding freshman year, a guy who came in and earned his opportunity. He’s a joy to recruit in the recruiting process. He never asked me about depth charts or anything. He only asked for an opportunity to play. If he had that opportunity, he’d be a starter. His first two games in the Southeastern Conference, he had two interceptions. That tells you the type of player he is. Outstanding young man, represents us in all the right ways. We will be young opposite him.”
» Muschamp on his cornerbacks: “Brian Poole, Jalen Tabor, Duke Dawson are three guys that went through spring. I think they’re capable of being very good corners in our league. We have young guys coming in, J.C. Jackson, Deiondre Porter, Quincy Wilson, again, all capable guys. I’ve always played young guys in the secondary and had great success with all of them. I think we’ll be fine there.”
» Muschamp on his safeties: “At the safety position, Jabari Gorman is a senior. Then we have four younger guys – Marcus Maye needs to be a more consistent player, which he was throughout spring. He needs to continue to make those strides. Marcell Harris, Keanu Neal and Nick Washington. Again, I think the talent is there. We just got to get those guys, may have to narrow some things down for them early in the year especially to get them playing fast, but the talent certain is there.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp on whether Florida can have an Auburn-like turnaround, going from cellar to penthouse in one season: “We totally focus on the University of Florida and what we need to do to be successful, how somebody else does something. Gus [Malzahn] and them had a great year, happy for them. We try to put all of our focus on what we need to do to be successful, have a singular focus on our football team, offense, defense, special teams, each player, each unit, what we need to do to be successful. Since I’ve been coaching, that’s what I’ve tried to do.”
» Hargreaves on younger players like Tabor leaning on his limited experience: “I feel like it’s my responsibility to take them under my wing, show them the ropes. They’re young. They have to play. It’s definitely my responsibility to get them ready to play.”
» Fowler on stepping up as a leader with Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell no longer on the team: “I’m an upperclassman now, so I try to take the things that they’ve done for me, taken me under their wing and teaching me the game as a young pup, now that I know the game and know some things, I’m able to show the young guys what I was taught.”