2013 SEC Media Days – Gators ready to rock

By Adam Silverstein
July 16, 2013

Florida Gators at 2013 SEC Media Days: Game times vs. Toledo, Miami set | Muschamp: I’m “100% responsible” for players | Easley steals the show | VIDEOS: Florida players have fun interviewing each other

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley and redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio represented the team on Tuesday by participating at the 2013 Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, AL. Below are highlights from Muschamp’s session along with some player comments.

MUSCHAMP FIRES A SHOT AT URBAN MEYER

Before he stepped up to the main podium, Muschamp spoke with reporters in a side session and was asked about Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer turning in Florida and running backs coach Brian White (Meyer’s former team and former assistant coach) for a minor secondary recruiting violation. Meyer and OSU also reported UF for what they perceived to be another recruiting violation last year.

“We appreciate our friends from Ohio making sure we are compliant with NCAA rules,” Muschamp said, according to Sports Illustrated’s Andy Staples. “They certainly know something about NCAA rules.”

Muschamp continued: “It’s really a dead issue. In both situations we were turned in by Ohio, the University of Florida didn’t do anything wrong.”

PUNISHMENT STILL UP IN THE AIR

Muschamp also told reporters that he has not decided whether sophomore linebacker Antonio Morrison will be suspended for any games due to his arrest on a charge of misdemeanor simple battery one month ago. He has already been disciplined by the Gators but additional punishment has yet to be determined.

Morrison accepted a deferred prosecution agreement from the State of Florida and will pay fines, perform community service and complete other tasks during a six-month probationary period in order to get the charge expunged from his record.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp announced Tuesday that only two players would be limited heading into fall training camp – redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Trip Thurman and freshman LB Alex Anzalone – both of whom are nursing shoulder injuries after going under the knife during the spring.

He expects both players to eventually return to practice in the fall but noted that each would likely miss 10-12 sessions before being cleared by team trainers. Otherwise, he believes the Gators are “pretty healthy” on the injury front.

Redshirt junior BUCK Ronald Powell, who missed the entire 2012 season with a pair of anterior cruciate ligament surgeries, will be cleared for the start of fall practice.

“Probably the guy I’m most excited to see is Ronald Powell,” Muschamp said. “Here is a guy who has been through a lot of adversity. He’s been cleared to go after it in fall camp. A guy I’m really excited to get back on the field to see is No. 7 running around in orange and blue, a guy that’s been through an awful lot. Two surgeries. Never complained. Never got down about anything. [He] is truly a great individual and excited that he’s a leader of our football team as well.”

POSITION-BY-POSITION ANALYSIS

As part of his 2,400-word filibuster opening statement, Muschamp went in-depth about each position on the Florida football team and often spoke at length about particular players. Below is a breakdown of what he had to say about those positions.


QUARTERBACK
“Year two in the system, Jeff Driskel, it’s his football team, a guy I thought attacked the offseason the way you’re supposed to, as far as his mental preparation, watching film. Certainly understands what we’re doing offensively much better than a year ago, which is expected. A guy I’m really excited to see play. You see the leadership taking over on our team and more than anything, other than maybe the tight end position, I think we got a chance to be better than we were at all positions than we were last year offensively. Really excited about him.”

“There’s no question year two, I feel much more comfortable. I know who our quarterback is today as opposed to last season. But he’s a guy, Jeff is a hard worker. He earns the respect of his teammates because of how he handles himself. He’s a great leader. He’s a great athlete. He’s a guy that has tremendous arm talent. When the game slows down a little bit, you get a little more mental quickness, of where to take the ball down the field, first progression read to the second. Understand where the pressure may come from. There’s a lot of things in the off season where you can sit and watch tape of someone else instead of watching yourself and learning in those situations. Jeff is extremely bright. He’ll learn from those situations. That’s part of the growing process of a young quarterback.

OFFENSIVE LINE
“We’re better up front, more talented and deeper. We have seven guys on our campus right now. Jon Halapo is with us today, as well as Jeff Driskel. Jon is going into his third year as a starter and an outstanding leader. All of the tangible things you want in a football player, Jon has it, and a guy that I’m really excited for his senior season.

Jon Harrison, again, another guy that’s a three year starter at the center position, a guy that has played outstanding football for us. Chaz Green has started for now for two years. D.J. Humphries is up between 285, 290, started some games for us as a true freshman. Kyle Koehne has started games for us. Ian Silberman has played a lot and Trip Thurman has played a lot.

“So we got seven guys on campus on the offensive line that have played a lot of football at Florida. You add with that Max Garcia and Tyler Moore, both guys that started at their respective universities before they came to Florida. We have nine guys with Division I experience. That’s a far cry from where we were two years ago.

“We were a little banged up in the spring, but coming out of the spring, one man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. We had some guys take some very valuable reps at the offensive line position.”

RUNNING BACK
“I feel really good at the running back position. Matt Jones I think is primed for a big season, a guy that’s worked extremely hard in the offseason, spring ball. I have tremendous confidence in Mack Brown, some of the younger backs we have on campus.”

TIGHT END
“I think we need to improve the tight end position. You lose Jordan Reed in the third round to the Washington Redskins, by design was our leading receiver last year, a guy that was a tough mismatch issue for defenses, and had a phenomenal season for us. But we need to improve at the position. I’m not telling you anything I haven’t told them.”

WIDE RECEIVER
“I think we’ve made some positive steps forward at the receiver position. Quinton Dunbar is one of our most improved players at the receiver position, really on our entire football team. Excited about him taking the next step as a receiver. Andre Debose and Solomon Patton, heading into their senior years. Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades are two guys that continue to develop as young players. And we signed five young receivers.

Loucheiz Purifoy will have a role on offense. That will be really predicated on two situations: How well the five young guys and the guys we have on campus develop at the receiver position and how well we develop with some of the other defensive backs, how big a role he will have on offense. He will have a role on offense. He probably won’t take any snaps on the first 12 to 14 practices because we need to find out what those other guys can do and how we’ve progressed from spring.

Trey Burton will play everything: wideout, running back, quarterback; he’ll have a huge part of our offense.”

DEFENSIVE LINE
“Dominique Easley is with me today, a guy that can play inside or out, a guy that had a productive year, especially at the latter part of the season once he got over some of the issues he had with his ACL from the year before. [He’s] a guy that has been very productive in his time at the University of Florida. He, Leon Orr, Damien Jacobs, Darious Cummings, some young guys inside defensively.”

LINEBACKER
“At linebacker Antonio Morrison and Mike Taylor, Darrin Kitchens are guys I certainly feel comfortable with at the linebacker position inside. We feel like we recruited pretty well at that position as well.”

“Our defensive end and our outside linebacker positions, feel comfortable with Jon Bullard, Dante Fowler, both of them started as true freshmen, two quality guys that have a huge upside as players. Neiron Ball and Bryan Cox.”

SAFETY
“We did not end the spring at safety where I would like to as far as the production we’re going to need to have in our league to be successful. Valdez Showers, Jabari Gorman, Marcus Maye are three young men we had on campus that I think have the ability we can win with. Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs are two wild cards for us. They can play safety, corner. Jaylen will start camp at both positions and Cody will be a full time safety as we start camp right there. Obviously we have some young guys coming there.”

CORNERBACK
“Feel very comfortable at the corner position. Loucheiz Purifoy I talked about already, is a coverage corner. Marcus Roberson, Jeremy Brown, Brian Poole are all guys we think are capable of playing, also can play in the nickel positions and dime. We’ll probably play more combinations of six DBs, losing Jelani Jenkins, who was a guy that could cover in space as a linebacker, we’ll probably play more six DBs.”

SPECIAL TEAMS
“Special teams, you lose Caleb Sturgis; I’ve had some sleepless nights on that one. Brad Phillips and Austin Hardin, in my opinion, are talented enough. It’s a matter of them going out in game time situations and getting it done. Kyle Christy, I thought, is the best punter in the country, a guy who was huge for us as far as flipping the field, controlling the vertical field position in every game. We got good team speed. We have some returners that are certainly capable.”

COACHING STAFF BREAKDOWN

As he did with the on-field team, Muschamp also broke down his coaching staff during his opening statement, explaining why he was so pleased with each primary member of the staff and how each would contribute to Florida playing better in 2013.

OFFENSE
“Really pleased with our staff at this time. For the first time since 2010, we’ll have the same offensive coordinator, which our kids are relieved to have. When I first took over at Florida, I wanted to change philosophically offensively what we were. We want to be a run back dominated team that is a balanced offense and efficient in throwing the football. We certainly need to be more consistent and efficient in throwing the ball. I thought we ran the ball extremely well last year.

Brent [Pease] and I sat down last spring and said whoever wins the quarterback job, however we look at it, we’re going to have a young quarterback, new system, same philosophy of what we want to do, as we continue to evolve our offense. We’re still a little deficient as far as depth and talent in certain areas. What do we need to do? I know we can play good defense. We can play special teams. Let’s make sure we protect the ball and play good team football. That’s what we did. That was a good formula for 10 wins last year. It’s tough sometimes for coaches to do that. Brent has been a guy that put up a lot of numbers at Boise State and different places.

“Really pleased with the addition of Joker Phillips, our wide receivers coach, a guy that played the position, coached the position for over years. He’s been an offensive coordinator and a head coach, which I welcome in the room.That’s something that I think gives you great ideas and benefit from a guy that has sat in the chair before. Certainly when I was defensive coordinator of [Texas], having guys in the room that have called it before and they see the big picture. Really pleased offensively staff-wise.”

DEFENSE
“We promoted D.J. Durkin, [who has done] an outstanding job at Florida. He’s an outstanding football coach. More than anything, he understands how we want to play defense at Florida. He does a great job of relating to our players. As we move into fall camp, I’m excited about what he brings to the table.

“I always felt as an assistant coach your tape was your résumé. You can get up on of the board and draw fancy Xs and Os, but at the end of the day, what you put on the field is who you are as a coach.

“I really watched South Carolina’s and the job that Brad Lawing did there, a guy that has 33 years of experience. You talk about developing players, the guy did an outstanding job. After 15 days of spring practice, I totally understand what he did there. He’s an outstanding football coach and really a great addition to our staff.

SPECIAL TEAMS AND STRENGTH & CONDITIONING
“Lastly, Jeff Choate was hired to be our special teams coordinator. [He] recruited in the state of Texas. A guy that’s an outstanding evaluator, recruiter. Philosophically he’s the same as we are as far as special teams are concerned. Really excited about what he brings to the table. So staff-wise, very pleased with where we are. Obviously extremely pleased with the job Jeff Dillman and our strength staff has done. From year one to year two, that’s where we made a tremendous step.”

NOTES & QUOTES

» Muschamp on Driskel signing a baseball contract with the Boston Red Sox: “A lot said about his signing a non-compete contract with the Boston Red Sox. Jeff came in my office after Boston drafted him and said, ‘Coach, this is the deal. They want to sign me. If I ever want to play baseball, I have to play for the Red Sox. Haven’t picked up a bat in two years and I have no intention of playing baseball, but they’re willing to cut me a check.’ By NCAA rules, it’s legal. I said, ‘Jeff, if you were my son, I’d tell you to sign the contract.’ His commitment level to the University of Florida is outstanding. But he had a great opportunity there with a great organization. If he ever does want to pick up a bat or a glove, certainly being a part of the Red Sox organization would be outstanding.”

» Muschamp on the improvements made last year: “We made some strides in our second season. I think as you look back from year one to year two, obviously the record was better, which is good. But more than anything to me, the roster in our locker room is much better from a discipline standpoint, from a character standpoint, from a buy in standpoint. When you have eight come from behind wins in a season, that says a lot about where you are as a program and where your kids are as far as the buy in is concerned, which obviously excites me.”

» Muschamp on the passing game: “We need to be more efficient in throwing the football. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. We have to create more explosive plays for ourselves down the field. I believe we will be able to do that. I think we did that throughout spring. It’s been a point of emphasis for our staff.”

» Muschamp on fielding 1,000-yard rushers: “Mike Gillislee was our first thousand yard rusher since 2003. That’s not going to be the exception any more at Florida, that’s going to be the norm. I’m excited moving forward with our style. Everybody has their own preference of what they feel like they need to do to move the football. In my opinion, we will do some more tempo on offense this year and it will be in our style. To change tempos in the game, I think is good. When you’re a tempo no huddle team, you’re going to play 20 more snaps a game. The more opportunity you give an offense, the more chances they have to score. Sometimes you have to be careful in those situations. That’s just my preference. “

» Muschamp on Dan Quinn being hired away by the Seattle Seahawks: “Defensively Dan Quinn took the defensive coordinator job at Seattle Seahawks, which says a little bit about the coaches we hire at Florida. The NFL is coming to hire coordinator from us. Dan did a fantastic job for us. He’s an outstanding coach and a great friend.

» Muschamp on the 2013 schedule: “Schedule is always hard. We lead off with Toledo, who won nine games last year. Matt Campbell and his staff do a great job. Everybody back on offense. We go to Miami in week two. Al feels like this is his best football team. They have 20 starters back. Then we start our SEC schedule, which is difficult. We end with Georgia Southern, which will be our hardest preparation defensively because of what they do offensively since I’ve been at Florida, then a Florida State team at home.

» Muschamp on what went wrong in the Sugar Bowl: “Well, I think more than anything, in preparation, I wasn’t as pleased as our practice in games was, as I was when we were in New Orleans. I felt like we had good preparation as far as that was concerned. I blame myself. We got away from our formula. Our formula is playing good defense. We struggled on third down mightily. We got away from what we should have been on offense. I told Brent we needed to pick up the tempo in the game, struggling on defense, needed to make a change in the game. Probably pressed early in the game and I shouldn’t have done that. I look back on it now, we needed to stick to our formula. That was the one regret I had coming out of the game. Felt like we lost our composure a little bit in the second half. That was disappointing as well. We hadn’t done that all season. We’d been behind eight times and came from behind. That was disappointing.”

» Muschamp on Bob Stoops holding up the Big 12 as an equal to the SEC: “I never went to a Big 12 Media Day. If I was Bob, I would say the same thing. Again, the Big 12, when I was in there for three years, offensively were very good. You talk about some of the quarterbacks, Sam Bradford, RG3, Graham Harrell, Colt McCoy, some guys that could really spin it. Offensively fast paced tempo offenses, on the ball, constant pressure on the defense. I think you’re seeing a little bit more of that in our league. Kentucky is going to that. I know Butch [Jones] is going to some tempo things at Tennessee; obviously Kevin [Sumlin] at Texas A&M. To me it’s all about the preference of the style you want to play. The thing about our league that I think is a little different, you have to prepare for the two-back [offense]. You can’t do that in a week. That’s a physical style of play that you got to understand how to fit the power, the counter, the direct runs, the north and south runs, which are an issue if you haven’t done it and your guys aren’t used to it. I think you saw us wear some people down last year because of the physical style of play.”

» Muschamp on if he would like to see a defensive player, like South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, win the Heisman Trophy: “I’d like to see him come out early [to the NFL Draft] before our game. He’s an outstanding player. He’s a guy you better account for every snap. He’s an explosive guy. [He’s] got great football instincts, initial quickness. He’s got power. He’s a guy that can play finesse on the edge and power. He’s a really, really good football player.”

» Muschamp on how Florida can win without having to come from behind so often: “My wife wants us to give better talks before the game instead of halftime. I don’t think that’s it [smiling]. Again, I think being a little bit more explosive offensively, being more of a threat offensively, which I think we will be. I’m excited about our offense. Then continuing to play well on defense. In our league, there’s going to be tight games. Look at it week in, week out, doesn’t matter who you play, it’s a tight game. Very similar to the NFL, it’s going to come down to the last two to three minutes of the game. You better coach and play well in those situations. I’d love to have some 40 point wins. At the end of the day I worry about one stat – winning – and it doesn’t matter how you do it.”

» Driskel on improving his confidence and leadership ability: “It’s easier to be more vocal when you’re the set quarterback. When there’s a competition, you don’t want to step on anyone’s toes. I’m a lot more confident because I’ve played more and gotten a lot more snaps and played one year as the starting quarterback. I’d say the guys respect me a lot more this year. I’ve opened my mouth a lot more and just being around the guys, it just comes with it. You don’t flip a switch; it grows.”

» Driskel on his wide receiver corps: “I think it’s a good group top to bottom. They’ve done a ton of work this offseason, and I’m looking forward to them playing. It’s another year of working out and growing up, and they’ve answered the challenge Coach [Joker] Phillips brought. They’re tired of hearing that they’re no good, and they’ve put in the work, and I’m excited to see that pay off.”

» Driskel on balancing running and throwing the football: “Me running the ball is definitely a weapon for us, but I’m just going to have to be smart with it and get out of bounds if I can or slide if I have the first down and not take a big hit.”

» Easley on bouncing back from the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville: “We’ve been living off that all season, so we’ve got to change that. They have this big poster of the score right before we walk in the locker room, so every day we have to see it.”

» Easley on the job Muschamp has done coaching the team: “He’s made this program into a family, so when you come in you’re accepted as a family member, so there’s no doubts or worries in your minds and hearts, so everybody’s comfortable.”

» Easley on dancing on the field: “You ever wake up and you just want to dance? Y’all never do that? You just wake up in a happy mood. You come to a realization of life that it won’t last that long, so you take advantage of every second of life.”

» Easley on the most annoying fight song in the SEC: “Rocky Top. Not because it’s Tennessee but just because it’s Rocky Top. But sometimes I even start dancing to that because I have no other choice.”

» Halapio on being a part of an experienced offensive line: “Having people with experience on the line gives us that trust factor to protect [Driskel]. We’ve played a year together, and now we trust each other.”

» Halapio on how good Driskel can be in his second season as a starter: “The sky’s the limit for Driskel. He doesn’t have to compete for the quarterback job now. He knows it’s his, so he’s more focused now than ever, and I see that leadership from him.”

» Halapio on squaring off against Clowney: “Playing against players like that you really have to game plan. He’s a real good player and strong and fast. It’s exciting because if you’re a competitor, you want to complete against the best. He’s a very physical player.”

SEC COMMISSIONER MIKE SLIVE

Slive kicked off the SEC Media Days with a 2,500+ word opening statement. Below are three topics he discussed where either new or interesting information was revealed.

» On providing additional monies to student-athletes to cover costs beyond academics: “The NCAA has not been successful in meeting the full cost of attendance of our student-athletes, whether through the so called miscellaneous expense allowance or some other model that provides broad access to additional funds. Conferences and their member institutions must be allowed to meet the needs of their student-athletes. In recent conversations with my commissioner colleagues, there appears to be a willingness to support a meaningful solution to this important change.”

» On fixing outdated recruiting rules: “While progress has been made, the efforts at sweeping reform fell short of our desired goal for resetting the approach. The Rules Working Group formed after the presidential retreat was successful in introducing some change and some better strategies for evaluating proposed rules, but in some areas we remain bound by what has been the way we’ve always done it rather than being motivated to seek a better way to achieve a new result.

“Facebook, Twitter, text messaging, early recruiting, club sports, cell phones, Internet access, distance learning, 3D printers will continue to become more and more commonplace. The current regulatory approach would be more at home in the era of Johann Gutenberg’s printing press than in our current fast-paced, technology-driven society and will no longer serve to functionally govern recruiting behaviors moving forward. As Albert Einstein once said, ‘We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.’”

» On a College GameDay-esque program that will air on the SEC Network on game days beginning in Aug. 2014: “We have already mentioned that on each Saturday in the fall, the SEC Network will televise three football games, our triple-header. In addition, the network will feature a signature two-hour on site pregame show. The show will broadcast live every Saturday from a different SEC campus over the course of the season, including our championship game. In addition to in-depth game analysis and commentary about all of our games, we will focus on traditions, rituals and spirit that distinguishes the SEC and each of its member institutions. We are committed to bring the full color and passion of SEC football and SEC sport to the entire nation.”

Unattributed quotes provided by transcripts from ASAP Sports.

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