With the Florida Gators finally set to begin 2012 fall practice on Friday, head coach Will Muschamp and dozens of the players met with the media to discuss the upcoming season. Below are some highlights from Muschamp’s press conference, which lasted over 40 minutes. Though all practices will be closed to both fans and media, Florida has decided to hold fan day on Saturday, August 18, which will include a special open practice at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium (9-11 a.m.) followed by fan activities in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center (3-6 p.m.).
» Sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson (neck): fully cleared to practice
» Senior defensive lineman Nick Alajajian (back): “slowed” for the first 10 days
» Freshman tight end Colin Thompson (foot): “slowed” for the first 7-10 days, limited but practicing some after having foot surgery in the spring
» Redshirt junior wide receiver Stephen Alli (leg): cleared by middle of camp
» Freshman defensive back Marcus Maye (knee): cleared by middle of camp
» Junior buck linebacker Ronald Powell (torn ACL): “knee has…taken well to surgery”
”WE NEED TO QUIT TALKING AND WE NEED TO START PLAYING”
As he did when he took over the program last season, Muschamp is once again taking a no-nonsense attitude into this season. He said early in his press conference that he is just as dismayed at the Gators’ record over the last two seasons as fans are and that he wants the team focused on improving day in and day out.
“We just got done with a team meeting. I said, ‘At 15-11 at the University of Florida [over the last two years], we need to quit talking and we need to start playing, at the end of the day. Let’s get on the field and play,’” Muschamp said.
Part of getting ready to play is building toughness in training camp. Muschamp hoped Florida would be able to practice with great physicality a year ago but insists that will be the case no matter what in 2012.
“Obviously more contact drills and some different things that we can do,” he said on what can be done differently. “A little bit of our issues last year was because of numbers, at the end of the day. We had a hard time, at times, especially as you work into camp and you have some attrition because of injuries in your roster. It’s hard to simulate game day situations when you’re only working with one line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That was the case last year. That’s not going to be the case this year.”
BRISSETT? DRISKEL? BRISSETT AND DRISKEL?
With quarterback being the most important position on the football field, it should be no surprise that the battle between sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel continues to be the hottest topic of conversation surrounding the team.
“Everybody wants to ask me about the quarterback position. I’ll be honest with you, I feel really good about that position because we got two really good players competing that are going to make each other better, our offense better and our team better,” Muschamp said.
He added that he cannot put a timeframe on when he will pick a starter but noted that decision-making, commanding the huddle and making big-time plays on the field will be the keys in determining who gets the job.
“We’ll know when the decision is right. I really feel that way. I’ve always felt that way about every position. You’ll know when it’s right,” he said.
Read much, much more from Muschamp at media day…after the break!
PLAYERS BUYING IN, COACHES MOTIVATING
One of the biggest changes Muschamp has noticed from year one to year two is the attitude of his players. He previously said this occurred following the 2011 regular season and before the bowl game, but obviously Muschamp believes the Gators are only getting better and better in this area.
“As much as anything, some guys that have bought into what we are trying to do. Obviously a half buy-in, so to speak, their way didn’t work,” he explained. “I think they understand where we’re headed with this program. I am pleased with our senior class. I am pleased with our junior class, which is a majority of the playmakers on our football team. I think that the attitude of our team is much-improved over a year ago from where we were.”
Muschamp stressed that the team’s recent mishaps are reason enough for them to be psyched and ready to give it their all this season.
“I know one thing: Embarrassment and failure are huge motivators for competitors. And I think we have a lot of competitors and a lot of prideful guys on our football team that take a lot of pride in their performance and representing the University of Florida,” he said.
Speaking of taking pride in the program, Muschamp did not appear surprised that Florida escaped the summer without a single off-field issue.
“It’s an educational process all the time with young people,” he said. “They all make mistakes and it’s unfortunate, and it’s your job as an educator, a teacher and a coach to help them along in that process. It’s a continual process.”
» Muschamp said redshirt junior guard Jon Halapio has been the offense’s biggest leader this offseason but also mentioned these offensive players when discussing who has impressed him over the last few months: senior tackle Xavier Nixon, redshirt sophomore WR Quinton Dunbar, redshirt junior WR Andre Debose, redshirt senior WR Frankie Hammond, Jr. and senior running back Mike Gillislee.
» On freshman WR Latroy Pittman: “Latroy was very consistent during spring, continued to make plays, continued to make explosive plays down the field. He’s got great toughness, he blocks, he does all the things that you’ve got to do outside the position to be very successful. I’m very pleased with Latroy, and we’re certainly counting on him this fall to play.”
» On what junior Dominique Easley’s role will be this season: “He’ll start out at end, which is probably his most natural position, and Sharrif [Floyd] inside. […] Sharrif is a more natural inside player, played very well in the bowl game for us when Dominique was injured. Dominique will play inside and out but regular downs – first-and-10 and second down – he’ll be on the edge. And then on pass rush situations he and Sharrif will be in there.”
» On junior DT Damien Jacobs: “He’s a guy who did some really nice things in the spring. I think he’s got the physical attributes you’ve got to have to be successful. Going through spring for a junior college player is paramount for me to get that guy to understand the speed and tempo of the game in our league.”
» On junior safety Matt Elam: “Matt has done a fantastic job in the weight room just based on what I saw today. He looks great. He’s always been an explosive guy, strong guy, heavy-handed guy, just continues to be a ball hawk and get the ball off people and communicate well. He’s going to play a lot of stuff for us on the back end. He’s a natural cover safety. [He has to] just continue to take the next step, the next progression as a player that he needs to take. I certainly know based on what I just saw today from a body standpoint, he’s ready to make that next step. I know he’s worked hard.”
OFFENSE SHOULD BE MUCH IMPROVED
When he was hired to take over the Gators, Muschamp emphasized that games in the SEC are won and lost at the line of scrimmage. He said so once again on Thursday when explaining why the offense struggled so much in 2011.
“We went into last season offensively with two offensive linemen that had played a considerable amount in our league,” he said. “As I’ve said – more than a lot – this is a line of scrimmage league and generally your season is predicated on your quarterback position and both lines of scrimmage.”
That being said, Muschamp is also extremely excited at what offensive coordinator Brent Pease brings to the table with more than two decades of college coaching experience under his belt.
“We will be different as far as our motions and shifts and creating window dressing for a defense,” he said. “A little bit more imagination with formations, shifts, motions that create issues for a defense. [It’s tough] when you’re getting ready for something that we don’t see a lot in our league.
“Honestly, because of no-huddle, people don’t motion anymore. They want to get on the ball and snap it as fast as they can. You become pretty good at what you’re accustomed to seeing a lot. We see a lot of no-huddle, we see a lot of tempo, we see a lot of pro-style quarterback under center in our league. We don’t see a lot of multiple motions and shifts. And in a four day period in game week in getting ready for that – especially when you’re going to have to adjust to some different motions and shifts each week – it creates issues defensively for you. I think those are things that are different hat certainly will complement our players very well and our scheme and our system.”
PLAYING TIME IS EQUAL OPPORTUNITY
Pointing to how many freshmen and sophomores saw the field in 2011, Muschamp emphasized that the only thing that would prevent a young player from seeing action in any given season would be their own effort and/or talent.
“Every freshman at the University of Florida will be given every opportunity to be a starter or to play. They will determine their role and how much they play based on how they perform in camp,” he said. “Every one of them will be given an opportunity to be a starter at Florida this year.
“When we recruit them, we tell them we are going to promise them one thing: an opportunity. That’s it. That’s it. My loyalty is with the young men on campus. And the young men that want to come to the University of Florida, we promise them one thing: an opportunity.”
That opportunity comes with a warning, however.
“I tell those guys when they first report and I tell them again in the team meeting: ‘What you’ve done and what you’ve accomplished in high school does not help you at Florida. It’s over. You have not made one play in our league and you have not made one play in our stadium. So you need to earn the respect of your teammates first in how you prepare and how you play and how you compete every day.’”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Practice will begin with the team split up into two sessions – older players practicing earlier in the day and younger players practicing at night. Because each player is only allowed to practice once per day as defined by the NCAA, Muschamp has chosen to split the team up for the second-straight year in order to get each player more repetitions. The coaching staff will be able to slow down the teaching in the latter session, which helps the younger players learn the system and individual plays better. Players will only wear helmets (no pads) for the first two days of practice.
» On being a mature and responsible team: “The silly penalties have got to cease.”
» On how the defense wound up being formatted in 2011: “Last year we ended up playing 70 percent nickel [formation].”
» On if the Gators are starting to resemble his ideal type of team: “This is the University of Florida’s team. It’s never going to be Will Muschamp’s team.”
» On if the 2012 season will be considered a failure if Florida does not win the SEC East: “I think when you don’t go to Atlanta, Florida is a failure.”
» On new strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman: “Jeff Dillman is a Will Muchamp guy, at the end of the day. He’s putting the same philosophical ideas I want in the weight room from an Olympic core lifting and the things that we need to do that we need to be successful – that I know work in this league.”
» Muschamp said freshman defensive end Jonathan Bullard is already on campus and that the team looks forward to seeing him in practice on Friday. Bullard had some issues with his grades that forced him to delay enrolling in school.
» On if he takes self-evaluations of himself and his coaching: “I think any good CEO, any good competitor, any good player, any good coach is a hard self-evaluator. The guys I’ve been around are hard self-evaluators and they look to themselves first before they look at anybody else. There’s no question that you live and learn.”