The Florida Gators will take the field for the first time since April on Monday morning at 6 a.m. for the official start of fall practice ahead of the 2014 season.
Head coach Will Muschamp, heading into his fourth year at the helm of the program, held a press conference during Florida’s annual media day on Sunday to discuss the make-up of the Gators heading into the fall.
INJURY UPDATES, PRACTICE CHANGES
A pleasant change of pace for fans from a year ago is the Florida football team entering camp healthy with no major injury or illness concerns. The Gators do, however, have a couple of players who will be limited, two of which have been listed as so purely for precautionary reasons.
Freshman defensive back J.C. Jackson, a four-star prospect who underwent shoulder surgery in April, will start training camp as a non-contact participant despite being ahead of schedule for his recovery. Jackson will likely be cleared for contact after 7-10 days.
Both coming off ACL tears that sidelined them for the entire 2014 campaign, sixth-year redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose and redshirt freshman linebacker Matt Rolin have been completely cleared for contact but will nevertheless be limited to start camp. “Always in those situations, you want to make sure those guys are fully ready to go,” Muschamp noted.
Florida, which will open up with a split squad during the first two days of practice on Monday and Tuesday before practicing as a full team at night from Wednesday to Friday this week, has also adjusted its schedule to try and help prevent injuries.
Muschamp said the Gators’ first 15 practices are already scheduled in terms of how they will unfold and what concepts will be taught, but the coaching staff will maintain some flexibility and make tweaks as the team progresses.
“We’re changing a little bit practice time. We’re going to go in the morning more than we had in the past. We usually incorporated a mid-day practice off a two-a-day, which I think we only have three or four. The midday practice was hard from the standpoint of the heat and sometimes the weather, because you can have lightning,” he explained.
“So, we’re going to practice every morning – and then when we do have opportunities per the rules – we’ll have a two-a-day practice later at night and a little lighter than we’ve done it before so it won’t be as taxing for the players. My biggest concern is being able to have guys hydrated here in this heat. Sometimes I think going in the morning and eliminating the midday practice will help because it won’t be as taxing.”
Muschamp’s injury update came at the tail end of his opening statement, which covered a number of issues including how confident he is heading into fall camp, what Florida will be concentrating on during practice and how he feels about the overall roster.
“[We will] continue to build a foundation of our football as we hit training camp. It starts in the offseason, which I was very pleased with how we did in the offseason as it goes into spring ball. I was very pleased with what we got accomplished in spring ball and then really pleased with how our summer went. To see our guys coming back, I love the new NCAA rule to be able to be on the field with our guys, see our guys work. We’re much further along than we’ve ever been anywhere I’ve ever been because of the new rule. That’s a credit to the NCAA as far as that.
“Now you hit training camp. It’s about our preparation, how we prepare in the meeting room, on the field. All of those things and approaching it every day and preparing the right way. It’s about having a great attitude every day, coming out and knowing you got to improve yourself. You can get better or worse every day. Embracing adversity. We’ll have adversity this year. When it’ll happen, I don’t know. It will be in training camp, it will be during the season at some point, but it’s going to happen and we got to handle that and embrace that. With that being said, embrace your competitive edge as a player – that helps our football team. Those are things, to me, that we’re really emphasizing on heading into camp, making sure that we develop those things.
“Really talked to our team about turnover margin. In my three years at Florida, we’ve been 19-3 when we’ve won or tied the turnover margin; we’ve been 3-13 when we lost the turnover margin. That’s a team stat. It’s not just about offense taking care of the ball, defensively getting the ball off people; we haven’t been explosive enough offensively to overcome turnovers. I think we will be this year. Certainly not saying it’s OK to turn the ball over; we got to take care of the ball, that’s the No. 1 thing as far as our team goals are concerned. Discipline is playing smart, situational football. … [We must] continue to develop a blue-collar, overachieving attitude within our program. We got good enough players. If we continue to do those things, we’ll be fine.
“As far as our roster is concerned, we need to find a backup quarterback. That’s someone who will play in the first ballgame at some point. That’s going to be important for us to develop that position. I think we have great competition at running back, linebacker and receiver, some talented guys. Those guys, as far as the competition is concerned, that’s my best motivator. [We will] continue to develop depth on both offensive and defensive lines. I think the talent is there; some guys haven’t played as much, but I’m really pleased with what I see as far as our talent is concerned. Sort out the secondary. Again, the talent is there, some guys maybe have not played a lot, but I’ve played a lot of freshmen DBs that have played extremely well their first year.
“Our specialists need to continue to improve from spring, which I felt like we made some strides punting the ball, kicking field goals, kickoffs and those sorts of things. Those are the things, going into camp, we need to address as a staff. We know that, just as far as our total roster is concerned.”
TWO STANDOUT PLAYMAKERS
Muschamp mentioned dozens of different players while running through the roster on Sunday but did take some extra time to shine some light on his expectations for junior running back Matt Jones and sophomore linebacker Jarrad Davis.
Jones, after playing just five games in 2013 due to a serious viral infection and torn meniscus, looks ready to go and should make an impact for the Gators.
“He’s a 230-pound back that, about midway through the third and fourth quarter, you get tired of hitting. But he’s got extremely good hands, he’s very good in protection, a very smart player. A guy that, I thought he had as good a spring [in 2013] for a back that I’ve been around,” said Muschamp. “He missed all of training camp last year with the viral infection. He weighs 233 pounds, and I think we had his goal weight at 228. I watched him runs the 110[-yard sprints] at 233 and told him he could weigh 235 if he wanted to. He looks really good. He’s healthy, he’s in shape, he’s excited. He’s itching to get started.”
Muschamp is also excited about Davis, an early special teams standout who played in every game and saw additional time at linebacker as the year went on. Davis served as a UF captain in two games and earned a start against Georgia Southern.
“Jarrad is a really good football player. He was only a two-star, so he wasn’t allowed to be, but he turned out to be really good,” he quipped.
“He is a guy that’s really explosive in a short area. He’s got really good punch on taking on a block and as far as finishing on tackles. But he’s a very instinctive off-the-ball player. He can also play at the end of the line. He’s a guy that can play both, so he gives you some variety in what you can do. Really smart, really conscientious in what he wants to do. He was an outstanding special teams player for us early in the year, continued to grow into his potion, and I think he played extremely well [in 2013], and he’s primed for a really good year.”
Though there will be plenty of starting position battles for Florida to work through in fall camp, the Gators will also put a major emphasis on finding a backup quarterback. Muschamp has already guaranteed that whomever wins the job will play during the first game of the season and there certainly a better-than-not chance that a second signal caller is tabbed to have his own package of plays during the season.
Muschamp would neither pinpoint a leader in the clubhouse nor confirm that there would be a second quarterback seeing major action in 2014.
“I think we’ll decide that as we get through training camp,” he said. “You just got to get another guy ready and that’s what we plan on doing. Who that will be, I don’t know, and what sort of package we will have for him, I have no idea at this time.”
Considering how often Muschamp has mentioned that the team will attempt to utilize the quick and athletic legs of redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel this season, a concerted effort certainly needs to be made to ensure he protects himself when running such plays. He also addressed that concern on Sunday.
“I think Jeff’s got to be smart in the run game of getting down. Jeff’s a competitive guy, so he’s got to be smart about being competitive and understanding the situations of when he needs to get on the ground. That’s something we’ve talked to him about extensively,“ Muschamp noted.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On how UF can get over its recent struggles early in games: “I think more than anything, being more talented on the offensive side of the ball is going to help us.”
» On whether Florida plans to dominate time of possession like they did the last two years: “Time of possession has never been related to winning games.”
» On some believing that the Gators have to run an offense from the shotgun (which the team will in 2014) to win: “Steve Spurrier never got in the shotgun until 1996, and he won four SEC Championships before he ever did it. So to sit there and say you can’t play from under center at Florida is ridiculous.”