Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday following his team’s second-to-last open practice of the offseason. The Gators are now 15 practices deep and will spend Saturday only wearing helmets during a one-hour Fan Day showing.
Freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe, who worked his way into being the fourth option at his position, suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice Friday morning and is currently day-to-day.
“We need to get him back. He’s a really good football player,” Muschamp said. “He’s very athletic, 6-foot-6, 330 pounds. He moves his feet extremely well. [He’s] a guy that’s going to help us this year.”
The news is better for some other players. Junior running back Matt Jones (knee swelling) and redshirt junior guard Trip Thurman (shoulder) will return to action on Saturday. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox, Jr. (shoulder) could already be back in practice but will instead return on Monday after spraining his AC joint.
Florida scrimmaged on Friday morning during its 15th practice, running a full operation with coaches up in the box. Though Muschamp has not watched the film yet, he thought that it looked like a solid day overall while he was evaluating the team from the sideline.
“We’re at that point in camp where we’re a little sore, a little beat up,” he said. “I thought we had good operation in and out of the huddle. Pretty pleased with [Friday]. … We’ve had 15-straight very physical practices. I’m very pleased with our effort, our tune-in, our focus of what we’re trying to do. I’ve just been extremely pleased with that.”
Muschamp noted that while he is pleased with the execution of the Gators’ first-team offense, there is a “huge drop off because of the line of scrimmage with the second group.” For that reason, he has been working Florida’s primary reserves with the first-team offense for the last few practices. “We got to continue to bring these guys along,” he said.
Fatigue and the grind of camp have caused the tempo on offense to be “more deliberate” as of late, though that will not affect how the Gators look once the season kicks off in a couple weeks as Florida has three planned days off in the next nine days.
“We still have two camp days on Monday and Tuesday of next week. We’ll get Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday some work days before we start game week. Those will be three work days before we start game week,” he explained. “Then we’ll get two days on Idaho, Thursday and Friday, and then we’ll give the players 48 hours off Saturday and Sunday to get their legs back. Their first day off will be Sunday this coming weekend.”
WAITING FOR A BACKUP DECISION
No, there is no decision yet on who will serve as the backup behind redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel. While the goal was to have one in place by now, a number of factors have prevented that from happening, including the quick improvement of freshman Treon Harris.
Muschamp on Friday indicated that it would be ideal to name one backup and redshirt the other but nothing is set in stone as of press time. “You’d like to,” he said about handing one of the freshmen a redshirt. “We haven’t made any decisions on any of that yet, but we would like to go in and have a guy play and redshirt another guy and move forward. But we’ll see how that plays out.”
Asked specifically about how well Harris has played in the last couple of open practices, Muschamp declined to single him out. Instead, complimented both Harris and freshman Will Grier on their collective improvement to this point.
“I think all the backup guys have had some very good moments. I think they all have been put in some adverse situations when you start talking in terms of a true freshman walking in, we had four or five one-minute situations where those guys have to make great decisions as far as getting rid of the ball, knowing when to scramble, knowing when to get out of bounds, knowing when to get rid of the ball,” he said.
“All of those things come together, you’re learning a new offense and you got a lot of things going on. I’ve been pleased with those guys as far as how they’ve worked and how they’ve competed. We’ll see the most productive guy and move forward.”
MISSED REDSHIRT OPPORTUNITY
Muschamp complimented the Gators’ receiving corps on Friday for their stellar play throughout training camp, pointing out things each player has done well to this point. And while he noted that many of the second-year players getting the opportunity to see the field in 2013 likely had something to do with their level of play now, he did look back and wish things went different with how the players were handled last season.
In particular, Muschamp wishes Florida was able to redshirt now-sophomores Ahmad Fulwood, Demarcus Robinson and Chris Thompson along with redshirt freshman Alvin Bailey, who did get the designation at year’s end.
“All those guys, a year older now. You look at Chris and Demarcus and Ahamad, honestly, should’ve been redshirted last year. If you’re recruiting right at the position and your roster is where it should be, those guys should have been redshirted,” he said.
“They should have been able to grow a year, get stronger, work on their speed, work on their route-running, learning their position. And they were thrown in the fire. Well, I’m glad they were thrown in the fire now, but big-picture speaking, those are guys that needed a year to mature and grow.”
KICKER HAS A LEG UP?
Muschamp said Friday that redshirt senior Frankie Velez and redshirt sophomore Austin Hardin “have kind of distanced themselves” from the pack when it comes to the Gators’ kicking competition due to their consistency.
Though that may be the case, Muschamp was unable to single out one of the two players as the leader for the starting job. However, comments he made about the booters appeared to indicate that one has the leg up on the other for the job.
“Frankie’s been really good and Austin’s got a little stronger leg, but Frankie hit one from over 50 [yards] I think [Wednesday or Thursday]. Both guys have been very consistent in camp.”
Muschamp could go back to using Velez for short-range field goals and Hardin for longer distances, but it appears that may no loner be necessary or even on his mind. “Frankie had a 50-yarder the other day, so he’s shown his range. I think he’s 6-of-7 from 40+ in team situations when it’s 11-on-11, so that’s good.”
PLAYER EVALUATIONS: OFFENSE
» On redshirt senior tight end Jake McGee and how well he has been playing: “He has [lived up to our expectations]. Caught a couple nice third-down balls today. He’s got really good ball skills. He’s a match-up issue, especially in the red zone. … He’s a guy that’s got really good ball skills down the field. He had an opportunity today and Keanu Neal made a nice play on him down the field. … He really judges the ball well. He can go get it. He’s got really good ball skills.”
» Muschamp said junior transfer offensive lineman Drew Sarvary has been spending most of his time working as a reserve center, while redshirt freshman Cameron Dillard, who was expected to be the second-string player at the position, has been moving between center and guard.
» On redshirt junior Tyler Moore, who is back at his more natural position of guard: “He’s a guy that never complained, never said anything, just did what we asked him to do. [It was] very frustrating for him. Of course, the injury there late in the year. There’s no question that when you’re out of position, Max Garcia same situation, a guy projected as an inside player and we had to move him out to tackle, which is sometimes very difficult in our league.”
PLAYER EVALUATIONS: DEFENSE
» On freshman defensive back Duke Dawson: “Everything’s new. Every day’s a new day. That’s where the mental repetition is hard for a young player sometimes. They’ve never had this much put on their plate, so to speak. He’s got to continue to move forward in the classroom as much as anything, as far as football meetings are concerned and those sort of things. Athletically, he’s what you want. He’s going to be a good football player. When that will all happen is up to him. He’s got to continue and work to progress off the field as on it.”
» On junior DE Dante Fowler, Jr., who was non-contact in practice on Thursday: “He’s fine. He was in contact today. He just got hit on his shoulder, and he’s pretty good, so we backed off of him a little bit.”
» Muschamp said that sophomores Vernon Hargreaves III (cornerback) and Keanu Neal (safety) are the only two starting members of Florida’s secondary at this time. He labeled redshirt sophomore Marcus Maye and senior Jabari Gorman as “inconsistent,” but did note Maye is the leader to start at nickel cornerback at this time despite playing “really poor in there” on Thursday. “He had some opportunities, end of game situations … he had chances to make some plays and didn’t.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp’s biggest concern at this time is “depth on both lines of scrimmage, especially on the offensive line” where he feels “really comfortable probably with about seven guys right now” though the Gators “need to have eight or nine” in rotation.
» On the eight holdovers remaining from the Urban Meyer era sticking with the team through thick and thin: “At the end of the day, when you sign with a school, you sign with a school, not a coach. Leon Orr, Neiron Ball, Michael Taylor, Mack Brown, all those guys I’ve got great respect for. They’re coming in and competing and going through some change philosophically in some things. The way they’ve approached and handled some things, Quinton Dunbar and Andre [Debose], Gideon Ajagbe, all those guys have been through some tough times. Any time you’re in a program for five years. … Having a fifth-year senior at Florida, just in this day and age of [kids transferring when not playing early] is hard to find.”
» On Florida struggling with blocking field goals in 2013 and how that can be rectified: “We were very effective the year before because we had a guy named Sharrif Floyd who could flip his hips in the hole. We think Dante is a guy who can do that. We’re going to try and single him up, get some penetration. Trenton Brown is a guy who, as camp moves forward, we will look at as a guy who can penetrate, get his hand up and go do that. I think we’ve got some other guys who can come in and block off the edge.”