Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to kick off his team’s final few days of practice before preparation finally begins for the team’s first opponent on Saturday, Aug. 30.
The Gators were dealt their first notable injury blow this season as Muschamp announced that freshman defensive tackle Thomas Holley, who was already dealing with scar tissue on a sports hernia he had repaired in high school, also had an undetected torn labrum in his hip and was scheduled for surgery on Monday. Holley will take a redshirt.
Senior offensive guard Trenton Brown (foot contusion), redshirt sophomore defensive back Marcus Maye (hamstring) and freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe (ankle) were all injured in practice this week, though all are expected back soon. Brown will return to practice on Tuesday, while Maye and Sharpe are scheduled to get back onto the field next Monday after a week on the sideline.
“David Sharpe is another guy that’s going to be a really good football player. Hate that he’s missing time right now, but we’re fortunate all it was was a high-ankle that got rolled up on from behind. It looked bad when you first saw it. I’m hoping we get him back Monday,” Muschamp said. “Y’all would’ve had him amputating his leg if you were out there. You’d have had the wrong leg, and it would’ve been an amputation.”
Muschamp also discussed how cautious the training staff was being with players coming back from injury, noting that junior running back Matt Jones, redshirt freshman OT Roderick Johnson, redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose and redshirt freshman linebacker Matt Rolin will likely sit out practices during the regular season.
“Any time you’re dealing with bone-on-bone – Rod Johnson is dealing with the same thing as Matt – they’re going to have some swelling. So, we just got to monitor those guys. No different than Andre coming off an ACL, Matt Rolin. Those are guys you just got to monitor,” he explained. “You can’t go overboard. You’re going to get diminishing returns after a while. There may be some guys you shut down on Monday during the season so they just don’t get the wear and tear through the year. I’d rather have them on Saturday than Monday practice.”
With just three days of practice remaining until the Gators start preparing for the Idaho Vandals, Florida is still without a defined backup quarterback. Freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris continue to compete for the job, but Muschamp said there is not yet enough for the coaching staff to make a final decision.
“Right now really no separation at quarterback behind Jeff. We’ll continue to work through the week. I don’t have a definite timetable on that right now. Watching the film on Saturday, there was some good and bad. We’ll continue to work through that,” he said.
“[The competition is] very close. I think that there’s been a lot of positives, but I feel like sometimes we take two steps forward, one step back. As far as getting rid of the football, we’ve tried to narrow down the package with all of those guys. Not do as much as we’re doing with Jeff, but we also can’t inhibit our offense to continue to move forward. We are making some progress at other positions, not that we’re not making progress there. Sometimes you got to simply some things to get the execution you want.”
Muschamp will take many factors into account before making his decision, including the athleticism and versatility of the players. He would not single one out over the other when pressed on Monday, but did not that there are some “things we want to do moving forward offensively, schematically,” where one player might stand out over the other.
He also has no plans to take a committee approach to the role. “I wouldn’t want to. I’d rather name a guy and go with it. I think it’s hard, especially with an inexperienced player, they need to get as many reps as possible,” he noted.
A number of relatively inexperienced players have caught Muschamp’s eye throughout fall practice, and he expressed Monday that he is excited to see how they will play during the season.
Redshirt sophomore Alex McCalister “has really done some nice things” and can now play behind junior Dante Fowler, Jr. at Buck linebacker. “Now we feel pretty comfortable there. He’s been a guy that’s been a steady performer through camp. He’s played the run very well. I’m very pleased with him,” Muschamp said.
Junior Drew Sarvary, a small-school transfer who was moved to center last week, has been “a pleasant surprise coming through and playing well.” Johnson and Sharpe are the youngsters that have earned most of Muschamp’s praise, but Sarvary and even redshirt junior Tyler Moore (who moved to guard) are getting his thumbs-up.
Muschamp has also had positive things to say about three young defensive tackles in sophomore Joey Ivie and redshirt freshmen Jay-nard Bostwick and Caleb Brantley, all three of whom have “made some strides.” Boswtick in particular has “improved tremendously” by “really work[ing] on his lower-body flexibility.”
MOVING THE BALL
Muschamp admitted Monday that Florida has actually been more successful passing the ball than running it as of late, which is not just good news for the wideouts but also the running backs considering they have been a large part of the throwing game.
In particular, Jones and freshman RB Brandon Powell “are natural with their hands” and guys that “have the natural ability to catch the ball” because they both had experience doing so in high school. Redshirt senior Mack Brown, sophomore Kelvin Taylor and redshirt freshman Adam Lane have all been working on their hands in practice and made some strides in that area.
But where the most improvement has been for the Gators is from their receivers. Muschamp said that sophomores Ahmad Fulwood and Demarcus Robinson both made plays and won a couple of 50/50 balls during practice. Unfortunately, that means Florida’s secondary lost those battles.
“We made [the plays] on offense, and that’s encouraging on one side of the ball, the other side of the ball it’s not so good,” he said. “So, when you get in those 50/50 situations, especially the way we play, we’re going to play man-to-man and there’s going to be tight coverage. There’s going to be a bunch of 50/50 balls, and you have to go make those plays. Those younger guys are coming along. We’re throwing a lot at them. We have not stopped our installation at all for them so they can understand we’re getting ready for the season, not one game. That’s what has been good.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Powell will now wear No. 15, changing his jersey from No. 20.
» On his overall thoughts of Florida’s scrimmage on Saturday: “I thought we had a very good scrimmage. Offensively, a lot of explosive plays, which was good, especially in the passing game but not as much in the running game. We’ve focused on throwing the ball vertically a little bit more. … Defensively, gave up too many explosive plays, especially on the back end, but I thought we did tackle extremely well for the second scrimmage.”
» On whether a starting secondary has been decided: “Still no separation in secondary other than Vernon [Hargreaves III] and Keanu [Neal]. We have some guys that have done some decent things we just need to be more consistent. Our coaches need to get off the field and let the players play. That’s what we’re going to do more of moving forward.”
» On freshman WR C.J. Worton: “C.J. Worton is going to be a good player. He makes a lot of plays inside. He’s a guy that’s going to continue to learn the offense. He’s a really quick-footed guy, can stick his foot in the ground and change direction. He’s got the guts to go across the middle and make some plays.”
» On the competition at punter between senior Kyle Christy and sophomore Johnny Townsend: “[It’s] good. Both guys have punted extremely well. Kyle has been more consistent probably to this point, but we still haven’t made a decision there.”
» On freshman tight end DeAndre Goolsby: “Right now, we think he’ll contribute for us. How much will depend on how he continues to progress through this week and next and the production from the position. But I’ve been very pleased with DeAndre, a guy who went through spring. So from an assignment standpoint, he’s got a pretty good handle on what he’s doing. I’ve been pleased.”
» On linebackers sophomore Alex Anzalone and redshirt sophomore Jeremi Powell: ”I’m pleased with Alex Anzalone, who has come along. He’s playing both Sam and Mike. He’s been able to be a guy that has stepped in there and improved much from the first scrimmage to the second scrimmage. … Jeremi Powell we’ve looked at in our Rabbit package of letting him rush the package a little bit and putting him on the edge.”
» On the status of the offensive line: “I think we’re much improved. D.J. Humphries is a better player right now than he was a year ago. He’s heavier; he can hold the point better. Chaz Green’s playing; we didn’t have him last year, so that’s a positive. I think Tyler and Max [Garcia] both feel more comfortable playing inside. Trenton [Brown] has been very productive player inside. Having Rod Johnson healthy now and having him play tackle and the length and athleticism he has. I think we’re more talented than we’ve been upfront. That’s the number one thing. Really, two years ago, we ran the ball extremely well. That wasn’t an issue. There were some protection things, but that wasn’t all on the offensive line. And then last year we had a lot of moving parts that we obviously struggled with. I think the talent level has picked up, number one, and I do think Mike [Summers] does a great job. He’s a very detailed coach. I think some of the things we’re doing with tempo creates less chaos up front because you vanilla defenses a little bit. You get them to play more stationary balls as opposed to a lot of the moving around we got in the past years.”