Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media before the team’s 20th fall practice (the third open to the media) ahead of the 2013 season.
INJURIES UPDATES POSITIVE…FOR ONCE
Sophomore running back Matt Jones remains out of action while recovering from a serious viral infection but is looking healthier than he has in quite some time and could be on his way to returning to practice if some Monday tests come back with the results that please team doctors. “Matt Jones is getting some blood work done this afternoon,” Muschamp explained. “He’s got his weight back up. He’s at about 223 [pounds]. When this happened, he was 226. So I’ll know a little bit more as we move through he week, but he’s been jogging and moving around a little bit more, which is good.”
While it is unknown when Jones will be cleared, Muschamp said the Gators have been operating with the assumption that he will miss Florida’s season opener against Toledo on Aug. 31. The good news is that Jones has a positive attitude and seems to be progressing exactly the way trainers have hoped. “I get a daily update,” he said. “He feels good. He’s doing more and more every day from a workout standpoint. That’s all I know. We’re playing it by ear.”
Beginning Thursday, the focus for the Gators turns to game week. Florida will begin additional preparation for Toledo, and Muschamp said Monday that he expects to have most of his nicked-up players back for the contest.
Senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (knee), junior fullback Hunter Joyer (hamstring) and freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (shoulder) should all be ready to practice next week. Additionally, senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins (foot) returned to practice on Sunday, and senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley (shoulder) is practicing after getting dinged during practice last week.
Muschamp also expects to have redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio (pectoral) back but said he is still awaiting approval from doctors, which he could get on Friday. “Right now, everything has gone extremely well [with his recovery],” he said. “They feel like the cavity has filled in where the pec was torn. They feel good about it, but I won’t know more until Friday.”
Sophomore wide receiver Raphael Andrades (turf toe) – “It’s a pretty good one.” – will miss at least 10 days.
Though UF appears to be suffering through a variety of ailments and injuries, Muschamp pointed out that the team is “probably healthier than [it was] a year ago” because most of the “setbacks have been non-football and non-contact,” including the two anterior cruciate ligament tears. “That’s been the frustrating part,” he said. “We’re healthier now than we have ever been since I’ve been at Florida, at this point in camp.”
FRESHMEN RUSHERS STILL NEED TO DEVELOP
Muschamp indirectly called out freshman RBs Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane on Monday, noting that neither player was one of the top three rushers in the fold at this time with Jones still ailing. He mentioned redshirt junior Mack Brown, sophomore walk-on Mark Herndon and redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers (who just recently moved over from defense) as running backs that would play.
Asked whether Showers’s move to offense was permanent – he is stepping into the Omarius Hines role – Muschamp confirmed that he would be on offense full-time and gave him a ringing endorsement. “He’s got great top-end speed. He’s got really good ball skills. A guy that can do a lot of different things for us as far as lining up at receiver, lining up in the backfield. A tough guy to count for a defensive coordinator. I’ve been very pleased with what he’s added to us offensively.”
He later addressed why he did not mention Taylor and Lane in the group of players that could see time at running back while Jones remains sidelined.
“Number one is ball security. You got to take care of the football. That’s the number one thing,” he said. “They’re very talented runners but so much more goes into it other than just running the football and that’s where they’ve got to take a step. Very pleased with both guys, and they’re going to help us this year. How much their role [is] depends on how they continue to develop. It’s a long season, but they’re going to help us this year. … They’re talented runners, but it’s not just carrying the ball. We like to make sure the quarterback is protected.”
DEFENSIVE DEPTH CHART: CLARIFIED
While discussing his defense on Monday, Muschamp basically revealed all of Florida’s starters at linebacker and in the secondary, though suspensions and injuries will certainly influence who is on the field at any given time.
He also clarified who some of the backups at each position will be this season. Below is a look at how the Gators should line up for the season opener. (Sophomore Antonio Morrison is not listed as a starter due to his suspension but is listed as a back-up here to depict his normal role as the starter.)
SAM: Ronald Powell | Darrin Kitchens OR Daniel McMillian
WILL: Neiron Ball | Darrin Kitchens OR Jarrad Davis
MIKE: Michael Taylor | Antonio Morrison OR Alex Anzalone
BUCK: Dante Fowler | Ronald Powell OR Alex McCallister
CB: Loucheiz Purifoy | Jaylen Watkins OR Vernon Hargreaves III
CB: Marcus Roberson | Jaylen Watkins OR Vernon Hargreaves III
Nickel CB: Vernon Hargreaves III | Cody Riggs OR Brian Poole
S: Cody Riggs | Jabari Gorman OR Jaylen Watkins
S: Marcus Maye | Jabari Gorman OR Jaylen Watkins
Muschamp named redshirt freshman Marcus Maye the second starting safety on Monday, indicating that he and redshirt junior Cody Riggs were ahead of the pack at the position. He also mentioned that he was pleased with junior Jabari Gorman‘s play as of late and suddenly “feel[s] extremely good about” the safety position. With Hargreaves potentially out of action, Riggs or sophomore Brian Poole would move to nickel with Gorman or Watkins shifting over to safety.
FINDING HEALTHY BODIES
Running back is not the only position where Florida is trying to find a number of healthy players that can contribute. Due to injuries, junior CB Loucheiz Purifoy has not spent the time on offense that Muschamp had initially hoped. “We got a good plan for him,” he said. He repped it all summer with the kids during the summer. That’s why we dedicated eight days of spring practice to him to completely play receiver. So he’ll have some carryover mentally.”
Another concern for the Gators is kick returner, where Purifoy and senior WR Solomon Patton have been the primary participants. Muschamp also said that junior CB Marcus Roberson “has been the mainstay for what we’re trying to do” at punt returner, but Hargreaves could factor in there when he is fully healthy.
Luckily for UF, fullback is one spot where Florida has found a reliable back-up during spring practice as redshirt junior Gideon Ajagbe, a converted linebacker, has taken to the position switch quite well. “Very pleased with Gideon, a guy that’s been able to do a lot of things for us, not just at fullback but at somewhat of a tight end role. He has enough length to block on the line of scrimmage,” Muschamp said.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson: “He’s a really good football coach and obviously does a great job recurring, not just recruiting, does a great job with our players. He has a great rapport with all the players on our football team, not just the defensive backs, but everyone. He’s got a contagious personality. When you’re around him, you like being around him. But he’s a really, really good football coach. He does a great job with our secondary as far as teaching and coaching the way we want it to be done at the University of Florida. He understands what we want down and how we want it done. He certainly has helped me, as far as being a head coach, being able to know you can walk out of the room and it’s going to get done the right way. He does a fantastic job. He’s a really good football coach. … There’s no question he’ll have his opportunities.”
» On the status of Morrison’s two-game suspension and if he will miss both games: “At this time, right now, yup. We’re just working through it.”
» On if he feels comfortable with what UF has at back-up quarterback: “Tyler Murphy is a guy that we feel like we can win with. I think he’s done a god job with some of the things we’ve asked him to do. He’s very similar, as far as the run game with Jeff is concerned, that we can do with him. We got to continue to work on throwing the football and getting it out and those sort of things.”
» On if Murphy has showed improvement over the summer: “Anytime you get thrust into the spotlight like he was earlier in camp, it helps. However you want to look at it, when the incumbent is here, you always kind of, well, I’m going to be the backup and your sense of urgency is not what it should be. His sense of urgency certainly picked up. We feel like he’s a talented guy and he can help us.”
» Muschamp said that freshmen defensive tackles Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley and Antonio Riles are all competing to be the fifth rotation player at the position. “We’re not ready to make that decision right now but these next two days for them are huge,” he said. Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard, who is up to 270 pounds, is also playing inside on occasion to help out.
» Though freshmen WRs Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood have stepped up, Muschamp is not sure what he will get from the other three first-year pass catchers. He explained that Alvin Bailey is “talented” but “progressing” and Marqui Hawkins has been slowed by an ankle injury, cannot run full speed and “probably won’t contribute” this year. Muschamp did note, however, that Chris Thompson will likely play on special teams because he has a knack for blocking kicks. He could also be in line to return kickoffs later in his career because “he’s got great vertical speed.”
» Redshirt senior WR Andre Debose has not had surgery on his ACL just yet because doctors are still waiting for the swelling down. He will not be able to officially apply for a medical redshirt until after the season, if he chooses to do so.”