Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Thursday with just over a week until the first game of the season. He updated the status of a number of players and also discussed competition at a key position.
After shining during limited action as a freshman, linebacker Antonio Morrison had a sophomore campaign he wishes he could forget. Not only did he get arrested twice in the offseason (and subsequently suspended to start the year), Morrison did not play as well as many hoped and wound up getting injured before the season was out.
Now with an incident-free offseason behind him and an important junior season ahead, Morrison is drawing overly positive reviews from his coaches and teammates.
“He’s had a great camp. He’s always been a guy, very serious about football, practices hard, does all those things. I think he’s even taken it to another level,” explained Durkin. “His preparation off the field is as strong as it is on the field. He really understand how important this year is for him. I couldn’t be more pleased with how he’s approaching things, being a leader for other guys, grabbing the defense when he has to. I expect him to have a great year.”
Redshirt freshman Daniel McMillian has been on the opposite end of some of that leadership and admitted that Morrison certainly has his own unique method to motivate his teammates.
“He does a lot of things on the field and off the field to prove his leadership. Everyone has a different way of being a leader. His way, it’s a little rough, but it’s leadership though. That’s just his personality,” he said.
Noting that the overall trash talk is down, senior defensive tackle Darious Cummings made sure to mention that Morrison is still moving his lips but just in a different manner.
“He’s still bringing the same intensity. The coaches are having us not talk as much as we did last year, but Tone is the vocal leader on the team, and he’s going to say his part,” Cummings said. “I feel like he’s doing a better job of that than he did last year, and he’s playing a whole lot better. I just think Tone is animated in general. Tone is an animated player in general. He brings a lot of intensity to our team, a lot of intensity to our defense.”
Morrison did not want to say much about himself when he met with the media earlier in the week, and he refused to note any personal goals for the 2014 campaign. Instead, he passed out compliments to his teammates and claimed he was focused on one thing.
“I just want to win, man. Whatever, I just want to win. I just want to win, that’s it. I don’t care [what my stats are], as long as we’re winning,” he said.
SHORING UP THE DEFENSIVE LINE
One of head coach Will Muschamp’s biggest concerns entering fall camp was his depth at defensive tackle. Though Florida had Cummings and redshirt senior Leon Orr returning, there was a ton of inexperience behind them.
The Gators appear to have made major strides with its youngsters. Sophomore Joey IvieJay-nard Bostwick and Caleb Brantley have drawn plenty of praise over the last few weeks with Durkin being the most recent to complement them.
“They’ve stepped up and done a great job. I couldn’t be more pleased with how they’ve gone through camp,” he said. “All those guys have come along. All those guys have really answered the challenge. We feel much better right now about really being able to roll guys up like we like to up front.”
Cummings said earlier this week that the development of those three players has been “one of the biggest surprises for all of us” because while their teammates expected to improvement, Ivie, Bostwick and Brantley now appear to all be in line for significant snaps right out of the gate.
Unless one of those three truly breaks out, it will still be Cummings and Orr counted on most of the game. Durkin is optimistic that they are capable of handling their new responsibilities, especially after filling in for an injured Dominique Easley in 2013.
“Those guys, they have a bunch of [applicable] experience. Maybe it wasn’t always as a starting role, but they have a bunch of snaps in games. To them, it’s nothing new other than their role is now stepping up in terms of number of snaps and how they got to produce,” he explained.
“They’ll be fine. They’ve embraced that. They know that. They have the ability to do that. It’s not just on them though, it’s on everyone in our front four. We feel we got talented guys. It’s who steps up next. That happens every year. Great players move on. It’s who’s going to be next.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Florida started practicing specifically for Idaho with coaches introducing some concepts in order to get the players ready for next week’s game preparation.
» Durkin on whether the secondary depth chart is coming together: “We’re starting to get a better idea of where we’re going to have some guys. There’s a lot of guys deserving of playing time, and they’re gonna get it. … A lot of those guys are without playing experience, so we’re going to get them out there, see how they do and go from there.”
» Durkin on redshirt freshman LB Matt Rolin (ACL) and his involvement in practice: “We’ve been very careful in implementing him back in. he’s doing a bunch of drills, all the individual, a lot of the drills that aren’t 11-on-11. We have been cautious so far in 11-on-11 with him. That’s just to get him back full strength. We don’t want to hurry him into a situation he’s not ready for. He’s cleared for all that, it’s more us just watching his number of snaps.”
» Durkin on freshman cornerback J.C. Jackson: “He’s got all the ability in the world. He’s going to be playing out there. You’ll see him on the field. … We feel good about where he is, responsibility-wise.”
» Cummings on playing in front of Morrison: “[He is] playing good. Me and him are clicking real well, and he’s playing right behind me. We compliment each other on everything we do. … Everybody, I feel like, the defensive line and the linebackers are on the same page, a lot more than we were last year.”
» Morrison on playing behind Cummings: “For linebackers, it’s important to have a great relationship with your defensive line. They’re right in front of you. You don’t want to be back there giving a guy a hard time, they wouldn’t want to play in front of you. You’ve always got to have a great relationship with your defensive line.”