Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday to conclude his team’s last week of practice before game week. Florida will get the weekend off and return to practice on Monday in preparation for its season-opener against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.
For the first time in a while, Muschamp did not have much to say on the injury front.
Freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe, who is fourth on the depth chart and an important player for Florida this fall, is expected to return on Monday after missing some time with an ankle injury. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Maye, in competition for a starting job in the secondary, will be back in action on Tuesday or Wednesday coming off a significant hamstring strain.
Additionally, redshirt freshman linebacker Matt Rolin, who has been fully cleared to practice all fall after undergoing a second surgery for a torn ACL in as many years, is “coming along slowly” as planned by the coaching staff.
Muschamp remarked that the Gators only having two “soft tissue issues” is “outstanding” and “the best I’ve been around.” He added: “It tells you we’re training the right way.”
DEPTH CHART NOT FINISHED
With just over one week until the first game, Florida has still not released a depth chart. In fact, the last one provided by UF was prior to its game against Florida State last November. The reason no chart has been made available yet is because there are still plenty of questions, according to Muschamp, specifically who will begin the season as the starting placekicker and backup quarterback. He also must figure out which players will fill in some starting roles in the secondary when the season kicks off. That should all look much clearer on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The kicking competition and backup quarterback job have been up in the air for quite some time. Regarding the latter, Muschamp did not reveal any more information on Triday.
“All three of those guys have done a nice job. All three of those guys bring good things to the table. We need to make the best decision for Florida,” he said. “We’d like to, by the second quarter [next Saturday], I’ll play whoever ends up being the guy and go from there. Give him a game situation, like we did my first year.”
The situation in the secondary is even foggier. Though sophomores Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal are locked in as starters at cornerback and safety, respectively, the other two or three starting jobs will be filled by a group of nine players…and season-long starters may not be locked in for quite some time.
Muschamp explained the situation in detail:
“Truly, [we need] to get a true indicator of where some of those guys are is in game-time situations. I think that they’re all athletically more than capable. How they are going to adapt going through the anxiety of game day, playing in front of 90,000 people, computing the call, communicating the call within that, taking their eyes in the right spots? There’s nothing athletically those guys can’t do. They’re extremely talented. What will be the best combination? Right now, I couldn’t answer that.
“I know Vernon Hargreaves is going to be at corner. I know Keanu Neal is going to be at safety. Past that, Jabari Gorman can play nickel, he can play safety. Marcus Maye can play nickel, he can play safety. Brian Poole can play corner, he can play nickel. Those guys will all cross-train throughout the year. Duke Dawson has done a nice job. He missed a little time with a head injury that set him back a little bit, quite frankly. But he’s also a guy that flashes and shows athleticism to be good at the position.
“Marcell Harris and Nick Washington continue to do a pretty good job. We need them to be more consistent, both of those guys. J.C. Jackson, Quincy Wilson are both guys that I have been very pleased with, along with Jalen Tabor, are three guys that are in that next competition of who’s the first one getting those reps.
“So, we start the game in nickel, do we start Brian Poole in nickel, who is going to be the corner? What’s our best combination of five? Right now, we haven’t made that decision. We will evaluate the film again today. … It will be a full-pads practice [on Monday]. We’ll come back Tuesday in shells and make a decision Wednesday and Thursday about how we practiced. [That is just] going to be the first series. After that, we’re going to be rolling guys in there.
“All of those guys, in my opinion, have earned the right to step on the field and play. I have confidence in all of them. As we move closer to game week, a lot of times in my experience, that’s where you create a little separation of the anxiety of getting closer to game day and how those guys handle pressure situations. I’m very much up in the air where we will go right now because I do think it’s very close and I do think those guys all do some nice things for us. We certainly can function and win with all of them.”
In the end though, Muschamp remains unconcerned with who starts either in the first quarter or in the first game.
“Kids and parents want to start. Coach Muschamp cares who finishes,” he quipped.
Muschamp on Friday announced that redshirt seniors kicker Frankie Velez and wide receiver Michael McNeely were both awarded scholarships for their final season with the Gators. The duo of joins junior running back Mark Herndon as notable walk-ons who are currently on scholarship at Florida.
Velez did not play during his first two years under Muschamp but appeared in five contests last season, hitting 6-of-8 field goals with a long of 44 yards. He is currently in contention to be Florida’s 2014 starter at the position. “Best day of my life!” he tweeted shortly after Muschamp’s public announcement.
McNeely has played in 16 games over the last two seasons, seeing action in all 12 contests in 2013 on special teams and occasionally at wideout. He has been praised in his past for his work ethic and academics.
“We had two available scholarships. Both of those guys will contribute to our football team this year,” Muschamp said. “Mike McNeely has been a fantastic special teams player. He’s just a wonderful young man. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. He will be a huge contributor on special teams. Frankie is still in competition for the field goal kicking duties and extra point duties and I think has done a fantastic job in camp. He’s been here for five years and done everything we’ve asked him to do as far as those things. We plugged him in last year. Both of those guys [are being] very well-rewarded. Happy for both of those guys.”
A former walk-on at Georgia, Muschamp fully understands how much it means to a student-athlete to earn a scholarship and finds particular joy in delivering that news.
“Awesome. Absolutely awesome. I earned a scholarship when I went to school, and I’ll never forget the feeling when my head coach, Ray Goff, walked up to me and said I earned the scholarship,” he explained.
“That means you have now gained the respect of your staff and your teammates, not that you didn’t have it before. Now you’re recognized now as one of the guys, not that you weren’t before. That’s why walk-ons are so important to me. They’re treated no different than a scholarship player. They’re not going to get as many turns and opportunities and scholarship players because we’ve obviously invested ourselves in some of these scholarship players that may be further along, but we’re not always right either.
“There’s nothing better than that feeling of seeing that today, being able to do that on the field with Frankie and Mike, two very well-deserving young men.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On his defenses at Florida being held to a high standard: “We’ll play well. You need to be strong up the middle, and we have two senior defensive tackles that will play well. I think we have four linebackers that are very strong. I think we have the ability at the safety position to be fine. Keanu has distanced himself in camp and we can play winning football with Jabari Gorman and Marcus Maye and Marcell Harris and Nick Washington and Duke Dawson. I feel very confident in that. The key ingredients are having a dominating pass rusher in Dante Fowler and a dominating cover guy in Vernon Hargreaves. You have the ingredients of what you want, in my opinion. Now, we got to go do it. Talk is cheap. I tell the players, ‘Shut up and go play.’ So let’s shut up and go play and coach.”
» On whether any suspensions, academic or otherwise, will be announced: “No. We’ll be fine. I’ll address anything at the appropriate time but not right now.”
» On freshman defensive end Justus Reed’s status: “Justus Reed is going to be a really good player. He’s probably headed for a redshirt this year, but he’s a guy that probably needs to gain some girth.”
» On whether the Gators will use up to six wide receivers in games: “A lot depends on, well, it’s pretty hot here, and it’s going to be hot next Saturday. I don’t care if it’s 7 p.m. [kickoff] or not. That will all be based on a rotation as we move forward through game week and how these guys approach game week, which, based on the previous 22-23 practices, has been outstanding.”
» On why he specifically decided to move redshirt senior Max Garcia to center: “You need somebody really smart, you need somebody that’s very decisive in their decision making. They need to be able to make a call, have confidence in the call, and they need to be right. And then they need to snap the ball. I didn’t know about the snapping but those first four, there was no question he was the right guy. He was very decisive in his decision making. He’s off-the-charts intelligent and a guy that has really done a nice job through the camp snapping it. He struggled a little there early in the spring but has done a fantastic job. We’ve purposely lined up a zero-nose on him every day to make sure he knows he’s got to snap it quick.”
» On the Nick Saban coaching tree: “Any time you have success, people always look at why are you having success. Generally in our profession, it isn’t always just because of one person. It’s because of a combination of people and certainly under great leadership and Nick’s a great leader and an outstanding coach. He’s got great organizational skills in what he does. There’s certainly bits and pieces you learn from everybody you work for. I’ve worked for a lot of good people and Nick is certainly outstanding.”