Keanu Neal, young defensive linemen emerging; Gators evaluate each other before season

About a dozen Florida Gators players met with the media over the last couple weeks to discuss fall practice and how the team is coming together ahead of the season. With less than a week until the start of the 2014 campaign, OnlyGators.com is cleaning out its notebook and present you with a bunch of their thoughts.

TWO SECONDARY STARTERS

When head coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday afternoon unveils the team’s first depth chart since last November, one position group that will draw some of the most attention in the secondary. A unit full of talented starters that was ravaged by defections (graduations, early departures, a transfer), the secondary currently only has two players that have locked down roles at this time – sophomores cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and safety Keanu Neal.

Hargreaves, after a stellar freshman campaign, is already a known quantity. Neal, on the other hand, earned his job during training camp after impressing with some big hits during the 2013 season.

“Just my effort [has improved],” he explained. “This year seems like everything clicked versus last year. My recognition on plays and things like that is a lot better.”

Muschamp singled out Neal early in fall camp as the best safety on the roster, locking him into a starting role early and never backing off from that stance. Suffice to say, the player was flattered.


“It means a lot. It means a lot to me to be considered that,” he said. “I’m not gonna think about that too much because it’s good to think of yourself as an underdog and continue to compete every single day.”

Not only is Muschamp the team’s head coach, he is also Neal’s de facto position coach. Though Travaris Robinson is Florida’s secondary coach, he spends most of his time with the cornerbacks while it is Muschamp who gives individual attention to the safeties.

Neal admitted that there is some added pressure with Muschamp in his positional meetings, but he noted that it is also one reason why the safeties have been so productive for the Gators during his coach’s tenure.

“That’s a position that he’s always with, especially in meetings and things like that. He’s always around us and coaching us up and things like that. He wants us to just be technically sound. Attention to detail is a huge thing for him. That’s something that we all tend to work on a lot,” Neal said.

As a hard-hitter who describes himself as a “physical player” and someone who has “kind of built that image on the team as a hitter,” Neal is well-aware that he needs to be extra careful on the field as to not be ejected for tackling incorrectly. The secondary has worked on tackling with their arms, which “kind of defeats the whole launching” issue.

Redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor does not think being careful will affect Neal at all because of how smart he is and how well he performs.

“[He is] fast. He will come and hit you. He knows the defense and he can come play in the box and he can play in the middle of the field. That’s good to have back there behind you,” Taylor said.

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON?

A 12-year NFL veteran, Bryan Cox is one of the most accomplished small-school draftees in league history. A Super Bowl winner (XXXVI), three-time Pro Bowler and three-time All-Pro selection, Cox has spent the last nine seasons – the formative years of his son’s life – as an assistant coach with five different NFL teams.

As entertaining as he has been on the field, Cox has also been a trip behind a microphone and many young football fans are learning about that now while watching Hard Knocks with the Atlanta Falcons on HBO. Cox has mentioned his son, Florida redshirt sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox, Jr. more than once on the program to this point, though what he is really drawing attention for is personality.

“We have our own ways, for sure, but we definitely have some glaring similarities,” said the younger Cox, who said he usually speaks with his father at night after both men finish fall practice. “We’ll just talk and just have a check-up conversation and talk about ball.”

Junior is not necessarily following in his father’s footsteps as he is attending a different university and trying to make a name for himself, but the Gators coaching staff certainly hopes he can become the type of player his dad was in his heyday.

To this point, Cox, Jr. is one of a couple young defensive ends that have received high praise from Muschamp this offseason. He hopes he can live up to the hype.

“I do feel as if it can be a breakout year. I just have to stick to my craft and stay dedicated to what I’m doing, not let my head get big if I start balling or whatever, just stay me,” he said.

SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP

Like Cox, Jr., sophomore defensive lineman Joey Ivie has steadily improved this offseason, so much so that Muschamp now trusts him to play at multiple positions.

Perhaps no one has noticed Ivie stepping his game up as much as junior Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr.. Roommates and friends, Fowler and Ivie have developed a special bond over the last year with Ivie looking up to Fowler as a leader and role model despite him only being one year Ivie’s senior.

“Joey Ivie has come along pretty far from when he first came in the spring. He didn’t know what was going on, coaches were just letting him go. He had a lot of technique areas and things like that to clean up, just being able to stay in the playbook,” explained Fowler.

“He was my roommate. We had some times staying up all night, staying in the playbook. Joey’s a funny guy, so we would talk. Just being able to get to know him, he’s a great guy, and he’s a determined guy that just wants to get better every day. He wants to help and contribute with this team.”

As his roommate, Fowler also took an opportunity to throw Ivie under the bus about his weight gain. One of the main reasons Ivie believes he has been able to succeed in fall camp, the additional muscle has allowed him to become a more solid force on the interior of the line. Fowler had fun with how Ivie made that progress over the last few months.

“Joey is one of those type of guys who likes to look at himself a lot. So when he was gaining weight, he was like, ‘Do I look big or not?’

“I was like, ‘You look pretty big, Joey.’

“He was like, ‘So what are you saying? I’m small, I’m big, am I skinny?’

“I was like, ‘Joey, your butt is fat. You got a fat butt.’

“He was like, ‘Are you serious?!’ I was like, ‘Nah, you’re alright.’

“Just being able for him just to put on the weight and he’s carrying it really well. He’s still quick. He’s got that cat-like reflex and things like that. That helps him a lot. Just to see how determined he is and just to see how he wants to get better, that’s good for him.”

PRAISING EACH OTHER

» Fowler on going head-to-head each day with junior left tackle D.J. Humphries: “It gets both of us better. I like it a lot because basically I’m going against the best and it brings the competition out of me and D.J. because we know we got to always be on our Ps and Qs because if we don’t one of us can get embarrassed, beat. We treat it like a game, keep going. We know it’s going to get both of us better. Just like how it was with [Dominique] Easley and [Jon] Halapio and those guys, we kind of knew it was going to be like that because we’ve been bumping heads since I ever stepped on campus. We’re just getting better and better.”

» Senior defensive tackle Darious Cummings on Fowler and the kind of breakout season he might put together: “One everybody can remember, hopefully. I hope so. He’s the guy; he’s the man. We’re going to feed off him.”

» Redshirt sophomore defensive end Alex McCalister on defensive line coach Brad Lawing: “Coach Lawing is my dog. Big Law Dog. Coach Lawing showed me a lot. He’ll show you everything, really. He’s been coaching for 92,000 years. I’ve learned a lot from Coach Lawing. Simple stuff like coming out of my hips, striking, using your helmet, every little thing. Coach Lawing knows it all; he’s a pretty old guy.”

» Redshirt junior wide receiver Valdez Showers on freshman WR C.J. Worton: “C.J. is pretty good. He’s quick out of the break, a very good route runner, has great hands. He just has to pick up on the plays and everything.”

» Junior linebacker Antonio Morrison on budding sophomore LB Jarrad Davis: “That man is a great athlete, man, a great athlete at the position, very physical, runs very fast. He’s just a great athlete, going to have a great year this year.”

» Redshirt senior WR Andre Debose on freshman quarterback Treon Harris: “Treon, I feel like a lot of quarterbacks coming in, a lot of them don’t have that ‘it’ factor. I feel like he has it. He’s a great player, he has that poise, he doesn’t get too rattled when he makes bad plays. You need that at the quarterback position. He’s looking real good to be a young guy.”

» Debose on some wideouts that have stood out to him in practice:Ahmad [Fulwood] is definitely having a great camp. Chris Thompson, he’s definitely coming along. And Demarcus Robinson, he’s looking real good. He always makes plays.”

» Cox on Ivie: “Joey’s been doing really good. He’s been having a really good camp. He’s playing the run well, playing great three-technique right now for us. We’re looking to get him on the field a lot.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Neal on Muschamp when he yells: “He’s pretty intimidating. I’ll give him that.”

» Junior WR Latroy Pittman, Jr., who has been starting in the slot in training camp: “I feel like I put together a pretty good camp. I’m just trying to finish out strong.”

» Debose on the competition at wide receiver: “It’s very deep. With this offense, man, we all know that we all have opportunities to get touches in the game. The competition is amazing. I love it. Every day I know that I have to come and play to the best of my ability and compete and make plays, or I will be bypassed quick. It’s every day knowing that I have to go in and prove myself.”

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4 Responses to “Keanu Neal, young defensive linemen emerging; Gators evaluate each other before season”

  1. Tractorr says:

    Is that a subtle jab at Driskel by Debose?

  2. Michael J. says:

    Let’s hope Fowler is close to the mark on Humphries. He was awful last year. He really needs to step up his game. I saw him rated as the second best overall player on one of those recruiting rankings, can he please block somebody this year? With The Gators going to the spread, if he plays “matador” again, whoever is the quarterback is going to get plastered.

  3. Michael Jones says:

    Anything could happen this year. Really good, or the other direction, neither one would really surprise me. But we have talent. Wish we had more quality depth on the O-line and more experience on the D-line, but we have talent.

    If Muschamp sticks to what he does best and let’s Roper be in charge of what he does best, it should be a fun and interesting year to be a Gator.

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