A number of Florida Gators football players spoke at length this week ahead of Saturday’s season-opening contest against the Idaho Vandals, which is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, and air live on ESPNU.
Below are some of the week’s top stories along with notes and quotes that either fell through the cracks or did not make it into one of the six posts already published here on OnlyGators.com (see links below).
Thursday: Notebook – Kurt Roper addresses hot topics, D.J. Durkin evaluates unit
No designations have been made as to which player will assume the role of Batman (and the other Robin) but the Gators certainly have a pair of running backs looking to wipe the floor with defenses like they are criminals roaming the streets of Gotham.
Junior Matt Jones was primed for a breakout campaign in 2013 after exploding during the end of his freshman season, but a serious viral infection seriously affected his health and kept him out of the season opener. Weeks later, a season-ending knee injury derailed the progress he made.
Florida looked prepared to redshirt freshman Kelvin Taylor, preserving his eligibility while using Jones and now-redshirt senior Mack Brown last season. But Jones’s injury thrust Taylor into the spotlight, and he responded with 508 yards and four touchdowns.
Rather than worrying about competing with each other, Jones and Taylor hope to bring UF’s running game to new heights. Neither is at all concerned with their touches but rather making the most of each carry and reception while pushing the Gators offense forward.
“We’re just very excited to see each other get back out there on the field together and just have a great year together; cheer each other on,” said Taylor. “That’s what we’re going to do with all of our backs, me, Mack Brown, all of us. We’re going to cheer each other on, and we’re going to have a great year.”
Muschamp told Taylor after his freshman campaign that he need to drastically improve his game. Though he was a naturally-talented runner – having Fred Taylor as your father certainly helps in that regard – he had to step up his blocking and pass-catching abilities. Jones, though a step ahead of Taylor in both areas, had to do the same.
To that end, the duo (along with the rest of Florida’s running backs) worked with some offensive linemen during the offseason in order to become better blockers for redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel.
“Getting together with those guys, it feels like we can be unstoppable,” explained Jones. “So when we communicate with them on the same level, we feel great with it.”
Jones is ahead of Taylor in terms of catching the ball out of the backfield, which is one reason why he may see a majority of his playing time coming out of the B position behind the offensive line. Taylor has nevertheless been steadily improving his skills and hopes that he will be able to showcase them throughout the season.
“From last year to this year, I’ve gotten so much better at catching the ball out of the backfield with catching [from the] Juggs [machine] every day after practice, staying after practice and doing like little route trees with Driskel and going over all the routes, just doing like the little things to put in the time at getting better,” Taylor said. “It’s paying off a whole lot out there on the field. I’m just so excited to get involved in the passing game, too. It’s going to be great.”
KICKING BY COMMITTEE?
Florida has not announced a starting kicker this season, and it is looking more and more like head coach Will Muschamp will once again be using two players at the position. Redshirt sophomore Austin Hardin will handle all kickoffs as he has the strongest leg, but he will probably be sharing field goal duties with redshirt senior Frankie Velez.
“I know they are confident in both of us. We can both do a job out there. We alternated last year, we can do it again this year if that’s what they want,” explained Velez this week.
A walk-on who was recently awarded a scholarship, Velez converted 6-of-8 field goals in 2013 but did not hit one longer than 44 yards all season. He said receiving that scholarship was a “dream that I’ve been waiting for ever since I got here” and “the greatest feeling ever,” and he now definitely has the opportunity to prove why he earned it.
Hardin was the Gators’ de facto long-distance kicker last season despite the fact that he only hit 4-of-12 field goals on the year and went 0-for-6 from 40+ yards. Velez, however, spent the offseason improving the strength in his leg and is now more comfortable kicking from distance.
“I can definitely say I have a lot more power going in from the spring to the summer. I can hit 50-yarders now. It’s just, I had a tired leg last year, but I worked it up and it’s good now,” he said.
Perhaps Velez will take a stranglehold on the field goal kicking job. Either way, this situation is one prominent issue from the 2013 season still unresolved entering the 2014 campaign.
”WE ALL WE GOT; WE ALL WE NEED”
Junior left tackle D.J. Humphries appears to be a bit of a history junkie, at least when it comes to the Gators. According to sophomore wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood, Humphries overheard an alumnus discussing a phrase the team used to use to hype itself up – “We all we got; we all we need.” – and spread it around the locker room this offseason.
“They used to say it here, I think it was back in the 90s, so it kind of just carried over to us. It’s true. ‘We all we got; we all we need,’” explained Fulwood.
Taylor thinks it has been impactful for Florida, which certainly needed to come together and grow closer as a team after a disastrous 4-8 campaign shook the program to its core.
“It means a whole lot to us just because, this year, I feel like we’re like brothers. Our whole team is like, we have a great team chemistry, so I feel like that saying that D.J. always says, I feel like it means a whole lot because everybody really take that to heart,” he explained.
“To be honest, that’s all we really need [is each other]. We just say that before practice, before the game on Saturday we’re going to say that. So yeah, we’re going to take that to heart, and we’re going to mean it. Everybody is just going to drive off of that.”
DON’T YOU…FORGET ABOUT HIM
The hype surrounding Florida’s wideouts has firmly involved Fulwood, sophomore Demarcus Robinson and redshirt senior Andre Debose. Unfairly lost in the shuffle has been redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar, who enters the 2014 campaign with a reception in a school-record 28-straight games.
Though Dunbar has started 21-of-25 games over the last two seasons and been one of UF’s most consistent pass catchers, he simply has not put up gaudy stats. On his career, he has totaled 90 receptions for 1,147 yards and six touchdowns.
Dunbar did not find the end zone once in 2013, but he has been touted by Muschamp each of the last two offseasons as one of the team’s most improved players. His teammates believe Dunbar is now ready to put it all together.
“Q’s probably our biggest leader in the receiver unit,” said Fulwood. “He’s been here the longest. He’s made probably the most plays out of all of us. He doesn’t get the attention he should, but I think he’s comfortable being under the radar still making plays that he needs to make. I think he’s comfortable with that as long as we’re winning. I think he’s happy, and it doesn’t matter about how much attention he gets.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Jones on offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and his personality: “He’s hilarious. He’s more exciting than Coach [Brent] Pease was last year. Coach Pease was kind of uptight. He’s more loose with us. We can understand where he’s coming from and that plays a big part in being coachable by him.”
» Fulwood on what fans can expect to see from the team: “Our offense is fast and our defense is physical. That’s pretty much what we plan on having everyone see. We’re just trying to put up a lot of points and stop them from scoring.”
» Fulwood on what freshman WR C.J. Worton brings to the table: “Other than how crisp his routes are and how good his hands are, the kid is quick. You wouldn’t be able to think, like if you saw him on tape or anything, it doesn’t show how quick he is. But he’s quick and fast. He can move.”
» Fulwood on how freshman quarterback Treon Harris won the backup job: “I think he appears a lot more comfortable in the pocket. If things happen to break down, he can still run it. I feel like he throws a nice ball and he understands the offense very well right now. He’s just a lot more comfortable at this point.”
» Redshirt sophomore center Max Garcia on whether the offensive line is attempting to be “nasty” this season: “That’s definitely something we focused on, being more nasty, finishing blocks, taking the next bite. And that’s something that I’ve always done while playing offensive line and that’s just kind of been the type of vibe and the type of culture we try to create. We want to really see that on the field this year.”
» Garcia on what senior Trent Brown brings to the table: “Trent makes me look so small when I’m standing next to him. But I like having him there. No one’s going to get through him. No one’s gonna bull rush Trenton Brown. That’s just not happening. And when he puts his hands on someone, that guy’s getting moved against his will. He doesn’t want to get moved, but he’s going to get moved. So having him there, he’s a force. Just really excited to play next to him.”
» Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III on sometimes being a coach on the field: “I guess I gained [Travaris Robinson]’s trust from last year playing. I understand the defense, and I feel like it’s my job to get the younger players ready. So I kind of take it upon myself to tell what I see, tell them how I would play it, give them advice. He trusts me.”
» Hargreaves on what has helped make sophomore safety Keanu Neal so reliable: “He cleans up a lot of mistakes. He’s fast, he’s physical, he can get around, he can move around pretty good, he knows exactly what to do, he knows all the calls. He helps me out and I’m going to enjoy playing with him this year.”