Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Wednesday ahead of the second game of the season against the Miami Hurricanes on Sept. 7.
LINING UP THE ‘BACKERS
Florida was forced to replace all three of its starting linebackers from a year ago as Jon Bostic and Lerentee McCray graduated and Jelani Jenkins left early for the draft. The replacements looked quite solid on Saturday, but the position group will be bolstered even more when sophomore Antonio Morrison returns to action on Saturday.
“He’ll play quite a bit, absolutely,” Durkin said. “He’s been practicing with us and playing through everything. His conditioning is fine, and he’s ready to go.”
Morrison may be back in action, but he has not regained his starting job just yet. That distinction belongs to redshirt junior Michael Taylor, who was second on the team with five tackles (one for loss) last weekend against Toledo.
Durkin believes Taylor fits the mold of what he and head coach Will Muschamp look for in a Florida football player.
“Mike is about what we are about here and that’s hard-working, blue collar, tough, physical. Those are the things that describe him as a player and that’s how I would hope anyone would describe our defense and our program. Mike fits what we do really well,” he said.
Also making an impact last Saturday was redshirt junior Neiron Ball, who moved to an outside linebacker spot during camp and has made the most of his new opportunity.
“He was playing a position he hasn’t played before in a game. We had talked, going into the game, how well he played throughout camp. But you want to see him go do it in a game, and he did that,” Durkin said.
“He tackled really well in the open field. He was on point with his coverages. He read things well, saw things well. Playing a stack linebacker position, that’s a big difference form what he was playing up on the line of scrimmage.”
Ball, of course, missed the entire 2011 season when an he was diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), a tangling of blood vessels in his brain. Durkin on Saturday recalled that traumatic time and expressed how pleasing it is to watch Ball breakthrough this season.
“What a freak thing and a strange thing, obviously nothing you’re really prepared for. I think our whole team, obviously as well as myself, is really happy to see where Neiron is now compared to then,” he said. “Those were some days we didn’t know if he ever was going to play again. He is a great kid and obviously he has a lot of talent, a lot of ability, and he’s going to grow into a great player.”
SCOUTING THE OPPOSITION
Durkin offered his opinions on two of Miami’s standout offensive players – running back Duke Johnson and quarterback Stephen Morris. In regards to Johnson, he also noted that the Hurricanes are quite creative in the run game and have a big offensive line, which he credited for some of the tailback’s success.
“That guy can put his foot in the ground and change the score on any down,” Durkin said. “He’s a fast guy, a quick guy, great change of direction. He has great running back skills. He finishes runs, he’s physical, runs inside the tackles really well, too. It’s not like he’s just a perimeter guy. He’s a complete back. He catches the ball well out of the back field. He’s the total package.”
He was equally impressed with Morris and said the Gators’ secondary has been working hard this week in order to find a way to limit his effectiveness.
“He’s a really talented quarterback. That guy can make all the throws. He manages the game very well. He looks really comfortable in terms of calling the offense and what they’re doing. He’s a big challenge for us, absolutely,” Durkin noted.
» On redshirt junior nose tackle Leon Orr: “I think he’s played his best football he’s played since he’s been here. Throughout practice, spring ball and camp that was true. You always want to see it go out on the field and translate over there, and it did. He played a great game, I thought. He was hustling all over the place. He was fitting things right. He was improving his pad level, which is something we’ve always talked to him about. I think Leon played his best football.”
» On freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III: “He’s got great ability, but he’s also an instinctive player. … We think we’ve got something special with him.”
» On senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley: “He’s one of the highest motor guys I’ve ever been around. I’ve always felt that way about him. He had a very productive game and was all over the field. I’ve seen him do that before. I think the biggest thing for him is being consistent every week now and building on it. You can tell he feels healthy and fresh – and we like when he feels healthy and fresh – he’s pretty good.”
» On the starting safeties – redshirt junior Cody Riggs and redshirt freshman Marcus Maye: “I thought both guys did some things well but they both had some things to clean up. … Overall, I thought both of those guys played well and it was a good performance that we can build on.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On if the team is extra hyped up for Miami week: “Wednesday and noon feels the same to me as Wednesday at noon. … I really think our guys feel that way and they believe that. We go about our business. There’s things we got to get done and that’s it, no matter who we’re playing.”