8/21: Durkin praises Morrison, young tackles

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.

REDEMPTION YEAR

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.

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Seven Gators named to 2014 Preseason All-SEC

Seven Florida Gators football players were voted onto 2014 Preseason All-SEC teams on Thursday as chosen by the league’s 14 coaches.

Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. led the way for Florida with All-SEC First Team nods on defense.

Hargreaves ended the 2013 campaign as an All-SEC First Team member, while Fowler found a spot on the second team.

Redshirt senior right tackle Chaz Green earned a spot on the Preseason All-SEC Second Team, while juniors running back Matt Jones, left tackle D.J. Humphries and linebacker Antonio Morrison were named to the third team.

Redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose also picked up a third-team nod as a return specialist.

Alabama and LSU led the way with 11 representatives each on the three teams. Seven schools had seven or more selections.

At the 2014 SEC Media Days in July, four Gators were voted onto the media’s Preseason All-SEC teams. Fowler and Hargreaves were placed on the first team, while Debose was a second-team return specialist and Green got a nod for the third team.

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Report: SEC Network, Verizon FiOS agree to deal

Just one week old, the SEC Network will soon be available in approximately 90 million homes after coming to terms on a carriage agreement with Verizon FiOS, according to a Thursday report in the SportsBusiness Journal.

Already available on AT&T U-Verse, DirecTV, DISH Network, Google Fiber, Cox Communications, Comcast/Xfinity, Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks, SEC Network now has contracts signed with nine of the top 10 cable distributors across the nation with Verizon FiOS the latest added to the fold.

SBJ reports that “the channel will be on an expanded basic tier within SEC territory” though “it is not clear where Verizon will carry it outside of SEC territory.” All subscribers will also have authenticated access to WatchESPN.com and SEC Network +.

The Verizon deal is big for SEC fans in Florida and Texas, the two SEC states where FiOS television service is currently offered.

The only top 10 cable distributor without an SEC Network deal is the New York-based Cablevision, which does not provide service to any SEC territories.

Now every major cable operator (including Bright House Networks) and both satellite providers that service Florida will give customers access to the SEC Network. Verizon FiOS is currently available in Sarasota, St. Petersburg and Tampa.

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Muschamp completes Ice Bucket Challenge, challenges Florida assistants, former Gators

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and his son responded on Wednesday to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge issued to him 24 hours earlier by Alabama Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban, completing the task and promising to make a charitable donation while standing next to the pool at his house.

Prior to getting doused with ice cold water, Muschamp not only called out the assistants on his staff to complete the challenge after practice on Thursday but also made sure to issue the directive to Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam and New England Patriots DT Dominique Easley.

Muschamp completed the challenge after deciding to cancel Wednesday evening’s scheduled practice. He invited the Gators football team over to his house where the players ate a hearty meal, played games and sang karaoke.

Check out all the festivities below.

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The Silver Lining for Wednesday, August 20

Couple thousand student season tickets remain unsold

Attendance at sporting events is a growing problem across the nation, and the Florida Gators have been attempting to do whatever they can to try and address the issue in order to reach full capacity at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium each week.

Florida has wired the stadium to drastically improve cellular phone reception (though high-speed wireless internet, at a cost of about $3 million, has not yet been implemented throughout the stadium), begun offering more affordable tickets to recent graduates, opened spring and fall practices to all comers and even formed a council of boosters and students to ensure the program is doing everything it can to get its tickets sold.

UF also worked with the Southeastern Conference and its television partners to ensure that its early-season games were played in the late afternoon or evening, rather than the grueling early-afternoon heat.

Unfortunately for the Gators, the problem has only continued to grow. What was once limited to declining season ticket sales from boosters, those unwilling to spend thousands of dollars to get a couple of seats in The Swamp on Sunday, has now jumped across the field to the student section.

A Florida spokesman told OnlyGators.com last week that the school had “a couple thousand” student season tickets unsold with just two weeks to go before the start of the season. Pressed for a more specific number with 10 days left, the spokesman divulged this week that there are approximately 2,000 student season tickets available (as of press time) with that number shrinking minimally each day.

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TWO BITS: Ice Bucket Challenge, Easley practices

1 » The Florida Gators football team and head coach Will Muschamp were officially singled out on Tuesday to participate in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden challenged the team, while Nick Saban called out Muschamp before he and the Alabama Crimson Tide completed the task.

UPDATE: Muschamp completed the challenge on Wednesday.

Check out the videos and another Gators news item…after the break!
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Steelers extend Gilbert thru 2019 with big contract

The Pittsburgh Steelers spent a total of $74 million on contract extensions for former Florida Gators offensive linemen this summer after signing offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert to a five-year extension on Tuesday.

Gilbert’s extension is worth $30 million, according to ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio, making his new six-year deal worth a maximum of $31 million as he will be paid $1.03 million during the final year of his rookie contract in 2014. The portion of his contract that is fully guaranteed is information that was not available as of press time.

“It means I am locked in hopefully as a Steeler for the rest of my career,” said Gilbert in a team press release. “It’s a blessing to work for a great organization, the Rooney family, Kevin Colbert and Coach [Mike] Tomlin. Just to be around in Pittsburgh, where they show you so much love, I couldn’t be happier and in a better place.”

Just over two months ago on June 12, the Steelers locked up center Maurkice Pouncey with a similar five-year, $44 million extension, including $13 million in fully-guaranteed money. The extension, which put his new contract at six years and up to $48 million, made him the highest-paid center in the NFL.

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8/19: Roper talks backup quarterbacks, Leak

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper met with the media on Tuesday after practice to provide his thoughts on the installation of his offense to this point. Roper also evaluated a number of Gators who should be big factors for Florida in 2014.

BACKUP BATTLE CONTINUES

Redshirt junior Jeff Driskel will be Florida’s starting quarterback. That much has been known for months. As far as who will be backing him up on game days, well, the Gators do not seem to be any closer to making a decision on that despite previously pinpointing this week as the ideal time to come to a conclusion.

Roper on Tuesday indicated that the battle between freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris is “fun to watch” with both players competing hard and still being good teammates to each other. He is just waiting to see some separation.

“The biggest thing is you look for production on their team reps as big as anything else. Sometimes production isn’t making a play, it’s keeping a bad play from being worse, if that makes sense. So really playing fast, playing quick, being decisive and being productive,” he explained.

The battle remains “fluid,” according to Roper, who said that even though it is “getting close to decision-making time,” the winner out of fall camp may not be the second-string quarterback throughout the entire season.

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