2014 SEC Media Days – Will Muschamp pleased Florida’s roster, progress made in spring

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. and sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III represented the team on Monday by participating in the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama.

Below are highlights primarily from Muschamp’s sessions with the media.

BETTER THAN EXPECTED

If anyone is to believe in the possibility of Florida turning things around in 2014, rebounding from its worst season since 1979, it is going to start on the offensive side of the ball. Muschamp knew this and brought in offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to employ a spread offense and make the Gators a more dynamic playmaking team.

Not only will Roper’s offense put redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel back in the shotgun, where he is more comfortable and capable, it should give Florida more space to make plays. Muschamp is already extremely impressed with how much UF has been able to get accomplished in such a short period of time.

“I went back and looked at our numbers from 2012 when we were in the shotgun as opposed to being under center. When Jeff was in the shotgun, our yards were better, our explosive plays were better in both the run and pass game. He was recruited to Florida to be a gun quarterback,” he explained.

“In making that change, I felt like Kurt Roper was a great hire for us from a standpoint of a guy that philosophically is on the same page with me as what we want to be, that’s a balanced offense. …

“In our 15 days of springs, we got a lot more done than I thought we would. He’s an outstanding fundamental football coach, very positive. It was good to see our offensive kids having fun again on the field. Really excited about that. Probably what excites me the most is this is probably the most talent we’ve had on offense in my four years at Florida.”

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FOUR BITS: Parsons, Zunino, Macklin, Fulwood

1 » The Dallas Mavericks, unlikely to land Carmelo Anthony or LeBron James in free agency, have set their sights on Houston Rockets restricted free agent Chandler Parsons. ESPN.com’s Chris Broussard and Yahoo! Sports insider Adrian Wojnarowski both reported Monday that Parsons is very much on the open market considering a number of options but that Dallas is the most likely team other than Houston to make a major play for the small forward. Parsons is coming off a career-best year in which he averaged 16.6 points, 5.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists. The Rockets did not pick up his team option as the franchise was hoping to pursue a big-name free agent before potentially bringing him back into the fold. Houston hopes that some of the other major stars will make their decisions before July 10, which is when Dallas will likely make Parsons a serious offer; the Rockets would then have just three days to match the Mavericks’ term sheet.

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4/8: Muschamp pleased with Driskel, special teams & scrimmage, but lines, secondary need work

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday, four days before the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut spring game to provide updates on individual players and how the team as a whole is progressing heading into its final practices.

HE LOVES LONG KICKS, THAT (WAS) A PUNTING PROBLEM

Just one season after averaging 45.8 yards per punt and being a finalist for the Ray Guy award, punter Kyle Christy fell off in a major way. He was only able to average 39.6 yards on 21 attempts before losing his job to freshman Johnny Townsend, who was supposed to take a redshirt and not play during his first season.

Now a senior entering his last season with the Gators, Christy appears to have turned things around and was praised accordingly by Muschamp on Tuesday for his performance in the team’s last scrimmage. “Kyle Christy punted the ball extremely well, really hit the ball well,” he said.

With Townsend (wrist surgery) out for the remainder of spring and expected to miss 8-10 weeks, Christy has every possible opportunity to win his job back entering summer workouts and fall camp. He seems to be making the most of it.

“I think he’s had a good spring, I really do,” Muschamp added. “I think he’s punted well. He’s done some nice things, absolutely.”

Special teams as a whole was abhorrent for Florida last season, especially when it came to the kicking game. Muschamp also praised UF’s kickers for the work they did Saturday, combining to go 14-for-17 on field goal attempts.

Austin [Hardin] was 7-of-9 field goal-wise; he missed from 47 and 41. Frankie [Velez] was 7-of-8 and missed from 46,” he noted. “So, I thought we’ve made some improvement as far as being more accurate in kicking the football.”

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3/25: Florida defense years ahead of offense, Gators injury and depth chart updates

Spring practice remains underway for the Florida Gators with the team participating in workouts, many of which have been open to the public, for the second-straight week. Head coach Will Muschamp discussed practice, provided injury updates and went over a number of hot topics when he met with the media Tuesday afternoon.

FOUR DAYS VS. FOUR YEARS

Twice on Tuesday, Muschamp made it a point to note that there is quite a disparity between the respective preparedness of Florida’s offense and defense.

“Our team, let’s see, has had four days of installation offensively…and about four years of installation defensively. I think that puts things in perspective a little bit about where we are,” he explained.

Though the Gators defense lost most of its best players to graduation and the NFL Draft, the remaining student-athletes are all familiar with the system and simply building their knowledge base from one season to the next. In fact, Muschamp said Florida has “not cut back at all defensively” with formations or play calling, trying to make things “as hard as possible” on an offense that is much less comfortable in its own skin.

New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has only been able to work with his unit on the field for four days, but Muschamp noted that he is “really pleased with the production” the offense has shown thus far, saying it is “really playing fast, physical” and “really limiting negative plays.” He also praised Roper for his approach to this point.

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Gators 2014 Spring Football Preview: Offense

Spring practice for the Florida Gators football program begins on Wednesday, March 19 and lasts for 15 practices concluding with the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut spring game on Saturday, April 12. Below is the first of OnlyGators.com‘s two-part series that takes a look at the team on a position-by-position basis.

Due to extensive team injuries, more players started for Florida at times in 2013 than normal. In this case, the term “starter” is being used as applicable per position.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES
Returning starters (2/2): Junior D.J. Humphries, redshirt senior Chaz Green
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson

By the time the 2013 campaign came to an end, the Gators lost three starting tackles for the season. The first of those absentees was Green, who had locked up the starting right tackle job over the summer but tore his labrum in practice and missed the entire season. Then came Humphries, who started the first six games at left tackle but missed the final five after an injured MCL kept him hobbled for the remainder of the year. Florida’s offense struggled mightily, in large part due to a weak offensive line, but Green and Humphries will almost assuredly start for UF as long as they can remain healthy. Johnson did not play in 2013 after suffering a physical setback early in camp but impressed the coaching staff with his athleticism when he was able to practice as a part of the scout team. He is a candidate to see a good number of snaps this year.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS
Returning starters (0/2): None
Fresh faces: Junior transfer Drew Sarvary, freshman Kavaris Harkless

With Jon Halapio and Kyle Koehne graduating – and Florida’s starting left guard changing positions (more on that below) – new offensive line coach Mike Summers will have the opportunity to hand-pick some players to help solidify the unit. Sarvary – a First Team All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference selection last season – and redshirt junior Trip Thurman will compete for the jobs, as will senior Trenton Brown and redshirt junior Tyler Moore, both of whom started games at tackle for the Gators in 2013. Florida’s guards are a work in progress, no two ways about it. Harkless could get in the mix as well though it is tough to know what UF can get from a freshman offensive lineman in the spring.

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Florida freshmen wideouts still works in progress

“It’s not, ‘Add water, instant player,’” is one of Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s favorite lines, something he often says when discussing how far most freshmen normally need to come from a development perspective before being capable of stepping onto a college football field.

Florida’s five-player freshman wide receiver class is apparently no exception to Muschamp’s slogan. At least not this season.

Despite the Gators being in desperate need of serious playmaking talent along the outside, the team has gotten very little out of some of its youngest wideouts.

Only three of the five have played this season with those that have totaling 18 receptions, 128 yards and one touchdown through 10 games.

“Everybody hears about how these kids are graded out in recruiting and everything is pretty at that time. But when you get in the game going against corners that are experienced in this league and defenses that are big and fast, you get lost sometimes in coverage,” explained offensive coordinator Brent Pease on Tuesday.

“You just got to compete. You’ve got to play faster … until you really have the strength to dominate somebody.”

Ahmad Fulwood, a four-star prospect out of Jacksonville, FL, is leading the charge with 11 receptions for 92 yards and the score, an impressive grab that came to Saturdays ago in Florida’s loss to Vanderbilt.

“Ahmad has come on and put himself into the rotation and done a good job,” Pease said. “What I see from him is he’s finally catching up to the speed of the game and gotten more consistent catching.”

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11/18: Muschamp previews Georgia Southern; Murphy improving but not yet cleared

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss his team’s 19-14 loss to the No. 10/11 South Carolina Gamecocks and upcoming home game against the Georgia Southern Eagles on Saturday, Nov. 23. The game will kick off at 2:00 p.m. and air live only on pay-per-view.

RETURN IN QUESTION

It is not known whether redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) will be available to play on Saturday against Georgia Southern, and it is not expected that a decision will be made until later in the week.

Muschamp said that Murphy “threw lightly” on Sunday and felt more comfortable than he had in a while. But he has not yet been cleared to practice in full and the team currently preparing for redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg to be the starter.

Murphy called himself “day-to-day” and noted that he felt much better than last week. He estimated that he played at 60-70 percent against Missouri and was even healthier than that two weeks later when taking on Georgia. However, he reinjured the shoulder during the Vanderbilt game, which is why he was unable to play last Saturday.

“It’s getting better. After the game last week I really couldn’t move it, but now I’m able to move it and rotate and stuff like that. I got range of motion and stuff like that. It’s a lot better, getting better,” Murphy said.

Now estimating his health at 70-75 percent, Murphy hopes to get back on the field Saturday but cautioned that it will be a mutual decision between himself and the trainers.

“It’s all about if the ball’s coming out efficiently. If I can’t make the throws in practice, it’s not going to happen in the game,” he said. “Sitting out not practicing doesn’t help. It’s just kind of something we’re trying to figure out what’s best for the team and how we can be successful.”

INJURY UPDATES

Junior cornerback Marcus Roberson was suspended for the South Carolina game but would not have been cleared to play anyway due to an ankle injury he suffered against Vanderbilt. Muschamp said Roberson “ran well” on Sunday and will hopefully return to practice during the week. As long as he’s cleared medically, he can play on Saturday as his suspension as just a one-week punishment.

Additionally, Gators sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL) remains doubtful despite moving around on Sunday. The team hopes to have an update mid-week. Freshman wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood, who took a hard hit late in the fourth quarter against the Gamecocks and looked to be shaken up, did not suffer a concussion but rather hurt his shoulder. He will be good to go this week.

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11/12: Pease calls Murphy game-time decision, talks Mornhinweg and job security

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease met with the media on Tuesday ahead of the 10th game of the season against the South Carolina Gamecocks on Saturday, Nov. 16. The game is set to kick off at 7 p.m. and air live on ESPN2.

QUARTERBACK A GAME-TIME DECISION

Redshirt junior starting quarterback Tyler Murphy announced Monday that trainers considered him day-to-day as he rehabilitated from a sore shoulder that has been ailing him over the last few weeks. Though rumors ran rampant that Murphy was actually out for the season, OnlyGators.com confirmed with a source close to the player that he is indeed day-to-day and trying to get back for the South Carolina game.

Pease said the exact same thing on Tuesday, noting that it would be up to the trainers to determine whether or not Murphy goes on Saturday.

“I think it’s probably a game-time decision. … He’s got to get in some practice time at some point in time and at least go out. … It’s about his comfort, ability of how to throw and spin it,” Pease said.

Murphy being a game-time decision means redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg has taken all of the repetitions in practice and may very well be starting against the Gamecocks and their, at times, extremely talented defense.

Mornhinweg has never stepped on the field for the Gators, but Pease noted that he has received a fair share of first-team reps in recent weeks.

“We were in it a couple of weeks ago when Skyler was taking all the reps going into the Missouri game. It’s not something that is a new situation or us, but you got to plan and make sure the things we do with Skyler – Murphy will be able to perform – fit things around both of them in a game plan that is really going to benefit our team,” he said.

“He’s ready to go. The thing that’s tough on a kid in his situation is just experience. You hope you never really have to play with a redshirt freshman, and nothing against him, because he’s a smart kid, he works hard. In a developmental situation, you hope you get into your sophomore or junior year before you get into that situation whether you’re competing for the job or in a back-up role ready to play.”

Should Murphy be ruled out and Mornhinweg start, redshirt junior walk-on Christian Provancha would serve as the back-up quarterback as UF is trying to preserve freshman Max Staver’s redshirt.

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