Gators 2014 Spring Football Preview: Defense

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.

PART ONE: Offense

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.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt senior Leon Orr
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshmen Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick, sophomore Joey Ivie

Losing Dominique Easley so early in the season gave senior Darious “Bear” Cummings more field time than he likely would’ve had during his first year with the program as a transfer from East Mississippi. So while Florida will only be entering 2014 with one returning starter in Orr, who should be primed to finally put everything together at nose in his final season with the team, Cummings may also be poised to have a breakout year if everything lines up correctly. Ivie was on his way to a redshirt before having it pulled due to depth concerns; he saw action in three of the final games. Brantley and Bostwick, on the other hand, were able to go the distance without seeing the field in 2013. Both are expected to be major contributors this year with head coach Will Muschamp mentioning more than once last season that he was on the verge of pulling Bostwick’s redshirt and getting him some playing time.

DEFENSIVE ENDS
Returning starters (2/2): Juniors Dante Fowler, Jr. and Jonathan Bullard
Fresh faces: Redshirt sophomore Alex McCalister, redshirt freshman Jordan Sherit

Fowler returns as Florida’s starter at the hybrid Buck linebacker/defensive end spot after leading the Gators with 10.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in 2013. He also checked in second on the team with 3.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries, amassing 50 total tackles in the process. Bullard was unable to find much of a groove at end – he rotated in at tackle on occasion – but still managed to be productive; he should be even more so this year as a matured junior. Neither McCalister, who entered the season with high praise from the coaching staff, nor classmate Brian Cox, Jr. saw much action last season, and Sherit (torn meniscus) wound up not stepping foot on the field in 2014. Defensive line coach Brad Lawing will have his work cut out for him not only helping his starters improve but coming up with a solid second-string to spell them at times.

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3/11: Muschamp provides Florida football updates ahead of the start of 2014 spring practice

With the Florida Gators set to begin 2014 spring practice on Wednesday, March 19, head coach Will Muschamp media Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics concerning the team. He provided injury updates, offseason player evaluations and went over a number of hot topics entering the season.

INJURY UPDATES

Redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose (ACL): Cleared on March 28 – “Has been in our offseason program, has progressed very well, and we’re pleased with his progress and where he is. He’ll be in non-contact situations for us in the spring.”

Freshman RB Brandon Powell (foot): Cleared late in spring practice – “Had a pre-existing issue with his foot from high school, had a small fracture. We decided in February to go ahead and have surgery and put a pin in that. … To that point, in January, had done an outstanding job in our conditioning drills. Great change of direction and speed. We’re really excited about that. He’s one of the guys we’re really excited about. It’s unfortunate that something like that happened from high school.”

Redshirt senior defensive tackle Leon Orr (wrist): Cleared on May 1 – “He has a fractured wrist from the season. It was a situation at the end of the season, he had about a month to go in the year and we felt like it would rehab itself. Going back and looking at it the first of February, we got a second opinion of whether to have surgery. … He would probably have been limited reps anyway with as many young guys as we need up front go help reps.”

Junior running back Matt Jones (meniscus): Cleared on May 1 – “Matt Jones is progressing well. … He will not go through spring. He will not go through non-contact. He will rehab there in the pit during practice but extremely pleased with his progress and where he is.”

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Muschamp updates Gators injuries, filling voids

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Wednesday primarily to discuss the new recruiting class on National Signing Day, but he also touched on a number of issues concerning the team with six weeks to go until the start of spring practice on March 19 ahead of the 2014 season.

INJURED STARTERS STILL ON THE MEND

The Gators’ rash of season-ending injuries last season was highlighted by two big losses on the offensive side of the ball – redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (fibula) and junior Matt Jones (knee).

While Driskel is slowly but surely working his way back – Muschamp noted that he has resumed jogging and is expected to be cleared for the start of spring practice – Jones on Wednesday went under the knife for the second of potentially three surgeries to repair a complete radial tear of his meniscus.

Doctors have told Muschamp that Jones’s meniscus was already “90 percent healed,” which puts him “further along” than the initial projection for his return, but he will not be able to suit up in March and remains on target to get back to work in the summer.

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1/13: Will Muschamp updates the Florida Gators’ major injuries, talks plans for offseason and 2014

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday for the first time since the conclusion of the 2013 season in which his team finished 4-8. Muschamp updated the team’s injuries and provided some thoughts about a number of subjects.

Additional information about Florida’s offense, the three new members of its coaching staff and the Gators’ nine early enrollees will be published in subsequent posts.

CLOSING STATEMENT

“You are what your record is. I’m a 4-8 coach and we’ve got a 4-8 ball club. We need to work hard to get better and improve in every facet.”

INJURY UPDATES FOR SPRING PRACTICE

» Redshirt sophomore running back Matt Jones: “He had a radial tear of the meniscus, which basically splits the meniscus in half. … Generally, when you have a radial tear, one of two things you try and mend the meniscus back where you take it out and create a bone on bone situation, which, for a running back, is not good. In the first operation, our orthopedics put 60 percent back, which is very good. We’re very optimistic about the meniscus being fine. We’re going to go back and build the quad back and then we’re going to come back in three to four weeks to have a scope to repair the remaining 40 percent. And our orthopedics feel very confident that they’re going to be able to do so. But it is a little more lengthy. When you hear a ‘meniscus,’ you feel, ‘OK, it’s just a meniscus.’ You go in and reattach it and it’s fine. But this was torn all the way through. It’s a little more serious than a regular meniscus. He will miss spring; we feel like he’ll be ready to go for summer.”

» Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (broken fibula): “We did bump back spring [practice] about 10 days or so, which [he] should be fine. His rehab is coming very well.”

» Redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose (torn ACL): “He is doing well with the ACL, but he probably won’t be in any contact drills.”

» Redshirt junior offensive tackle Tyler Moore (elbow): “Tyler Moore should be fine for spring. He has another X-ray in about 2-3 weeks that will tell us more about when he will be clear for contact, but he should be fine for spring.

» Second-year linebackers Alex Anzalone (shoulder), Jeremi Powell (torn ACL) and Matt Rolin (torn ACL): “[All three] will be out. Rehab is going very well.”

» Redshirt freshman offensive lineman Octavius Jackson (shoulder): “Octavius Jackson had shoulder surgery on a chronic shoulder. We’ll know more about his future in the coming weeks. He’s having some issues there with his shoulder.”

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FOUR BITS: Muschamp, volleyball, Sloan, Driskel

1 » Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp apparently provided Pat Dooley, columnist for The Gainesville Sun, with a few minutes of his time at some point over the last week and dropped a couple tidbits of information about the program and where it is headed. Below are some of the most notable nuggets from the 2,000-word column, much of which makes excuses provides reasoning and perspective for Florida’s tough 2013 campaign. You can check out in full by clicking here.

* Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel, who just last year saw his team get ravaged by injuries before finishing the 2012 season 5-7 (2-6 SEC), called Muschamp personally to provide support. “He said he couldn’t imagine what we were going through. I got a lot of calls like that. Everyone has injuries, but I had guys in this league who called and said, ‘I don’t know how I would have handled it.’”

* Out of all the injured Gators, only sophomore running back Matt Jones (torn meniscus) and freshmen linebackers Matt Rolin (torn ACL) and Alex Anzalone (shoulder surgery) are expected to miss spring practice. Dooley reports: “Muschamp told me he plans to bump the start of spring practice to later in the year to make sure [junior quarterback Jeff] Driskel is completely rehabilitated after his leg injury.”

* Muschamp said he tried to be more easy-going this season in order to combat much of the negativity the players had to face each week. He regrets that decision. “I tried to make it fun for them and they were used to me being an [expletive] for two years.”

Check out four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
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11/27: Muschamp talks Gators injuries, Pease

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp made his scheduled appearance Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference‘s weekly coaches teleconference and touched on a number of topics surrounding his team heading into Saturday’s game against the Florida State Seminoles.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp said redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) is “still questionable” though he did throw some early in the week. Others who might be able to play include junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) and sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard (knee).

Sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL), redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor (MCL) and freshman LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder) are all out for the game.

OFFENSIVE EVALUATION

In his only question of the day, Muschamp was asked to evaluate the job offensive coordinator Brent Pease has done as a play-caller this season.

“I think when you lose three offensive tackles and two quarterbacks and a 1,000-yard rusher, it makes it very difficult to call plays,” he replied. “Brent is a good play-caller and an outstanding football coach. It’s been frustrating for all of us, including him, in our production offensively this year.”

Muschamp then provided one more statement which fits closer in line with his comments regarding the offense over the last couple of weeks. “We want to do what we got to do to win games. That’s what you want to do, and we haven’t done that this year,” he said.

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11/25: More Florida injuries; Muschamp on coaching changes, fixing the Gators in 2014

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss his team’s 26-20 loss to the Georgia Southern Eagles and upcoming season finale at home against the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, Nov. 30. The game will kick off at 12:00 p.m. and air live on ESPN.

INJURY UPDATES

The Gators will be without at least two more players on Saturday as redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor (sprained MCL) and freshman LB Alex Anzalone (dislocated shoulder) have already been ruled out for the game. Taylor will avoid surgery, but Anzalone will be forced to go under the knife.

Muschamp also called redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) questionable and listed sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (sprained MCL) as doubtful.

Junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) has already been cleared to play, and sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard (knee) is probable to see the field.

COACHING CHANGES COMING?

Muschamp refused to address the recent reports that it has already been decided that adjustments will be made to Florida’s offensive staff.

“There’s no changes that have been made at this time,” he said. “I’m not ready to make any statement on that at this point. We’re still playing out the season and those guys are going to coach their butts off. I’ll make that decision when I think it’s ready.”

In a similar vein, Muschamp was adamant that he was not at all concerned about his future with the Gators.

“Absolutely not,” he said when asked if he was worried about his job. After being questioned about his confidence in returning next season, Muschamp similarly answered, “Absolutely.”

He also once again put the blame on his shoulders – “It’s on me. We’ll get it fixed. I can assure you of that” – but admitted that it was nice to have the support of the players in addition to that of the administration.

“I think it’s important. Obviously I think that they understand where we are and where we’re headed with the program.” Muschamp said. “They have total confidence, in my opinion, of where we’re headed. I think they understand the plan and what we need to do … as we move forward.”

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11/23: Florida vs. Georgia Southern post-game report; Muschamp places blame on Gators offense

The Florida Gators (4-7) lost their sixth-straight on Saturday, dropping their first game to an FCS opponent in program history and guaranteeing a losing season for the first time since going winless in 1979. The Georgia Southern Eagles (7-4) upended the Gators 26-20 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL, dominating both sides of the ball on the way to their first-ever victory against an FBS program.

Following his team’s loss, the worst in program history, Florida head coach Will Muschamp met with the media to provide some of his thoughts on the defeat.

DEFLECTING BLAME

Though Muschamp has made a habit in the past of taking accountability and putting pressure on his own shoulders following a loss, he did exactly opposite on Saturday – even if there were times in which he squeezed in similar phrasing.

After the game, Muschamp criticized Florida’s offense, which was led by a third-string quarterback in redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg but nevertheless only generated 279 total yards and 20 points on the afternoon.

“You got to change the scoreboard offensively. You got to be able to change the scoreboard. We’ve just struggled scoring points offensively. It’s been a week-in, week-out occurrence. My job to get it fixed and it will get fixed,” he said.

“Very disappointed for our program, an embarrassment in this situation. We had our opportunities there, the kids kept playing hard. It’s very difficult for us to create explosive plays to get anything down the field. Just don’t ever do it.”

Asked to pinpoint the Gators’ offensive struggles, Muschamp explained that there was no one thing wrong with it but rather the entire side of the ball was failing as a whole. Should he somehow remain Florida’s coach after this season, Muschamp has certainly set up his offensive staff to take the fall.

“Where do you start? From a protection standpoint, the run game, being able to consistently run the ball, move the front. It’s been an occurrence really for us all season for the most part,” he said. “We just have a hard time in protection. We hit the play-action pass where the quarterback got his chin splattered when he threw the ball, too.

“It’s a combination of things. It’s just hard right now. It’s hard, as many moving parts as we’ve had, it’s difficult. It becomes infectious. It’s hard. When you give up 17 points, you hope you can score 17. So it’s hard right now. You can look at where we’ve rolled since about middle of the season to this point. That’s what’s happened to us.”

Nevermind that UF offense, indeed with a third-string signal caller and an incredibly banged up offensive line, managed to generate 20 points while the team’s defense coughed up 26 to Georgia Southern via 429 yards of total offense.

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