Fowler, Neal shine as defense prepares for Debut

Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Thursday just two days before the conclusion of spring practice with Saturday’s 2014 Orange & Blue Debut to discuss what fans can look forward to in the game.

BEAST, UNLEASHED

Junior BUCK defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. played some dominant football for the Gators in 2013 but there were also times he failed to make a significant impact.

Durkin is pleased with how his star pass rusher has not only been playing but also handling the offseason, noting that he can see the difference both in his ability and commitment to being a better all-around member of the program.

“The biggest difference with Dante is his consistency. We can all look at last year and say there were games where he played really, really well, was almost a dominant player…and there were games where that wasn’t there,” he explained.

“That was our challenge to him going into spring ball and going into next season. He’s really done that in the spring. He’s playing really determined. He understands. He sees it the same way. He took that challenge the right way. He’s been great all spring. He’s stepped up as a leader as well. He’s leading by example.”

Fowler was tired of his coaches taking away perks and some of the fancier things that the players get when they were under-performing and took it upon himself to ensure that Florida is no longer punished for giving a “4-and-8 effort” in practice.

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Durkin: New Florida offense is improving defense

Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Thursday for the first time this offseason and had an opportunity to provide some insight now that the team is two-thirds of the way through spring practice.

OFFENSE HELPING DEFENSE

Florida’s offensive shakeup is certainly a welcome sight for fans, but it is also benefiting the Gators own defense as it is giving the team the opportunity to practice against a more explosive spread set as opposed to the pro-style unit they have been working with for the last three seasons.

“It’s been great for us that way. That’s been good; we’re seeing it every day. In the past it’s been you get to game week, alright, we’re kind of changing the way we practice. We’re talking about tempo. We’re doing different things. Where now it’s really kind of becoming the norm,” explained Durkin.

“Now it’s going to be the flipside. We’re going to have to formulate how we’re going to practice against some two-back teams and power running game because we’re still going to face that, too. You got that handful of games every year where you’re going to face that. It’s kind of flipped that way, but in terms of spread and all that, it’s been great. Our offense is doing a great job, and I feel like they’re preparing us for things we’re going to see.”

For their part, Florida’s offensive playmakers are enjoying themselves.

“I like it man. It’s a great offense. We get to play in more space. It’s fast, very explosive,” said sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor. Added sophomore wide receiver Chris Thompson: “I feel like is more my style because I’m able to use my speed and we’re spreading the ball around.”

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Muschamp on new offense and a real spring game

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday to provide updates on team injuries, spring practice and the upcoming spring game.

INJURY UPDATES

Sophomore safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) is at 90 percent according to Muschamp, who said the Gators want to get him back as soon as possible but want to ensure that the injury fully heals first. “He needs to be a part of the spring game. He needs to get in front of the crowd and play,” Muschamp said. “He needs to be in practices 10, 11, 12, 13. I didn’t want to lose him another day [by practicing him Monday].”

Sophomore wide receiver Chris Thompson (undisclosed) has returned to practice, though redshirt freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (concussion) has not yet been given the go-ahead. Muschamp hoped that Johnson would be available to see the field on Wednesday.

RUNNING AWAY WITH THINGS

The Gators will be without junior running back Matt Jones this spring, but the productivity of Florida’s other rushers has apparently filled his void quite well.

Sophomore Kelvin Taylor is more confident running the ball and “much better in protection, which is where he needed to take some big steps,” Muschamp said. Taylor is obviously the most explosive of UF’s rushers and is easily the favorite to start the first game of the season after a strong conclusion to 2013.

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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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NOT Top 13 for 2013: Moments for Gators to forget

At the conclusion of each year, on Dec. 31 to be exact, OnlyGators.com takes a look back at the top on-field moments and off-field stories from the previous 12 months. This year, which will go down as a difficult and controversial one for the Florida Gators, we sort through the Not Top 13 for 2013 – games, actions and stories that fans of the program will look to put in the rear view mirror as the clock strikes midnight. Don’t forget to check out the Top 13 for 2013 to end your year on a positive note!

13 » OFFSEASON GARBAGE
The time between the conclusion of spring practice in April and the start of summer practice in July can be long and seemingly endless for some, especially the media, which drummed up controversy where none should have exited in May. Florida offensive line coach Tim Davis, taking part in a Gator Gathering with boosters, jokingly referred to Alabama head coach Nick Saban as “the devil himself.” The slight was made public and Saban took great offense, despite the fact that Davis was kidding. Davis got called “a classless backstabbing coward” for his joke and received other undue ridicule.

Two months later, one of the top college football headlines was a report that Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer actually turned in Florida (and running backs coach Brian White) for a petty secondary recruiting violation that the NCAA deemed to be meaningless. Meyer denied his actions and got taken to task for reporting his former school, especially considering he has previously been accused of violating NCAA secondary recruiting rules in a similar fashion.

12 » LACROSSE AND VOLLEYBALL COME UP SHORT
With revenge on their minds and the program’s first national title within reach, Florida lacrosse failed to take down Syracuse on the latter’s home turf in the quarterfinals of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. The Orange got the best of the Gators for the second-straight season, winning 13-9 on May 18 after picking up a controversial victory in the 2012 NCAA Final Four. UF had the opportunity to make SU pay while trying to win a championship but instead sent its fourth-year players – the first senior class in program history – home with a bitter taste in their mouths.

Florida volleyball saw its 2013 season come to a crashing halt when it fell 3-2 at home to Florida State in the second round of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. One of the top seeds in the tournament and a potential national title team, the Gators allowed their in-state rival to knock them out of postseason play as UF failed to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2004. Like the lacrosse team, which sent its upperclassmen out in a disappointing fashion, the same happened to senior middle back Chloe Mann.

11 » SAME TEAM!
The moment that checked in No. 1 on ESPN’s own Not Top Plays of 2013 was simply a microcosm of Florida being unable to get out of its own way this year. Redshirt senior center Jonotthan Harrison and redshirt junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar blocked each other on a rushing play that actually gained some positive yardage against Georgia Southern in the second-to-last game of the season. In the same game, redshirt freshman safety Marcus Maye was accused of gouging an opponent’s eyes.


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Freshman LB Jarrad Davis next man up for Gators

Thomas Edison once said that opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

With head coach Will Muschamp often referring to the Florida Gators as a blue-collar football program, one that expects its players to bring their lunch pails to practice each day, perhaps no player is a better representative of Edison’s ideal and Muschamp’s vision than freshman linebacker Jarrad Davis.

A three-star prospect out of Kingsland, GA, Davis was considered an afterthought in Florida’s 2013 recruiting class that included three other top-tier linebacker talents including five-star Alex Anzalone and four-stars Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin.

Yet it is Davis who has impressed the coaching staff and his teammates, played exceedingly well on special teams and is scheduled to fill in for Antonio Morrison in the starting lineup after the sophomore tore his meniscus on Saturday and was declared out for the season.

“When you do well with the role you get, your role increases,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said of Davis on Wednesday.

“Jarrad shows up a bunch. Whether it’s on special teams or the limited snaps he’s in on defense, he shows up. He’s about all the right things. He practices and works really hard, prepares himself well. He’s going to get more opportunities and we’re going to keep playing him more and more as we go.”

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11/13: Muschamp and Spurrier talk Florida-South Carolina, mutual respect; Murphy injury update

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 South Carolina Gamecocks and head coach Steve Spurrier.

INJURY UPDATES

While sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (sprained MCL) has already been ruled out of Saturday’s game, Muschamp said redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) and junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) remain day-to-day. Neither Murphy nor Roberson has practice this week as of press time.

Asked if Murphy’s shoulder was more seriously injured than it had been, Muschamp explained that nothing is torn but the player did experience some swelling and discomfort coming out of the last game. Florida did not think Murphy would start against Missouri, but he felt good enough at the start of the game and wound up playing. The same may happen this week, but he will have to see some practice time first.

Muschamp also said linebacker sophomore Antonio Morrison (torn meniscus) and freshman Jeremi Powell (torn ACL) were going under the knife Wednesday with Morrison’s surgery already completed. He will likely be out 2-3 months and back in time for spring practice.

MUTUAL RESPECT

Squaring off against Spurrier for the third time as coach of the Gators, Muschamp once again reiterated how much he respects the guy who helped build Florida football.

“I admire the job that he’s done as a head coach, period,” he said. “What he’s did and accomplished here at Florida in his 12 years and then the job he did at South Carolina and then the job he did at Duke and the Tampa Bay Bandits and the list goes on. He’s done it the right way, too. He does things the right way, does things first-class. He handles things the right way and I just have a lot of respect for the man.”

Spurrier shared a similar sentiment about Muschamp, saying the two have a good relationship and he very much respects how Muschamp is running the Gators.

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