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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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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Gators OT Tyler Moore falls off scooter, breaks elbow; sixth Florida starter out for the season

The Florida Gators have lost their sixth starter – fifth on the offensive side of the ball – due to injury as redshirt sophomore tackle Tyler Moore is out for the remainder of the season after falling off a scooter and breaking his right elbow Tuesday night.

Moore was returning home from dinner at the dining hall following practice.

“Unfortunately, last night Tyler Moore was riding home on his scooter, came around a curve there, back tire came out from underneath him and he got a compound fracture of his elbow. He’s having surgery as we speak, so he’ll be out for the season. We’ll know more about his prognosis and how low [he'll be out] after the surgery, obviously,” head coach Will Muschamp confirmed Wednesday during his weekly appearance on the Southeastern Conference football coaches’ teleconference.

“He’s a good young man and has really done everything we’ve asked on and off the field. He’s an outstanding member of our football team, and it’s just very unfortunate.

“I just hurt for him.”

It has been a rough season for Moore, a transfer from Nebraska who did not play in 2012. He was expected to be a depth addition to Florida’s roster but was forced to replacing redshirt junior Chaz Green (torn labrum – season) as the starting right tackle. Moore struggled in the first seven games of the season and was especially bad against Missouri when he committed multiple penalties and gave up a number of sacks.

“I just tried to get over it as quick as I could, still felt a little bad after the game and into the bye week. But slowly throughout the bye week, tried to work as hard as I could to show them that I was ready to play for the next game and slowly feeling like myself again,” said Moore on Tuesday about his performance at Mizzou.

The Gators began working with junior Trenton Brown (6-foot-8, 360-pounds) at right tackle, but Moore was suddenly thrust back into the starting lineup when sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (sprained MCL) went down in practice last Monday.

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Time for change on Florida’s most offensive line

How poor has play been throughout the Florida Gators’ offensive line over the last two weeks? Consider the fact that opposing defensive linemen are racking up weekly awards from the Southeastern Conference each Monday by having career games against Florida’s atrocious front on Saturday.

Two weekends ago, LSU sophomore defensive end Danielle Hunter put together the “most complete game of his career,” according to his school, with seven tackles including one for loss (on third down) and two pass breakups in just his fourth career start. He was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.

The Tigers’ defense dominated the Gators’ offensive line, holding Florida to 240 total yards while recording season-highs of four sacks, eight tackles for loss and five quarterback hurries.

It was more of the same last Saturday when Missouri redshirt senior DE Michael Sam tore up UF’s offensive front. Sam knocked Florida back 22 yards on three sacks and registered one more tackle and quarterback hurry on the afternoon. He was named SEC Defensive Player of the Week.

These Tigers held the Gators to just 61 yards of total offense in the first half.

Florida’s offense certainly has its share of problems, both on and off the field, but the most but the biggest is undoubtedly the incredibly offensive play of its line.

“We’re inept offensively. We have a hard time running it and certainly can’t protect very well,” Muschamp said after the loss to Mizzou. “We’re struggling right now to get the right combination, to get guys blocked, the run and the pass game. We’re doing everything we can do. We shuffle guys around. We just got to get better.”

The biggest issue for the Gators has been the play of its tackles.

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Limping, struggling Gators down but not out

When looking at why the No. 22/22 Florida Gators (4-2, 3-1 SEC) have already taken a step back from the impressive 11-2 season they put together a year ago, start with the fact that the program is currently without 18 players that either started in 2012 or replaced last year’s starters in 2013 and has also been forced to demote two more starters due to severe lack of production.

The Gators lost 13 starters from their 2012 squad including nine seniors that graduated and four juniors that declared for the 2013 NFL Draft.

Florida entered 2013 without incumbents at left tackle, left guard, running back, wide receiver, tight end and kicker. UF also had to replace the entire interior of its defense including both defensive tackles, all three linebackers and both safeties.

The Gators have lost five more starters to season-ending injuries since Aug. 7.

Redshirt junior right tackle Chaz Green (shoulder) and redshirt senior kick returner Andre Debose (torn ACL) were both knocked out before the season began. Then, over a 22-day span from Sept. 21 to Oct. 12, Florida lost junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (broken fibula), senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley (torn ACL), and on Saturday, sophomore running back Matt Jones (torn meniscus).

Head coach Will Muschamp acknowledged Monday that he has never experienced a more injury-plagued season in more than two decades manning the sidelines.

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Gators RB Matt Jones out for the season

Florida Gators sophomore running back Matt Jones was officially ruled out for the remainder of the 2013 season on Monday after tearing his meniscus early in the first half of his team’s 17-6 loss to the LSU Tigers on Saturday afternoon.

“Very disappointed that Matt Jones will be out for the season. He’s having surgery as we speak,” head coach Will Muschamp announced during his weekly press conference on Monday. “We thought it was a sprain in the knee. Turns out it was a torn meniscus. He definitely will be out.”

Muschamp said after Saturday’s game that trainers did not think the injury to Jones’s left knee was serious but would evaluate it further after returning to Gainesville, FL.

“Very unfortunate. I hate it for Matt,” he added. “He’s a great young man. And to go through what he’s been through this fall, missing most of fall camp, working his way back in shape, starting to feel good about himself as far as how he felt physically, mentally. And then to have this setback is just disheartening for all of us.”

Jones sat out nearly all of fall camp while recovering from a serious viral infection and missed the first game of the season against Toledo as a precaution.

He returned at Miami but struggled in his first action back, fumbling the ball and picking up just 47 yards on 18 carries.

Jones finally broke out three weeks later at Kentucky, taking a career-high 28 touches for a career-high 176 yards while scoring a touchdown for the second-straight week.

He totaled 339 yards and two touchdowns in just over four full games.

Redshirt junior Mack Brown will step in for Jones as Florida’s primary running back. As the starter against Toledo, Brown had a career game by rushing for 112 yards and two touchdowns on 25 touches.

He is averaging 3.7 yards per carry in 2013.

Freshman Kelvin Taylor will also see his workload increase. He is averaging 6.1 yards per carry this season and was second on the Gators with 52 yards on Saturday at LSU.

Jones is the fifth starter Florida has lost for the season joining junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley, redshirt junior right tackle Chaz Green and redshirt senior kick returner Andre Debose on the mend.

A surgically-repaired torn meniscus usually requires at least two months of recovery before rehabilitation. The Gators did not provide a specific timetable for Jones but should have one after the surgery is completed.

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Gators DT Dominique Easley out for the season

Florida Gators senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley, a leader of the defense and one of the unit’s most explosive players through the team’s three games, will miss the rest of the 2013 season after tearing the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and medial meniscus in his right knee during practice on Tuesday.

Head coach Will Muschamp officially announced Easley’s injury on Wednesday afternoon after downplaying it earlier in the day during the weekly SEC football coaches’ media teleconference.

“I talked to Dominique and the team this afternoon and we will continue to look for his leadership and experience throughout the season. Watching any of your players go through this is one of the hardest things about being a coach,” he said in a school release. “Obviously, it is hardest on Dominique. We are disappointed for him, but we will be there for him every step of the way through his surgery and rehab process.”

“It was non-contact,” said defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin on Wednesday. “He was turning, running on a screen pass and just tweaked it a little bit, it looked like on tape.”

Easley is the second big-time starter and team leader to go down for the Gators in a four-day span as Florida also lost junior quarterback Jeff Driskel to a broken right fibula during Saturday’s 31-17 victory over Tennessee.

“Gatornation thank you for all of 4 yrs of sticking wi th me but god has something else planned for and have no worries #believe,” he wrote on his Twitter account.

He is also the sixth UF player (fourth starter) to suffer a season-ending injury joining Driskel (ACL), redshirt junior right tackle Chaz Green (labrum), redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose (ACL), freshman defensive back Nick Washington (shoulder) and freshman linebacker Matt Rolin (ACL). Green, Debose and Rolin were each knocked out for the season during fall camp.

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