Banged up offensive line limiting Gators in spring

In each of the last two offseasons, the Florida Gators battled through deficiencies on the offensive line during spring practice. In 2011 and 2012, low scholarship numbers limited what Florida was able to do on the practice fields. The Gators remain handcuffed in 2013 but for now for a different reason – a rash of injuries that has prevented head coach Will Muschamp from running practice the way he wants day in and day out.

“What really hurt us is on the offensive line. Right now we got six healthy guys,” Muschamp said Tuesday after announcing that redshirt sophomore Trip Thurman (shoulder) will likely be out an extended period of time.

“Our numbers are good as far as scholarships – we got 11 guys on scholarship right now for spring which is about normal of what you want with the incoming guys coming in to get your numbers to 15-17 in that range – but we’ve been hit.”

Thurman (assuming he is out for the rest of spring) joins redshirt junior Chaz Green (ankle) and redshirt junior Ian Silberman (shoulder) as players sidelined until at least the summer. Additionally, redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio (knee) is extremely limited and redshirt freshman Jessamen Dunker remains suspended indefinitely at the very least until his legal cases are settled.

That leaves six scholarship offensive lineman for Muschamp, offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis to work with: sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries, redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia (also dealing with a back issue), redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore, redshirt senior center Jonotthan Harrison, redshirt senior Kyle Koehne and redshirt freshman Quinteze Williams, who is playing offensive line for the first time after shifting over from the defensive line.

In other words, not much at all.

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Muschamp, Pease discuss Florida Gators offense

With the Florida Gators set to begin 2013 spring practice on Wednesday, head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease met with the media Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics concerning the team’s offense.

RELATED: Spring depth chart released | Muschamp, Durkin on defense, team

IMPROVING PRODUCTION AT QUARTERBACK

Junior Jeff Driskel returns as the entrenched starter at quarterback and has the full backing of both Muschamp and Pease going forward. Both coaches reiterated that they expect him to take a big step forward in 2013 now that he has a year of action under his belt and can spend the entire offseason continuing to educate himself with the offense and opposing defenses in order to become a better overall player.

» Muschamp on what Driskel has been doing in the offseason: “I think Jeff has really attacked the offseason from a mental standpoint as far as film is concerned, really studying what he can do to be a better quarterback. That’s part of the maturation process in becoming a better player is understandings what you go to do to be successful. […] I think the game continues to slow down for you. First year as a full-time starter, first year in a scheme in a system with new terminology and now you’re not splitting reps 50-50. He’s going to get all the turns and all the reps with the same people, which I think obviously will help us with some throwing game issues.

» Muschamp on what Driskel can specifically improve on: “As a player and as a competitor, knowing Jeff and talking to Jeff, he wants to go back and improve everything. But I think you take things in segments. ‘I need to improve here; I need to improve there.’ Within saying that, year two in the system, the game slows down a little bit. A better understanding of protection, a better understanding of where the ball needs to go, where you’re protected and where you’re not protected. I think those are the things that, as much as anything, that are going to help him to understand that. The passing game concepts versus middle field versus split safety, where to take the ball. I think all of those things, again, that’s easy to talk about but when it’s happening in front of 90,000 people against some of the people we play against, it’s a fast, fast game. Those are things, to me, as far as just the mental intensity of where we need to go with the football in situations. That will slow down for him in his second year. And he’s also not splitting reps. And he’ll be working with the first-team receivers all the time. I think you couple that with a lot of things and I think Brent does a really great job developing the quarterback position and recognizing things he needs to improve on.”

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Florida Gators 2013 spring practice depth chart

Readers may be excited to take a first look at the Florida Gators 2013 spring practice depth chart (see below). Don’t be. As he explained in each of his first two springs with the program, head coach Will Muschamp repeated Wednesday that he does not put a lot of stock in the spring’s first depth chart. In fact, back in 2011, he said it is “not worth the paper it is printed on.” In other words, the depth chart below is just a starting-off point for 2013 and plenty can change between now and the start of the season. Nevertheless, below is the depth chart as it was presented on March 12.

“Obviously we gave you a depth chart. I know it’s just the most critical thing that’s going to happen in the next 12 months of your year,” Muschamp said Tuesday.

RELATED: Muschamp, Pease on offense | Muschamp, Durkin on defense, team

Florida omitted players who are injured and not participating at all in spring practice. A list of those players can be found at the end of this post.

OFFENSE

QB: 6 Jeff Driskel, 10 Tyler Murphy, 17 Skyler Mornhinweg
RB: 24 Matt Jones, 33 Mack Brown, 21 Kelvin Taylor
FB: 43 Hunter Joyer, 29 Rhaheim Ledbetter* OR 25 Gideon Ajagbe*
WR (X): 1 Quinton Dunbar, 4 Andre Debose, 11 Demarcus Robinson
WR (Z): 15 Loucheiz Purifoy*, 88 Solomon Patton^, Raphael Andrades
F Position: 8 Trey Burton, 13 Latroy Pittman, 30 Michael McNeely
TE: 88 Clay Burton, 87 Tevin Westbrook, 18 Kent Taylor, 84 Colin Thompson

LT: 70 D.J. Humphries, 63 Trip Thurman
LG: 76 Max Garcia, 64 Kyle Koehne
C: 72 Jonotthan Harrison, 64 Kyle Koehne
RG: 67 Jon Halapio^, 64 Kyle Koehne
RT: 73 Tyler Moore, 98 Quinteze Williams*

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Gators 2013 Spring Football Preview: Offense

Spring practice for the Florida Gators football program begins on Wednesday, March 13 and lasts for 15 practices concluding with the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut spring game on Saturday, April 6 at 1 p.m. Below is the first of OGGOA‘s new two-part series that takes a look at the team on a position-by-position basis.

PART TWO: Defense & Special Teams

OFFENSIVE TACKLES
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt junior Chaz Green
Fresh faces: Redshirt sophomore Tyler Moore

Out goes Xavier Nixon, in comes sophomore D.J. Humphries. After starting three games as a true freshman, Humphries – a former five-star prospect – appears to be all but a shoe-in for the left tackle job. However, both he and Green (who started 10 games at right tackle) have plenty of competition ahead of them. Moore started as a true freshman at Nebraska, sat out the 2012 season while attending a community college and is therefore eligible to play right away. He will be pushing Humphries and Green all spring is certainly talented enough to win either or both starting jobs. Chances are he will wind up either winning the right tackle role while Green continues to recover from ankle surgery or play well enough where he spells both players throughout games.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt senior Jon Halapio
Fresh faces: Redshirt junior Max Garcia

With James Wilson finally graduating, the starting left guard job is wide open and offensive line coach Tim Davis has a number of ways in which he can fill the position. Redshirt junior Ian Silberman is the only player on the roster who actually started at guard in 2012 but versatile redshirt senior Kyle Koehne (three starts at right tackle) is also quite experienced in SEC play. Garcia, who started 12 games at tackle for Maryland, has been moved inside and was even listed as the first-string left guard on the initial spring practice depth chart. Redshirt freshman Jessamen Dunker (if reinstated to the team) is a possibility at left guard as well. Halapio (28-straight starts) has a stranglehold on the right guard job.

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1/18: Dunker suspended, more Gators leave, injury updates, Sugar Bowl review, 2013 preview

Florida Gators head football coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday to wrap up the 2012 season, look ahead to the upcoming spring practice and discuss some of the recent changes and issues within the program.

PUNISHMENT HANDED DOWN

Muschamp announced Friday that freshman offensive lineman Jessamen Dunker has been suspended indefinitely from all team activities pending the outcome of his legal affairs. Dunker was arrested Monday on a third-degree felony charge of grand theft of a motor vehicle as well as a second-degree misdemeanor charge of driving with a suspended license. He was released on his own recognizance on Thursday and claims that he paid $600 for the scooter not knowing it had been reported stolen.

“I met with Jessamen Dunker [Friday] morning. I have suspended him from all team activities until we get more information,” he said. “I just met to him face-to-face [Friday] morning for the first time for 15 minutes. Once we get a little bit more information, then we’ll move forward, but he’s suspended from the team at this time. We’ll address that further when I know more.”

THREE MORE GATORS LEAVING PROGRAM

It was also announced Friday by Muschamp that redshirt juniors wide receiver Stephen Alli and defensive lineman Kedric Johnson will both be graduating in the spring and moving on from the Florida football program.

Muschamp said that Alli plans to go to graduate school; should he remain at UF, he will have the opportunity to join the team as a graduate assistant. Johnson “may play somewhere [else] next fall,” Muschamp said, and the two are planning to discuss it.

Furthermore, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Tommy Jordan, who never stepped on the field for the Gators due to nagging shoulder problems, has applied for a medical exception to remain on scholarship but no longer play football.

CLEANING UP SOME INJURIES

Muschamp once again noted that redshirt junior right guard Jon Halapio (knee), redshirt sophomore right tackle Chaz Green (ankle) and redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) all had scopes on their various injuries this month.

“We expect all three of those [players] to participate at some point in spring. I don’t know when that will happen, how much contact there will be. I’ll know more as we move forward,” he said.

Junior WR Solomon Patton (broken arm) is “doing really well,” according to Muschamp. He has already been cleared for non-contact work during the spring.

Additionally, sophomore punter Kyle Christy had minor shoulder surgery and will be fine for spring football. “He played pretty well with it. I don’t know why we did surgery, but they felt like he needed it,” Muschamp said.

Read the rest of what Muschamp had to say…after the break!
Continue Reading » 1/18: Dunker suspended, more Gators leave, injury updates, Sugar Bowl review, 2013 preview

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FOUR BITS: Evans, Reed, Strong, Kitchens

1 » Florida Gators redshirt junior right guard Jon Halapio (knee), redshirt sophomore right tackle Chaz Green (ankle) and redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) all underwent arthroscopic surgery on Monday, according to the school. All are expected to be healthy enough to return to the field by March for spring practice.

2 » Florida senior safety Josh Evans told OGGOA on Tuesday that he has received an invitation to the 2013 NFL Combine as well as a projection from the league of being selected anywhere between the third and fifth round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Evans is currently in Boca Raton, FL training for both the combine and the 2013 East/West Shrine Game. He has signed with agent Malik Shareef of Dimensional Sports, Inc. Friend of OGGOA Darren Heitner also reported Tuesday that redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed has signed with agent Mike George of SFX Sports Group.

3 » One player who will not be on the field for the Gators this spring is senior offensive/defensive lineman Nick Alajajian. After fracturing his right knee back in August, Alajajian missed the entire 2012 season. He has spent most of the year tweeting about returning to football, but a Florida spokesperson told GatorCountry.com’s Mike Capshaw that Alajajian did not apply for a medical hardship and therefore he has no more eligibility and his career is over. He earned one start in 32 games over four years, the first three of which he spent on the offensive line before transitioning to defense prior to the 2012 season.

4 » Just moments after the conclusion of the 2013 Sugar Bowl, Louisville Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong was swarmed by family, friends, reporters and his players as he celebrated his team’s victory. Also stopping by to congratulate Strong after the game were some of his Gators including redshirt senior left guard James Wilson, redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter, redshirt senior linebacker Lerentee McCray and senior LB Jon Bostic (likely among others). Check out the video below.

Extra BIT » Friend of OGGOA Whitney Holtzman snapped the below picture of junior LB Darrin Kitchens staying on the field to sing the alma mater with the band at the conclusion of the Sugar Bowl. We retweeted the picture moments after Holtzman posted it on Twitter and within a short period of time it went viral with her shot being picked up nationally. Kitchens himself quickly found out that his actions meant a lot to Florida fans and took to Twitter two days later to express his gratitude for the kind words that were sent to him via the social networking service. “I’m touched. I didn’t think my gesture would impact so many people. I’m honored to have made so many of you proud. God is to be praised ,” he wrote.

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12/28: Sugar Bowl importance, Lewis’s return

No. 3 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and a handful of players met with the media after practice on Friday to preview the 2013 Sugar Bowl against the No. 21 Louisville Cardinals and provide thoughts on the team heading into the game.

NOT TAKING ANYTHING FOR GRANTED

On Thursday, Muschamp discussed why it was critical for the Gators to win their 12th game of the 2012 season. One day later, he explained when Florida hit rock bottom one year ago and how the program has pulled itself up by the bootstraps.

“The month of October [2011] wasn’t a whole lot of fun,” he said. “Two games – Alabama and LSU – we got physically dominated. We had our opportunities in some other games. We didn’t make enough good decisions as coaches or players to put ourselves in position to win those games.”

Senior left tackle Xavier Nixon acknowledged that the coaching staff identified the problem soon after those losses and began working to put the Gators back together. “We had a problem with complacency and we found out how to deal with that, and we’ve become a better team,” he said.

Now Florida is back at the top of the heap, a great accomplishment for a second-year coach like Muschamp but one he promises that the program is not taking for granted.

“Certainly when you’ve hit the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, at a place like the University of Florida, it makes you appreciate things a little bit more,” he said. “That’s something where you’ve got to stay grounded in your approach as a player and a coach to understand you don’t just roll the hat out there and win football games. It takes work, it takes preparation, it takes recruiting, it takes development, it takes strength program, it takes character building, it takes all of those things to encompass to have the type of program you want to have at Florida.

“We understand that every day. I understand getting out of bed every day knowing that just because it happened yesterday doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again. You got to make it happen and that’s what I think these players understand a little bit more.”

That never-say-die attitude has defined the Gators’ season. Including the awful performance against Georgia, in which Florida was perhaps a play or two away from potentially winning the game, it always found a way to make lemonade out of lemons.

Junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins pointed to a strip-fumble made by junior safety Matt Elam on a deep pass during the LSU game as one play in particular that was a paradigm of the entire 2012 campaign.

“I think that play defined our season. It just showed that we won’t quit,” he said. “Every game we’ve showed it. That’s one play that’s come out that’s shown it. He could have gave up on the play or could have just made the tackle, but he went the extra mile to make the strip.”

That is why Wednesday’s game is so critical. In addition to giving the Gators the 12th win they are pining for, it also shows that the turnaround is complete.

“This is a very important game for the program. I believe it’s a statement game,” redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray said. “Coming out of the season last year, we had to make a statement versus Ohio State going into the season of what it was going to be. Ohio State finished undefeated. We beat them last year and we finished 11-1. It’s a big statement to finish strong in your bowl game.”

Read the rest of what the Gators had to say…after the break!
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Cummings, Brown, Moore to sign letters of intent

Three of the eight early enrollees scheduled to join the Florida Gators as part of the 2013 recruiting class signed and submitted their National Letters of Intent to the school on Wednesday.

Four-star JUCO defensive tackle Darious Cummings (Scooba, MS), three-star JUCO offensive tackle Trenton Brown (Milledgeville, GA) and four-star transfer OT Tyler Moore (Clearwater, FL) signed and faxed in their letters as they prepare to enroll and join the Gators for spring practice.

None of the three players will be forced to take a redshirt season in 2013 as Cummings and Brown are junior college transfers and Moore spent 2012 at St. Petersburg College, a community school without a football program.

Moore started some games as a true freshman at Nebraska and would have started at left tackle this season had he not decided to take the year off for personal reasons.

All three will be competing for playing time right away at their respective positions.

Cummings, a member of the Rivals250 in 2009, will benefit from the likely departure of junior DT Sharrif Floyd as he looks to follow in the footsteps of JUCO teammate junior DT Damien Jacobs and make an impact right away as a member of the rotation.

Brown and Moore (Rivals100 in 2009) will try to find their places in a suddenly crowded and deep group of talented offensive linemen. Redshirt juniors center Jonotthan Harrison and Jon Halapio are entrenched as starters at center and right guard, respectively, but the other three positions are certainly up for grabs.

What Brown holds as an advantage over other players is his huge frame (6’8”, 350 lbs.). Moore has experience playing major college football but will have to work his way back after a semester off.

At least six other offensive linemen already on the roster will be competing for major playing time up front in 2013. Freshman D.J. Humphries, junior transfer Max Garcia and redshirt sophomore Chaz Green are the early favorites to start at left tackle, left guard and right tackle, respectively.

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