Florida defense solidifying as spring continues

Last Friday, one day before the Florida Gators‘ Saturday scrimmage, head coach Will Muschamp provided a number of updates about his players and discussed some hot topics concerning the team.

REBUILDING THE PASS RUSH

Once Florida lost defensive tackle Dominique Easley to a season-ending injury in 2013, the Gators pass rush suffered. With Easley now headed for the NFL, UF is on its way to ensuring that it will be able to pressure the quarterback this season.

Leading the pack, of course, is junior Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr., who led Florida with 10.5 tackles for loss and finished second with 3.5 sacks as a sophomore. “Dante Fowler continues to play extremely well, hard, tough. He’s practicing with a purpose every day. He goes out there every day and really competes,” Muschamp said. “I think we have a special rusher in Dante.”

Junior defensive end Jonathan Bullard, long expected to be Fowler’s bash brother coming off the edge, played well in 2013 but continues to be worked inside at tackle as well in order for the Gators to build depth and get as much top-tier talent on the field as possible. Muschamp likes how Bullard matches up against guards because of his athleticism and is able to play him inside because of how redshirt sophomore Bryan Cox, Jr. has developed as an edge rusher.

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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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10/28: Taylor to start for Florida vs. Georgia, injury statuses, offensive line updates and more

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss progress made during the off week and the upcoming World’s Largest Cocktail Party showdown against the Georgia Bulldogs on Saturday, Nov. 2. The contest will kick off at 3:30 p.m. from Jacksonville, FL, and air live on CBS.

IT’S (“PROBABLY”) TAYLOR TIME

Though Muschamp was quite clear that freshman running back Kelvin Taylor would be getting more work than usual on Saturday against Georgia, he stopped just short of declaring him the unquestioned starter. “Well, we’re working through the week and that’s probably what we’ll end up doing, he said.

Muschamp did, however, offer up a fair amount of praise for Taylor. “He’s continued to improve throughout the season, week-to-week. He’s always been a very instinctive natural runner. It’s very obviously. But again, with assignments and different things, I think he’s done a nice job and he deserves the opportunity,” he said.

Those are sentiments shared by redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy.

“He’s shown that he can do a lot of good things with the ball in his hands. I think the coaches, as well as myself, have to do a good job of finding ways to get him the ball so he can create big plays for us,” Murphy explained. “Like I said, we’re going to need some explosive plays and he has the ability to do that. We’re just going to have to find ways to continue to give him the ball and eventually he’s going to break. He’s very talented, very elusive player. Looking forward to seeing him this week and what role he’ll have.”

ALL HEALED UP

Muschamp did not list Murphy on Florida’s injury report two weeks ago, but he was nevertheless a game-time decision when UF took on Missouri. Murphy played with what was revealed Monday to be a sprained AC joint and put together his worst performance of the season as he was inaccurate with the ball throughout the contest.

“It didn’t bother me at all. I think maybe just not practicing or not throwing a little bit kind of hurt me a little bit. Other than that, I felt fine. It wasn’t bothering me or anything,” he said. “I had that overthrow to Trey [Burton] which hurt us in the beginning. I kind of couldn’t help but laugh because he was so wide open. You gotta hit him.”

Murphy did not throw during the off week – redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg took all the snaps – but should be back in action on Monday and completely cleared to take first-team snaps by Tuesday.

INJURY UPDATES

Redshirt junior linebacker Ronald Powell (ankle) missed Saturday’s game against Mizzou but “ran well” during the off week and even got in some change of direction work on Sunday. Muschamp said he expects Powell back in action on Tuesday or Wednesday at the latest “if he were to play in the game.” He admitted: “[It is] still kind of up in the air whether that will happen or not.”

Senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (head) is set to return to practice on Tuesday and is listed as probable, while senior LB Darrin Kitchens (shoulder) and redshirt freshman tight end Colin Thompson (foot) are both doubtful.

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10/23: Muschamp talks injuries, state of Gators, confidence in staff, running Kelvin Taylor

Updated at 5:45 p.m.

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp spoke twice on Wednesday, making his scheduled appearance on the Southeastern Conference‘s coaches teleconference before sitting down with the media for the only time during his team’s off week.

INJURY UPDATES

Florida lost another player for the season, Muschamp announced, as freshman linebacker Jeremi Powell tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a non-contact situation during the Missouri game while on the field with the punt block unit. He is the eighth player the Gators have lost for the season, four of which have gone down with ACL injuries. “He’s a guy who was really emerging, special teams-wise. He did a great job on kickoff for us and on special teams, was really playing well,” Muschamp said.

Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy, who played Saturday with an injured shoulder after not practicing most of the week, will be held out of practice all week but “will start throwing again next week [and] should be fine” to start against Georgia.

Similar precautions are being used with redshirt junior LB Ronald Powell (ankle), who missed the Mizzou game and will also be held out of practice this week. Muschamp expects to get him back on the field next week. “I think we’ll get Ronald Powell back next week. He’s been unable to do anything thus far this week. He’s been running but just not ready for the change of direction and taking on blocks. But I think he’ll be fine,” he said.

Additionally, senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (head) should return next week. Jacobs was injured against LSU when his helmet came off in a pile and he got kicked in the head. Florida pointed out that he returned to the game, but Jacobs did not fly with the Gators to Columbia, MO, and has not practiced since. “I felt like he was going to play last week. I really didn’t know until Thursday practice he was not going to be able to go,” Muschamp noted.

He also could not provide much of an update regarding redshirt junior LB Darrin Kitchens (shoulder), who is rehabbing from his injury but also currently away from the team with his wife, who gave birth to a baby girl Monday night. “He’s been with his family, which is where he needs to be,” Muschamp said.

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9/30: Muschamp on Easley to NFL, injuries, Hogs

No. 18/19 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss Saturday’s 24-7 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats and his team’s upcoming home game against the Arkansas Razorbacks on Saturday, Oct. 5. The contest will kick off at 7 p.m. and air live on ESPN2.

HEADING TO THE NFL

Asked about senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley future and whether he would consider applying for a medical redshirt and playing a fifth season, Muschamp announced that there was no question Easley would be moving on with his career.

“Dominque’s definitely going to go to the NFL,” he said. “He’s a guy that’s had two ACLs. I think that’s the best move for him right now is go and prepare himself for April and getting ready for that. He and I talked briefly about it. That’s what he wants to do, and I support it 100 percent.”

Muschamp said he is not concerned about teams being worried in regards to Easley’s injury history. He thinks what Easley has been able to do on the field will be more than enough to convince teams to draft him.

“He’ll have plenty of interest. He’s going to be a productive guy on the next level. He’s a really good football player,” Muschamp said. “He’s extremely intelligent. He gets the game. His tape speaks for itself in how he plays the game, how he approaches the game. He’ll be fine. There will be a lot of organizations that want him in their organization.”

Muschamp also noted that he has not spoken at length with redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose regarding his future though the two did touch base. Debose would have to apply for a second medical hardship waiver but would likely have it granted considering he did not play a single down in 2013.

INJURY UPDATES

Aside from season-ending injuries, the Gators appear to be relatively healthy heading into their next game. Redshirt sophomore running back Valdez Showers (ankle), who has missed the last two games, should be back in practice by Tuesday but will definitely see the field by Wednesday at the latest. Muschamp also noted that junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) could have played against the Wildcats if needed but was held out as a precaution considering he was a game-time decision.

Redshirt freshman tight end Colin Thompson (foot) will remain out for this week, but sophomore TE Kent Taylor (ankle) should be back in uniform for the game. Muschamp had not previously announced Taylor’s injury but noted Monday that he has missed 2-3 weeks of action.

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9/25: Muschamp talks DT Easley, Gators injuries

No. 19/20 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 road contest against the Kentucky Wildcats.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp started his appearance by discussing Florida’s injury situation and updating the status of one player who was rumored by multiple media outlets to have suffered season-ending knee injury during practice on Tuesday.

Dominique Easley tweaked his knee a little bit [Tuesday], will probably be out [Wednesday] and we’ll see how it goes,” he said of the senior defensive tackle. “It’s his other knee. It was a non-contact [injury]. He was playing to run on a screen and just tweaked it a little bit. And we think he’ll be fine.”

Easley previously tore the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee near the end of the 2011 season. The new injury is to his right knee.

“We just need more information right now. We’re going through that process at this time,” he added.

Easley then sent out the following message via his personal Twitter account.

“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”

Muschamp also updated the status of five other players. Redshirt junior nose tackle Leon Orr (shoulder), redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore (ankle) and junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) will all practice Wednesday and should be active against Kentucky. Moore and Roberson did not play versus Tennessee.

Redshirt sophomore running back Vadlez Showers, who injured his ankle a week ago in practice, remains doubtful for Saturday’s game, and redshirt freshman tight end Colin Thompson is out as previously noted with a stress fracture in his foot.

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9/23: Muschamp talks injuries, rushers, Kentucky

No. 19/20 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss Saturday’s 31-17 victory over the Tennessee Volunteers and his team’s upcoming road game against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, Sept. 28. The contest will kick off at 7 p.m. and air live on ESPNU.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp announced that junior quarterback Jeff Driskel’s surgery, originally scheduled for Sunday, will instead be performed on Wednesday. Driskel broke his right fibula during Saturday’s game and will have a plate inserted in the leg. “Again, very disappointed for Jeff. It’s part of the game, but it’s very difficult to deal with. Really hurt for him and his family and for us as a football team,” he said.

One other serious injury occurred as redshirt freshman tight end Colin Thompson, who missed all of 2012 due to injury, was diagnosed with a stress fracture in his foot and will probably miss 1-2 weeks. “I’m disappointed for Colin. He was starting to really progress and do well for us,” Muschamp said. “He’s had some issues with his foot; this is a different issue with his foot. It’s something that has not happened before.”

Three other Gators were injured Saturday but each is expected to be active for Saturday’s game. Redshirt junior defensive tackle Leon Orr hurt his shoulder and will miss practice on Monday but should be back Tuesday or Wednesday. Redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio, who sat out the first two games of the season with a torn pectoral, got poked in the eye early Saturday and had three stitches after the game. “He’s going to be fine for this week. I’ll tell you, a tough young man he is to play through that,” Muschamp said. Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy was also knocked from the game after being hit hard on a kickoff return; he was later diagnosed with a thigh contusion and was back at practice running on Sunday.

As for the three Florida players that missed the Tennessee game, Muschamp believes two will be healthy enough to play at Kentucky. Junior CB Marcus Roberson (knee) ran well Sunday and will be back at practice Tuesday, and redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore (ankle) will also be back in action Tuesday. Redshirt sophomore running back Valdez Showers, who injured his ankle during practice on Wednesday, was listed as “doubtful” and will likely be out at least one if not two weeks.

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Pease talks Dunbar and Robinson, Gators offense

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease met with the media on Tuesday, four days before the 2013 season opener against Toledo on Aug. 31.

MAXIMIZING TALENT AT RECEIVER

With junior Quinton Dunbar and freshman Demarcus Robinson both listed as X wide receivers (Dunbar the starter and Robinson as second-string) on the first depth chart of the fall, many began wondering whether Florida would try to get both players on the field at the same time to maximize the talent at the position and give junior quarterback Jeff Driskel as many weapons as possible.

Both Pease and head coach Will Muschamp said previously that they want to bring Robinson along slow, ensuring he knows the X receiver spot perfectly before trying to move him around the field, which would mean Dunbar lining up elsewhere while Robinson has his helmet on. Pease on Tuesday addressed whether that is something that will likely happen during games.

“There will be situations like that. One thing with Quinton, you know, he’s a kid that’s been in it. Actually Quinton last year was a Z and we moved him to the X,” Pease said. “He knows the Z and will be inside for us sometimes. He’s a guy with experience. He’s learned the spots. … He’s a kid we can move around now.”

Robinson, despite being supremely talented, does not have the in-game experience just yet. Nevertheless, Pease noted this week that he is ahead of schedule for a player his age and should be an important contributor for the Gators this season.

“Oh yeah. Yeah, that guy is really developed for a young kid. Physically, he’s developed. He’s got a lot of talent. He’s got great hands,” Pease said. “You always want to see consistency, how you’re going to perform … and understand your routine and develop your trade and your professionalism, how you’re going to approach it. … With him, I think he’s getting to that point. He’s comfortable with things. He’s playing on his instincts. Now, let’s see you do it in the game because that’s what it’s going to come down to. …

“Is the kid going to make mistakes? Yes, because he’s a freshman. Does he have the ability to be fun to watch? Absolutely. Is he fun to be around and coach? Absolutely.”

PLAYER THOUGHTS AND EVALUATIONS

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