TWO BITS: Horford transfer, Easley Pro Day

1 » According to ESPN.com‘s Jeff Goodman, redshirt junior forward Jon Horford, a Michigan Wolverines transfer and the brother of former Florida Gators F Al Horford, is heavily considering choosing to play the final year of his collegiate career in Gainesville, FL. Jon Horford (6-foot-10, 250 pounds) will be a redshirt senior in 2014-15 and cleared to play without having to sit out a season. He registered 3.8 points and 4.2 rebounds in 13.8 minutes per game for Michigan last season and decided to transfer in order to get more playing time. That is one reason why a move to Florida was not believed to be on the table previously. Though the Gators are in need of frontcourt players, they do have freshman Chris Walker and redshirt junior Damontre Harris at center next season. Florida will also play redshirt juniors Alex Murphy (currently not scheduled to be eligible until the spring), redshirt junior Dorian Finney-Smith and incoming freshman Devin Robinson, though the latter two players will likely play small forward. Horford’s addition would fill UF’s remaining 2014-15 scholarship but not affect the allotment for 2015-16.

2 » Gators defensive tackle Dominique Easley has spent the last seven months rehabilitating his torn ACL but is finally getting the chance to show NFL teams what he can do on Thursday as he is participating in a private Pro Day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville. Joining Easley for the workout are outside linebackers Ronald Powell and Darrin Kitchens, who also participated in Florida’s first Pro Day one month earlier on March 17. Easley recently completed a visit with the Dallas Cowboys, his first private trip, and is expected to go on many more after his Pro Day workout is complete. Projections for Easley range from the second to fifth round, but he is likely to be taken on the second day of the 2014 NFL Draft as long as he can prove he’s healthy.

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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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3/19: Renewed optimism as Gators open practice

The Florida Gators began 2014 spring practice on Wednesday, taking the field for the first of 15 times over the next few weeks. The pad-less practice was open to fans and reporters, which got a first-hand look at the team as it went through the motions of offensive and defensive installation. Afterward, head coach Will Muschamp discussed practice, provided injury updates and went over a number of hot topics.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE OFFENSE

Muschamp made no bones about it on Wednesday when he matter-of-factly stated that Florida’s “number one priority … is the installation of the offense.” So important is the Gators improving on offense, in fact, that he has explained to defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and the defensive players that they will need to be patent as offensive coordinator Kurt Roper helps get things on track with his new system.

“There’s a lot of give and take in the installation process,” Muschamp said, “and you have to make sure [the defense does not] get too far ahead of the offense.”

To that end, he confirmed that the Gators will be operating their up-tempo in the shotgun. He now prefers to save Florida’s players under center for when the team has to “kneel down at the end [of a game] after a good win.” He quipped, “I don’t want to be in shotgun doing that.”

Roper will try to instill two important tenants into the heads of the players on his side of the ball. The Gators have to play with urgency and need to master execution…and do all of it at a pace that will keep opposing defenses on their toes.

“They understand the advantages of [lining up] quickly and getting themselves in the right spots and the disadvantages it can create for a defense,” explained Muschamp. “Our players talk between offense and defense. The defensive kids talk about how difficult it can be and how stressful it can be under the circumstances of when they do align fast and get aligned quickly.”

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Hutzler looks to rebuild Gators special teams

For as poorly as the Florida Gators offense and – later in the season – defense played in 2013, special teams was also a non-factor in most contests, usually failing to put up points in the kicking game and struggling to help the team win the field position battle with its punt and return units.

Exist last year’s special team’s coordinator, Jeff Choate, and enter Coleman Hutzler, Florida’s new, fresh-faced 29-year-old coach who learned the game under Jim Harbaugh at Stanford and Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin. He returns to the UF staff just two years after leaving to earn his stripes at New Mexico.

“It’s great to be back,” said Hutzler during his introductory press conference on Monday. “My wife and I really enjoyed our time here. … Very excited to be back part of Gator Nation and to be at this great university.”

His first role at Florida was in a non-coaching capacity as he learned defense and special teams under Durkin and built relationships with players on the team. Many of those players are now upperclassmen, and Hutzler is in a position to help them get the most out of their final season or two of college.

“[He] understands and knows our special teams system, how we teach it, our teaching progression. He’ll implement it very well,” said Muschamp when discussing Hutzler on Monday. “A guy that really had a year interview, so to speak, the first year he was here.”

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Florida announces hiring of Coleman Hutzler as special teams coach, replacing Jeff Choate

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp on Friday officially made a third adjustment to his coaching staff following the disastrous 2013 season, in which his team went 4-8, when he announced the resignation of special teams coordinator / outside linebackers coach Jeff Choate and subsequent hiring of Coleman Hutzler, who held the same position with the New Mexico Lobos.

FootballScoop.com and CoachingSearch.com both reported the transition Thursday night.

Choate, who left a position as defensive coordinator with UTEP in January – just three months after taking the job – for the opportunity to coach at Florida, came highly recommended by former offensive coordinator Brent Pease, whom he coached side-by-side with at Boise State from 2006-11.

Hutzler worked at Stanford as a recruiting assistant (2007) and defensive/special teams assistant (2008-09) while current Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin served as special teams coordinator at the school. He joined Durkin at Florida in 2010 under then-head coach Urban Meyer as a defensive/special teams assistant, remaining with the program in 2011. He was hired by New Mexico in 2012 at his current position.

“Coleman is a young coach with a very bright future,” said Muschamp in a school release. “He has a great work ethic and obviously is very familiar with our special teams’ schemes. It will be a seamless transition for our players.”

Said Hutzler: “I’m excited to be returning to Gainesville and be a part of the Gator family again. I enjoyed my time there and have the utmost respect for Coach Muschamp and the administrative team in place at Florida. I understand the value placed on special teams under Coach Muschamp, and look forward to getting to work.”

Former Gators punter Chas Henry told OnlyGators.com Thursday night that he felt Florida was bringing back someone who could help the program going forward.

“He was a great young coach while I was there, seemed to absorb everything that coaches were teaching as a graduate assistant,” Henry said.

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Friday Final: Bittersweet finale for Florida seniors

Florida Gators coaches and players spoke this week ahead of Saturday’s season finale against the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles, which is scheduled to kick off at 12 p.m. from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL, and air live on ESPN.

Below are some stories, notes and quotes that either broke towards the end of the week or fell through the cracks and did not make it into one of the five posts already published here on OnlyGators.com (see links below).

Monday: Changes ahead for offensive staff | Will Muschamp talks coaching changes, fixing the Gators and more injuries
Tuesday: Brent Pease asked 17 questions about job status, future at Florida
Wednesday: Snell’s Slant: Beat Florida State? It can happen. | Muschamp provides updates on injuries, thoughts about Pease

FINAL GOODBYES FOR GATORS SENIORS

Fifteen Gators football players are guaranteed to step onto Florida Field for the last time as student-athletes on Saturday as they will have used up their eligibility as either true seniors or fifth-year seniors. Below is what many of them had to say about their careers, final home game and last time wearing a Florida uniform.

» Senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins: “It’s going to be very emotional for all of us. We’ve been here four years, some five. We have some who have been here six years. It’s a new chapter for most of us to after football and actually graduating. Some of us are graduating next month. It’s going to be very exciting for both us and our families. … This is our last game we’ll ever play in The Swamp in an orange and blue jersey, so all of the seniors I know are going to go out and give everything they’ve got.”

» Redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio, who will have his parents and fiancée there to support him after running out of the tunnel: “I just hope I don’t cry like everybody else has been saying. It’s going to be very emotional coming out the tunnel one last time. I’m very excited but sad at the same time.”

» Senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, who transferred from a junior college: “It’s bittersweet. Not even just because of the simple fact that this has been a bad season. Mostly because I’m ready to move on to the next part of my life. So it’s bittersweet that way. … I’m pretty sure it’s going to be pretty emotional, yeah. It’s the last one. It’s probably not going to hit me until probably after a week later that it was my last one.”

» Senior do-everything Trey Burton, who will have multiple members of his family there as well as his wife and baby daughter: “A lot of mixed emotions. I’m really happy for my time here. I wouldn’t want to take anything back, all the challenges and all that type of stuff has helped me mature as a man. I’m just really happy with how things have gone. … I’m going to try not to cry. My family will be out there so I hope it won’t be too bad. I play and I have a lot of emotions for everything I do, so we’ll see. … I think it’s bittersweet for everybody. You don’t want your last game in college football to come and it’s coming.”

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Friday Final: Florida focused on defending triple option, Gators desperate for a win, fan support

Florida Gators coaches and players spoke this week ahead of Saturday’s contest against the Georgia Southern Eagles, which is scheduled to kick off at 2:00 p.m. from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL, and air live on pay-per-view.

Below are some stories, notes and quotes that either broke towards the end of the week or fell through the cracks and did not make it into one of the six posts already published here on OnlyGators.com (see links below).

Monday: Will Muschamp previews Georgia Southern, updates injuries, more
Tuesday: Brent Pease talks offensive line, running game | Florida’s freshmen wideouts still works in progress
Wednesday: Two Gators ruled out for Saturday | QB Tyler Murphy not ruled out, but Skyler Mornhinweg in line to start

DEFEATING THE TRIPLE OPTION

Florida on Saturday will be tasked with defending Georgia Southern’s triple option. One of a dwindling number of teams that still uses the offense, GSU expertly runs it and has since Paul Johnson took over the program in 1997. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who along with the other defensive caches has been preparing for this since the summer, discussed UF’s defensive plan and how it has been communicated.

“It’s something different than what our guys see week to week. Usually you go from one opponent to the next you have a different game plan but you build off certain concepts that you normally carry and work on, there’s carryover. This week there’s not as much carryover. It’s kind of a whole different game plan of how you play it,” he explained.

“It’s just responsibility football; it’s everyone doing their job. Everyone has an assignment on each snap and they gotta do their job and not worry about the guy next to him and try to guess and do what he’s doing. Option football, that’s what they make you do, they’re gonna make sure everyone’s doing their job and if not they’re gonna make you pay. They’re good enough at it, they do enough of it, they can read the right way and if someone’s not where they’re supposed to be, it’ll show.”

Redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor said he has experience facing the triple option in high school and noted that defending it all starts with stopping the dive.

“If you’ve never seen it, you can be like, ‘God, this is tricky.’ But most of us have seen it before. This is a pretty high-tech level of triple option,” he said. “They’re probably the best to do it; them and Georgia Tech. We have a lot to prepare for. It’s just going to be a good week of preparation and hopefully have a good Saturday.”

Redshirt junior defensive tackle Leon Orr expects the triple option to be “something of a challenge” but has confidence that the Gators will be able to defend it well.

“It’s a total technique change,” he said. “It’s all about focus, when it comes down to it. It’s something our defense [has to] hone in on and be able to focus on your role and not trying to do too much and going out there and doing your job like the coaches always preach.”

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