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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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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11/27: Muschamp talks Gators injuries, Pease

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 Florida State Seminoles.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp said redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) is “still questionable” though he did throw some early in the week. Others who might be able to play include junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) and sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard (knee).

Sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL), redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor (MCL) and freshman LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder) are all out for the game.

OFFENSIVE EVALUATION

In his only question of the day, Muschamp was asked to evaluate the job offensive coordinator Brent Pease has done as a play-caller this season.

“I think when you lose three offensive tackles and two quarterbacks and a 1,000-yard rusher, it makes it very difficult to call plays,” he replied. “Brent is a good play-caller and an outstanding football coach. It’s been frustrating for all of us, including him, in our production offensively this year.”

Muschamp then provided one more statement which fits closer in line with his comments regarding the offense over the last couple of weeks. “We want to do what we got to do to win games. That’s what you want to do, and we haven’t done that this year,” he said.

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11/25: More Florida injuries; Muschamp on coaching changes, fixing the Gators in 2014

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss his team’s 26-20 loss to the Georgia Southern Eagles and upcoming season finale at home against the No. 2 Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, Nov. 30. The game will kick off at 12:00 p.m. and air live on ESPN.

INJURY UPDATES

The Gators will be without at least two more players on Saturday as redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor (sprained MCL) and freshman LB Alex Anzalone (dislocated shoulder) have already been ruled out for the game. Taylor will avoid surgery, but Anzalone will be forced to go under the knife.

Muschamp also called redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) questionable and listed sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (sprained MCL) as doubtful.

Junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) has already been cleared to play, and sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard (knee) is probable to see the field.

COACHING CHANGES COMING?

Muschamp refused to address the recent reports that it has already been decided that adjustments will be made to Florida’s offensive staff.

“There’s no changes that have been made at this time,” he said. “I’m not ready to make any statement on that at this point. We’re still playing out the season and those guys are going to coach their butts off. I’ll make that decision when I think it’s ready.”

In a similar vein, Muschamp was adamant that he was not at all concerned about his future with the Gators.

“Absolutely not,” he said when asked if he was worried about his job. After being questioned about his confidence in returning next season, Muschamp similarly answered, “Absolutely.”

He also once again put the blame on his shoulders – “It’s on me. We’ll get it fixed. I can assure you of that” – but admitted that it was nice to have the support of the players in addition to that of the administration.

“I think it’s important. Obviously I think that they understand where we are and where we’re headed with the program.” Muschamp said. “They have total confidence, in my opinion, of where we’re headed. I think they understand the plan and what we need to do … as we move forward.”

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11/20: Two Gators out, Murphy questionable

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 Georgia Southern Eagles.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp said that both sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL) and junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (ankle) will miss Saturday’s game. Humphries “tried to do some things” on Wednesday but did not feel comfortable, and Roberson simply has not healed since he went down two weeks ago against Vanderbilt.

Not listed as “out” but rather “questionable” is redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy, who missed the South Carolina game with a shoulder injury. “[He] threw a little bit [Tuesday] and we’ll see what else he can do [Wednesday] and we’ll go from there.”

Though Murphy has a 50-50 shot to start on Saturday, Muschamp said the Gators would have redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg play in his place if the game was earlier in the week. “We’ll see what Tyler can do Thursday and it is what it is. Closer to the weekend, we’ll see where it is,” he said.

Muschamp added that Murphy is not being held out over structural concerns but rather how he feels throwing the football.

“It’s all about his discomfort level right now. It’s gotten better every day. From Sunday to [Wednesday] it’s much, much, much improved,” he said. “We’ll just continue to work through that. It’s all about his comfort level. Right now, the shoulder is stable and all of that. It’s just all about his comfort level.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On how junior CB Loucheiz Purifoy has dealt with NFL Draft talk all season: “I think Loucheiz has played well. I think he’s focus has been on our season and what we need to do to be successful. I think he’s played well. I think he covered very well last week against a very good core of receivers. I think through the year he’s played consistently well.”

» On needing a win Saturday to snap the five-game losing streak: “Our guys understand the situation with where we are. We need to go out and execute the game plan and play well.”

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11/18: Muschamp previews Georgia Southern; Murphy improving but not yet cleared

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss his team’s 19-14 loss to the No. 10/11 South Carolina Gamecocks and upcoming home game against the Georgia Southern Eagles on Saturday, Nov. 23. The game will kick off at 2:00 p.m. and air live only on pay-per-view.

RETURN IN QUESTION

It is not known whether redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) will be available to play on Saturday against Georgia Southern, and it is not expected that a decision will be made until later in the week.

Muschamp said that Murphy “threw lightly” on Sunday and felt more comfortable than he had in a while. But he has not yet been cleared to practice in full and the team currently preparing for redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg to be the starter.

Murphy called himself “day-to-day” and noted that he felt much better than last week. He estimated that he played at 60-70 percent against Missouri and was even healthier than that two weeks later when taking on Georgia. However, he reinjured the shoulder during the Vanderbilt game, which is why he was unable to play last Saturday.

“It’s getting better. After the game last week I really couldn’t move it, but now I’m able to move it and rotate and stuff like that. I got range of motion and stuff like that. It’s a lot better, getting better,” Murphy said.

Now estimating his health at 70-75 percent, Murphy hopes to get back on the field Saturday but cautioned that it will be a mutual decision between himself and the trainers.

“It’s all about if the ball’s coming out efficiently. If I can’t make the throws in practice, it’s not going to happen in the game,” he said. “Sitting out not practicing doesn’t help. It’s just kind of something we’re trying to figure out what’s best for the team and how we can be successful.”

INJURY UPDATES

Junior cornerback Marcus Roberson was suspended for the South Carolina game but would not have been cleared to play anyway due to an ankle injury he suffered against Vanderbilt. Muschamp said Roberson “ran well” on Sunday and will hopefully return to practice during the week. As long as he’s cleared medically, he can play on Saturday as his suspension as just a one-week punishment.

Additionally, Gators sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries (MCL) remains doubtful despite moving around on Sunday. The team hopes to have an update mid-week. Freshman wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood, who took a hard hit late in the fourth quarter against the Gamecocks and looked to be shaken up, did not suffer a concussion but rather hurt his shoulder. He will be good to go this week.

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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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