Florida prepares for Tennessee, secondary shifts

No. 18/19 Florida Gators (1-1) defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin spoke with the media on Wednesday, and a number of players chimed in throughout the week, ahead of the third game of the season against the Tennessee Volunteers (2-1) on Sept. 21.

SIGNING “ROCKY TOP”

Florida fans may cover their ears when the Tennessee band blares “Rocky Top” – especially when it’s done at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – but the players on the field have no such option. A number of Gators were asked this week how they handle the song and many, somewhat surprisingly, admitted that they sing along with it.

“[The] song gets so annoying you got to make the best out of it,” said senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley, who noted that he only knew the words “Rocky Top” but not the rest of the song. “That’s stunning to you?”

Junior fullback Hunter Joyer chimes in as well: “When we flex and warm up and stuff and they play that, I sing a little bit. … It’s a good song. I don’t like Tennessee, but it’s a good song.”

As competitive a player as Florida has on its roster, redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor said he has never uttered the words to the Vols’ tune. “Nope. I’ve never seen a Rocky Top mountain, so I don’t really sing it. I mean, we know the words because the song is kind of corny but that’s about it.”

So what does he think about his teammates singing it during the game? “We’re usually winning,” he said, “so it’s pretty much an insult to them.”

Senior safety Jaylen Watkins, playing his last game against Tennessee, notes: “All of us hate the Rocky Top [song]. It will be good to not hear it anymore.”

He is more focused on winning. “This is a big rivalry, and it would be great to leave and say I never lost to Tennessee.”

SHIFT IN THE SECONDARY

A relatively poor performance for redshirt freshman safety Marcus Maye, who started the first two games of his career against Toledo and Miami, moved him off of the first string at least for the time being. Replacing him is Watkins, who many believed would start at safety anyway this season.

“Jaylen’s been a guy for us all along that has played more than one position. It’s nothing new. It’s just a matter of shuffling things around and getting our best guys on the field at one time,” said Durkin on Wednesday. “However we got to do that, we’re constantly talking about our depth chart and our personnel and building our packages to get the best 11 guys on the field to go execute what we want to do.”

Said Taylor of his teammate moving into the starting lineup: “Jaylen’s a smart football player. He knows the defense very well. I think he’ll be able to execute very well for us back there and provide us with some big plays. Not saying that anybody else wasn’t able to, but he’ll be able to provide us with some big plays that we need as well.”

Durkin spoke on Maye’s demotion, noting that he will still see plenty of time on the field. “Marcus Maye is and will continue to be a great player for us. He’s very talented. He’s got to continue to learn and grow and get comfortable with what he’s doing back there,” he said. “But I think Marcus Maye, we have all the confidence in the world he can play. And he will. You’ll see him out there, and he’s going to really help us.”

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9/1: Muschamp updates injuries, previews Miami

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss some leftovers from the team’s 24-6 victory over Toledo while looking ahead to Saturday’s game on the road against the Miami Hurricanes. The contest will kick off at 12 p.m. from Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, FL, and air live on ESPN.

WEEKLY AWARDS

Offensive Player of the Week: Redshirt junior running back Mack Brown
“Mack ran extremely hard in the game and certainly a guy that really played well.”

Scrap Iron: Redshirt senior center Jonotthan Harrison, redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia, redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore
“I thought all three of those guys played really well, really built some continuity with those guys up front. Tyler and Max have been two really good additions for us.”

Big Plays (Offense): Brown, senior wide receiver Trey Burton, redshirt sophomore RB Valdez Showers
“Really proud of Valdez, a guy that makes a transition in the middle of camp, competing for a job on the other side of the ball, very unselfish in coming over and helping our offense and will continue to do so. He’s a guy that adds some dimension to us.”

Defensive Player(s) of the Week: Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard, redshirt freshman defensive lineman Bryan Cox, Jr., senior DL Dominique Easley, sophomore Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr., senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs, redshirt senior nose tackle Leon Orr, redshirt junior Sam LB Ronald Powell
“All of those guys played well to contain [the quarterback] in the pocket, be able to rush four effectively throughout the game, affect the quarterback and stopping the run.”

Ball Hawks: Freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves (for the interception) and Easley, Powell, Orr and redshirt junior Mike LB Michael Taylor (for the pressure)

Hard Hat: Redshirt junior LB Neiron Ball
“A guy that’s really helped [take] a huge step forward defensively for us was for him to be able to play off the ball, which since I’ve been here he has not done. Shows really good instincts in the run game and an active, active playmaker. He’s been a huge addition for us.”

Special Team Player of the Week: Sophomore RB Mark Herndon
“He continues to be productive in everything we ask him to do, but certainly a special teams leader for us.”

Big Play (Special Teams): Junior CB Marcus Roberson
“A guy that flipped the field a couple times with a couple big punt returns.”

Scout Team Players of the Week: Redshirt junior WR Ryan Parrish, redshirt freshman LB Jeremi Powell, freshman WR Chris Thompson

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Florida Gators 2013 opening week depth chart

Game Week – Monday: LB Antonio Morrison’s Suspension Reduced | RT Chaz Green Out for Season, RB Matt Jones Set for Miami | New Mr. Two Bits, Muschamp on Tight Ends, Season Opener

Though things could still change over the next five days, the Florida Gators on Monday morning released the team’s first official depth chart for the 2013 season.

Florida omitted players that are not participating in the season opener due to injury or suspension; therefore, the depth chart below is an “active” version rather than a “best-case scenario” version. Notations marked with (») can be found below certain positions.

OnlyGators.com will update this post shortly with additional details and thoughts from head coach Will Muschamp‘s Monday press conference.

OFFENSE

QB: 6 Jeff Driskel, 3 Tyler Murphy
RB: 33 Mack Brown, 37 Mark Herndon, 10 Valdez Showers
» 24 Matt Jones is not playing on Saturday.
FB: 43 Hunter Joyer, 25 Gideon Ajagbe
WR (X): 1 Quinton Dunbar, 11 Demarcus Robinson
WR (Z): 83 Solomon Patton, 5 Ahmad Fulwood, 85 Chris Thompson
» 13 Latroy Pittman and 4 Andre Debose (out for season) knocked out of Z.
F Position: 8 Trey Burton, 13 Latroy Pittman, 30 Mike McNeely
TE: 88 Clay Burton, 87 Tevin Westbrook, 84 Colin Thompson
» 18 Kent Taylor not on the three-deep.

LT: 70 D.J. Humphries, 76 Max Garcia
» 74 Trenton Brown no longer the back-up to Humphries.
LG: 76 Max Garcia, 63 Trip Thurman
» 77 Ian Silberman no longer the back-up to Garcia.
C: 72 Jonotthan Harrison, 64 Kyle Koehne
RG: 64 Kyle Koehne, 77 Ian Silberman
» 67 Jon Halapio is not playing Saturday; Thurman moved to left guard.
RT: 73 Tyler Moore, 74 Trenton Brown
» 75 Chaz Green is out for the season; Brown moved to right tackle.

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8/23: Muschamp on injuries, Powell, freshmen

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday, just over one week before the team’s 2013 season opener against Toledo on Aug. 31.

STATE OF THE GATORS

“I do feel good about this team. I met with the seniors and the leaders [Thursday], talked about our camp and where we are. Some of my issues had to do with the sense of urgency with the team. We have a lot of young guys at some positions we’re counting on. I think everyone in the country would say the same thing. That’s part of it. I think we’re experienced in the places you need to be experienced. That’s the quarterback position, both lines of scrimmage have some snaps about themselves. They’re mature lines of scrimmage. We’re going to be a little green as far sat he running back position heading into your first ball game, receiver a little bit, and then some situations on defense depending at linebacker, how we’re able to rotate those guys in. But I feel comfortable – very comfortable – about the talent level at those positions. So that’s kind of where we are.”

INJURY UPDATE TRENDS POSITIVE

Though the Gators will be without two offensive starters for the season opener due to injury, Muschamp did present a relatively positive injury report otherwise.

Senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (knee), junior fullback Hunter Joyer (hamstring), freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (shoulder) and sophomore wide receiver Raphael Andrades (turf toe) will all return to practice on Monday.

“All those guys we feel like will be back and ready for game week,” Muschamp said.

RONALD POWELL READY TO CUT IT LOOSE

By the time he steps on the field on Aug. 31, it will have been 607 days – nearly 20 full months – since redshirt junior Sam linebacker Ronald Powell has played in a college football game. Muschamp on Friday said Powell is continuing to improve on a daily basis and looks more explosive than he has all offseason.

“You’ve seen him gain more confidence each time in contact. We’ve had two live scrimmages and different live periods throughout some other practices. A guy that’s gained a lot of confidence as he’s moved forward,” he said.

“That’s the thing you worry about – a guy really cutting it loose and playing. I’ve seen a guy that kind of early on – tentative is not the right word because he wasn’t tentative – but [he was] cautious. Now you’re seeing him cut it loose and play, and that’s what you’ve got to do. It’ll come back fast for him as far as the tempo and the speed of the game. I’m sure he’ll have some anxious moments. That’s part of it. It’s expected when you have an injury like he’s had.”

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8/19: Muschamp updates injuries and defensive depth chart, discusses freshmen playmakers

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media before the team’s 20th fall practice (the third open to the media) ahead of the 2013 season.

INJURIES UPDATES POSITIVE…FOR ONCE

Sophomore running back Matt Jones remains out of action while recovering from a serious viral infection but is looking healthier than he has in quite some time and could be on his way to returning to practice if some Monday tests come back with the results that please team doctors. “Matt Jones is getting some blood work done this afternoon,” Muschamp explained. “He’s got his weight back up. He’s at about 223 [pounds]. When this happened, he was 226. So I’ll know a little bit more as we move through he week, but he’s been jogging and moving around a little bit more, which is good.”

While it is unknown when Jones will be cleared, Muschamp said the Gators have been operating with the assumption that he will miss Florida’s season opener against Toledo on Aug. 31. The good news is that Jones has a positive attitude and seems to be progressing exactly the way trainers have hoped. “I get a daily update,” he said. “He feels good. He’s doing more and more every day from a workout standpoint. That’s all I know. We’re playing it by ear.”

Beginning Thursday, the focus for the Gators turns to game week. Florida will begin additional preparation for Toledo, and Muschamp said Monday that he expects to have most of his nicked-up players back for the contest.

Senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (knee), junior fullback Hunter Joyer (hamstring) and freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (shoulder) should all be ready to practice next week. Additionally, senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins (foot) returned to practice on Sunday, and senior defensive lineman Dominique Easley (shoulder) is practicing after getting dinged during practice last week.

Muschamp also expects to have redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio (pectoral) back but said he is still awaiting approval from doctors, which he could get on Friday. “Right now, everything has gone extremely well [with his recovery],” he said. “They feel like the cavity has filled in where the pec was torn. They feel good about it, but I won’t know more until Friday.”

Sophomore wide receiver Raphael Andrades (turf toe) – “It’s a pretty good one.” – will miss at least 10 days.

Though UF appears to be suffering through a variety of ailments and injuries, Muschamp pointed out that the team is “probably healthier than [it was] a year ago” because most of the “setbacks have been non-football and non-contact,” including the two anterior cruciate ligament tears. “That’s been the frustrating part,” he said. “We’re healthier now than we have ever been since I’ve been at Florida, at this point in camp.”

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8/16: Muschamp discusses injuries, standouts and Florida’s roster; decision day ahead for Gators

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media following the team’s first open practice of fall camp ahead of the 2013 season.

INJURIES CONTINUE TO MOUNT

Sophomore running back Matt Jones “continues to improve” from a serious viral infection that put him in the hospital, according to Muschamp, who could not pinpoint when the presumed starter will be able to return to the team. “He’s exercising, getting back into it but not ready to get out in the heat in full gear yet,” Muschamp added. “I’ll certainly update when I know. I’m anticipating that news, hopefully sooner than later.” Jones has yet to practice this fall.

Redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio (torn pectoral) was hoping to be cleared for practice last Friday and was only supposed to miss 7-10 days as of Monday but instead got dealt another week on the sidelines by team physicians. Apparently, he will not be cleared this Friday either and Muschamp now hopes he is ready to go in time for the first game of the season on Aug. 31. “I think [he] has an appointment next Friday,” he said. “I hope to get him cleared for game week. That’s kind of the prognosis we’ve gotten so far, and I want that to happen.”

Senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (knee) is not expected to be cleared until game week either, according to Muschamp.

Senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins (sprained foot) remains day-to-day following an initial prognosis that he would be out one week and could be back on Monday.

Junior fullback Hunter Joyer (hamstring), expected to miss 7-10 days on Monday, will miss “another 5-7 days.”

There are also three new injuries to report, which has been standard operating procedure for Florida throughout the fall. Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Alex McCalister and freshman offensive lineman Octavius Jackson are each day-to-day with shoulder injuries, redshirt freshman OL Quinteze Williams is day-to-day with an illness, and freshman DB Vernon Hargreaves III will miss at least 5-7 days with a shoulder injury of his own. “He’ll be fine,” Muschamp said of Hargreaves.

IT’S “D-DAY” FOR THE GATORS

Muschamp is ready to whittle down the Gators’ roster and figure out who is going to be seeing the field for Florida this season, and he plans on starting that process following the team’s Friday scrimmage.

“I told the team the last two days, this is going to be moving day for a lot of guys. We’ve got to start narrowing reps,” he said. “We can’t continue to rep everybody. So as far as the guys preparing as we move forward in the season, this will be a D-Day, so to speak, for a lot of guys.”

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8/12: Muschamp on Joyer’s injury, Jones missing games, standouts from Florida’s scrimmage

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media during his team’s second full week of fall practice ahead of the 2013 season.

INJURIES CONTINUE TO MOUNT

There appears to be no slowing down Florida’s rash of fall injuries. Though junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (appendectomy) returned to practice over the weekend and both redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia (back) and redshirt sophomore G Trip Thurman (shoulder) were cleared – as expected – on Monday, the Gators added another player their long injury list over the weekend.

Junior fullback Hunter Joyer pulled his hamstring Sunday and will miss a 7-10 days.

He joins sophomore running back Matt Jones (viral infection – out indefinitely), redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio (torn pectoral – 7-10 days), senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (sprained patella – one week), senior defensive back Jaylen Watkins (sprained foot – one week) and freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (meniscus surgery – 3-4 weeks) on the sidelines.

Jones began participating in cardiovascular activities last week but is not close to returning to practice. Muschamp said team doctors want to avoid a “relapse of the situation” and ensure that he makes a full recovery before returning to the field. He also indicated that Jones’s absence could stretch into the 2013 campaign.

“Beginning of the season, at some point, whether it’s the first week or the second week or as you head into the open week, he’s going to play for us this year,” he said. “It’s totally up to [the doctors] as far as the things they’re telling me right now. That’s why I said we’re a little bit in uncharted waters coming into having the type of infection he had and then you’re talking about the heat we’re in and that sort of thing. I think we just need to be really careful right now.”

Muschamp then reiterated what one of Jones’s doctors told him about his recovery. “When you’re dealing with the human body, you never know. You don’t know how he’s going to respond and how quickly. The great thing is he’s young, he’s in great shape and it knocked him down a little bit, but he’s a guy that’s going to respond very quickly.”

Halapio was reevaluated on Friday when Muschamp said he expected him to be cleared for action by Monday. Instead, he will miss at least another week of action.

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8/9: Muschamp on injuries, Morrison, team issues

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media after his team’s first full week of fall practice ahead of the 2013 season.

ILLNESS / INJURY UPDATES

The bad news: In addition to announcing the re-torn anterior cruciate ligament for freshman linebacker Matt Rolin and expressing his hope redshirt senior wide receiver/kick returner Andre Debose returns for a sixth year of eligibility (see “Notes & Quotes” below), Muschamp discussed three new injuries on Friday.

Seniors defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (sprained knee) and defensive back Jaylen Watkins (sprained foot) will each miss approximately 10 days with their ailments.

Additionally, freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson, who enrolled in the fall and entered camp with a pre-existing injury to his meniscus, will have knee surgery on Friday and sit out the next 3-4 weeks. It was unlikely that Johnson saw the field for the Gators this season anyway, but the surgery certainly puts him further behind and makes a redshirt season appear all but guaranteed.

The good news: Redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia (back) has been cleared for non-contact individual work, according to Muschamp. Redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio (torn pectoral) is meeting with doctors Friday and hoping to be cleared to return to action by Monday at the latest. Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Trip Thurman (shoulder) remains on track to return Monday as well.

While there is not a full update on sophomore running back Matt Jones (viral infection), Muschamp said he should know more next week. Jones has been able to participate in cardiovascular exercise this week but has not practiced with the team.

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