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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4/8: Muschamp pleased with Driskel, special teams & scrimmage, but lines, secondary need work

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday, four days before the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut spring game to provide updates on individual players and how the team as a whole is progressing heading into its final practices.

HE LOVES LONG KICKS, THAT (WAS) A PUNTING PROBLEM

Just one season after averaging 45.8 yards per punt and being a finalist for the Ray Guy award, punter Kyle Christy fell off in a major way. He was only able to average 39.6 yards on 21 attempts before losing his job to freshman Johnny Townsend, who was supposed to take a redshirt and not play during his first season.

Now a senior entering his last season with the Gators, Christy appears to have turned things around and was praised accordingly by Muschamp on Tuesday for his performance in the team’s last scrimmage. “Kyle Christy punted the ball extremely well, really hit the ball well,” he said.

With Townsend (wrist surgery) out for the remainder of spring and expected to miss 8-10 weeks, Christy has every possible opportunity to win his job back entering summer workouts and fall camp. He seems to be making the most of it.

“I think he’s had a good spring, I really do,” Muschamp added. “I think he’s punted well. He’s done some nice things, absolutely.”

Special teams as a whole was abhorrent for Florida last season, especially when it came to the kicking game. Muschamp also praised UF’s kickers for the work they did Saturday, combining to go 14-for-17 on field goal attempts.

Austin [Hardin] was 7-of-9 field goal-wise; he missed from 47 and 41. Frankie [Velez] was 7-of-8 and missed from 46,” he noted. “So, I thought we’ve made some improvement as far as being more accurate in kicking the football.”

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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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Gators 2014 Spring Football Preview: Defense

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.

PART ONE: Offense

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.

DEFENSIVE TACKLES
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt senior Leon Orr
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshmen Caleb Brantley and Jay-nard Bostwick, sophomore Joey Ivie

Losing Dominique Easley so early in the season gave senior Darious “Bear” Cummings more field time than he likely would’ve had during his first year with the program as a transfer from East Mississippi. So while Florida will only be entering 2014 with one returning starter in Orr, who should be primed to finally put everything together at nose in his final season with the team, Cummings may also be poised to have a breakout year if everything lines up correctly. Ivie was on his way to a redshirt before having it pulled due to depth concerns; he saw action in three of the final games. Brantley and Bostwick, on the other hand, were able to go the distance without seeing the field in 2013. Both are expected to be major contributors this year with head coach Will Muschamp mentioning more than once last season that he was on the verge of pulling Bostwick’s redshirt and getting him some playing time.

DEFENSIVE ENDS
Returning starters (2/2): Juniors Dante Fowler, Jr. and Jonathan Bullard
Fresh faces: Redshirt sophomore Alex McCalister, redshirt freshman Jordan Sherit

Fowler returns as Florida’s starter at the hybrid Buck linebacker/defensive end spot after leading the Gators with 10.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles in 2013. He also checked in second on the team with 3.5 sacks and seven quarterback hurries, amassing 50 total tackles in the process. Bullard was unable to find much of a groove at end – he rotated in at tackle on occasion – but still managed to be productive; he should be even more so this year as a matured junior. Neither McCalister, who entered the season with high praise from the coaching staff, nor classmate Brian Cox, Jr. saw much action last season, and Sherit (torn meniscus) wound up not stepping foot on the field in 2014. Defensive line coach Brad Lawing will have his work cut out for him not only helping his starters improve but coming up with a solid second-string to spell them at times.

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Freshman LB Jarrad Davis next man up for Gators

Thomas Edison once said that opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.

With head coach Will Muschamp often referring to the Florida Gators as a blue-collar football program, one that expects its players to bring their lunch pails to practice each day, perhaps no player is a better representative of Edison’s ideal and Muschamp’s vision than freshman linebacker Jarrad Davis.

A three-star prospect out of Kingsland, GA, Davis was considered an afterthought in Florida’s 2013 recruiting class that included three other top-tier linebacker talents including five-star Alex Anzalone and four-stars Daniel McMillian and Matt Rolin.

Yet it is Davis who has impressed the coaching staff and his teammates, played exceedingly well on special teams and is scheduled to fill in for Antonio Morrison in the starting lineup after the sophomore tore his meniscus on Saturday and was declared out for the season.

“When you do well with the role you get, your role increases,” defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said of Davis on Wednesday.

“Jarrad shows up a bunch. Whether it’s on special teams or the limited snaps he’s in on defense, he shows up. He’s about all the right things. He practices and works really hard, prepares himself well. He’s going to get more opportunities and we’re going to keep playing him more and more as we go.”

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Florida Gators release depth chart for Kentucky

Though things could still change over the next five days, the No. 19/20 Florida Gators on Monday afternoon released an updated depth chart ahead of Saturday’s game.

Florida omitted players that are not participating against the Kentucky Wildcats due to injury or suspension; therefore, the depth chart below is an “active” version rather than a “best-case scenario” version.

Changes are noted below and marked with (»).

OFFENSE

QB: 3 Tyler Murphy, 17 Skyler Mornhinweg
» 6 Jeff Driskel (broken right fibula) is out for the season.
RB: 24 Matt Jones, 33 Mack Brown
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 Thopmpson
F Position: 8 Trey Burton, 30 Mike McNeely
» 13 Latroy Pittman is back from suspension but not listed at Z or F.
TE: 88 Clay Burton, 87 Tevin Westbrook

LT: 70 D.J. Humphries, 76 Max Garcia
LG: 76 Max Garcia, 63 Trip Thurman
C: 72 Jonotthan Harrison, 64 Kyle Koehne
RG: 67 Jon Halapio, 64 Kyle Koehne, 77 Ian Silberman
RT: 73 Tyler Moore, 74 Trenton Brown

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9/18: Muschamp updates Gators injuries, redshirts

No. 18/19 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp made his scheduled appearance Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference‘s weekly coaches teleconference, as did Tennessee Volunteers head coach Butch Jones. Both touched on a number of topics concerning his respective team heading into Saturday’s game.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp explained that junior cornerback Marcus Roberson (knee) and redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore (ankle) were both “a little gimpy” during practice on Tuesday but “should be OK” on Saturday and active for the game as the Gators take on the Volunteers. He also noted that junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (knee) and redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio have looked “really good” in practice and said Florida is healthy heading into the game.

FRESHMEN / REDSHIRT BREAKDOWN

Asked to go in-depth on which freshmen Florida may be redshirting this season, Muschamp began discussing which players have already contributed for the Gators and others that could before the season is out. Below is a breakdown of the freshmen that have played, may see action or are already headed toward the redshirt designation.

Active (9): Running back Kelvin Taylor; wide receivers Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson; cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, linebackers Alex Anzalone, Jarrad Davis and Daniel McMillian; safety Keanu Neal

Muschamp said Taylor is “a guy that we will continue to try to get involved with the offense,” while he considers Hargreaves “a starter for us at this time based on how he’s playing and performing and producing.”

Next up (1): Defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick

Redshirt likely (12): DTs Caleb Brantley and Antonio Riles; punter Johnny Townsend; wide receivers Alvin Bailey and Marqui Hawkins; defensive lineman Joey Ivie; QB Max Staver; RB Adam Lane; offensive linemen Cameron Dillard, Octavius Jackson, Roderick Johnson and Trevon Young

Medical redshirt likely (4): Defensive backs Marcell Harris (knee) and Nick Washington (shoulder); LB Matt Rolin (ACL); DL Jordan Sherit (ACL)

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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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