8/18: Muschamp on depth chart, competition heating up as season approaches

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to kick off his team’s final few days of practice before preparation finally begins for the team’s first opponent on Saturday, Aug. 30.

INJURY UPDATES

The Gators were dealt their first notable injury blow this season as Muschamp announced that freshman defensive tackle Thomas Holley, who was already dealing with scar tissue on a sports hernia he had repaired in high school, also had an undetected torn labrum in his hip and was scheduled for surgery on Monday. Holley will take a redshirt.

Senior offensive guard Trenton Brown (foot contusion), redshirt sophomore defensive back Marcus Maye (hamstring) and freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe (ankle) were all injured in practice this week, though all are expected back soon. Brown will return to practice on Tuesday, while Maye and Sharpe are scheduled to get back onto the field next Monday after a week on the sideline.

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8/15: Muschamp updates injuries, evaluations and competitions after Florida’s 15th practice

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday following his team’s second-to-last open practice of the offseason. The Gators are now 15 practices deep and will spend Saturday only wearing helmets during a one-hour Fan Day showing.

INJURY UPDATES

Freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe, who worked his way into being the fourth option at his position, suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice Friday morning and is currently day-to-day.

“We need to get him back. He’s a really good football player,” Muschamp said. “He’s very athletic, 6-foot-6, 330 pounds. He moves his feet extremely well. [He's] a guy that’s going to help us this year.”

The news is better for some other players. Junior running back Matt Jones (knee swelling) and redshirt junior guard Trip Thurman (shoulder) will return to action on Saturday. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox, Jr. (shoulder) could already be back in practice but will instead return on Monday after spraining his AC joint.

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8/14: Keanu Neal impressing, Durkin evaluating

Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Thursday for the first time this fall and had an opportunity to provide some insights on his players. Earlier this week, head coach Will Muschamp listed one safety as standing out from the rest of the pack in practice.

IT’S HIS TIME

Much like Loucheiz Purifoy did early in his career, sophomore safety Keanu Neal earned his stripes on special teams. A hard hitter and quick learner, he earned time as a backup in the secondary but was understandably unable to crack a starting lineup filled with veterans.

With only one set starter in the defensive backfield returning this year, Neal had every opportunity to go out and win a job in spring practice and fall camp. And that is exactly what he did.

“Keanu Neal, right now, is our best safety,” Muschamp said on Monday.

That compliment from his head coach was huge for Neal, though he is determined not to rest on his laurels.

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8/13: Fowler breakout, Leak coaching, Jones ready

A handful of Florida Gators met with the media on Tuesday to discuss both how fall practice is going and how the team is coming together ahead of the 2014 season. Others met with the media last week to discuss similar topics.

BREAKOUT TIME

Junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. had his share of moments during his sophomore campaign. He looked strong at times and explosive at others but had little help around him to stop the double teams and allow him to be truly dominant.

With 2014 now approaching, Fowler has the opportunity to step up and be the dominant name on Florida’s defense, even more so than sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. According to some of his teammates, he’s on his way to earning that type of recognition.

“He’s been relentless,” said sophomore safety Keanu Neal. “Effort, that’s what he’s bringing. He’s bringing a lot of effort and continuing to work on his technique to get better.”

Fowler has also taken over Dominique Easley’s role as a leader on the Gators’ defense. That baton was ceremoniously passed when Easley relinquished his Chucky doll and allowed Fowler to be the adoptive father. Fowler tried to fill in for his role model last year, but even with Chucky in tow, he had a ways to go. This year, it seems he is putting it together on the leadership front.

“He’s one of my best friends. Me and him were roommates last semester, so we’re pretty close. Every time I’m on the field with him it’s like playing next to one of my good friends. He pretty much brings me up, tells me to work hard. He’s definitely a good guy, definitely a good role model,” explained sophomore defensive tackle Joey Ivie.

Fowler is doing all of this without Chucky in the locker room, at least for now.

“I haven’t seen the doll yet. I don’t know if I will,” redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor said. “I wasn’t scared of it; it was just a matter of fact that you got a little doll that kills people in movies. Besides that, no, I haven’t seen it. We might see it soon, but I don’t know. We’ll have to see at the first Gator Walk.”

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8/12: Roper breaks down Gators offense, backup quarterbacks and running backs

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper met with the media on Tuesday after the team’s 11th fall practice to provide his thoughts on the offense to this point. Roper also evaluated a number of Gators who should be big factors for Florida in 2014.

EARLY RETURNS

The theme coming out of spring practice was that the Gators installed more of the offense and were much further along in the learning process than Roper expected. While that might have been true then, Roper was cautious Tuesday to say that Florida’s players fully understand what is going on with his scheme.

“I think they’ve got a really good understanding of what we’re asking them to do, our base offense, I should say, the guys that were around for those 15 days – our two offensive lines, our two quarterbacks,” he explained. “Really, the young guys, it’s a battle right now to have a great understanding because it is so new to them and our defense is so multiple and causes so many problems. But the guys that have been in the battles before can obviously apply experiences to what we’re teaching them offensively, I think they’ve really got a good understanding of what we’re doing.”

He later added: “These guys aren’t there yet because they’ve just been in it 25-26 practices in. The biggest thing to guard against is putting too much on their plate.”

While Roper may still be spoon-feeding the Gators his offense, he is pleased with how the team has responded to his system and coaching.

“I think [their attitude's] been really good. I think these guys are excited about playing football,” he explained. “It wouldn’t matter who you rolled in here. When this time of season comes running around, everybody is excited. But I hope they’re enjoying the offense. I hope they’re enjoying competing every day on the practice field, and I think they’re excited about going and competing on Saturdays.”

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Snell’s Slant: Gators are bought in, ready to work

By Shannon Snell – OnlyGators.com Featured Columnist

Hello, everyone. Did you miss me? After a long, boring summer of sports that really, honestly do not interest me one bit, college football almost back and soon to be gracing our beautiful high definition television screens once again.

Quite a few things have changed on the college sports landscape since you last heard from me following the Florida State loss, and the Florida football team has a legitimate opportunity to surprise some doubters as the 2014 season progresses.

I got the chance to do something this offseason that I have not done since I stopped playing for the Gators in 2003. I hung around with the team and met some of the current players. And most importantly, I came away impressed.

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2014 SEC Media Days – Will Muschamp pleased Florida’s roster, progress made in spring

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. and sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III represented the team on Monday by participating in the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama.

Below are highlights primarily from Muschamp’s sessions with the media.

BETTER THAN EXPECTED

If anyone is to believe in the possibility of Florida turning things around in 2014, rebounding from its worst season since 1979, it is going to start on the offensive side of the ball. Muschamp knew this and brought in offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to employ a spread offense and make the Gators a more dynamic playmaking team.

Not only will Roper’s offense put redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel back in the shotgun, where he is more comfortable and capable, it should give Florida more space to make plays. Muschamp is already extremely impressed with how much UF has been able to get accomplished in such a short period of time.

“I went back and looked at our numbers from 2012 when we were in the shotgun as opposed to being under center. When Jeff was in the shotgun, our yards were better, our explosive plays were better in both the run and pass game. He was recruited to Florida to be a gun quarterback,” he explained.

“In making that change, I felt like Kurt Roper was a great hire for us from a standpoint of a guy that philosophically is on the same page with me as what we want to be, that’s a balanced offense. …

“In our 15 days of springs, we got a lot more done than I thought we would. He’s an outstanding fundamental football coach, very positive. It was good to see our offensive kids having fun again on the field. Really excited about that. Probably what excites me the most is this is probably the most talent we’ve had on offense in my four years at Florida.”

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Gators bristle at “hot seat” talk for Will Muschamp

Florida Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley is not the only member of the athletic program dismissing the notion that head football coach Will Muschamp is on the proverbial “hot seat” entering the 2014 season.

Despite the fact that Muschamp is coming off a 4-8 campaign in 2013, Florida’s worst record since 1979, and has failed to put together a single dynamic offense in three seasons at the helm of the Gators, players on both sides of the ball insist that Muschamp’s job status is the furthest thing from the team’s mind.

“We don’t really listen to none of the outsiders,” explained junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. on Monday. “We’re all we got – my brothers, my coaching staff. That’s how it’s going to be here.

“Our job is to fight adversity and our job is to make the Gator Nation happy and get Florida back on top where they used to be. When we do things like that, there’s no worries about no job or no hot seat.”

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