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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2014 SEC Media Days – Mike Slive references Florida Gators in opening press conference

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

Before Muschamp could take the stand and the Florida contingent had the opportunity to be swarmed by reporters, SEC commissioner Mike Slive held an introductory press conference to address a number of topics including the league’s success, updates to bowl game arrangements and an outlook for the future. Below are some highlights of comments made by Slive on Monday afternoon.

PRAISING SOME GATORS

Two now-former Florida student-athletes, right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers and center Patric Young, were singled out by Slive during his opening speech.

While running down the SEC’s multiple successes during the 2013-14 athletic campaign, Slive pointed out that Rogers won numerous awards while leading Gators softball to the first NCAA title in program history.

“Florida’s softball student athlete, Hannah Rogers, led Florida to its first national championship in softball and she was named the College World Series most outstanding player,” he noted. “Both A.J. [Reed] and Hannah were named Roy Kramer Athletes of the Year this year as voted by our league’s athletic directors.”

In the latter portion of his press conference, Slive used Young as a paradigm for what the SEC wants out of its student-athletes. He is someone who certainly excelled on the court but also was in great academic standing and contributed to the community both stateside and abroad.

“Florida’s basketball player Patric Young is an example of a student athlete who has made the most of his collegiate academic and athletic experience. He led the Gators to the 2014 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament title and the NCAA Final Four, was named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year twice, was named the SEC male winner of the Brad Davis Community Service Award. Then he traveled to Africa where he encouraged children to focus on exercise and healthy lifestyle,” he explained.

“While doing all of that, Patric maintained a 3.4 grade point average. Student athletes like Patric, as well as many other student athletes like him, inspire us to protect intercollegiate athletics, to keep it healthy, vibrant and an integral part of higher education. We do this for the young men and women who seek an education, compete in sports, and ultimately make a difference in people’s lives.

“This is why it is critical for the NCAA to change, and to change in accordance with the vision proposed for the 21st century by the five conferences. This is one important way we will be able to provide academic and athletic opportunities for the generations of Patrics yet to come.”

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4 BITS: SEC Media Day, Driskel, softball, Tebow

1 » The Southeastern Conference announced Wednesday that Florida Gators redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III will join head coach Will Muschamp as the school’s contingent at the 2014 SEC Media Days next week in Hoover, Alabama. Florida is one of just two SEC teams not bringing a senior on the trip, a departure from the past when the Gators tried to ensure all three spots were taken by players in their last year of eligibility. The event is scheduled from July 14-17 with Florida set to be the third contingent to go through the process behind league commissioner Mike Slive and Auburn. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier will entertain on Tuesday, LSU’s Les Miles will follow suit on Wednesday and Alabama’s Nick Saban will kick things off on Thursday.

2 » Speaking of Driskel, UF’s school website announced that he will be working as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy from July 10-13. It is the second-straight year Driskel will be attending the event in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and he will represent the Gators as one of 40 college signal callers working as counselors. He also participated once as a camper during high school. “The few chances I did get to speak with [the Mannings at previous camps], it was really good experiences,” Driskel said. “They are down-to-earth people and I’m just fortunate enough they invited me back for another year. I’m really looking forward to going.” Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has a long history with former Ole Miss QB Eli Manning after working as his position coach, so Driskel will likely have another topic to discuss with the Mannings over the weekend.

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FOUR BITS: Figueroa, Fowler, Caldwell, Hill

1 » For the second time in as many days a former Florida Gators baseball has been called up to a MLB roster and will finally get his shot in the big leagues. Shortstop Cole Figueroa, who is batting .299 in 32 Southern League games with the Durham Bulls, will join the Tampa Bay Rays on Thursday as a replacement for Ben Zobrist, who is headed to the disabled list with a dislocated thumb. Figueroa has played 250 games in Triple-A while waiting for his shot. Right-handed pitcher Anthony DeSclafani got the call on Tuesday to make his first appearance in the big leagues Wednesday night as a starting hurler for the Miami Marlins. DeSclafani (6.0 IP, 7 H, 2 ER, BB, 7 K) put together an impressive debut, leading Miami to a 13-3 win and even getting things done at the plate going 1/4 with two RBI and a run scored.

2 » There is no good reason to have a mock 2015 NFL Draft with three months to go until the start of the 2014 college football season – in fact, there are plenty of ways in which one could point out that a mock draft for next year is a terrible idea – but ESPN.com’s Todd McShay published one on Wednesday ($) and it included some high praise for a current Florida defender. Gators junior Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. was mocked by McShay as the No. 4 overall pick in next year’s draft. Unlike cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who was projected to make big gains during his junior season and prove to be the most NFL-ready player to come out of Florida in 2014, Fowler is unanimously considered the Gators’ best draft prospect for 2015. Hopefully for Fowler, unlike Purifoy, he makes the most out of what could be his last season.

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2014 Florida Gators Orange & Blue Debut Preview

OnlyGators.com will offer full coverage of the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut via an on-site live blog on Saturday, April 12 as fans are unable to watch the spring game live for free either on television or online.

A live blog link is now available, so be sure to check OnlyGators.com to bookmark the page and stay with us as we take a first look at Florida football ahead of the 2014 season.

Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Weather: Sunny, 80 degrees, winds east at 8 mph
Time: 1:30 p.m. (EDT)

TV (5:00 p.m. Tape Delay): Sun Sports (Larry Vettel, Nat Moore, Jessica Blaylock)
SiriusXM: None | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Free Online Video: None | Mobile Video: None
Free Live Updates: OnlyGators.com and @OnlyGators on Twitter

Reference: Roster | Schedule

EXPANDED VIEWING INFORMATION

Television:
Florida’s 2014 spring game will not air live on television but rather on tape delay at 5 p.m. due to a conflict with the Tampa Bay Rays. OnlyGators.com contacted Sun Sports and the Gators but received conflicting information as to why the game was not available live elsewhere on television, even as a pay-per-view broadcast.

Saturday, April 12 at 5:00 p.m. | Sunday, April 13 at 10:00 a.m.
Tuesday, April 15 at 12:00 p.m. | Thursday, April 17 at 12:00 p.m.
Saturday, April 19 at 12:00 p.m. | Tuesday, April 22 at 4:30 p.m.

Online:
While the game is not being offered live on television, you can pay $3.99 to stream the Orange & Blue Debut live online as a pay-per-view via GatorVision.tv.

However, OnlyGators.com is running a free live blog during the Orange & Blue Debut, so you can also check here on Saturday for full coverage without paying a cent.

EVENT FORMAT

Unlike 2013, when Florida only had six healthy offensive linemen and head coach Will Muschamp felt the team did not have enough healthy players to play a true spring game, the Gators will be reverting back to that format with four 12-minute quarters and a running clock, which will only stop during the two-minute drill at the end of each half.

Though Florida, for marketing purposes, held a “selection show” picking the first 12 players of each team, Muschamp previously stated that the Gators will run “good-on-good” during the game, meaning the first-team offense will play against the first-team defense and the same for the second-team units.

Therefore, even though there are supposed to be two teams – one wearing orange, the other blue – going against each other, both defenses will wear orange and both offenses will wear blue. Good luck keeping score.

Injury report, player notes and much more…all available after the break!

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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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