The Silver Lining for Wednesday, July 16

What is this?

This is something I have wanted to bring to OnlyGators.com for a while, a weekly column combining opinion, entertainment and information. Seeing as this is still the offseason – and today also happens to be my birthday – I felt there was no better time than the present to begin The Silver Lining, which will be posted every Wednesday right here on OnlyGators.com. The format may change as the concept develops, and suggestions are both respected and appreciated.

Unprecedented success

The “football school” tag was removed from the Florida Gators long ago, but it is nevertheless noteworthy how much of an impact head basketball coach Billy Donovan has made not just on the school but the NBA as well.

Consider this: On Tuesday, forward Chandler Parsons officially became the best-paid former Florida basketball player in school history (based on average salary) when he signed a three-year, $46 million contract with the Dallas Mavericks. He will earn $14.7 million next year, $15.4 million in 2015-16 and $16.1 million in 2016-17; the latter two salaries are the highest ever scheduled to be paid to a player out of UF.

Consider this, also: During the 2014-15 season, the Gators will have four players earning $12 million or more from their respective NBA teams including Parsons, Golden State Warriors power forward David Lee ($15.0 million), Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah ($12.2 million) and Atlanta Hawks F/C Al Horford ($12.0 million).

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Hype train rolls on for WR Demarcus Robinson

More than once this offseason – including at the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days on Monday – Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp called this season’s roster the most talented he’s had during his tenure at the school.

While corroborating that statement before the season is difficult considering Florida has lost a ton of top-end defenders in consecutive seasons and enters the 2014 campaign with its underwhelming specialists unchanged, the Gators certainly do possess a rebuilt stable of offensive talent.

Yet while Florida’s veteran wide receiver (redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar, incoming pass-catching tight end (redshirt senior Jake McGee) and three starting-caliber running backs (sophomore Kelvin Taylor, redshirt senior Mack Brown and redshirt junior Matt Jones) were all mentioned by the contingent in Hoover, Alabama, on Monday, it was a talent who frustrated and underwhelmed as a freshman that got the most praise.

“You heard it here first. He is that good,” sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III – a third-team Associated Press All-American, unanimous first-team Freshman All-American and unanimous first-team All-SEC nominee – said of the player.

Hargreaves was speaking to FOX Sports reporter Bruce Feldman about Florida sophomore wideout Demarcus Robison, the four-star prospect who was supposed to be a game-changer and big-time playmaker for the Gators as a freshman.

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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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2014 Florida Gators Orange & Blue Debut Review

The 2014 Orange & Blue Debut is in the books with the Florida Gators coming away from their spring game without a winner as the first-team Blue and second-team Orange left the field tied at 23-23 at the end of the fourth quarter.

Florida’s offense certainly looked much improved, though there were questions about the Gators defense – specifically the line – especially by the time the scrimmage concluded.

OnlyGators.com offered free live coverage of the event as well as head coach Will Muschamp post-spring game press conference and now wraps it all up with evaluations, notes and quotes in the Orange & Blue Debut Review.

OFFENSE

» The running backs showed off with redshirt senior Mack Brown (Blue) toting the rock eight times for 55 yards and a touchdown. Brown pulled off a tremendous 19-yard rush by stopping short on an off-tackle run, reversing field and carrying the ball down to the one-yard line before rumbling into the end zone on the next play.

» Sophomore Kelvin Taylor (Blue) only got five total touches in the scrimmage (one reception for no gain) but looked impressive while on the field. Faced with three defenders on his way to the goal line, Taylor juked inside to avoid all three and took the ball down to the two-yard line on an 11-yard gain. He found pay dirt on the next play for the first touchdown of the game.

» Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (Blue) completed 10-of-17 passes for 125 yards and 31-yard touchdown on a drag route to sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (Blue) in the first half. Robinson took Driskel’s pass across the middle and charged upfield for the score. Driskel went 0-for-3 on his first series but calmed down, made some nice passes and moved his unit nicely in both the run and pass game. Driskel finished 19-of-33 for 171 yards.

Muschamp said he was “real pleased” with how Driskel played, especially considering he had not played football all offseason until these 15 spring practices. “Probably one of the better throws he had today was a throwaway, a scramble pass in a one-minute situation before half that he threw out of bounds. Decision making and all those things will continue to improve as he processes information within what we’re trying to do. I think he’s in the shotgun and that’s what he was recruited here to do.”

» Robinson finished with five receptions for 53 yards on the afternoon and also had a fourth down conversion when he caught a pass on a curl route and took it for a first down. “I think we’re as deep as we’ve been at wideout with some guys that can make plays on the ball,” Muschamp said. “Demarcus Robinson is a home run threat on every play,” Driskel added.

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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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Roper enthused heading into Gators spring game

Two days before spring practice ends with the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut, new Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper met with the media to provide his final thoughts on his unit heading into Saturday’s spring game.

“LET’S GO SCORE SOME POINTS”

Fans that had time to attend got a sneak peak at Florida’s uptempo offense during the Gators’ open spring practices, but the rest of the base has been patiently waiting to see how Roper has turned around a downtrodden unit in just over two dozen practices.

Roper believes his group is ready to deliver and hopes that fans come away from the spring game confident in Florida’s ability to move the ball up and down the field in 2014.

“What you want to see from the offense is really, ‘Hey, let’s get the right personnel on the field, let’s get lined up, let’s get set with motion, get the ball snapped before the play clock runs out, and let’s have possession of the ball at the end of the play.’ If we’ll do those things and look like a well-coached offense and guys that are locked in, we’re going to make plays in this offense,” he confidently explained.

“That’s going to happen. There’s enough opportunities that will take place. The biggest thing is not beating ourselves, going out there and looking like a well-coached team.”

In order for that to occur, the players need to be as confident as their coach, which Roper believes they are even though the system is still quite new to these Gators. But he is not concerned about their confidence heading into the game. Rather, he wants to see the same thing as fans: points on the scoreboard.

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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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Muschamp on new offense and a real spring game

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday to provide updates on team injuries, spring practice and the upcoming spring game.

INJURY UPDATES

Sophomore safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) is at 90 percent according to Muschamp, who said the Gators want to get him back as soon as possible but want to ensure that the injury fully heals first. “He needs to be a part of the spring game. He needs to get in front of the crowd and play,” Muschamp said. “He needs to be in practices 10, 11, 12, 13. I didn’t want to lose him another day [by practicing him Monday].”

Sophomore wide receiver Chris Thompson (undisclosed) has returned to practice, though redshirt freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (concussion) has not yet been given the go-ahead. Muschamp hoped that Johnson would be available to see the field on Wednesday.

RUNNING AWAY WITH THINGS

The Gators will be without junior running back Matt Jones this spring, but the productivity of Florida’s other rushers has apparently filled his void quite well.

Sophomore Kelvin Taylor is more confident running the ball and “much better in protection, which is where he needed to take some big steps,” Muschamp said. Taylor is obviously the most explosive of UF’s rushers and is easily the favorite to start the first game of the season after a strong conclusion to 2013.

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