Jaylen Watkins: Path to the NFL Draft: Pro Day

Through the 2014 NFL Draft, which will be held in New York, NY from May 8-10, Florida Gators defensive back Jaylen Watkins will be keeping you up-to-date on his Path to the Draft with exclusive blog entries here at OnlyGators.com.

Florida’s third-leading tackler with 52 takedowns last season, Watkins played safety for the Gators after being primarily used as a cornerback – the position he will play as a professional – during his first three years. Watkins started 28 of the 48 games in which he participated but saw the field for starter’s minutes in many of those other contests.

His eighth entry was submitted shortly after his participation in Pro Day in Gainesville, FL. Watkins also began private meetings and workouts.

Heading into Pro Day, I was hoping to be 100 percent recovered from my Achillles injury. I felt good that day, good enough to do the broad jump, vertical jump, shuttle drills and on-field work, which I did not anticipate doing all of those heading into the day. I ended up aggravating it doing those activities, and it definitely started bothering me, but I got some good notes back on how I performed.

The weather played a factor, too. It was nasty last year but dried up before the guys got out on the field. We didn’t know what to expect. The earlier part of the day, looking outside, it was pouring and we didn’t expect to go outside at all. I know it was rough for Marcus [Roberson] and Loucheiz [Purifoy] and the rest of the guys having to run on the indoor track and having things off-schedule. “Out of all the days, it had to rain this day.” You know? It was warm the day before, right after it cleared up as well. But just for it to happen like that was a stroke of bad luck for all of us.

Before Pro Day even began, the night before, I had my first meeting since the combine and linked up with the Indianapolis Colts at the Florida football facility. It was very similar to all of my other meetings. We went over film, got to know each other and they picked my brain on some things over about 20-30 minutes.

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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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Sophomore CB Hargreaves focused on leadership

Hauling in a pair of interceptions in the first two games of his career, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III raised his already-high expectations basically the very moment he stepped on the field as a freshman for the Florida Gators.

A five-star recruit, he may have started that first game had Florida not had three NFL-caliber corners returning, but he basically outplayed each of them as the season went on and wound up as a first-stringer for the final 10 games of the campaign.

His 11 pass breakups tied Janoris Jenkins for most by a freshman in school history, and his lockdown defense made him a national name in no time at all.

As a result, Hargreaves was named a third-team Associated Press All-American, first-team Freshman All-American by a number of organizations and got chosen unanimously to the first-team All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman teams.

To him though, it was all a blur.

“My first year was kind of fast. It went fast. I had to learn quick cause they told me I was going to play early. But I enjoyed it, it was fun. Had a lot of great guys behind me showing me the ropes. I enjoyed it,” he said.

“All that [award] stuff, it was good. I guess I was proud of myself for it, but I’d much rather win games than have all of that stuff for myself.”

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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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Florida defense solidifying as spring continues

Last Friday, one day before the Florida Gators‘ Saturday scrimmage, head coach Will Muschamp provided a number of updates about his players and discussed some hot topics concerning the team.

REBUILDING THE PASS RUSH

Once Florida lost defensive tackle Dominique Easley to a season-ending injury in 2013, the Gators pass rush suffered. With Easley now headed for the NFL, UF is on its way to ensuring that it will be able to pressure the quarterback this season.

Leading the pack, of course, is junior Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr., who led Florida with 10.5 tackles for loss and finished second with 3.5 sacks as a sophomore. “Dante Fowler continues to play extremely well, hard, tough. He’s practicing with a purpose every day. He goes out there every day and really competes,” Muschamp said. “I think we have a special rusher in Dante.”

Junior defensive end Jonathan Bullard, long expected to be Fowler’s bash brother coming off the edge, played well in 2013 but continues to be worked inside at tackle as well in order for the Gators to build depth and get as much top-tier talent on the field as possible. Muschamp likes how Bullard matches up against guards because of his athleticism and is able to play him inside because of how redshirt sophomore Bryan Cox, Jr. has developed as an edge rusher.

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3/25: Florida defense years ahead of offense, Gators injury and depth chart updates

Spring practice remains underway for the Florida Gators with the team participating in workouts, many of which have been open to the public, for the second-straight week. Head coach Will Muschamp discussed practice, provided injury updates and went over a number of hot topics when he met with the media Tuesday afternoon.

FOUR DAYS VS. FOUR YEARS

Twice on Tuesday, Muschamp made it a point to note that there is quite a disparity between the respective preparedness of Florida’s offense and defense.

“Our team, let’s see, has had four days of installation offensively…and about four years of installation defensively. I think that puts things in perspective a little bit about where we are,” he explained.

Though the Gators defense lost most of its best players to graduation and the NFL Draft, the remaining student-athletes are all familiar with the system and simply building their knowledge base from one season to the next. In fact, Muschamp said Florida has “not cut back at all defensively” with formations or play calling, trying to make things “as hard as possible” on an offense that is much less comfortable in its own skin.

New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has only been able to work with his unit on the field for four days, but Muschamp noted that he is “really pleased with the production” the offense has shown thus far, saying it is “really playing fast, physical” and “really limiting negative plays.” He also praised Roper for his approach to this point.

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3/19: Renewed optimism as Gators open practice

The Florida Gators began 2014 spring practice on Wednesday, taking the field for the first of 15 times over the next few weeks. The pad-less practice was open to fans and reporters, which got a first-hand look at the team as it went through the motions of offensive and defensive installation. Afterward, head coach Will Muschamp discussed practice, provided injury updates and went over a number of hot topics.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE OFFENSE

Muschamp made no bones about it on Wednesday when he matter-of-factly stated that Florida’s “number one priority … is the installation of the offense.” So important is the Gators improving on offense, in fact, that he has explained to defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and the defensive players that they will need to be patent as offensive coordinator Kurt Roper helps get things on track with his new system.

“There’s a lot of give and take in the installation process,” Muschamp said, “and you have to make sure [the defense does not] get too far ahead of the offense.”

To that end, he confirmed that the Gators will be operating their up-tempo in the shotgun. He now prefers to save Florida’s players under center for when the team has to “kneel down at the end [of a game] after a good win.” He quipped, “I don’t want to be in shotgun doing that.”

Roper will try to instill two important tenants into the heads of the players on his side of the ball. The Gators have to play with urgency and need to master execution…and do all of it at a pace that will keep opposing defenses on their toes.

“They understand the advantages of [lining up] quickly and getting themselves in the right spots and the disadvantages it can create for a defense,” explained Muschamp. “Our players talk between offense and defense. The defensive kids talk about how difficult it can be and how stressful it can be under the circumstances of when they do align fast and get aligned quickly.”

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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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