Florida secondary faltered early, strengthened late

Though offense has been a struggle for the Florida Gators during head coach Will Muschamp‘s tenure, the team’s defense has been well-respected and even feared by opponents over the last three seasons.

Florida looked to be trending upward offensively and holding steady on its defensive success after its 65-0 season-opening rout of Eastern Michigan, but Muschamp cautioned after the game that his young secondary made a number of mistakes in the game that a better opponent would expose.

That opponent was the Kentucky Wildcats.

Picking on the Gators’ young defensive backs, Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles passed for 369 yards on Saturday – only eight fewer than he did against Tennessee-Martin – and a career-high three touchdowns.

Florida gave up eight big plays in the game and 173 yards on six of them, mostly due to miscues in the secondary.

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Florida Gators 2014 season-opening depth chart

Though things will undoubtedly change for the Florida Gators throughout the 2014 season, likely even before its season-opener against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday at 7 p.m. inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, head coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday released the team’s first official depth chart in nine months.

OFFENSE

QB: 6 Jeff Driskel, 3 Treon Harris
RB: 21 Kelvin Taylor OR 24 Matt Jones OR 33 Mack Brown
F/B: 41 Hunter Joyer, 25 Gideon Ajagbe
TE/B: 88 Clay Burton, 83 Jake McGee
WR (X): 1 Quinton Dunbar, 11 Demarcus Robinson, 89 Alvin Bailey
WR (Z): 5 Ahmad Fulwood, 4 Andre Debose, 85 Chris Thompson
WR (Y): 9 Latroy Pittman, 10 Valdez Showers, 14 C.J. Worton

LT: 70 D.J. Humphries, 78 David Sharpe
LG: 63 Trip Thurman, 73 Tyler Moore, 71 Antonio Riles
C: 76 Max Garcia, 72 Drew Sarvary
RG: 74 Trenton Brown OR 73 Tyler Moore
RT: 75 Chaz Green, 55 Roderick Johnson

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8/22: Muschamp’s last update before game week

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday to conclude his team’s last week of practice before game week. Florida will get the weekend off and return to practice on Monday in preparation for its season-opener against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

INJURY UPDATES

For the first time in a while, Muschamp did not have much to say on the injury front.

Freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe, who is fourth on the depth chart and an important player for Florida this fall, is expected to return on Monday after missing some time with an ankle injury. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Maye, in competition for a starting job in the secondary, will be back in action on Tuesday or Wednesday coming off a significant hamstring strain.

Additionally, redshirt freshman linebacker Matt Rolin, who has been fully cleared to practice all fall after undergoing a second surgery for a torn ACL in as many years, is “coming along slowly” as planned by the coaching staff.

Muschamp remarked that the Gators only having two “soft tissue issues” is “outstanding” and “the best I’ve been around.” He added: “It tells you we’re training the right way.”

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8/11: Muschamp updates injuries, backup quarterback, progress after nine practices

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss how the team is progressing in fall training camp. The Gators have completed seven days of practice to this point.

INJURY UPDATES

Though most of the injuries Florida players have suffered early this fall are minor, the list is beginning to lengthen with the Gators now nine practices into training camp.

Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his knee on Thursday, has not yet returned to practice and spent Monday running in an anti-gravity treadmill. He is expected to return to the field on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose and junior running back Matt Jones, both of whom are returning after suffering season-ending knee injuries in 2013, had swelling in the joint and did not practice Monday. Debose should return on Wednesday, while Jones might be back as early as Tuesday.

Sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor missed practice with a strained hamstring and will be held out until the end of the week, either Thursday or Friday barring an unforeseen setback. Junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard (ankle) did not practice Monday but will be back Tuesday.

Four players including redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Trip Thurman, redshirt freshman defensive ends Bryan Cox, Jr. and Alex McCalister, and freshman defensive back Duke Dawson all suffered shoulder injuries over the weekend but “should be fine” in the next few days.

Additionally, freshman DL Taven Bryan, who had been impressing Muschamp early in training camp, has strep throat and is day-to-day. “I hate that Taven has strep throat, because I thought he was making some progress. This will set him back,” he said.

Already out of action, freshman DL Thomas Holley continues to recover from a sports hernia that occurred in high school. Due to the build up of scar tissue, he will need minor surgery and remain out of action indefinitely until given clearance by doctors.

“They’re going to go in and shave that down, but I don’t know what the time frame is for that. I want to say the surgery is Tuesday,” Muschamp explained. “It’s not a major procedure, it’s more like having a scope done. He had some scar tissue that was built up that was very of discomforting when he ran, so he will be out for some time, but I do not know how much.”

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8/4: Muschamp after Florida’s first practice on passing game, defensive backs, social media

The Florida Gators will take the field for the first time since April on Monday morning at 6 a.m. for the official start of fall practice ahead of the 2014 season.

Head coach Will Muschamp, heading into his fourth year at the helm of the program, held a press conference during Florida’s annual media day on Sunday to discuss the make-up of the Gators heading into the fall.

GOOD START FOR THE PASSING GAME

Slinging the ball down the field will be key to the revitalization of Florida’s offense this season and very early returns are positive with Muschamp noting that redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel “looked really good” on day one.

Also impressing was redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose, who “looked really good [Monday] morning” and “looked fast on the field,” according to Muschamp.

“I think he handled the rehab very well. At first, he was very frustrated. As time moved forward, he was very focused on getting back and having a great sixth year,” he said.

“So as far as his level of focus, to be where he is right now [is great]. Really, it takes a full year, in my opinion, on an ACL for a skill athlete to come back totally from a confidence standpoint, from a soreness standpoint, to be able to battle through. … I’ve been nothing but pleased with his rehab coming back from where he was.”

Debose will have his repetitions monitored throughout camp but “will not be held out of any of the contact situations” due to his rehabilitated knee.

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Will Muschamp trying to translate Florida Gators’ off-field successes into on-field victories

Four years after Will Muschamp took over the Florida Gators, the offseason focus is not what the head coach expected when he accepted the job. Rather than trying to figure out ways Florida can sustain its success, Muschamp is fixed on turning around a Gators program that was ravaged by injuries and fell apart at the seams in 2013.

Publicly, Florida has done an admirable job attempting to put that 4-8 season in the rear view, not showing any highlights from 2013 in its online hype-up videos or during major recruiting events held in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators are instead pumping how successful the team was in 2012 and how many former players have been succeeding at the next level over the last few years.

Internally with the team, Muschamp does not have that luxury. He had no choice but to address Florida’s failures, which started with injuries but transitioned into apathy by the time the Georgia Southern game rolled around.

“That’s something we sort of buried to start the summer. It’s been a great motivation through spring and the offseason workouts. It’s something we still got to deal with; it’s there,” he said Sunday during the team’s media day.

“I addressed our team about our preparation, about our attitude, about our embracing adversity, about having a competitive edge every day. To stick your head in the sand and pretend it was all injuries, that’s not right. You’ll fool yourself if you believe that. We addressed a lot of those things in the offseason and moving forward. We’re getting ready to get started with the 2014 Florida football team.”

Muschamp believes the Gators have reasons to look upward, starting with how successful the team has been during his tenure, primarily off the field.

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Florida sees four players decommit in 10 days

Four times in the last 10 days, a 2015 prospect previously committed to the Florida Gators has changed course and taken back his verbal pledge.

On Monday, less than 24 hours after three-star athlete Jalen Julius (Orlando, FL) reopened his recruitment, Florida learned that its second-highest rated pledge, four-star cornerback Marcus Lewis (Washington, D.C.) has decided to decommit as well.

“I am officially announcing my decommitment from the University of Florida. I am grateful for the opportunity the university granted me,” Lewis wrote on his Twitter account.

According to InsidetheGators.com‘s Blake Alderman and many other recruiting analysts, Lewis’s decommitment was a “long time coming.” He visited Michigan over the weekend and is expected to eventually make a pledge to continue his career there.

Rated by Rivals as the No. 84 overall player in the nation, Lewis committed to the Gators back on April 17. He cited Florida’s ability to put defensive backs in the NFL and the program’s recent addition of freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor, also a Washington, D.C. product, as big reasons for his decision.

Julius pulled his trigger on Sunday. The Gators were recruiting him as a cornerback, though as he mentioned on Twitter back on July 15: “I want to play [wide receiver] at the next level I feel like I would be a dominant player at that position.”

Three days prior to his decommitment, on Thursday, Julius tweeted that he could not wait to arrive in Gainesville, Florida, to participate in the annual Friday Night Lights camp.

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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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