Florida adds four-star CB Marcus Lewis

The Florida Gators have landed yet another highly-touted recruit to their extremely talented secondary, gaining a verbal commitment Thursday from four-star 2015 cornerback Marcus Lewis (Washington, D.C.).

Ranked No. 76 nationally and rated as the second-best player in his area by Rivals, Lewis (6-foot-1, 180 pounds) had committed to Virginia Tech in November 2013 but decommitted days later after initially making the decision without enough research or knowledge of his potential opportunities.

Lewis, who will be transferring from Gonzaga High School to IMG Sports Academy (Bradenton, FL) in June, boasts an impressive offer list with Clemson, Miami, Notre Dame and Ohio State, among others, showing considerable interest in his services.

Florida came on strong for Lewis in April and did not take long to land the top-tier prospect. The Gators – specifically head coach Will Muschamp and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson, the team’s top recruiters – used playing time, opportunity and talent development as their pitch.

“IM 100 %COMMITTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA!!!!!!!!!!!!! #GatorNation!!!! #FloridaFamily!!!!” he tweeted.

Lewis’s commitment was first reported by Rivals.com‘s Adam Friedman.

UF may start a freshman cornerback for its second-straight season and has a history of developing talent in the defensive backfield. Three Florida cornerbacks will be selected in the 2014 NFL Draft, likely within the first two days of the event.

Lewis joins three-star safety Deontai Williams (Jacksonville, FL), the Gators’ other secondary commitment, as part of the 2015 class. He is the sixth overall pledge.

If he follows through with his commitment, Lewis will be the 19th Rivals 250 defensive back to join Florida over the last six recruiting cycles.

The Gators added four-star CB Jalen Tabor out of the nation’s capital in 2014.

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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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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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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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