Defensive line shake-up working well for Gators

It was no surprise when the Florida Gators defensive line struggled last season after defensive tackle Dominique Easley, the star of the unit and a leader on the team, went down with a torn ACL during a late September practice.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp tried to fill in the gaps the best he could, but the Gators had issues stopping the run, getting to the quarterback or doing much of anything at times with their defensive front seven.

So while the offense is in the middle of an overhaul under new coordinator Kurt Roper, Muschamp and defensive line coach Brad Lawing are tweaking a unit that must make significant improvements if Florida is going to have substantial success in 2014.

Before the Gators could begin improving came the realization that they would have to do so without redshirt senior Leon Orr, who is not expected to be cleared until May 1 as he recovers from a fractured wrist he suffered last season.

Filling in for him on the interior is junior Jonathan Bullard, a defensive end who played some tackle in 2013 despite not actually having the desire to switch positions. Bullard admitted Tuesday that he was frustrated when Muschamp asked him to move inside because he had never played the position before and felt like his production would significantly decrease (which it ultimately did).

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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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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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Muschamp updates Gators injuries, filling voids

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Wednesday primarily to discuss the new recruiting class on National Signing Day, but he also touched on a number of issues concerning the team with six weeks to go until the start of spring practice on March 19 ahead of the 2014 season.

INJURED STARTERS STILL ON THE MEND

The Gators’ rash of season-ending injuries last season was highlighted by two big losses on the offensive side of the ball – redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (fibula) and junior Matt Jones (knee).

While Driskel is slowly but surely working his way back – Muschamp noted that he has resumed jogging and is expected to be cleared for the start of spring practice – Jones on Wednesday went under the knife for the second of potentially three surgeries to repair a complete radial tear of his meniscus.

Doctors have told Muschamp that Jones’s meniscus was already “90 percent healed,” which puts him “further along” than the initial projection for his return, but he will not be able to suit up in March and remains on target to get back to work in the summer.

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Friday Final: Changes coming for Gators, Florida player updates heading into Georgia game

Florida Gators coaches and players spoke this week ahead of Saturday’s neural-site contest against the Georgia Bulldogs scheduled to kick off at 3:30 p.m. from EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL, and air live on CBS.

Below are some stories, notes and quotes that either broke towards the end of the week or fell through the cracks and did not make it into one of the six posts already published here on OnlyGators.com (see links).

Monday: Will Muschamp previews Georgia, updates injuries, talks new starters
Tuesday: Brent Pease talks changes to the offensive line and overall scheme
Wednesday: LT D.J. Humphries out 2-4 weeks, Florida-Georgia updates
Thursday: Overcoming embarrassment, can Gators’ defense return to form?

NEW LEADER IN THE BACKFIELD

Muschamp confirmed on Thursday during his weekly radio appearance that freshman running back Kelvin Taylor will be Florida’s starter on Saturday. “He’s earned the opportunity,” he said. “He’s really done a good job in the opportunities he’s had as the season has evolved.”

MORE CHANGES AT TACKLE

Though the Gators experimented with redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia at left tackle during the off week, he will remain in his current role. Unfortunately, sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphires going down with a sprained MCL on Monday means that redshirt sophomore Tyler Moore, who was actually benched as the starting right tackle in favor of junior Trenton Brown, will be back in the lineup.

“We were going to give Trenton Brown an opportunity to start at right tackle,” Muschamp explained. “Unfortunately, D.J. Humphries sprained his MCL Monday in practice and he’ll probably miss 2-3 weeks. We hope to get him back before then. But Tyler Moore will bump over to left tackle.

“Max has been playing inside and playing very well inside at left guard. We didn’t feel like it was good to move him and possibly create another void at the left guard position.”

BURNING REDSHIRTS

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10/30: D.J. Humphries (MCL) out 2-4 weeks

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp made his scheduled appearance Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference‘s weekly coaches teleconference and touched on a number of topics surrounding his team heading into Saturday’s neutral-site contest against the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville, FL.

ANOTHER BIG LOSS

While he was practicing to save his starting left tackle job on Monday, sophomore D.J. Humphries sprained his MCL and has been ruled out of action for the next 2-4 weeks, Muschamp announced. “He’s a quick-recovery guy. It’s the other knee that he had sprained from earlier in the season. So we’re hoping just two weeks on it and get him back out there,” he said.

Humphries will be replaced on the left side of the line by redshirt sophomore Tyler Moore, who was on his way to losing his starting right tackle job after another poor performance last week. Junior transfer Trenton Brown will start at right tackle in his place. Redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia may also play some left tackle in Saturday’s game as he cross-trained at the position during the bye week.

INJURY UPDATES

The rest of the injury news was positive for a change.

Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy (shoulder) is fine and redshirt junior linebacker Ronald Powell (ankle) practiced Tuesday for the first time in more than two weeks. He and senior defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (head) are both “good to go” for the game. Redshirt junior LB Darrin Kitchens (shoulder) was also able to practice Tuesday, but his status remains up in the air at this time.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Freshmen DTs Joey Ivie and Jay-nard Bostwick have been playing well in practice and may see the field on Saturday. Both players are currently redshirt candidates as neither has stepped on the field this season.

» On whether freshman running back Kelvin Taylor reminds Muschamp of Fred Taylor: “I don’t think that’s fair with Kelvin, to compare him to his father. Kelvin’s his own player and he’s a really good football player. He’s got natural running instincts. He’s a one-cut runner, gets the ball north and south. He’s a guy that’s got some special ability. But the thing that’s really struck me as we’ve moved forward in the season is him doing a better job in protection and some of the other things you got to do at the running back position besides running the ball. He’s really worked extremely hard off the field on those things, and I’m really proud of him.”

» On if he feels bad for Georgia with their injury problems: “Not necessarily. I hurt for young men. These guys put a lot of time and effort into playing college football, and it’s hard, no matter where you are. By the time you put in offseason workouts, spring practice, summer workouts, people don’t realize the amount of time and effort they put in to playing college football. … You don’t want anyone to get hurt. That’s not good for anybody. That’s not good for college football.”

» On Bulldogs RB Todd Gurley: “He’s a back that, whether they block him or not, he gains positive yards. You don’t see many negative plays when he’s in the game. He runs. The thing that strikes me with the guy is he competes, he competes on every run. He goes after it every play. He’s a guy that’s certainly got the speed to take it the distance at any time. … He’s a big, physical back that’s got really good speed. He’s got the combination you want. He catches the ball out of the backfield well, he protects. He’s a complete back, no question.”

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Can freshmen save the Gators’ 2013 season?

The Florida Gators have now officially lost eight players, five of which were starters, to season-ending injuries. For a team that was already forced to replace 13 starters from the previous season and currently stands 4-3 (3-2 SEC) with some tough games ahead, it sounds like an insurmountable predicament.

But head coach Will Muschamp on Wednesday, during his only media availability of Florida’s off week, mentioned a number of freshmen who could join cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and (more recently) punter Johnny Townsend in becoming key players for the Gators over the latter half of the regular season.

The first of which is running back Kelvin Taylor, who received five carries in garbage time during the first game against Toledo but only touched the ball once over the following four contests. When sophomore Matt Jones tore his meniscus against LSU and saw his season come to an end, Florida had no choice but to give Taylor more work behind redshirt junior Mack Brown.

Taylor averaged 5.2 yards per carry in that very game, looking sharper and more decisive than Brown. Against Missouri on Saturday, he took the majority of the carries, rushing 74 yards on 12 touches and scoring the first touchdown of his career. Muschamp admitted Wednesday that the Gators should have leaned on Taylor more in the game, and it would be no surprise if he earned his first career start against Georgia on Nov. 2.

“I thought he played well. I thought he ran the ball extremely well. He continues to improve in all facets of the game. We’ve been very pleased with where he is right now,” Muschamp said.

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Muschamp blasts Florida media for inaccurately reporting opening game suspensions

Shortly after providing an opening statement following the No. 10 Florida Gators‘ 24-6 defeat of the Toledo Rockets at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL, head coach Will Muschamp admonished some members of the team’s media corps for inaccurately reporting one particular player as being suspended for the season opener.

On Friday night, multiple reports surfaced that five additional Gators would be suspended for Saturday’s game for violations of team rules. Among those five names reported was freshman defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick, who actually dressed for the game and would have played had Florida needed him during the contest.

GatorCountry.com first reported that five players were suspended and was also the first to mention Bostwick’s name. Subsequently, The Gainesville Sun and Palm Beach Post both reported the five suspensions, citing their own sources close to the program.

The other four players – junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, senior DT Darious Cummings sophomore wide receiver Latroy Pittman and redshirt freshman offensive lineman Quinteze Williams – were all confirmed as suspended by the school Saturday morning. Pittman will miss two additional games.

Read the full text of Muschamp’s post-game rant…after the break!
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