6 BITS: Bonner, Miller, Johnson, Simpson, Beisel

1 » In South Florida for about a week while his team participated in the first two games of the 2013 NBA Finals, San Antonio Spurs forward Matt Bonner told ProBasketballTalk that he was getting a lot of support from Florida Gators fans in the area. “I’ve been getting ‘Go Gators’ everywhere,” Bonner said. “Even people with Miami Heat jerseys, walking down the street will yell at everyone else then see me, wait for no one to look and [whisper] ‘Go Gators.’ It’s the whole spectrum, older Gators, younger Gators. You know, it’s six degrees of separation, except here it’s like two or three degrees of Gator separation.” Bonner, who OGGOA noted last week is a big fan of sandwiches, also said that he enjoyed a few Cuban sandwiches while in town.

2 » Miami guard Mike Miller looks every bit of 33 years old most of the time, but his ability to drain threes in the playoffs has made him a hot name for the second-straight postseason. On Sunday during Game 2 of the NBA Finals, Miller went 3-for-3 from downtown, scoring nine points on the evening as his team pulled off a victory. Though he still looks old, Miller feels young for the first time in a while; during the 2012 playoffs, he could not run without limping. “I’ve got a lot of basketball left. It’s the best I’ve felt in five years,” Miller told ESPN’s Israel Gutierrez. “Sometimes, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, even when you’re frustrated. I feel great. Knock on wood it stays that way.”

Check out four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
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Josh Evans – Path to the 2013 NFL Draft: Pro Day

Through the 2013 NFL Draft from April 25-27, Florida Gators safety and 2012 leading tackler Josh Evans will be keeping fans up-to-date on his Path to the Draft via a weekly blog entry exclusively here at OGGOA.

Evans’s fifth entry covers his second return to Gainesville, FL during the offseason, the Pro Day workout on Tuesday and what his plans are for the next three weeks as he continues to workout and meet with teams.

I came back up to Gainesville late last week and the first thing I did was settle in to my place and meet up with a massage therapist to get my hamstring rubbed down. It’s just a strain. It’s something I felt during the combine. It’s kind of nagging, but it feels alright. Once I get to top speed, it is sometimes hard to maintain without it giving out. But I’m feeling better each day and we have a phenomenal training staff here at Florida so I know they’ll get me back to 100 percent in no time.

Over the weekend I also worked out a bit, did a few starts and warmed up, nothing too big because the Pro Day was in a couple of days. So I basically just worked on my flexibility and made sure I was good to go. I also met with San Francisco on Monday and had a great talk with them.

A lot of people noticed how I now have a yellow stripe in my hair. I got that done two days ago just to do something a bit different. I don’t plan to have it long, but I wanted to have it for Pro Day because I figured it would definitely help me stand out on the field.

As far as Pro Day goes, I was pretty comfortable the whole time. Any time you come back to your home field, The Swamp, there’s always that comfort you have being around your teammates and seeing the coaching staff you’ve dealt with for the last few years. I did not feel nervous; however, you still want to go out there and perform well in front of the head coaches, general managers and scouts. It was a pretty good day to get out there and run around, and I felt like all went well.

We were all concerned a bit when we first got out there saw it was raining because you don’t want to run on a wet field if you can help it. We try not to use excuses of course, but to be honest, the field was wet. The balls were even wet sometimes. We managed to overcome the obstacle and all performed well.

Continue Reading » Josh Evans – Path to the 2013 NFL Draft: Pro Day

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FOUR BITS: NCAA, volleyball, Mularkey, Dillman

1 » The NCAA on Tuesday chose to recognize some of the top players and teams that have participated in NCAA Tournaments, as well as many of the top moments to occur in those events, over the last 75 years. The organization picked the 2006-07 incarnation of the Florida Gators as one of the top-25 teams and also recognized center Joakim Noah as one of the top-75 players ever to participate in the tournament. Noah was named Most Outstanding Player of the 2006 tourney after he registered a then-record 29 blocked shots in the event and averaged 13.5 points and 9.5 rebounds. Both Noah and the 2006-07 UF team are finalists in their respective categories, which will be voted on before awards are presented at the 2013 NCAA Final Four in Atlanta, GA.

2 » Florida junior middle back Chloe Mann, who put together an impressive 2012 campaign for a Gators volleyball program that exceeded its preseason expectations, was named a First Team All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) on Wednesday. Mann was honored along with outside hitter Ziva Recek, who was named Freshman of the Year by the organization. Florida as a team lasted until the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA Tournament where it fell to three-seed Texas. The Gators concluded the season with a 27-5 record and their first SEC Championship since 2010.

3 » Former Florida tight end Mike Mularkey, now head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, was hospitalized on Monday on the advice of a team trainer after feeling ill at his team’s facility. He was released shortly after being admitted and was healthy enough to return to practice on Tuesday. Mularkey’s first year with Jacksonville has been anything but productive as the Jaguars are currently 2-11 and have lost nine of their last 10 games. This is his second NFL head coaching stint as he previously led the Buffalo Bills to a 14-18 combined record from 2004-05.

4 » As much as head coach Will Muschamp has been credited with turning around the Gators football program, strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman is in many ways equally deserving of praise. Dilliman recently sat down with his hometown paper, the Richmond County Daily Journal, and discussed both how he arrived at Florida and what he thinks of what the team has accomplished this season. Throughout the year, Dillman received plenty of credit for the team’s performance against LSU and how it stood up to the long season from a conditioning perspective. In the interview, he turned around and put the praise back on Muschamp for how the team was run this year. “At the end of the day, it’s the program,” he said. “It goes back to Coach Muschamp and the kids because they worked their butts off. We all have a job to do and Coach Muschamp lets me do my job. All the kids come in and believe in what we are trying to accomplish. Coach is big on keeping it real. My staff and I will be honest with a player, but we also want to keep a positive environment. I have a philosophy of actions trigger feelings and feelings trigger actions. Good things come out of being positive and negative things come out of being negative. I always try to be positive while training an athlete.”

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11/19: Driskel will play, Florida no longer “soft”

No. 4 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to review the team’s shutout victory over the Jacksonville State Gamecocks and preview Saturday’s game against the No. 10 Florida State Seminoles.

INJURY UPDATES

Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, who sprained his ankle two weeks ago and did not see the field against Jacksonville State, “will play” on Saturday against Florida State. Muschamp said Monday that Driskel could return to practice but will be held out until Tuesday for precautionary reasons and so he can get additional treatment. From there, he will see how well Driskel can play and how comfortable he is on his ankle, which will determine how much field time he sees Saturday.

“He will play in the game. To what degree? The week will determine that on how his health continues to improve,” he said. “We’re going to see how the week goes. I don’t know. I know right now, based on [Sunday], that he will play in the game. How much he’ll play, whether he’s going to start, I don’t know that right now.”

Muschamp was careful not to name Driskel the starter but that does not mean the designation will not come later in the week. He has yet to see Driskel practice on his injured ankle and is hedging his bets right now. If Driskel practices in full this week, especially towards the end of the week, there should be no doubt that he will start and be active for the full compliment of plays on Saturday.

Also coming off the injury report are redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle), redshirt sophomore right tackle Chaz Green (ankle), redshirt junior wide receiver Andre Debose (knee) and sophomore fullback Hunter Joyer (thigh), all of whom will take Monday off as a precaution before returning to practice on Tuesday. Each is expected to be healthy enough to take on FSU in six days.

Muschamp said Saturday that sophomore safety De’Ante Saunders and redshirt sophomore guard Ian Silberman (shoulder) are out for the season, though no specifics were provided on Saunders.

Read the rest of what Muschamp had to say…after the break!
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Muschamp managed expectations, set intensity

One of the primary jobs of a head football coach, especially in the Southeastern Conference, is to keep his team’s fan base engaged while also managing its expectations. Florida Gators fans are easily engaged but tough to manage, which is something that head coach Urban Meyer learned toward the end of his tenure but Muschamp knew from day one.

With Florida falling flat to .500 in the regular season last year, Muschamp repeatedly dismissed notions that Meyer left the cupboard bare in Gainesville, FL. What he mentioned time and time again at press conferences, media availabilities and fan gatherings was that he needed time to turn the program around, let the young players develop and have the entire team buy in to his philosophies.

“I said we were a very young team,” Muschamp recalled on Monday. “Over 70 percent of our roster was freshmen and sophomores. We had less starts than anybody in the SEC on the defensive side of the ball and the offensive line – two critical areas in our league that you need to be really good. We inherited a very young football team that had talent. We went through some growing pains last year.

“When you lose your senior quarterback – regardless of how many years you’ve been in the program – you’re going to probably face some struggles. And we certainly did. I felt like we inherited a young, talented team that just needed some growing up, needed some maturity, needed some more experience playing the game. We had a lot of guys playing for the first time last year in a lot of situations. We didn’t have depth and we’ve recruited well to that. We’ve added good depth on the defensive line and the offensive line this year. I think the depth has certainly helped us.”

His ability to handle the team (and its failures) last year with confidence and poise assured some fans that the Gators were in the right hands and on the right track even though a vocal minority was beginning to light fires under his seat.

Read the rest of this story on Muschamp…after the break!
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10/16-17: Florida players discuss team, USC game

Five Florida Gators players – redshirt senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr., senior safety Josh Evans, sophomore fullback Hunter Joyer, redshirt junior right guard Jon Halapio and redshirt sophomore right tackle Chaz Green – met with the media this week to discuss No. 2 Florida’s upcoming game against the No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks. Below are a few choice quotes from the players.

» Hammond on if he wishes the Gators threw the ball more on offense: “I’m a receiver. I’d rather them throw it to me the whole game because I’m the receiver. I want the ball. But you got to understand, that’s not the motive of the game. You got to run, you got to throw, you got to be balanced. If running is working, I have no problem blocking down field for [Mike] Gillislee, Matt Jones or any of those guys in the backfield. We’re just doing what it takes to win ballgames.”

» Evans on Gamecocks running back Marcus Lattimore: “He’s a good back, physical guy. I think he lost a step a little bit from what we’ve seen before, but he’s still showing statistics. Nothing to take away from him. [...I think that’s due to the [ACL] injury.”

» Evans on head coach Will Muschamp ensuring that Florida plays better at home this year: “That’s something he talks to us about every day, about holding down The Swamp and make sure we keep everybody happy. [Losing] is one thing you don’t like to do. It’s a bad day when you lose in The Swamp. Everybody’s down and it takes a lot to get back after that. Winning in The Swamp means a lot to the defense and this team.”

» Evans on how the fans help each week: “Fans being behind us 100 percent gives us the energy and strength to move forward.”

» Joyer on not carrying the ball much and having a quiet role: “I really don’t care. That doesn’t bother me at all. I’m not looking for TV time or my name to be talked about a lot. I just want the team to do well and success for all of us.”

» Halapio on Gillislee: “Somehow he just finds little creases, little holes here and there. I feel like, when he gets to the second level, there is no stopping him.”

» Green on strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman: “Coach Dillman, he’s got a great plan and offseason for strength and containing. We like him a lot. We put a lot of our success towards him and the stuff he does. It benefits us on the field. We feel like we’re in the best shape we’ve been in, so we credit him a lot.”

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10/15: OL, Joyer praised; Driskel not concerned

Three Florida Gators players – sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, redshirt senior defensive lineman Omar Hunter and senior Mike linebacker Jon Bostic – met with the media on Monday to discuss No. 2 Florida’s victory against the Vanderbilt Commodores and the upcoming game against the No. 7 South Carolina Gamecocks.

A PATCHWORK OFFENSIVE LINE?

Florida was without the entire left side of its offensive line on Saturday as redshirt senior left guard James Wilson (eye) did not make the trip to Nashville, TN, senior left tackle Xavier Nixon (concussion) got knocked out of the game and even redshirt junior center Jonotthan Harrison (elbow) went down with an injury. Filling in for the trio, respectively, were redshirt sophomore Ian Silberman, freshman D.J. Humphries and redshirt senior Sam Robey. Those three still managed to open up holes and hold blocks to the tune of 326 rushing yards for the Gators.

“We had three guys go down. Whenever you have three starters go down, that’s huge, especially if they’re O-linemen. We had three guys that stepped up and that’s what we’ve been doing all year long. When a guy goes down, the next guy is going to have to go up. We have great depth and that really helped it out on Saturday,” Driskel said.

Though head coach Will Muschamp said Monday that all three should be healthy enough to play Saturday against South Carolina, there is a prevailing doubt that one or more will be unable to suit up by game time with Wilson being the most likely to fall into that category. Hunter, who has practiced against the reserves for months, believes Florida will not lose a step with reserves in the game.

“I don’t think there’s a drop-off. Those guys come out each and every day in practice and they go just as hard as our starters,” he said. “Robey is a very experienced guy, being a senior. Ian, he’s been around a long time too, and he works hard during practice. [Humphries is] young and aggressive. He doesn’t let too many things get to him. He never gets too high or too low or anything. It’s going to be a great match-up.”

Read the rest of this post…after the break!
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10/10: Quinn, players talk defensive improvement

Florida Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn met with the media on Wednesday to discuss a number of topics concerning his unit including how it is preparing for the upcoming road game against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday at 6 p.m. A handful of Florida players spoke on Tuesday about LSU and their teammates.

YEAH, YEAH, YEAH

When head coach Will Muschamp hired Jeff Dillman as the team’s new strength and conditioning coach, he cited Dillman’s similar mindset and personality as two reasons why he felt that it would be a perfect fit. Just a handful of games into the 2012 season, it is looking like Muschamp made a superb hire, especially when one considers how similar the two men are in their persona and work ethic.

“Both high-energy, a lot of passion for what they do. They both bring it every day,” Quinn said.

Junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins, whose improved play has been a revelation for the Gators, said Wednesday that Dillman has done wonders for the players’ focus.

“[Dillman’s changed] our mentality as football players,” he said. “He coached us to be more physical in everything we do and before we had a lot of speed, so that’s pretty much what we worked on a lot.”

Muschamp has been preaching physicality since he arrived at UF, but he has also been known for his consistent high energy, another characteristic that Dillman shares.

“He’s always like that and that’s the best thing about him,” Watkins said of Muschamp. “He’s always genuine with us. It feels good to know your coach is right there with you celebrating.”

IT’S A TEAM EFFORT

Florida’s entire defense, a unit ranked eighth nationally one year ago, has still managed to take a big leap in season two, one which Quinn believes is fueled by the physicality that the players exhibit in each and every game.

“I thought we played with real toughness at the line of scrimmage. It was an area of emphasis for us for the game,” he said of the Gators’ effort on Saturday. “When we talk about that [with] that group, they have pride in how they do it. So I wasn’t surprised in that way and how they performed on the line.”

He also thinks it helps that the defense plays together as a unit instead of individual players trying to stand out by making highlight plays. “I think the best player on our defense is our defense,” Quinn added. “We don’t need one guy to feel like, ‘Man, if he doesn’t do it, we’re not going to be able to make it.’ We have a number of guys that we feel can make plays on our defense. I think that’s good.”

Muschamp estimated on Monday that Florida has only missed seven total tackles over its last three games, an impressive stat considering some teams have whiffed on as many as 20 in a single contest this season. Watkins explained Wednesday why that has been the case for the Gators.

“Our mental approach,” he said. “Last year, I don’t think we took tackling as seriously. We didn’t really realize how much a missed tackle can hurt the game. This year when we’re doing the tackling drills, we actually lock in and take it serious.”

Florida has also greatly reduced its discipline penalties, an area that really killed the team early in the season. Quinn discussed how the Gators have succeeded in making such a vast improvement in that category.

“Yeah, we have cut down on that. [Knocks on wood] It’s something – you get what you emphasize. It’s something that has been a big emphasis for us, and we just stay consistent in terms of message,” he said. “We have the officials at practice. They throw the flag. Each day at practice we try to create as many game-like situations as we can to let them know that you can’t line-up offsides, you can’t jump, illegal contact or whatever the penalty might have been.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Quinn on how to defend a mobile quarterback: “Certainly it’s a challenge when you play a mobile QB in terms of the different things that they can do. Not only do they have a mobile QB, they also have a quarterback running game package where there’s some direct quarterback runs and those kind of things. You have to do a really good job setting the edges because sometimes when you face a guy that has the speed to get outside, he’ll break contain and try to create a play that way.”

» Quinn on sophomore CB Loucheiz Purifoy: “He adds a lot to our team, even form a special teams standpoint the way he can cover. […] He was certainly one guy we highlighted in terms of the way he played on teams. He does carry a lot for us.”

» Quinn on if redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins will be able to play on Saturday: “We’re pushing Jelani as hard as we can to get him ready to play. We certainly need him to. We’re taking it day-by-day. We’re hoping to have Jelani available for us.”

» Watkins on Florida playing with swagger and intimidation: “Last year, I feel like teams tried to do that to us more. This whole summer we thought about that and it’s always in the back of our hands that we won’t be the ones to be intimidated this year.”

» Watkins on which players help energize and motivate the defense:Matt Elam. He brings a different type of energy to the defense. If he’s down, I feel like the whole defense will be down. But when he’s up and he’s going, everybody will play around him. And Lerentee McCray, too. He and Matt Elam kind of have the same personality – that bad boy persona on- and off-the-field. And it works for them on the field. [Dominique] Easley is in his own category.”

» Senior linebacker Jon Bostic on his celebration penalty: “It was just really exciting for Matt to come up and set the tempo. I didn’t think it was too much, but I guess the ref did. That was a big play for us. We really saw that as one of those setting-the-tempo type plays.”

» Redshirt senior guard James Wilson on coming back to be a major part of the offensive line: “There was a little bit of doubt, but if there was any more doubt than that I would have hung up my pads. Scout team last year was pretty low. That didn’t feel good. We got a whole new change of offensive coaches and they saw what I could do. I’ll just say that these coaches believe in me more than coaches of the past.”

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