Florida Gators football’s tumultuous offseason

The 2013 offseason started out relatively calm and normal for the Florida Gators football program with some players deciding to leave school early to play professionally and others choosing to try their luck at another university. Suddenly, starting on Jan. 10, a string of arrests, poor decisions, injuries and negative headlines began taking over the spring and summer for the Gators. Below is a timeline* of one of the most bizarre and controversial offseasons in Florida football history.

* While all of the news below was sour for Florida or its players in one way or another, obviously some of the occurrences (arrests, suspensions) are significantly more egregious than others (players transferring, coaches leaving). The standout, headline-making stories that either painted the program in a negative light or were exceptionally newsworthy during the summer are highlighted in red.

Luckily for Gators fans, with fall practice officially opening on Friday and the 2013 college season exactly one month away, the offseason is now over.

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G Jessamen Dunker to transfer from Florida

Just over three months after he was indefinitely suspended from the program following a headline-making arrest, Florida Gators redshirt freshman guard Jessamen Dunker has decided to transfer off of the team.

Dunker, a four-star prospect who did not play as a true freshman in 2012, was indefinitely suspended from team activities in January after being arrested and charged with a third-degree felony for grand theft of a motor vehicle as well as a second-degree misdemeanor for driving with a suspended license. He was then caught speeding about two months later on March 6 and was once again cited for driving with a suspended license because his court case remained untried.

Early Wednesday during an appearance on the post-spring SEC coaches teleconference, head coach Will Muschamp said he was “still working through the situation” with Dunker and that the team “may know some things” in the next couple of days. Less than four hours later during a scheduled press conference with the media, Muschamp announced that Dunker is no longer be a part of the team.

“He has decided to transfer. He felt like he needed a fresh start, and I didn’t disagree with him. I appreciate his time here. We didn’t really get into where [he would transfer]; we’re going to continue to work through that. It’s his job now to continue to finish up strong academically here at Florida,” Muschamp said. “Obviously he’s got some pretty well-documented off the field issues, and we talked about it. He felt like he needed a fresh start, and I support him. … We had not discussed this yet until today, about an hour ago. You support him and hope for the best for him.”

Minutes later, the school released a statement on Dunker’s behalf: “I’m looking for a fresh start. I’m very thankful for the opportunity I’ve had here to [work with] Coach [Tim] Davis and the entire Gator coaching staff.”

Dunker’s legal case remains unsettled as of press time. His trail is scheduled for May 7.

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2013 Florida Gators Orange & Blue Debut Preview

Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Time: 1:00 p.m. (EDT)

TV: Sun Sports (Larry Vettel, Nat Moore, Brady Ackerman)
SiriusXM: None | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: FOXSportsFlorida.com (nationally) | Mobile Video: None
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

Reference: Roster | Schedule

EVENT INFORMATION

Schedule:
9:00 a.m. – Gator Locker Room Yard Sale (outside Gate 9)
10:00 a.m. – Verizon Fan Fest in North End Zone Lawn
10:30 a.m. – Gator Walk
11:30 a.m. – Gates Open to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
11:30 a.m. – Warm-ups begin on the field
12:30 p.m. – Alumni Flag Football Game
1:00 p.m. – Orange & Blue Debut

Parking: Stephen C. O’Connell Center parking garage (first-come, first serve), Gale Lemerand Drive commuter lot (with shuttle)

Tickets: Free for alumni, students and the general public.

EVENT FORMAT

Instead of a full scrimmage, Saturday’s event will be an open practice that also includes limited scrimmage snaps. Florida will mix in approximately 40 scrimmage snaps with football drills. The format adjustment was made because the Gators currently only have six healthy offensive linemen and head coach Will Muschamp feels that it would be right to ask them to participate in 60-100 snaps over the course of a single afternoon. “It’s not fair to go into a spring game situation and ask these guys to take 60-70 snaps in a row,” he explained. “That’s not healthy. That’s not good, it’s not good for our team.”

Muschamp also detailed what will occur during the practice/scrimmage (in order): (1) Field goal/point after touchdown drills, (2) punting and individual drills, (3) one-on-one work with the secondary and receivers going head-to-head while the quarterbacks throw the ball, (4) one-on-one work with block reaction for the offensive line, (5) linebackers and running backs picking up blitz protection and coverage responsibilities, (6) two series of scrimmage with the ball on the 35-yard line, a total of 8-12 plays, (7) red zone one-on-one, (8) offensive and defensive line two-on-ones, (9) two series of scrimmage with the ball at the 35 yard line, a total of 8-12 plays, (10) two full cover punts and a punt/punt block drill, (11), two series of scrimmage from midfield, (12) two full cover kickoffs and a kickoff/kickoff return drill, (13) two series of scrimmage from midfield, (14) red zone 7-on-7s with the ball at the 18-yard line, (15) additional drills including pass rushing, (16) backed up punt drill, (17) one-minute scrimmage drill.

“It’s about getting good-on-good work. It’s about getting your best players going against your best players. … You get better when you’re going good-on-good,” Muschamp said. “This is good work. It’s good special teams work. This is a normal scrimmage-type situation for us as far as our football team is concerned. It’s good-on-good and that’s all I’m concerned with.”

MORE: Injury report, offensive and defensive notes, list of commitments and recruits in attendance…all available after the break!
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Banged up offensive line limiting Gators in spring

In each of the last two offseasons, the Florida Gators battled through deficiencies on the offensive line during spring practice. In 2011 and 2012, low scholarship numbers limited what Florida was able to do on the practice fields. The Gators remain handcuffed in 2013 but for now for a different reason – a rash of injuries that has prevented head coach Will Muschamp from running practice the way he wants day in and day out.

“What really hurt us is on the offensive line. Right now we got six healthy guys,” Muschamp said Tuesday after announcing that redshirt sophomore Trip Thurman (shoulder) will likely be out an extended period of time.

“Our numbers are good as far as scholarships – we got 11 guys on scholarship right now for spring which is about normal of what you want with the incoming guys coming in to get your numbers to 15-17 in that range – but we’ve been hit.”

Thurman (assuming he is out for the rest of spring) joins redshirt junior Chaz Green (ankle) and redshirt junior Ian Silberman (shoulder) as players sidelined until at least the summer. Additionally, redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio (knee) is extremely limited and redshirt freshman Jessamen Dunker remains suspended indefinitely at the very least until his legal cases are settled.

That leaves six scholarship offensive lineman for Muschamp, offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis to work with: sophomore left tackle D.J. Humphries, redshirt junior left guard Max Garcia (also dealing with a back issue), redshirt sophomore right tackle Tyler Moore, redshirt senior center Jonotthan Harrison, redshirt senior Kyle Koehne and redshirt freshman Quinteze Williams, who is playing offensive line for the first time after shifting over from the defensive line.

In other words, not much at all.

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3/22: Friday practice notes, Morrison, kicking

Now over a week into 2013 spring football practice, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday to discuss some of the latest developments surrounding the team and provide updates on specific players.

RISE AND GRIND

Florida started practice very early in the morning on Friday, a decision Muschamp made not to punish the team but rather provide it with as much rest as possible before the team’s half-practice, half-scrimmage on Saturday.

“We got cranked up about 5:40 this morning with flex, simply just for the turnaround for Saturday. I don’t like leaving the practice field at 6:30 on Friday afternoon and then you come back for a Saturday morning practice. I want to get some recovery time and also be able to review the film and install for Saturday,” he explained.

“It’s really not any magic deal there. We just try to separate the practices. We did this last year and the kids liked it from the standpoint of not leaving the practice field at 6:00 and then coming back and starting practice that early in the morning. That’s really all it is – just for their legs.”

Muschamp was satisfied with the way the Gators responded on Friday as well as the overall mindset of the team this spring. “I’ve been very pleased with the attitude and effort of our guys,” he said.

“YOU’D RATHER SAY ‘WOAH’ THAN ‘GIDDY UP'”

One thing that has been apparent early on in spring practice is the talent, effort and aggressiveness brought to the field each day by sophomore Mike linebacker Antonio Morrison. Muschamp is pleased with his development thus far and excited to see what kind of leader he will be for Florida’s defense in 2013.

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FOUR BITS: Dunker (again), Harvin, Rainey, Tebow

1 » Less than two months after being arrested for third-degree felony grand theft of a motor vehicle and second-degree misdemeanor driving with a suspended license, Florida Gators redshirt freshman guard Jessamen Dunker was cited by the Gainesville Police Department on March 6 for speeding and once again driving with a suspended license. His total fees for the two offenses are $277, according to Alachua County Court records. Dunker’s attorney, Huntley Johnson, claimed in court back in January that Dunker paid $600 for the scooter he is accused of stealing. The player was released while the State Attorney’s Office determines whether or not it will file formal charges against him. Head coach Will Muschamp suspended Dunker from all team activities on Jan. 18 and reiterated Tuesday that he remains indefinitely suspended. The most recent citation received by Dunker is his third brush with the law since arriving in Gainesville, FL. On Nov. 14, 2012, he was cited for driving without a seat belt and reportedly directed multiple expletives at the officer that pulled him over. Dunker’s latest written arrest was first reported by The Miami Herald‘s Matt Watts.

2 » Signing a brand new six-year, $67 million contract with the Seattle Seahawks on Monday (which included a $12 million signing bonus and $25.5 million guaranteed), wide receiver Percy Harvin has been all smiles as he gets acquainted with his new team. Another bit of good news that Harvin announced on Tuesday was that he is migraine-free for the first time in his life and that the ailment has not returned after the Mayo Clinc diagnosed him with sleep apnea. “I haven’t had a migraine in two years now,” he said at his official press conference on Tuesday. “Been fully healthy from that aspect so everything’s been good. I’m gonna knock on wood that nothing resurfaces, but it’s all been great.”

3 » Former Pittsburgh Steelers running back Chris Rainey, who was released from the team in January after he was arrested for simple battery (a charge that was later thrown out), was at Florida’s Pro Day on Tuesday as he is in Gainesville for the offseason living with his girlfriend while his agent tries to get him back in the league. Reports out of Pro Day were that Rainey and the Pittsburgh contingent – which included general manager Kevin Colbert and head coach Mike Tomlin – did not speak or come near each other during the event. The media caught up with Rainey after the workouts were over. “I’m just being patient man, that’s all,” he said, according to the Palm Beach Post. “I’m just wanting my agent to give me that phone call. [...] I guess they probably wanted to teach everybody else a lesson or something [by cutting me].”

4 » The New York Jets were supposed to have cut quarterback Tim Tebow by the time NFL free agency opened on Tuesday at 4 p.m. Except now more than 24 hours has passed and Tebow remains on the team’s roster. Stemming from comments made by the team’s new general manager that indicated Tebow may very well remain on the team and compete for the quarterback job this season comes a story from the New York Daily News that quotes new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg (father of Gators redshirt freshman quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg) saying he has already spoken with Tebow and believes he can contribute to the offense – if he remains on the team, of course. “We had a long discussion,” Mornhinweg said. “He’s got my thoughts on the situation and he has some thoughts as well. If he’s on this football team, which he is right now, then I would do it a certain way and try to utilize all of our players that can help us win a football game.”

“First of all, he would be taking reps at quarterback and then some of his other skills could certainly help a football team,”he continued. “What he did in Denver, that was something else. So, the man can play football. So, how do you utilize him would certainly be the key. So, he’s on our football team right now. It’s my duty and responsibility to have some thoughts on how he could help us win the next football game. So I have put an awful lot of thought into that. He certainly has some skill to do that. I will say. He’s got some quarterback skills. As a quarterback, the gut instincts are real important and he certainly has that…. Just talking in general [about] quarterbacks, the decision making is key as well as the accuracy and timing. He certainly has some of that. That’ll be interesting to see exactly where he’s at.”

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Muschamp, Pease discuss Florida Gators offense

With the Florida Gators set to begin 2013 spring practice on Wednesday, head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease met with the media Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics concerning the team’s offense.

RELATED: Spring depth chart released | Muschamp, Durkin on defense, team

IMPROVING PRODUCTION AT QUARTERBACK

Junior Jeff Driskel returns as the entrenched starter at quarterback and has the full backing of both Muschamp and Pease going forward. Both coaches reiterated that they expect him to take a big step forward in 2013 now that he has a year of action under his belt and can spend the entire offseason continuing to educate himself with the offense and opposing defenses in order to become a better overall player.

» Muschamp on what Driskel has been doing in the offseason: “I think Jeff has really attacked the offseason from a mental standpoint as far as film is concerned, really studying what he can do to be a better quarterback. That’s part of the maturation process in becoming a better player is understandings what you go to do to be successful. […] I think the game continues to slow down for you. First year as a full-time starter, first year in a scheme in a system with new terminology and now you’re not splitting reps 50-50. He’s going to get all the turns and all the reps with the same people, which I think obviously will help us with some throwing game issues.

» Muschamp on what Driskel can specifically improve on: “As a player and as a competitor, knowing Jeff and talking to Jeff, he wants to go back and improve everything. But I think you take things in segments. ‘I need to improve here; I need to improve there.’ Within saying that, year two in the system, the game slows down a little bit. A better understanding of protection, a better understanding of where the ball needs to go, where you’re protected and where you’re not protected. I think those are the things that, as much as anything, that are going to help him to understand that. The passing game concepts versus middle field versus split safety, where to take the ball. I think all of those things, again, that’s easy to talk about but when it’s happening in front of 90,000 people against some of the people we play against, it’s a fast, fast game. Those are things, to me, as far as just the mental intensity of where we need to go with the football in situations. That will slow down for him in his second year. And he’s also not splitting reps. And he’ll be working with the first-team receivers all the time. I think you couple that with a lot of things and I think Brent does a really great job developing the quarterback position and recognizing things he needs to improve on.”

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Gators 2013 Spring Football Preview: Offense

Spring practice for the Florida Gators football program begins on Wednesday, March 13 and lasts for 15 practices concluding with the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut spring game on Saturday, April 6 at 1 p.m. Below is the first of OGGOA‘s new two-part series that takes a look at the team on a position-by-position basis.

PART TWO: Defense & Special Teams

OFFENSIVE TACKLES
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt junior Chaz Green
Fresh faces: Redshirt sophomore Tyler Moore

Out goes Xavier Nixon, in comes sophomore D.J. Humphries. After starting three games as a true freshman, Humphries – a former five-star prospect – appears to be all but a shoe-in for the left tackle job. However, both he and Green (who started 10 games at right tackle) have plenty of competition ahead of them. Moore started as a true freshman at Nebraska, sat out the 2012 season while attending a community college and is therefore eligible to play right away. He will be pushing Humphries and Green all spring is certainly talented enough to win either or both starting jobs. Chances are he will wind up either winning the right tackle role while Green continues to recover from ankle surgery or play well enough where he spells both players throughout games.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS
Returning starters (1/2): Redshirt senior Jon Halapio
Fresh faces: Redshirt junior Max Garcia

With James Wilson finally graduating, the starting left guard job is wide open and offensive line coach Tim Davis has a number of ways in which he can fill the position. Redshirt junior Ian Silberman is the only player on the roster who actually started at guard in 2012 but versatile redshirt senior Kyle Koehne (three starts at right tackle) is also quite experienced in SEC play. Garcia, who started 12 games at tackle for Maryland, has been moved inside and was even listed as the first-string left guard on the initial spring practice depth chart. Redshirt freshman Jessamen Dunker (if reinstated to the team) is a possibility at left guard as well. Halapio (28-straight starts) has a stranglehold on the right guard job.

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