Are Florida’s receivers finally ready to break out?

It has been four years since the Florida Gators have seen one of their wide receivers get drafted by an NFL team, an especially jarring statistic when one considers that the program had 19 total selected in the 17 drafts the league held from 1994-2010.

Combining poor recruiting with lackluster development, inconsistent quarterback play and overall uninspiring offenses, Florida has been unable to get the necessary production out of the position to win football games and propel players to the next level.

As the 2014 season fast approaches, it appears to be unanimous around the team that the Gators possess more firepower at the position than they have since the 2009 campaign.

Florida does, however, face a couple of obstacles on its way to having the position perform as well as head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper both expect with Roper’s newly-installed offense.

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FOUR BITS: USA, Zunino, Whitson, Phillips

1 » USA Basketball’s under-18 team made a record-setting debut at the 2014 FIBA Americas U18 Championship on Friday, taking down Uruguay 156-58 on Friday evening. The Americans led 44-15 after one quarter and 84-26 at halftime before pulling off the 98-point victory in Colorado Springs, Colorado. According to USA Basketball, head coach Billy Donovan’s team set four team national records in the event including most points scored (156), largest margin of victory (98 points), most field goals made (59) and most assists (40). “I think the one thing we’ve been talking about is trying to play unselfishly, and they did that tonight. Forty assists. They were really unselfish; they played well together,” Donovan said after the game. “I was really pleased coming out of the half, and I feel we got off to a great start at the second half and then it kind of carried on. I thought overall, their willingness to pass and share the basketball was special.” Next up for the United States is Mexico; the teams will square off on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in preliminary round action. USA will then take on Argentina on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. to conclude the preliminary round.

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Florida coach Muschamp could face suspension over Phillips recruiting incident

Diving deeper into the supposed dismissal of wide receivers coach Joker Phillips by the Florida Gators, John Infante of the Bylaw Blog looked at how Phillips’s alleged NCAA recruiting violation may affect the program and head coach Will Muschamp.

After Florida announced Phillips’s resignation on Friday, a report from Yahoo! Sports cited three sources as saying Phillips was forced to leave the program after the Gators got word that the NCAA had proof he committed a recruiting violation.

The organization supposedly received “a photo of the coach sitting in a restaurant with a high school recruit during a mandated dead period in recruiting” from “an individual with ties to the Miami Hurricanes program.”

Yahoo! Sports writers Charles Robinson and Pat Forde noted that Phillips’s alleged improper contact “could be considered a major NCAA violation,” a notion that Infante examined more closely on Monday.

Using the NCAA’s new enforcement structure, Infante boiled the incident down to a Level II or Level III breach of conduct, the former being more severe or “significant.”

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13 Gator Bites for Friday, June 13: Graham, Dendy, Harvin, Haslem, softball, MLB, Parsons

From time to time, OnlyGators.com will come across a plethora of news and notes that we wish to share – too much to fit into one of our truncated BITS segments. When stories like these fall through the cracks, we catch and wrap them all up with Gator Bites.

» Florida Gators redshirt sophomore guard Dillon Graham on Friday tweeted that he has “finally [been] cleared” by team doctors after missing most of the 2013-14 season following surgery to repair bone spurs in his hips. Less than a month ago, head coach Billy Donovan said he did not expect Graham to be cleared for contact until August or September. Doctors are likely allowing Graham to work out and practice in non-contact situations at this time. “He’s missed a whole entire year of development and now you’re talking about an entire summer and into the fall without it,” Donovan said on May 22. “So, when he does get back, what is he like as a player and maybe how long does it take to get him back to maybe where he was? I think that’s going to be a long process for him.”

» Florida junior jumper Marquis Dendy on Thursday captured the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championship in men’s long jump. The outdoor long jump title in school history, Dendy’s 8.00m/26-3 championship-winning mark was his best of the season. Actually, all three of his jumps would have won the crown for Dendy, who previously won the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championship in the same event. He did not even need to take the last jump but chose to do so because he was “in the moment” and also wanted to qualify nationally in the event. He returns to the field on Saturday for the men’s triple jump, an event UF has dominated in recent years.

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Florida Gators WR coach Joker Phillips resigns; Chris Leak to coach wide receivers

Updated on Thursday at 5:15 p.m.

After just one year on the job, wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips has resigned from his position with the Florida Gators.

Graduate assistant Chris Leak, a four-year starter at quarterback and national championship-winning signal caller for the Gators in 2006, will take over coaching the position as a full-time staff member.

The second African-American head football coach in Southeastern Conference history, Phillips spent most of his 26-year coaching career with Kentucky before he was fired by the program during the 2012 season, his third as the Wildcats’ head coach.

He joined Gators head coach Will Muschamp’s staff that December, signing a two-year contract that was supposed to keep him at Florida through the 2014 campaign.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity that the University of Florida and Will Muschamp provided to me and my family, but at this time I have decided to step down from my position on the UF coaching staff for personal reasons,” he said in a school release.

Neither Phillips nor UF provided any specific reason for his departure, though ESPN.com‘s Brett McMurphy, citing a source, noted Phillips “resigned because of possible recruiting violations.” McMurphy retracted prior assertions that Phillips was forced to resign whether by Muschamp or someone else at the school.

FootballScoop.com‘s Scott Roussel cited a separate source which said “the issue at hand is a ‘bump’ [with] a [high school] junior” and that Phillips was “turned in by another program in Florida.” A “bump” in college recruiting is when a coach converses with a high school recruit outside of the allowable time periods at a “chance encounter,” whether the interaction was intended by the coach or not.

A source close to the program confirmed to OnlyGators.com that Phillips was indeed turned into the NCAA for a “bump” violation by a representative of Miami but could not say whether that incident led to his resignation.

Thursday update: Charles Robinson and Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports report that Phillips’s resignation came on the heels of the NCAA receiving “a photo of the coach sitting in a restaurant with a high school recruit during a mandated dead period in recruiting.” Citing three sources, the duo further reports that “the photo was turned over to the NCAA by an individual with ties to the Miami Hurricanes athletics program. Should the NCAA determine Phillips improperly recruited during a mandated dead period, it could be considered a major NCAA violation.”

Read the rest of the original story…after the break!
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Gators 2014 Spring Football Preview: Offense

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.

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.

OFFENSIVE TACKLES
Returning starters (2/2): Junior D.J. Humphries, redshirt senior Chaz Green
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson

By the time the 2013 campaign came to an end, the Gators lost three starting tackles for the season. The first of those absentees was Green, who had locked up the starting right tackle job over the summer but tore his labrum in practice and missed the entire season. Then came Humphries, who started the first six games at left tackle but missed the final five after an injured MCL kept him hobbled for the remainder of the year. Florida’s offense struggled mightily, in large part due to a weak offensive line, but Green and Humphries will almost assuredly start for UF as long as they can remain healthy. Johnson did not play in 2013 after suffering a physical setback early in camp but impressed the coaching staff with his athleticism when he was able to practice as a part of the scout team. He is a candidate to see a good number of snaps this year.

OFFENSIVE GUARDS
Returning starters (0/2): None
Fresh faces: Junior transfer Drew Sarvary, freshman Kavaris Harkless

With Jon Halapio and Kyle Koehne graduating – and Florida’s starting left guard changing positions (more on that below) – new offensive line coach Mike Summers will have the opportunity to hand-pick some players to help solidify the unit. Sarvary – a First Team All-Southwest Junior College Football Conference selection last season – and redshirt junior Trip Thurman will compete for the jobs, as will senior Trenton Brown and redshirt junior Tyler Moore, both of whom started games at tackle for the Gators in 2013. Florida’s guards are a work in progress, no two ways about it. Harkless could get in the mix as well though it is tough to know what UF can get from a freshman offensive lineman in the spring.

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2015 WR prospect Tristan Payton picks Florida

For the third time in the last four days, the Florida Gators have added a prospect to their 2015 recruiting class as unranked wide receiver Tristan Payton (Jacksonville, FL) committed to join the program on Monday.

Payton received his Florida offer when he attended Junior Day in Gainesville, FL on Saturday and made his mind up soon afterwards.

The Jacksonville product from First Coast High School is the third player from his city to commit to the Gators this cycle. He joins three-stars defensive back Deontai Williams (Trinity Christian High School) and offensive lineman Tyler Jordan (Bishop Kenny High School) as Florida pledges.

Payton (6-foot-1, 180 pounds), who was recruited by wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, also had offers from Kentucky and UCF with Auburn, Louisville and Ohio State all reportedly showing interest as well.

Aside from Jordan, who committed on Saturday, the Gators also picked up a pledge from three-star WR Deondre Farrier (Orlando, FL) on Friday. Florida’s 2015 class is now at four players, all local in-state prospects.

Payton’s commitment was first reported by InsidetheGators.com‘s Blake Alderman.

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Summers prepared to build foundation for Gators

Offensive line coach Mike Summers appears to be the perfect fit for a head coach in Will Muschamp who has repeated over and over again that he wants the line of scrimmage to be where games are won and lost for the Florida Gators.

“I really believe that the offensive line should be the foundation for our football team,” said Summers on Monday during his introductory press conference. “They ought to be the example of how we want to play, the example of how we want to finish, the example of how to do things the right way.

“That’s the standard of excellence that’s going to be set for them to rise up to. I think the older I get the less tolerant I am. I don’t lower my standards to get to them. They have to come up to the standards that I set and those standards are going to be real high.”

For a unit that was supposed to be much-improved last season, it was anything but the case. Injuries had a lot to do with it – three starting tackles were lost, one of whom got hurt in the offseason – but those that stepped up failed to consistently open up holes in the run game or protect the quarterback.

Summers has not even bothered to look at film of the disastrous 2013 campaign. Instead, he has been focused on building social relationships with his players, opening lines of communication and doing all of it for the long-term good of the position group.

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