Friday Final: Florida focused impressing in opener, running backs primed for breakout

A number of Florida Gators football players spoke at length this week ahead of Saturday’s season-opening contest against the Idaho Vandals, which is scheduled to kick off at 7 p.m. from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, and air live on ESPNU.

Below are some of the week’s top stories along with notes and quotes that either fell through the cracks or did not make it into one of the six posts already published here on OnlyGators.com (see links below).

Tuesday: Depth chart for Idaho game | Notebook – Will Muschamp evaluates team, previews first game | Story – Treon Harris named backup quarterback

Thursday: Notebook – Kurt Roper addresses hot topics, D.J. Durkin evaluates unit

Friday: 54 Florida football facts, stats and tidbits

DYNAMIC DUO

No designations have been made as to which player will assume the role of Batman (and the other Robin) but the Gators certainly have a pair of running backs looking to wipe the floor with defenses like they are criminals roaming the streets of Gotham.

Junior Matt Jones was primed for a breakout campaign in 2013 after exploding during the end of his freshman season, but a serious viral infection seriously affected his health and kept him out of the season opener. Weeks later, a season-ending knee injury derailed the progress he made.

Florida looked prepared to redshirt freshman Kelvin Taylor, preserving his eligibility while using Jones and now-redshirt senior Mack Brown last season. But Jones’s injury thrust Taylor into the spotlight, and he responded with 508 yards and four touchdowns.

Rather than worrying about competing with each other, Jones and Taylor hope to bring UF’s running game to new heights. Neither is at all concerned with their touches but rather making the most of each carry and reception while pushing the Gators offense forward.

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Florida coordinators Kurt Roper, D.J. Durkin evaluate units ahead of opener vs. Idaho

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media this week to provide some thoughts on the Gators and their first opponent of 2014, the Idaho Vandals ahead of Saturday evening’s showdown at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.

PLANNING TO MEET EXPECTATIONS

Do not worry, fans, Roper is well-aware of what you expect to see out of his offense on Saturday. In his first year at the helm of Florida’s offense, Roper has every intention on lighting the scoreboard up and winning games with his up-tempo system, though it will be up to the players on the field to execute his vision.

In fact, he not only senses the pressure but embraces it and hopes that Gators fans will have smiles on their faces by the time they leave The Swamp late Saturday evening.

“I hope they’re excited. I want them to be excited. I hope we meet the expectations,” he said on Thursday. “Whenever you are coaching at the University of Florida, the expectations are to win football games. I think that’s really the bottom line.

“I hope we can do it with exciting offense and a lot of points. Obviously, I don’t want to let anybody down, much less the guys that we’re working with all the time. We want to go out and play well. I hope, at the end of the day, they’re happy I’m here.”

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Florida Gators 2014 season-opening depth chart

Though things will undoubtedly change for the Florida Gators throughout the 2014 season, likely even before its season-opener against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday at 7 p.m. inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, head coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday released the team’s first official depth chart in nine months.

OFFENSE

QB: 6 Jeff Driskel, 3 Treon Harris
RB: 21 Kelvin Taylor OR 24 Matt Jones OR 33 Mack Brown
F/B: 41 Hunter Joyer, 25 Gideon Ajagbe
TE/B: 88 Clay Burton, 83 Jake McGee
WR (X): 1 Quinton Dunbar, 11 Demarcus Robinson, 89 Alvin Bailey
WR (Z): 5 Ahmad Fulwood, 4 Andre Debose, 85 Chris Thompson
WR (Y): 9 Latroy Pittman, 10 Valdez Showers, 14 C.J. Worton

LT: 70 D.J. Humphries, 78 David Sharpe
LG: 63 Trip Thurman, 73 Tyler Moore, 71 Antonio Riles
C: 76 Max Garcia, 72 Drew Sarvary
RG: 74 Trenton Brown OR 73 Tyler Moore
RT: 75 Chaz Green, 55 Roderick Johnson

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Keanu Neal, young defensive linemen emerging; Gators evaluate each other before season

About a dozen Florida Gators players met with the media over the last couple weeks to discuss fall practice and how the team is coming together ahead of the season. With less than a week until the start of the 2014 campaign, OnlyGators.com is cleaning out its notebook and present you with a bunch of their thoughts.

TWO SECONDARY STARTERS

When head coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday afternoon unveils the team’s first depth chart since last November, one position group that will draw some of the most attention in the secondary. A unit full of talented starters that was ravaged by defections (graduations, early departures, a transfer), the secondary currently only has two players that have locked down roles at this time – sophomores cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and safety Keanu Neal.

Hargreaves, after a stellar freshman campaign, is already a known quantity. Neal, on the other hand, earned his job during training camp after impressing with some big hits during the 2013 season.

“Just my effort [has improved],” he explained. “This year seems like everything clicked versus last year. My recognition on plays and things like that is a lot better.”

Muschamp singled out Neal early in fall camp as the best safety on the roster, locking him into a starting role early and never backing off from that stance. Suffice to say, the player was flattered.

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8/22: Muschamp’s last update before game week

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday to conclude his team’s last week of practice before game week. Florida will get the weekend off and return to practice on Monday in preparation for its season-opener against the Idaho Vandals on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

INJURY UPDATES

For the first time in a while, Muschamp did not have much to say on the injury front.

Freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe, who is fourth on the depth chart and an important player for Florida this fall, is expected to return on Monday after missing some time with an ankle injury. Redshirt sophomore Marcus Maye, in competition for a starting job in the secondary, will be back in action on Tuesday or Wednesday coming off a significant hamstring strain.

Additionally, redshirt freshman linebacker Matt Rolin, who has been fully cleared to practice all fall after undergoing a second surgery for a torn ACL in as many years, is “coming along slowly” as planned by the coaching staff.

Muschamp remarked that the Gators only having two “soft tissue issues” is “outstanding” and “the best I’ve been around.” He added: “It tells you we’re training the right way.”

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8/18: Muschamp on depth chart, competition heating up as season approaches

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to kick off his team’s final few days of practice before preparation finally begins for the team’s first opponent on Saturday, Aug. 30.

INJURY UPDATES

The Gators were dealt their first notable injury blow this season as Muschamp announced that freshman defensive tackle Thomas Holley, who was already dealing with scar tissue on a sports hernia he had repaired in high school, also had an undetected torn labrum in his hip and was scheduled for surgery on Monday. Holley will take a redshirt.

Senior offensive guard Trenton Brown (foot contusion), redshirt sophomore defensive back Marcus Maye (hamstring) and freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe (ankle) were all injured in practice this week, though all are expected back soon. Brown will return to practice on Tuesday, while Maye and Sharpe are scheduled to get back onto the field next Monday after a week on the sideline.

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8/15: Muschamp updates injuries, evaluations and competitions after Florida’s 15th practice

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday following his team’s second-to-last open practice of the offseason. The Gators are now 15 practices deep and will spend Saturday only wearing helmets during a one-hour Fan Day showing.

INJURY UPDATES

Freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe, who worked his way into being the fourth option at his position, suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice Friday morning and is currently day-to-day.

“We need to get him back. He’s a really good football player,” Muschamp said. “He’s very athletic, 6-foot-6, 330 pounds. He moves his feet extremely well. [He's] a guy that’s going to help us this year.”

The news is better for some other players. Junior running back Matt Jones (knee swelling) and redshirt junior guard Trip Thurman (shoulder) will return to action on Saturday. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox, Jr. (shoulder) could already be back in practice but will instead return on Monday after spraining his AC joint.

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8/14: Keanu Neal impressing, Durkin evaluating

Florida Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin met with the media on Thursday for the first time this fall and had an opportunity to provide some insights on his players. Earlier this week, head coach Will Muschamp listed one safety as standing out from the rest of the pack in practice.

IT’S HIS TIME

Much like Loucheiz Purifoy did early in his career, sophomore safety Keanu Neal earned his stripes on special teams. A hard hitter and quick learner, he earned time as a backup in the secondary but was understandably unable to crack a starting lineup filled with veterans.

With only one set starter in the defensive backfield returning this year, Neal had every opportunity to go out and win a job in spring practice and fall camp. And that is exactly what he did.

“Keanu Neal, right now, is our best safety,” Muschamp said on Monday.

That compliment from his head coach was huge for Neal, though he is determined not to rest on his laurels.

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