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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3/19: Three Gators injured, others progressing

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

INJURY UPDATES

Freshman linebacker Alex Anzalone, who got knocked out of spring practice on Saturday after colliding with sophomore tight end Kent Taylor, had surgery on his shoulder Sunday and will be out for the remainder of the spring. Muschamp said on Tuesday that Anzalone should return for fall practice after a four-month recovery.

“It was his labrum, right shoulder, I believe. It’s a freak deal. It was in a tackling drill and he got hit on it the wrong way. I’m disappointed for him, but he’s going to be a really good player, so we’re going to be fine,” he explained.

Muschamp also announced that sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard and redshirt junior cornerback Cody Riggs tweaked their hamstrings. Bullard is expected to return Monday while Riggs is technically listed “day-to-day.”

Additionally, redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio, who will be limited throughout spring practice while recovering from a knee injury, was able to get on the Sunday but only for individual work. He is not yet ready for 11-on-11 drills but “looked good.”

THREE-WAY PLAYER, YES, BUT DEFENSE COMES FIRST

Though junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy has been spending spring practice playing offense and special teams exclusively up to this point in time, Muschamp made it clear on Tuesday that he expects him to primarily be a presence on the defensive side of the ball but hopes his work on offense allows the Gators to be more multiple in the ways that offensive coordinator Brent Pease uses him during the season.

Continue Reading » 3/19: Three Gators injured, others progressing

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Florida Gators 2013 spring practice depth chart

Readers may be excited to take a first look at the Florida Gators 2013 spring practice depth chart (see below). Don’t be. As he explained in each of his first two springs with the program, head coach Will Muschamp repeated Wednesday that he does not put a lot of stock in the spring’s first depth chart. In fact, back in 2011, he said it is “not worth the paper it is printed on.” In other words, the depth chart below is just a starting-off point for 2013 and plenty can change between now and the start of the season. Nevertheless, below is the depth chart as it was presented on March 12.

“Obviously we gave you a depth chart. I know it’s just the most critical thing that’s going to happen in the next 12 months of your year,” Muschamp said Tuesday.

RELATED: Muschamp, Pease on offense | Muschamp, Durkin on defense, team

Florida omitted players who are injured and not participating at all in spring practice. A list of those players can be found at the end of this post.

OFFENSE

QB: 6 Jeff Driskel, 10 Tyler Murphy, 17 Skyler Mornhinweg
RB: 24 Matt Jones, 33 Mack Brown, 21 Kelvin Taylor
FB: 43 Hunter Joyer, 29 Rhaheim Ledbetter* OR 25 Gideon Ajagbe*
WR (X): 1 Quinton Dunbar, 4 Andre Debose, 11 Demarcus Robinson
WR (Z): 15 Loucheiz Purifoy*, 88 Solomon Patton^, Raphael Andrades
F Position: 8 Trey Burton, 13 Latroy Pittman, 30 Mike McNeely
TE: 88 Clay Burton, 87 Tevin Westbrook, 18 Kent Taylor, 84 Colin Thompson

LT: 70 D.J. Humphries, 63 Trip Thurman
LG: 76 Max Garcia, 64 Kyle Koehne
C: 72 Jonotthan Harrison, 64 Kyle Koehne
RG: 67 Jon Halapio^, 64 Kyle Koehne
RT: 73 Tyler Moore, 98 Quinteze Williams*

Continue Reading » Florida Gators 2013 spring practice depth chart

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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.

Continue Reading » Gators 2013 Spring Football Preview: Offense

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12/28: Sugar Bowl importance, Lewis’s return

No. 3 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and a handful of players met with the media after practice on Friday to preview the 2013 Sugar Bowl against the No. 21 Louisville Cardinals and provide thoughts on the team heading into the game.

NOT TAKING ANYTHING FOR GRANTED

On Thursday, Muschamp discussed why it was critical for the Gators to win their 12th game of the 2012 season. One day later, he explained when Florida hit rock bottom one year ago and how the program has pulled itself up by the bootstraps.

“The month of October [2011] wasn’t a whole lot of fun,” he said. “Two games – Alabama and LSU – we got physically dominated. We had our opportunities in some other games. We didn’t make enough good decisions as coaches or players to put ourselves in position to win those games.”

Senior left tackle Xavier Nixon acknowledged that the coaching staff identified the problem soon after those losses and began working to put the Gators back together. “We had a problem with complacency and we found out how to deal with that, and we’ve become a better team,” he said.

Now Florida is back at the top of the heap, a great accomplishment for a second-year coach like Muschamp but one he promises that the program is not taking for granted.

“Certainly when you’ve hit the bottom of the barrel, so to speak, at a place like the University of Florida, it makes you appreciate things a little bit more,” he said. “That’s something where you’ve got to stay grounded in your approach as a player and a coach to understand you don’t just roll the hat out there and win football games. It takes work, it takes preparation, it takes recruiting, it takes development, it takes strength program, it takes character building, it takes all of those things to encompass to have the type of program you want to have at Florida.

“We understand that every day. I understand getting out of bed every day knowing that just because it happened yesterday doesn’t mean it’s going to happen again. You got to make it happen and that’s what I think these players understand a little bit more.”

That never-say-die attitude has defined the Gators’ season. Including the awful performance against Georgia, in which Florida was perhaps a play or two away from potentially winning the game, it always found a way to make lemonade out of lemons.

Junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins pointed to a strip-fumble made by junior safety Matt Elam on a deep pass during the LSU game as one play in particular that was a paradigm of the entire 2012 campaign.

“I think that play defined our season. It just showed that we won’t quit,” he said. “Every game we’ve showed it. That’s one play that’s come out that’s shown it. He could have gave up on the play or could have just made the tackle, but he went the extra mile to make the strip.”

That is why Wednesday’s game is so critical. In addition to giving the Gators the 12th win they are pining for, it also shows that the turnaround is complete.

“This is a very important game for the program. I believe it’s a statement game,” redshirt senior Buck linebacker Lerentee McCray said. “Coming out of the season last year, we had to make a statement versus Ohio State going into the season of what it was going to be. Ohio State finished undefeated. We beat them last year and we finished 11-1. It’s a big statement to finish strong in your bowl game.”

Read the rest of what the Gators had to say…after the break!
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9/24: Muschamp talks Gators’ injuries, bye week

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to review his team’s dominant 38-0 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday while also previewing the bye week and the activities planned for the Gators over the next few days.

INJURY UPDATES

Redshirt sophomore tackle Chaz Green (ankle), junior defensive end Dominique Easley (knee), junior running back Trey Burton (back), junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd (shoulder) and redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed (head) “should be fine for LSU based on the information I have,” Muschamp said Monday. He also noted that Reed suffered a head injury (read: concussion) and not a shoulder injury as initially reported.

Furthermore, redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins (thumb) will be reevaluated on doctors by Wednesday as it will be determined whether he can begin practicing and potentially return to the field on Saturday with a club on his hand.

Redshirt junior OT Matt Patchan, on the other hand, will miss yet another game while continuing to deal with his strained pectoral and torn muscle.

“Yeah, I expect him to play this year. I certainly do,” said Muschamp when asked if Patchan would miss another season. “If we played this week, no, I would say probably not LSU [either] but maybe the week after. That’s what I’m hoping based on meeting with our medical staff [Sunday]. We’re hoping to hopefully get him some work next week on the field. How healthy he’ll be at that point, I don’t know. It’s a pec strain; he had some tear on the muscle. It’s a painful injury and up front you’ve got to be able to use that to block. Rehab has gone well. He’s worked extremely hard as far as that is concerned. We’re just hoping we can get him some snaps. But he will play this year, yes.”

BYE WEEK BENEFITS

In addition to giving Florida the opportunity to rest and heal, the bye week coming early for the Gators this year will also help the team clean up a number of issues.

Muschamp wants the offense to focus on figuring out how to make the passing game a bit smoother. He envisions the timing between the quarterback and wide receivers improving so that Florida can convert more third downs and throw the ball vertically to move down the ield. The Gators will also work on short-yardage and goal line plays while figuring out how to block better on the perimeter.

“That’s where you get big runs is when you’re blocking on the perimeter and finishing blocks down the field,” he said.

Defense has been pretty solid for Florida so far though Muschamp wants the Gators to get better pressure while rushing four guys without a blitz. He also hopes to see improvement in red zone defense as UF has allowed seven touchdowns in 10 total opponent trips through four games this season.

Where Florida may be able to take the biggest leap is special teams. The Gators must find a way to produce better in the return game, especially on punts. “We’ve got some explosive guys. We need to settle on a guy and get a guy back there that’s, number one, going to field the ball but, number two, can get the ball north-and-south, stick your foot in the ground and get north-and-south,” Muschamp said.

UF has also yet to block a single punt this season despite Muschamp and special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin calling a handful of designed punt block plays. Florida no longer has Chris Rainey to count on in that regard but does still feature junior Solomon Patton and other young, speedy and elusive players.

PLAYER AWARDS

Offensive Players of the Game: redshirt senior left guard James Wilson

Scrap Iron: redshirt juniors right guard Jon Halapio and RT Kyle Koehne

Big Plays: redshirt senior TE Omarius Hines

Defensive Players of the Game: redshirt senior DT Omar Hunter and junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins
* Hunter was also named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week.

Ball Hawks: Watkins, redshirt sophomore LB Michael Taylor and sophomore defensive back De’Ante Saunders

Special Teams Player of the Game: sophomore punter Kyle Christy

Scout Team Players of the Week: freshman linebacker Jeremi Powell, freshman defensive lineman Alex McCalister, redshirt sophomore walk-on wide receiver A.J. Mobley

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On what he’s seen while watching LSU on film so far: “Typical LSU – physical, tough, recruited extremely well, good job developing their players, a physical style of play that you appreciate as a coach.”

» On the progression of sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel: “The more snaps he continues to get, the better he’s going to get. He’s going to work hard at it. He’s a cerebral guy. He’s going to learn and work at it and watch the film and understand. He takes coaching very well. It’s just the more snaps you get, the more opportunities you get. The game starts to slow down; you start to see it better. Obviously the timing with the receivers will continue to improve, in my opinion.”

» On the bye week: “We got three huge days to improve – Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday – opportunities for our team to get better.”

» Muschamp said sophomore CB Loucheiz Purifoy is the only player at his position who is “really excited” about tackling running backs and that the others need to take a cue from him and become better at stopping edge rushing.

» On the Gators being confident at 4-0: “I just think that confidence is a great thing. We were a confident football team last year at 4-0…and then we lost our quarterback.”

» On some of the recent struggles for senior LT Xavier Nixon: “He’s been banged up. He’s had a shoulder; he’s had a legitimate injury there. He’s a guy that’s pushed through it. Run assignments the other night were very good; he blocked extremely well in the run game, needs to finish on a couple things. Protection a little bit we need to solidify as far as his pass protection is concerned.”

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9/15: Florida at Tennessee post-game report

No. 17/18 Florida Gators football (3-0, 2-0 SEC) completed its second-straight come-from-behind victory on Saturday, taking down the No. 23 Tennessee Volunteers (2-1, 0-1 SEC) 37-20 on Saturday afternoon in Knoxville, TN. After the game head coach Will Muschamp and sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel discussed what occurred on the field and in the locker room.

HISTORY / STREAKS / NOTES

» Florida has won eight-straight games against Tennessee, the longest winning streak in the series between the two teams. The Gators are 23-19 all-time against the Volunteers and 21-6 since 1976.
» UF won its first game against a ranked opponent since Muschamp took over. Florida was 0-5 previously.
» The Gators are 2-0 when trailing at the half this season after going 0-5 when faced with the same situation last year.
» Florida is 6-0 under Muschamp when rushing for more than 150 yards and 7-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 21 points.
» The Gators are outscoring opponents 50-13 in the second half and 27-0 in the fourth quarter this season.
» Florida’s 37 points were the most UF has scored in Knoxville since 1984.
» The Gators eclipsed 500 yards of total offense (reaching 555) for the first time since registering 520 against Kentucky on Sept. 24, 2011.
» Florida outrushed Tennessee by 253 yards (336-83), their greatest margin since running for 271 more than Kentucky on Sept. 24, 2011.
» Redshirt senior Buck Lerentee McCray notched his first career interception.
» Junior running back Trey Burton totaled 129 yards and two touchdowns. His 80-yard run (for a touchdown) and 32-yard reception were career-longs in each category.

MUSCHAMP’s OPENING STATEMENT

“I’m proud of our guys, coming on the road two weeks in a row in two tough places to play. Really poised at halftime again, no bickering, finger-pointing. It’s what we need to do to get this thing going. We need to give the offense more possessions in the first half. Third down was a killer for us defensively again. We had tight coverage. I’m going to give these guys credit now – they can throw the football. You look at some of the balls they threw in and completed. [Cordarrelle] Patterson and [Justin] Hunter are two outstanding players. [Mychal] Rivera the tight end is a guy and [Tyler] Bray was really on fire early, really made some nice, nice throws. A bunch of those on third down we had the match-ups we wanted in most situations.

“As the game wore on, I felt like we were winning the line of scrimmage. I think obviously our rushing yardage with [330+ yards], when you do that you’re going to win games. And we were able to do that in the ballgame. No turnovers offensively was critical and then defensively two turnovers for 14 points. So we’ve kind of flipped ourselves in the first three games a little bit on turnover margin; still need more on defense.

“I really think the pivotal turning point in the game was winning the line of scrimmage, first of all, but secondly that brilliant fake punt I ran at midfield and then we go three-and-out and then the next play 80 yards with Trey Burton. We felt like we had the counter on the backside. It was blocked beautifully. They overpursued the speed sweep. Trey cut it backside and out-ran them. Very resilient for our kids. They overcome coaching an awful lot, and I think in that situation they certainly did. I think that was a huge, huge turning point. [...]

“What we gave them they earned. We didn’t play much zone tonight. It was some pattern match and man-to-man. And we pressured and we tried to get after the quarterback. We only had one sack but I know we had some solid collisions with him. A little disappointed with how they ran the ball early in the game. Just pleased with the effort overall. Our guys did a nice job. Continue to play hard, continue to develop our identify as a team and a program. Not where we need to be but certainly better than we’ve been.”

DRISKEL STEPPING UP

Read the rest of what Muschamp and Driskel had to say…after the break!
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Florida Gators 2012 opening week depth chart

Though things could still change over the next five days, the Florida Gators on Monday morning released the team’s first official depth chart for the 2012 season. As was noted by head coach Will Muschamp last week, sophomore quarterbacks Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will both play against the Bowling Green Falcons though who will take the first snap has not yet been determined.

Florida omitted players who are not participating in the season opener, therefore the below depth chart is not the “best case scenario” version. A list of those players can be found at the end along with some additional explanations.

QB: Jeff Driskel OR Jacoby Brissett
RB: Mike Gillislee, Mack Brown
FB: Hunter Joyer, Trey Burton
WR (X): Frankie Hammond, Jr., Latroy Pittman/Andre Debose
WR (Z): Quinton Dunbar, Solomon Patton
F: Trey Burton, Omarius Hines
TE: Jordan Reed, Clay Burton

LT: Xavier Nixon, Kyle Koehne
LG: James Wilson, Ian Silberman
C: Jonotthan Harrison, Sam Robey
RG: Jon Halapio, Jessamen Dunker
RT: Chaz Green, Trip Thurman

DE: Dominique Easley, Earl Okine
DT: Sharrif Floyd, Damien Jacobs
NT: Omar Hunter, Leon Orr
Buck DE: Lerentee McCray, Dante Fowler, Jr.
Sam LB: Darrin Kitchens, Neiron Ball
Mike LB: Jon Bostic, Michael Taylor
Will LB: Jelani Jenkins, Antonio Morrison

CB: Jaylen Watkins OR Louchiez Purifoy
CB: Marcus Roberson OR Cody Riggs
S: Matt Elam, Valdez Showers
S: Josh Evans, Jabari Gorman
Nickel CB: Matt Elam, Jaylen Watkins
Dime CB: Matt Elam, Brian Poole

K: Caleb Sturgis, Brad Phillips
P: Kyle Christy, Todd Fennell
H: John Crofoot, Tyler Murphy
LS: Drew Ferris, Kyle Crofoot
KR: Andre Debose, Solomon Patton
PR: Marcus Roberson, Andre Debose

OUT SATURDAY: Redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan (pectoral), sophomore defensive back De’Ante Saunders (hamstring), junior Buck linebacker Ronald Powell (ACL), freshman tight end Colin Thompson (foot), senior defensive lineman Nick Alajajian (knee), redshirt junior DL Kedric Johnson (knee)

POSSIBLY OUT SATURDAY: Redshirt junior DB Jeremy Brown (wrist), freshman LT D.J. Humphries (MCL), freshman DB Marcus Maye (knee), redshirt freshman OL Tommy Jordan (shoulder)

NOTES
- Debose is not listed as a starting receiver.
- Koehne and Thurman are inserted as reserve tackles because Patchan is out.
- Silberman is listed as the second-string left guard because Koehne is filling in at tackle.
- Taylor is at Mike LB and Morrison at Will LB as reserves but both are interchangeable.
- All four cornerbacks are expected to see 75 percent of the snaps in a particular game.
- Phillips beat out freshman Austin Hardin for the No. 2 kicker job.
- Murphy is the back-up holder after working on that during the fall.

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