Florida LB Taylor, DE Fowler ready to lead…and hit; Gators see Muschamp as tough but fair

A pair of defenders are ready to lead the way for the Florida Gators both on and off the field, while players disagree with some critics labeling head coach Will Muschamp as soft in light of his decision to reinstate three suspended players for the Eastern Michigan Eagles game on Saturday.

THE MAN FOR THE JOB

Losing Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell last year – plus Matt Elam, Sharrif Floyd and Lerentee McCray the season before – the Gators spent a portion of the offseason searching for veteran leaders to unite the program and take it to another level in 2014.

In stepped redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor, a 10-game starter in 2013 who is as confident off the field as he is aggressive on it. Not only have his Florida teammates fallen in line behind him, the coaching staff also views him as a trustworthy extension of their teachings on the gridiron.

“Mike, really his entire career, has been about all the right things and what we stand for as a program. He’s never an issue off-the-field. He’s a very tough, physical, hard-working guy. He loves football. He’s really into it. He’s already graduated from here,” explained defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin.

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9/2: Roper, Driskel believe in matured Robinson

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and a couple of his players met with the media on Tuesday to provide some thoughts on the Gators and Florida’s new season-opener against the Eastern Michigan Eagles set for 4 p.m. on Saturday afternoon at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.

LEADERS BELIEVE IN DEMARCUS ROBINSON

When sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson was announced as suspended on Saturday, many assumed it was the conclusion of his season-ending suspension from 2013. Head coach Will Muschamp pointed out on Monday that was not the case, noting that Robinson’s suspension was for a completely separate, albeit not announced, university sanction.

That means Robinson, a four-star prospect who was supposed to be a breakthrough player for Muschamp and the Gators’ offense, has been suspended on three separate occasions in one full season and one not-played game during his time at Florida.

While Robinson has seen plenty of the dog house, Roper stated on Tuesday that he’s had no issues whatsoever with Robinson since taking over as UF’s offensive coordinator.

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8/26: Optimism and confidence surround Florida as Muschamp kicks off game week vs. Idaho

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday to open up game week ahead of the first game of the season against the Idaho Vandals at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.

Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel and redshirt senior linebacker Michael Taylor also shared some comments to kick off game week.

This post was updated Wednesday will comments Muschamp made during his weekly appearance on the Southeastern Conference media teleconference.

OPTIMISM AND CONFIDENCE

A new season is on the horizon for the Gators, and Muschamp knows that his team is ready for the opportunity to prove to doubters that 2013 was a fluke and not how Florida football is supposed to be played. He has seen the renewed drive and dedication from his team on the field, in meeting rooms and during events outside of the facility. Now he just hopes that UF will be able to put it all together on Saturday.

“Any time you go through a tough time in your life, you reflect and you get humble and you work hard and you pull together and you understand that people around you are close to you. Certainly in the building, number one, but within that locker room, number two, I’ve seen a very close-knit unit,” he said.

“In that locker room, there are a lot of guys that know how to practice, know how to practice the right way. They know how to compete and get after each other but also how to take care of each other. It’s been a lot of fun in training camp. I’ve really enjoyed being around the guys. You can see the camaraderie and togetherness in this football team, and I really look forward to seeing them competing in front of our fans.”

Taylor said the excitement around the program is palpable, and the Gators have an opportunity to ride the wave of momentum into the season by pulling off a victory over the Vandals.

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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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8/8: Muschamp on Hargreaves injury, Driskel and backup quarterbacks, player evaluations

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday to discuss the first four days of practice and provide some first impressions on what he has seen from the team this fall.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp related that he was not concerned about the knee injury suffered by sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III during practice Thursday night, noting that it occurred during a knee-to-knee incident prior to the scuffle that ensued between the defensive backs and wide receivers. It was, however, aggravated during the ensuing fight. Hargreaves was quickly diagnosed with a bone bruise, Muschamp said, and will miss practice Friday while receiving treatment. He remains day-to-day.

“I was told immediately it was a bone bruise. The knee was stable and there [were] absolutely zero issues,” he said. “Obviously, in any situation when you deal with a joint, whether it’s an ankle, a shoulder, a knee, an elbow, you’re going to always get an MRI. But our trainer told me last night it was a bone bruise and he’ll be day-to-day.”

He also addressed the fight with the team after practice and noted that he has no problem kicking players out of practice if something similar occurs in the future because that is exactly what would happen in a game.

“You had a young player, a freshman, who got a little excited. In those situations, you’ve got a bunch of guys trying to separate the situation. That’s not something we tolerate,” Muschamp explained. “We have a lot of competition at a lot of positions, so there’s a side of it that’s a good thing. You want your guys to be aggressive. You want your guys to play with toughness, but you also want your guys to play smart and disciplined. There’s a side of it that you understand is part of the game. I’ve been in 20 or so training camps and I don’t think there’s been one that’s had at least a little skirmish. [The media] calls it a melee. I call it a skirmish. Kind of the way it goes.”

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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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2014 SEC Media Days – Will Muschamp pleased Florida’s roster, progress made in spring

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. and sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III represented the team on Monday by participating in the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama.

Below are highlights primarily from Muschamp’s sessions with the media.

BETTER THAN EXPECTED

If anyone is to believe in the possibility of Florida turning things around in 2014, rebounding from its worst season since 1979, it is going to start on the offensive side of the ball. Muschamp knew this and brought in offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to employ a spread offense and make the Gators a more dynamic playmaking team.

Not only will Roper’s offense put redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel back in the shotgun, where he is more comfortable and capable, it should give Florida more space to make plays. Muschamp is already extremely impressed with how much UF has been able to get accomplished in such a short period of time.

“I went back and looked at our numbers from 2012 when we were in the shotgun as opposed to being under center. When Jeff was in the shotgun, our yards were better, our explosive plays were better in both the run and pass game. He was recruited to Florida to be a gun quarterback,” he explained.

“In making that change, I felt like Kurt Roper was a great hire for us from a standpoint of a guy that philosophically is on the same page with me as what we want to be, that’s a balanced offense. …

“In our 15 days of springs, we got a lot more done than I thought we would. He’s an outstanding fundamental football coach, very positive. It was good to see our offensive kids having fun again on the field. Really excited about that. Probably what excites me the most is this is probably the most talent we’ve had on offense in my four years at Florida.”

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