Hype train rolls on for WR Demarcus Robinson

More than once this offseason – including at the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days on Monday – Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp called this season’s roster the most talented he’s had during his tenure at the school.

While corroborating that statement before the season is difficult considering Florida has lost a ton of top-end defenders in consecutive seasons and enters the 2014 campaign with its underwhelming specialists unchanged, the Gators certainly do possess a rebuilt stable of offensive talent.

Yet while Florida’s veteran wide receiver (redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar, incoming pass-catching tight end (redshirt senior Jake McGee) and three starting-caliber running backs (sophomore Kelvin Taylor, redshirt senior Mack Brown and redshirt junior Matt Jones) were all mentioned by the contingent in Hoover, Alabama, on Monday, it was a talent who frustrated and underwhelmed as a freshman that got the most praise.

“You heard it here first. He is that good,” sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III – a third-team Associated Press All-American, unanimous first-team Freshman All-American and unanimous first-team All-SEC nominee – said of the player.

Hargreaves was speaking to FOX Sports reporter Bruce Feldman about Florida sophomore wideout Demarcus Robison, the four-star prospect who was supposed to be a game-changer and big-time playmaker for the Gators as a freshman.

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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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2014 Florida Gators Orange & Blue Debut Review

The 2014 Orange & Blue Debut is in the books with the Florida Gators coming away from their spring game without a winner as the first-team Blue and second-team Orange left the field tied at 23-23 at the end of the fourth quarter.

Florida’s offense certainly looked much improved, though there were questions about the Gators defense – specifically the line – especially by the time the scrimmage concluded.

OnlyGators.com offered free live coverage of the event as well as head coach Will Muschamp post-spring game press conference and now wraps it all up with evaluations, notes and quotes in the Orange & Blue Debut Review.

OFFENSE

» The running backs showed off with redshirt senior Mack Brown (Blue) toting the rock eight times for 55 yards and a touchdown. Brown pulled off a tremendous 19-yard rush by stopping short on an off-tackle run, reversing field and carrying the ball down to the one-yard line before rumbling into the end zone on the next play.

» Sophomore Kelvin Taylor (Blue) only got five total touches in the scrimmage (one reception for no gain) but looked impressive while on the field. Faced with three defenders on his way to the goal line, Taylor juked inside to avoid all three and took the ball down to the two-yard line on an 11-yard gain. He found pay dirt on the next play for the first touchdown of the game.

» Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (Blue) completed 10-of-17 passes for 125 yards and 31-yard touchdown on a drag route to sophomore wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (Blue) in the first half. Robinson took Driskel’s pass across the middle and charged upfield for the score. Driskel went 0-for-3 on his first series but calmed down, made some nice passes and moved his unit nicely in both the run and pass game. Driskel finished 19-of-33 for 171 yards.

Muschamp said he was “real pleased” with how Driskel played, especially considering he had not played football all offseason until these 15 spring practices. “Probably one of the better throws he had today was a throwaway, a scramble pass in a one-minute situation before half that he threw out of bounds. Decision making and all those things will continue to improve as he processes information within what we’re trying to do. I think he’s in the shotgun and that’s what he was recruited here to do.”

» Robinson finished with five receptions for 53 yards on the afternoon and also had a fourth down conversion when he caught a pass on a curl route and took it for a first down. “I think we’re as deep as we’ve been at wideout with some guys that can make plays on the ball,” Muschamp said. “Demarcus Robinson is a home run threat on every play,” Driskel added.

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Muschamp on new offense and a real spring game

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday to provide updates on team injuries, spring practice and the upcoming spring game.

INJURY UPDATES

Sophomore safety Keanu Neal (hamstring) is at 90 percent according to Muschamp, who said the Gators want to get him back as soon as possible but want to ensure that the injury fully heals first. “He needs to be a part of the spring game. He needs to get in front of the crowd and play,” Muschamp said. “He needs to be in practices 10, 11, 12, 13. I didn’t want to lose him another day [by practicing him Monday].”

Sophomore wide receiver Chris Thompson (undisclosed) has returned to practice, though redshirt freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (concussion) has not yet been given the go-ahead. Muschamp hoped that Johnson would be available to see the field on Wednesday.

RUNNING AWAY WITH THINGS

The Gators will be without junior running back Matt Jones this spring, but the productivity of Florida’s other rushers has apparently filled his void quite well.

Sophomore Kelvin Taylor is more confident running the ball and “much better in protection, which is where he needed to take some big steps,” Muschamp said. Taylor is obviously the most explosive of UF’s rushers and is easily the favorite to start the first game of the season after a strong conclusion to 2013.

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Roper pleased with installation of Gators offense

By Adam Silverstein and Mike Brandes (OnlyGators.com Contributor)

Nearing the end of the second full week of spring practice, new Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper met with the media on Thursday to discuss how his unit is progressing and whether he sees the start of a turnaround in a unit that finished 112th in scoring offense (18.8 points per game) and 113rd in total offense (316.7 yards per game) by the conclusion of the 2013 season.

STEP ONE: INSTALLATION

Learning a new offense is difficult for any group of players, especially when it is – in many ways – night and day from one they have run for a number of years. But if the Gators are going to have success in 2014, it will be their offense making the greatest improvement, and that has to begin right away.

“They’re starting to understand more and more every day. Part of the process is you add things to them every day,” explained Roper on Thursday. “I think what we’ve tried to do is create an offense that is easy as possible for us to learn but still complicated to defend. So, I think it’s an offense that, over time, over 45 practices before our first game, that we’ll have a pretty good understanding of.”

Florida new up-tempo set will have a base formation of three-wide. Players will check in with the sideline for each play call and be focused on executing fundamentals on the field rather than trying to trick the opposition with complicated routes or blocking assignments. Roper believes things are going well early on despite the fact that some fans have heard him yelling plenty of times in open practices.

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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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Friday Final: Florida focused on defending triple option, Gators desperate for a win, fan support

Florida Gators coaches and players spoke this week ahead of Saturday’s contest against the Georgia Southern Eagles, which is scheduled to kick off at 2:00 p.m. from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL, and air live on pay-per-view.

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

Monday: Will Muschamp previews Georgia Southern, updates injuries, more
Tuesday: Brent Pease talks offensive line, running game | Florida’s freshmen wideouts still works in progress
Wednesday: Two Gators ruled out for Saturday | QB Tyler Murphy not ruled out, but Skyler Mornhinweg in line to start

DEFEATING THE TRIPLE OPTION

Florida on Saturday will be tasked with defending Georgia Southern’s triple option. One of a dwindling number of teams that still uses the offense, GSU expertly runs it and has since Paul Johnson took over the program in 1997. Defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who along with the other defensive caches has been preparing for this since the summer, discussed UF’s defensive plan and how it has been communicated.

“It’s something different than what our guys see week to week. Usually you go from one opponent to the next you have a different game plan but you build off certain concepts that you normally carry and work on, there’s carryover. This week there’s not as much carryover. It’s kind of a whole different game plan of how you play it,” he explained.

“It’s just responsibility football; it’s everyone doing their job. Everyone has an assignment on each snap and they gotta do their job and not worry about the guy next to him and try to guess and do what he’s doing. Option football, that’s what they make you do, they’re gonna make sure everyone’s doing their job and if not they’re gonna make you pay. They’re good enough at it, they do enough of it, they can read the right way and if someone’s not where they’re supposed to be, it’ll show.”

Redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor said he has experience facing the triple option in high school and noted that defending it all starts with stopping the dive.

“If you’ve never seen it, you can be like, ‘God, this is tricky.’ But most of us have seen it before. This is a pretty high-tech level of triple option,” he said. “They’re probably the best to do it; them and Georgia Tech. We have a lot to prepare for. It’s just going to be a good week of preparation and hopefully have a good Saturday.”

Redshirt junior defensive tackle Leon Orr expects the triple option to be “something of a challenge” but has confidence that the Gators will be able to defend it well.

“It’s a total technique change,” he said. “It’s all about focus, when it comes down to it. It’s something our defense [has to] hone in on and be able to focus on your role and not trying to do too much and going out there and doing your job like the coaches always preach.”

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11/19: Pease talks Florida OL and running game

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease met with the media on Tuesday ahead of the 11th game of the season against the Georgia Southern Eagles on Saturday, Nov. 23. The game is set to kick off at 2 p.m. and air live on pay-per-view.

TOUGHING IT OUT

One of the most understandably criticized units on the Florida football program has been the offensive line, but the patchwork unit played well on Saturday against South Carolina after putting together a lackluster performance just one week earlier versus Vanderbilt.

“I think they did a better job of controlling the line of scrimmage and being physical. I mean, all of our guys, they play with great effort. It’s just a matter of being a body on a body, not letting guys slip you,” Pease explained. “I think Trenton Brown has come on and gotten a lot better. By any means, were they all graded out perfect? No. It’s still, I think we need to be better adjusting along the way of when teams start adjusting to us.”

One of the most recent additions to the line is redshirt sophomore Ian Silberman, who is now the starting left guard with redshirt junior Max Garcia filling in at left tackle.

“I think he’s played a lot better, and we’ve used him,” said Pease. “He’s gotten a lot better in dealing, being nicked up here or there. But he’s gotten a lot better in practice, pass-wise. He’s an athletic kid that can run, so I’m happy with what he is doing. Continue to be more consistent.”

Garcia believes that the Gators were able to take a step forward up front because of some continuity on the line, a unit that has been in constant disarray all season.

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