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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3/25: Florida defense years ahead of offense, Gators injury and depth chart updates

Spring practice remains underway for the Florida Gators with the team participating in workouts, many of which have been open to the public, for the second-straight week. Head coach Will Muschamp discussed practice, provided injury updates and went over a number of hot topics when he met with the media Tuesday afternoon.

FOUR DAYS VS. FOUR YEARS

Twice on Tuesday, Muschamp made it a point to note that there is quite a disparity between the respective preparedness of Florida’s offense and defense.

“Our team, let’s see, has had four days of installation offensively…and about four years of installation defensively. I think that puts things in perspective a little bit about where we are,” he explained.

Though the Gators defense lost most of its best players to graduation and the NFL Draft, the remaining student-athletes are all familiar with the system and simply building their knowledge base from one season to the next. In fact, Muschamp said Florida has “not cut back at all defensively” with formations or play calling, trying to make things “as hard as possible” on an offense that is much less comfortable in its own skin.

New offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has only been able to work with his unit on the field for four days, but Muschamp noted that he is “really pleased with the production” the offense has shown thus far, saying it is “really playing fast, physical” and “really limiting negative plays.” He also praised Roper for his approach to this point.

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3/19: Renewed optimism as Gators open practice

The Florida Gators began 2014 spring practice on Wednesday, taking the field for the first of 15 times over the next few weeks. The pad-less practice was open to fans and reporters, which got a first-hand look at the team as it went through the motions of offensive and defensive installation. Afterward, head coach Will Muschamp discussed practice, provided injury updates and went over a number of hot topics.

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE OFFENSE

Muschamp made no bones about it on Wednesday when he matter-of-factly stated that Florida’s “number one priority … is the installation of the offense.” So important is the Gators improving on offense, in fact, that he has explained to defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin and the defensive players that they will need to be patent as offensive coordinator Kurt Roper helps get things on track with his new system.

“There’s a lot of give and take in the installation process,” Muschamp said, “and you have to make sure [the defense does not] get too far ahead of the offense.”

To that end, he confirmed that the Gators will be operating their up-tempo in the shotgun. He now prefers to save Florida’s players under center for when the team has to “kneel down at the end [of a game] after a good win.” He quipped, “I don’t want to be in shotgun doing that.”

Roper will try to instill two important tenants into the heads of the players on his side of the ball. The Gators have to play with urgency and need to master execution…and do all of it at a pace that will keep opposing defenses on their toes.

“They understand the advantages of [lining up] quickly and getting themselves in the right spots and the disadvantages it can create for a defense,” explained Muschamp. “Our players talk between offense and defense. The defensive kids talk about how difficult it can be and how stressful it can be under the circumstances of when they do align fast and get aligned quickly.”

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Muschamp updates Gators injuries, filling voids

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Wednesday primarily to discuss the new recruiting class on National Signing Day, but he also touched on a number of issues concerning the team with six weeks to go until the start of spring practice on March 19 ahead of the 2014 season.

INJURED STARTERS STILL ON THE MEND

The Gators’ rash of season-ending injuries last season was highlighted by two big losses on the offensive side of the ball – redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel (fibula) and junior Matt Jones (knee).

While Driskel is slowly but surely working his way back – Muschamp noted that he has resumed jogging and is expected to be cleared for the start of spring practice – Jones on Wednesday went under the knife for the second of potentially three surgeries to repair a complete radial tear of his meniscus.

Doctors have told Muschamp that Jones’s meniscus was already “90 percent healed,” which puts him “further along” than the initial projection for his return, but he will not be able to suit up in March and remains on target to get back to work in the summer.

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8/28: Jones wears pads, Muschamp on safeties

No. 10 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp made his scheduled appearance Wednesday on the Southeastern Conference‘s weekly coaches teleconference and touched on a number of topics surrounding his team and Saturday’s game.

BACK AT PRACTICE

Muschamp announced Wednesday that sophomore running back Matt Jones dressed in full pads and returned to practice on Tuesday. Though he was able to run around and the team “tried to bang him around a little bit,” Muschamp noted that Jones was sore after practice, as should be expected for someone who missed so much time.

Jones will continue practicing with the Gators through the week and will participate in normal pre-game drills on the field but will remain inactive for Saturday’s contest against Toledo. Muschamp still hopes to have him back to play at Miami on Sept. 7.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On how freshman safety Keanu Neal will be able to help Florida this season: “Keanu is a guy that we’re counting on playing on special teams and contributing as the year runs on defense.”

» On why freshman S Marcell Harris has not been an immediate contributor: “Marcell is still coming off a meniscus from high school and is a little bit slowed by that. That’s kind of altered his development at the position at this time.”

» On the anterior cruciate ligament surgeries undergone by redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose and freshman linebacker Matt Rolin: “Andre, matter of fact, surgery went very well [Wednesday]. Matt had his surgery last week, and it went really well.”

» On if injuries have caused morale to dip: “Absolutely not. Man down, man up. That’s part of the deal at the University of Florida. When they sign that scholarship, you come to compete for championships and do it the right way on and off the field. One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity and that’s how we view things.”

» On if he always has worries or concerns heading into the first game of any given season: “It doesn’t worry you. … You’re going to have some unknowns going into every season,w ith young players especially. they haven’t been in that situation before. you do’t always know how some of these young men are going to react playing in front of 90,000 people. … I don’t know that you ever get over that. I hope you do someday, but from what i hear from some of my older coaches, it still sits int he pit of your stomach every day as you go into an opening game. All you can do is rely on your concepts you taught on offense, defense and special teams, hope that the experienced players can help some of the younger players in tough situations and that those guys will perform well when they run out of the tunnel there in The Swamp.

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Cody Riggs hopes to lock down a starting gig

While he has not gone so far as to name starters at the position just yet, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp went out of his way Monday to praise redshirt junior defensive back Cody Riggs, who is making the transition to full-time safety this season.

Riggs started his college career as a cornerback, the position he grew up playing. He saw action in all 26 games during his freshman and sophomore seasons and even made 10 starts in his second year.

In 2011, Riggs transitioned over to nickel cornerback for Muschamp, played great in the season opener against Bowling Green (seven tackles, pass defense, forced fumble) and was looking good against Texas A&M before leaving the game with a broken foot that would sideline him for the season.

“It was very frustrating because I didn’t even know how I fractured my foot. It was just in the middle of the game, I told them something was wrong. I come to find out my foot was broken,” he explained on Tuesday. “It was kind of heartbreaking because we were having such a good season and I had to sit back and watch those guys do the amazing things they did last year.”

Now playing his third different role in the last three seasons, Riggs is catching Muschamp’s eye early during fall camp.

“Cody Riggs has done a good job, Cody has,” he said. “He’s distanced himself.”

The Gators are looking for a pair of starting safeties this season after Matt Elam and Josh Evans left the team following the 2012 campaign. Riggs may be close to locking down one of those jobs. He said that paying close attention to what Elam and Evans did last season is helping him prepare for his new gig.

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8/6: Burton cam, Murphy stepping up, receivers improving, defenders getting ejected

A handful of Florida Gators football players met with the media on Tuesday to discuss how the team is looking at the start of fall practices.

VIDEO: PRACTICE THROUGH THE EYES OF A PLAYER

Senior Trey Burton, who is still listed as a running back, said Tuesday that he has been working the most at wide receiver though he did admit that he is doing “a little bit of everything.” In a prior practice, Florida strapped a Go Pro camera to Burton’s helmet so fans can get a player’s view of what it is like to go through the motions.

MURPHY SOLID BUT DRISKEL STILL THE LEADER

With junior quarterback Jeff Driskel still sidelined following his appendectomy, redshirt junior back-up Tyler Murphy has been running with the first team in practice and appears to be doing a good job as a substitute. The reviews are positive from his teammates and coaches thus far, and Murphy believes he taking a major step forward in his development as a signal caller.

“It’s been a good experience,” he said, according to The Gainesville Sun “I’m just trying to be productive. Things have been going well for me. There’s still a lot I need to work on. But I feel like I’ve gotten a lot better, especially with the amount of reps I’ve been able to get. I want to continue to build trust in my teammates so they feel comfortable with me being the guy if that ever happens. I’m really just trying to develop and grow as a leader and help this team become successful in any way, shape or form.”

Though Murphy is doing an admirable job, Driskel remains Florida’s leader and has been taking mental reps from the sidelines while watching the Gators’ first few fall practices. Burton said Tuesday that the team is pleased with how Driskel has been attacking playing quarterback and being the one guy his teammates can count on whether on or off the field.

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