Gators 2013 Spring Football Preview: Defense

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 second half of OGGOA‘s new two-part series that takes a look at the team on a position-by-position basis.

PART ONE: Offense

DEFENSIVE TACKLES
Returning starters (0/2): None
Fresh faces: Junior Darious Cummings, redshirt freshman Quinteze Williams

The Gators have plenty of holes to fill on the defensive side of the ball and it will be up to new defensive line coach Brad Lawing and assistant defensive line coach Bryant Young to figure out how to plug up the middle. With Sharrif Floyd set to become a top-five pick in the 2013 NFL Draft and Omar Hunter finally graduating after five years at the school, Florida will be looking to replace both of its starters. Senior Damien Jacobs, a junior college transfer who played in 12 games during his first season with the Gators, likely has the edge for one of the jobs but will still go up against Cummings (a 2013 JUCO transfer from the same school as Jacobs), Williams and redshirt junior Leon Orr, all of whom will compete for the two positions.

DEFENSIVE ENDS
Returning starters (1/2): Senior Dominique Easley
Fresh faces: Redshirt freshman Bryan Cox, Jr., redshirt freshman Alex McCalister, freshman Joey Ivie

Easley started all 12 regular season games at defensive tackle in 2011 and will be used inside some in 2013 despite starting 11 games at defensive end last season. His flexibility leaves the door open for a number of other players to make an impact. Sophomore Jonathan Bullard earned a pair of starts in 2012 and got rave reviews from the coaching staff; he is next in line to start and/or see major field time as a pure defensive end. McCalister, who won three Scout Team Player of the Week awards and was named Most Valuable Defensive Scout Team Member at the team banquet in Dec. 2012, was praised by head coach Will Muschamp at the end of the season.

Florida’s defense also features a Buck, which can line up with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end or upright as a linebacker. (For the purpose of this feature, Buck has been included in this position group.) Redshirt junior Ronald Powell was praised as much as any member of the team in the 2012 offseason but wound up missing the entire campaign with consecutive ACL tears. Lerentee McCray started in his place but graduated after his redshirt senior season. Though Powell will not participate in spring practice, he will retake his role as starter in the summer assuming he is medically cleared. He will be joined by sophomore Dante Fowler, Jr. – Powell’s heir apparent – and McCalister.

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1/1: Muschamp, Strong talk teams, Sugar Bowl

No. 3 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and No. 21 Louisville Cardinals head coach Charlie Strong met with the media on Tuesday to discuss the upcoming 2013 Sugar Bowl and their respective teams heading into the game. Below are some choice notes and quotes from the media sessions.

» Muschamp on freshman standouts: “You look at Antonio Morrison, [Jonathan] Bullard and [Dante] Fowler. Those three guys have been as productive as any freshman I’ve been around.”

» Muschamp on becoming a head coach: “It’s taking the right job. I had other opportunities before the Florida job came. It’s about taking the right job. It’s about the right situation, the right people, the right circumstances, being in a situation where you think you can be successful. All the critical factors as far as recruiting base, support from the administration, all of those things need to be in place.”

» Muschamp on Florida’s lagging Sugar Bowl ticket sales and if the numbers worry him: “Obviously right now economically we’re going through a tough time in our country. I think that certainly has affected everyone, not just Gator fans. And so that’s a tough time right now and there’s different ways to get tickets other than going through the University Athletic Association. Obviously we’re seeing a little bit of a loophole those things happening as well. … I don’t worry about that. I worry about third down and stuff like that. I let Jeremy [Foley] worry about that.”

» Muschamp on an injury update: “We’re fine. We’re good to go for the game.”

» Muschamp on playing in a dome and what the team has had to do to prepare: “Adjusting to the lights. We’ve worked it all week, as far as seeing the punt catchers and kick off and receivers working and catching the football because it’s a little different with the lights in the stadium there. We’ve worked on that. And kicking in an environment for [Caleb] Sturgis is good for us. We can probably be at the 38 yard line and be in range for a 55-yard, 56-yard [field goal] maybe even to the 40 [yard line].”

» Muschamp said sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson will be the punt returner while sophomore CB Loucheiz Pufioy and redshirt junior wide receiver Andre Debose will both be back for kick returns.

Read the rest of what Muschamp and Strong had to say…after the break!
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12/19: Quinn and Hunter talk practice, juniors

With the team beginning preparations for the 2013 Sugar Bowl against the Louisville Cardinals in New Orleans, LA on Jan. 2, No. 3 Florida Gators defensive coordinator Brent Pease and redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter sat down with the media to discuss the team’s defense and how it is shaping up for the bowl game.

FOWLER IS “SPECIAL,” POOLE IS IMPRESSING

Head coach Will Muschamp has propped up sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy all season for making great strides in his game during practices leading up to the 2012 Gator Bowl. Asked Wednesday who has made similar strides so far in these bowl practices, Quinn pointed to two players in particular.

“In the front seven, one that is really coming on that you can see is [Buck linebacker] Dante Fowler. He’s played all year. He’s playing really at a high level right now and to me you can see the momentum, the confidence and the understanding at a faster rate. That part has been exciting,” Quinn said. “On the back end, one guy that has caught my attention that is doing a good job right now is [CB] Brian Poole. I’d say those two players are really ones to me that have caught my eye, and I thought they’ve had a good camp in terms of the work and stuff they’ve put in.”

For players like Purifoy last year and Poole this year, Quinn said it is all about growth and development. Freshmen may not pick up terminology or technique in the few practices before the season begins, so the coaching staff may not have the necessary confidence in them to play them early. As the season goes on, the players are able to pick up a lot more and are then able to display the improvements they have made in bowl practices when younger players get more time on the field.

Asked to point out players that have impressed him in bowl practice, Hunter named Purifoy, Fowler, junior DT Damien Jacobs, freshman defensive end Jonathan Bullard and sophomore CB Marcus Roberson. He had plenty of praise for Fowler in particular.

“That kid’s special. He’s special. He’s what I wanted to be my freshman year. He is very special. He’s going to be a great player here. Quick, powerful guy,” Hunter said. “I think he can play inside at three-technique; I think he can play outside at the end. He can cover tight ends. He’s just a special athlete, special football player. He’s learning the system more than anything. He’s getting smarter. He’s a smarter football player than he was when he first came in. These practices [are] where the coaches can help the younger guys more because the seniors know everything.”

Read the rest of this post…after the break!
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Seven Gators named to 2012 AP All-SEC teams

Seven members of the Florida Gators football team were voted onto to the 2012 All-SEC Teams on Monday, as chosen by Associated Press voters.

Florida had six players selected to the first team: redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed, senior running back Mike Gillislee, redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis, junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, junior safety Matt Elam and sophomore punter Kyle Christy.

Gators sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson was placed on the All-SEC second team.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp finished second to Texas A&M’s Kevin Sumlin in SEC Coach of the Year voting. Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel won SEC Offensive Player of the Year and SEC Freshman of the Year, while Georgia linebacker Jarvis Jones took home SEC Defensive Player of the Year honors.

The Gators had the second-most total All-SEC selections with seven, one behind Alabama’s eight. However, Florida’s six first-team nods were the most in the conference.

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11/26: Jenkins out, players praised, bowl notes

No. 4 Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to review the team’s important 37-26 victory over the then-No. 10 Florida State Seminoles and preview the next few weeks of inaction.

INJURY UPDATES

Exciting the game early, redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins learned that he broke a small bone in his foot and will be out 4-6 weeks. Muschamp said he was having surgery on the foot Monday and will probably miss the bowl game.

Florida is relatively healthy otherwise. Redshirt sophomore LB Neiron Ball (ankle) will be back in time for the bowl game. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel (ankle) is sore but fine coming out of the Florida State victory. Redshirt junior center Jonotthan Harrison (ankle) got dinged up and is in a boot but will be OK as well. Redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Leon Orr (kidney infection) should be able to return to physical activity this week.

As far as sophomore safety De’Ante Saunders, Muschamp said he remains out for the bowl game with what was mentioned a few weeks ago to be the hamstring injury.

Reporter: “Saunders, you said a couple weeks ago wouldn’t…”
Muschamp: “Yeah, he won’t be in the bowl game.”
Reporter: “Is that injury or discipline?”
Muschamp: “Yep. he won’t be in the bowl game.”
Reporter: “Because of?”
Muschamp: “Injury.”

Read the rest of what Muschamp had to say…after the break!
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11/24: Florida at Florida State post-game report

No. 4 Florida Gators football (11-1) concluded the regular season with a huge 37-26 victory over the No. 10 Florida State Seminoles (10-2) at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL on Saturday. Florida head coach Will Muschamp met with the media and provided some of his thoughts after the game.

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» Florida won 11 regular season games for the fifth time in school history.
» The Gators are 4-1 vs. teams currently in the BCS top 12.
» Florida is 34-21-2 all-time against Florida State and leads the series 13-11-1 on the road in Tallahassee. This was UF’s first victory vs. FSU in three years.
» The Gators boast the No.1 ranked strength of schedule nationally.
» Florida is 4-6 against ranked teams under Muschamp with a 4-1 mark in 2012 with wins over Tennessee, LSU, South Carolina and Florida State (and a loss to Georgia).
» The Gators are 12-0 under Muschamp when rushing for more than 150 yards, 11-1 when an opponent rushes for fewer than 100 yards, 12-3 when scoring first and 14-1 when leading at the half.
» Florida has faced four top-25 total offenses, giving up an average of 20 points per game to those teams. FSU was the first opponent that UF let score more than 20 points this season.
» The Gators have faced five top-20 total defenses and five top-20 scoring defenses. Against the Seminoles, the Gators scored 37 points.
» Florida completed 8-of-15 third-down conversion attempts (53.3) percent despite heading into the game with a 34.3 percent conversion average.
» The Gators possessed the ball for 36:20, 3:31 longer than their season average, which ranked ninth nationally and first in the SEC.
» Florida is +17 in turnover margin after being -12 in 2011. UF forced five turnovers on Saturday and gave up the ball just once.
» The Gators are outscoring opponents 115-29 in the fourth quarter in 2012.
» Florida has grabbed 19 interceptions so far in 2012, 11 more than it registered one year ago. UF has grabbed at least one pick in nine games and has also recovered 10 fumbles.
» UF’s defense has allowed just two passing touchdowns over its last six games.

PLAYER NOTES

» Redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis made three field goals for the second-straight week and fifth time this season. He has set the school record for made field goals in a career with 69, passing Jeff Chandler’s former record of 67. Sturgis also tied Bobby Raymond’s single-season record of 23 made field goals.
» Senior running back Mike Gillislee became the first Florida rusher to eclipse the 1,000-yard plateau since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. Saturday was his third 140+ yard game of the year his fourth two-touchdown game of the season. Gillislee alone rushed for more yards than Florida State has allowed to any team this season.
» Seven different Gators forced and/or recovered turnovers on Saturday: junior safety Matt Elam (INT), redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins (INT), sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson (INT), sophomore LB Darrin Kitchens (FF), sophomore CB Jabari Gorman (FR), freshman LB Antonio Morrison (FF), junior defensive end Dominique Easley (FR). The five total turnovers were a season-high.
» Sophomore CB Loucheiz Purifoy became the first player since Keiwan Ratliff (2002) to start on offense and defense in the same game.
» Sophomore RB Matt Jones registered a career-high 81 rushing yards and ran for more yards than the Seminoles had given up to six teams this season.

OPENING STATEMENT

“We seem to make it interesting and overcome [the penalties]. Very proud with how we played the game, the mental toughness that we played with. When I first came to Florida, it was a little bit of a question mark. Last time we were in this stadium it was a 31-7 game, and it wasn’t tonight. That football team showed you their resolve and their fight and their oneness and their togetherness, and I’m very proud to be a part of them. We have an outstanding staff that’s completely on board with what we’re trying to do and we have all the support to continue to move forward. Just very proud of the victory. The fifth team in UF history to win 11 games in the regular season. Heck of a season. Pulling for ‘Fight On.’ Some of them guys, I’ve always been a big Lane Kiffin fan.”

Read the rest of what Muschamp had to say on the run and the players…

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No. 4 Florida Gators chomp No. 10 Florida State as Mike Gillislee rumbles for two touchdowns

A 24-point fourth quarter for the No. 4 Florida Gators (11-1) turned around what looked to be an epic collapse and clinched a 37-26 win over the No. 10 Florida State Seminoles (10-2) at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL.

Florida senior running back Mike Gillislee led the way for the Gators offense, rumbling for 140 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. That unit got plenty of support from the defense and special teams, which combined to recover five turnovers on the afternoon. Redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis was also clutch for UF, making all three of his field goal attempts with a long of 45 yards.

Florida opened up the game throwing, completing two of its first three passes and tossing the ball eight times on a 14-play, 54-yard drive that lasted 5:47 and ended with a 39-yard field goal Sturgis. Florida State took the kickoff at the 35-yard line after Sturgis booted it out of bounds and got down to UF’s 27 in just two plays. However, a third-down interception thrown by FSU quarterback E.J. Manuel and caught by junior safety Matt Elam ended the possession without any points going on the board.

The Gators looked to be stalled at their own 34-yard line on their next drive, but a 31-yard scramble by sophomore QB Jeff Driskel extended the possession, which wound up going 62 total yards. Faced with 3rd-and-1 at the Seminoles’ 26, Driskel threw incomplete on a play action and junior running back Trey Burton missed brother and sophomore tight end Clay Burton on a muddle huddle play attempted on fourth down.

A few possessions later, Florida put together another long drive but stalled short of the end zone. The Gators converted two third-down tries but settled for a 45-yard field goal to take a 6-0 lead after gaining 54 yards in 10 plays.

Florida got another big play from its special teams on the ensuing kickoff as junior linebacker Darrin Kitchens forced a fumble that was recovered by sophomore defensive back Jabari Gorman at Florida State’s 21-yard line. Three plays later, Gillislee rumbled nine yards down the left sideline for a touchdown, giving UF a 13-0 lead with 5:26 left in the first half.

The Seminoles were able to hold on to the ball on the next kickoff, but Manuel threw his second interception of the game on the opening play from scrimmage, tossing a bullet right into the hands of redshirt junior Will LB Jelani Jenkins. The Gators would waste the possession by getting called for two penalties and suffering a big loss on third down.

Florida State finally made some offensive gains on its last possession of the first half as Manuel completed three passes and scrambled for 23 yards to put his team in field goal range. The Seminoles reduced its deficit to 13-3 at the half as K Dustin Hopkins knocked in a 50-yard field goal.

UF won the time of possession battle 21:58-8:02 in the first half and nearly doubled up FSU on offense but had a bigger advantage before the home team’s final possession as it sported a 192-53 advantage through the first 27:50 of the opening half.

Read the rest of the Florida-Florida State game story…after the break!
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QB Jeff Driskel slated to start at Florida State

After missing a full week of practice and the Jacksonville State game with an injured left ankle, No. 4 Florida Gators sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel is slated to return to his starting role on Saturday against the No. 10 Florida State Seminoles.

Gators head coach Will Muschamp said Wednesday on the weekly SEC teleconference that Driskel looked like he was back to his normal self when he returned to practice on Tuesday and should start Saturday barring an unforeseen setback.

“Jeff Driskel looked very good in practice [Tuesday], and he’ll be ready to go,” he said. “He would [start] at this time. Obviously we still got a couple more days of practice, but he looked good enough to me that he’ll be fine. … We’ll go from there but right now Jeff looks good.”

Muschamp continued, “He looked fine. We did everything we normally do. There was nothing limited within the package of what we do with him when we normally prepare for any game. Again, looked very good yesterday. Unless something just unheard of happens in practice [Wednesday] or [Thursday], he’ll be ready to go Saturday.”

Driskel’s experience (nine starts, four against BCS top-10 teams) and mobility are big advantages he brings to being behind center for Florida. He is the Gators’ second leading rusher with 424 yards and four touchdowns and has also completed 64.8 percent of his passes for 1,324 yards and 10 touchdowns with just three interceptions.

Though Driskel’s injury may have been the most important to the team, he is not the only player expected to return this week.

Redshirt junior wide receiver Andre Debose (knee), sophomore fullback Hunter Joyer (thigh) and redshirt sophomore right tackle Chaz Green (ankle) all looked good in practice Tuesday, Muschamp said. He added that redshirt sophomore linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) looked a bit slow as he tried to return but cautioned that he still has a few days to work that out.

Florida will look to win its fourth game against a BCS top-10 opponent on Saturday when it takes on Florida State at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. Should the Gators win, a BCS bowl game would be assured and a trip to the national championship would be plausible with some help.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Muschamp said the punt and kick return positions, as of now, are not settled. Debose is in the mix to start again at both but is not assured of his role. Sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson is also competing for the punt return job, while redshirt senior tight end Omarius Hines and sophomore CB Loucheiz Purifoy are also working at kick returner.

» On the tough SEC schedule: “Certainly playing in the SEC, it’s a playoff every week. We have an eight-game playoff to go to the [SEC] Championship Game. At the University of Florida, you’re going to play Florida State every year, and next year we play Miami. So you’re looking at 10 so-called “good” games, I guess as the media would say it. We have an eight-game playoff every year to go to Atlanta.”

» On if junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was injured in practice and/or will be able to play Saturday: “Yeah, he looked good yesterday.”

Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press

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