3/11: Muschamp provides Florida football updates ahead of the start of 2014 spring practice

With the Florida Gators set to begin 2014 spring practice on Wednesday, March 19, head coach Will Muschamp media Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics concerning the team. He provided injury updates, offseason player evaluations and went over a number of hot topics entering the season.

INJURY UPDATES

Redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose (ACL): Cleared on March 28 – “Has been in our offseason program, has progressed very well, and we’re pleased with his progress and where he is. He’ll be in non-contact situations for us in the spring.”

Freshman RB Brandon Powell (foot): Cleared late in spring practice – “Had a pre-existing issue with his foot from high school, had a small fracture. We decided in February to go ahead and have surgery and put a pin in that. … To that point, in January, had done an outstanding job in our conditioning drills. Great change of direction and speed. We’re really excited about that. He’s one of the guys we’re really excited about. It’s unfortunate that something like that happened from high school.”

Redshirt senior defensive tackle Leon Orr (wrist): Cleared on May 1 – “He has a fractured wrist from the season. It was a situation at the end of the season, he had about a month to go in the year and we felt like it would rehab itself. Going back and looking at it the first of February, we got a second opinion of whether to have surgery. … He would probably have been limited reps anyway with as many young guys as we need up front go help reps.”

Junior running back Matt Jones (meniscus): Cleared on May 1 – “Matt Jones is progressing well. … He will not go through spring. He will not go through non-contact. He will rehab there in the pit during practice but extremely pleased with his progress and where he is.”

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Gators must fill void at kicker with Sturgis gone

A combination of graduations and early departures have forced the Florida Gators to replace 13 starters heading into the 2013 season.

While most of the attention seems to be focused on Florida finding a new starting running back, three linebackers and a pair of capable safeties, the Gators must also determine a suitable replacement for last year’s leading scorer.

Kicker Caleb Sturgis, third in Florida’s record books for most points in a career (340) and second for most points in a single season (110, 2009), registered the seventh-highest scoring season in Gators history in 2012 when he led the team in scoring by accounting for one-third of UF’s points (106 of 344).

Sturgis was impressive as he connected on 24-of-28 field goals (three of his misses due to blocked kicks) and 34-of-35 extra points last year. He was even deadlier from long range as he was able to put points on the board when Florida otherwise would have been forced to punt and turn the ball over.

He went 5-for-6 from 40+ yards, 3-for-3 from beyond 50 yards and let teams know his leg needed to be respected when he started off the season with a 51-yard make in each of the first two games – both victories.

The Gators were aware Sturgis’s eligibility would be used up at the conclusion of the season, but Florida may not have been prepared for how difficult a task it would be to replace someone so accurate, accountable and trustworthy.

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SIX BITS: top 25, tennis, Muschamp, PIT, Tebow

1 » Despite ending their 2013 NCAA Tournament run in the Elite Eight for the third-straight year, Florida Gators basketball was placed at No. 9 in the final USA Today Coaches’ Top 25 poll of the 2012-13 season. Florida was not the only Elite Eight team to fall outside the top eight of the poll, however, as Marquette checked in at No. 11 in the final rankings. Indiana (Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse) and Kansas (Sweet 16 loss to Michigan) took the two other spots in the top eight. The Gators also checked in at No. 9 and No. 10 in 2011-12 and 2010-11, respectively, after losing in the Elite Eight. Florida will likely enter the 2013-14 campaign ranked in the preseason top-10.

2 » No. 2 Gators women’s tennis (17-2, 10-1 SEC) ran through its competition over the weekend, extending their winning streaks to 10 consecutive team matches and 30-straight individual matches. Florida swept the Ole Miss Rebels (10-10, 4-6 SEC) and Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-12, 1-10 SEC) in a pair of home showdowns over the weekend at Linder Stadium at Ring Tennis Complex in Gainesville, FL. The Gators won all 11 matches and had the opportunity to celebrate Senior Day against the Bulldogs on Sunday. Seniors No. 1 Lauren Embree and No. 125 Caroline Hitimana were each unable to finish their singles matches due to Florida registering a quick 4-0 victory but both won their doubles contests. The No. 20 duo of Embree and junior Sofie Oyen picked up an 8-2 win, while Hitimana and junior Alex Cercone won 8-0.

On Monday, head coach Roland Thornqvist praised Embree at his press conference, making note of her incredible career and tremendous work ethic. “You want to know why Lauren Embree is the best college player to ever play the game?” he asked rhetorically. “It was Monday morning at 8:30, and after a weekend full of matches and practices, she runs to the courts, hits serves for 30 minutes, then I show up and we go at it [on the court] for an hour and 15 minutes. By 10:00, she’s done with two workouts already while the rest of tennis America is still sleeping. That’s why we’re good and that’s why she’s good. She sets the tone, the bar is high, and I think everybody feeds off of it. We’ve just been blessed to have that for four years. Frankly, it’s just amazing.” The Gators women’s tennis program is hoping to win its third-straight national title.

Read four more BITS of Florida Gators news…after the break!
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2013 Florida Gators Orange & Blue Debut Review

With the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut now officially in the books, OGGOA is here to take a look at what happened Saturday afternoon on Florida Field inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium during the Florida Gators spring game practice and how head coach Will Muschamp felt about the team and his players after the conclusion of the day’s events.

OFFENSE: STILL A WORK IN PROGRESS
* Separate story on passing game (quarterbacks, wide receivers) to be posted Sunday.

Running Backs
A starter emerges: Sophomore Matt Jones did not see a lot of action on Saturday by design. Why? Because Jones has played so well throughout the spring that he has all but officially been named Florida’s starter in the backfield. “Matt has really had an outstanding spring. We have a good comfort level where he is as a player,” Muschamp said. “He’s a physical runner. He understands our protections. He’s got great hands in the throwing game. There’s no question he’s an all-around back. He can do everything for us and he’s shown it to us for 14-straight practices.”

Four-deep with a freshman shining: Behind Jones there are three other players competing for carriers – redshirt junior Mack Brown, freshman Kelvin Taylor and sophomore walk-on Mark Herndon. On Saturday, Brown barely got any carries with the vast majority of snaps going to the latter two players. Unlike Jones, it did not look like the coaching staff was resting Brown. Taylor looked dynamic and Herndon made it quite clear why the coaches have praised him throughout the spring with multiple nice runs including a touchdown scamper from inside the 10-yard line. Though Taylor started slow, he showed nice patience running between the tackles, looked decent in pass protection and showed shiftiness breaking a tackle and moving the ball to the outside. Late in the scrimmage, he had a 15-yard run off-tackle and later scored a red zone touchdown from eight yards out when he stuck the ball over the goal line.

Asked about Taylor after the game, Muschamp gushed about how impressive he has been just 15 practices into his Gators career. “Kelvin’s got a really strong lower body. He runs through contact extremely well. He’s got natural instincts in the run game. You get the turns and reps and [need to learn] the protections and all the things that you got to be able to do for us at running back, but [I’m] extremely pleased with his progress,” Muschamp said. “He’s a very talented runner. Some positions are easier than others to contribute as a freshman. That’s a natural instinct position. You get the guy the ball and let his natural instincts take over and run for daylight. And he can do that. It’s the other things we got to brush up on.”

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Gators add 23-year-old quarterback Chris Wilkes

The competition at back-up quarterback for the Florida Gators will get even more interesting this summer as the program now has not one but two new players set to enroll to compete for the job behind junior starter Jeff Driskel.

According to a report from the Orlando Sentinel’s Chris Hays, 23-year-old signal caller Chris Wilkes (Orlando, FL) gave a pledge to head coach Will Muschamp on Saturday after the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut.

Wilkes (6’4”, 225 lbs.), originally a member of the 2008 recruiting class, was rated by Rivals at the time as a two-star quarterback. He had committed to play for Ole Miss but instead chose to try his hand at professional baseball. Wilkes was selected by the San Diego Padres with the No. 675 overall pick in the 22nd round of the 2008 MLB Draft.

In five seasons in the minor leagues, Wilkes, a right-handed pitcher, compiled a 16-13 record with a 3.57 ERA, 2.43 K/BB ratio and five saves. He went 7-1 as a rookie in 2008 but posted a 9-12 record over the duration of his career.

Wilkes is not the first quarterback to sign with a major program later in life after trying his hand at baseball. Two well-known players who have taken a similar path include Florida State’s Chris Weinke and Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden. He will walk on.

Also enrolling this summer at Florida is three-star freshman Max Staver (Brentwood, TN). Both players will complete with redshirt junior Tyler Murphy and redshirt freshman Skyler Mornhinweg for the second- and third-string quarterback jobs.

A portion of ESPN’s scouting report on Wilkes from 2008:

This young man is a ways away from being what he could be, but he has the measurables and a monster of an arm for coaches to work with and develop. Wilkes has a cannon for an arm and can make all the throws anywhere on the field. [...] He is a big, strong pocket passer with adequate athleticism, but needs to be protected to be at his best. He shows great velocity on all throws and can fit the ball into tight spots. [...] Flashes the ability to throw on time and read progressions. At this stage, he is all arm and Wilkes must learn to be a quarterback. He lacks great feet and quickness in his drop and set up. Can be heavy footed a bit. Is not a guy that will create much on his own and when he gets rushed, he will hold onto the ball too long. As much as you like his arm, he will spray the ball around and can be erratic. Must improve footwork to improve accuracy. Isn’t consistent yet in his production.

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2013 Florida Gators Orange & Blue Debut Preview

Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Time: 1:00 p.m. (EDT)

TV: Sun Sports (Larry Vettel, Nat Moore, Brady Ackerman)
SiriusXM: None | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Online Video: FOXSportsFlorida.com (nationally) | Mobile Video: None
Live Updates: @OnlyGators on Twitter

Reference: Roster | Schedule

EVENT INFORMATION

Schedule:
9:00 a.m. – Gator Locker Room Yard Sale (outside Gate 9)
10:00 a.m. – Verizon Fan Fest in North End Zone Lawn
10:30 a.m. – Gator Walk
11:30 a.m. – Gates Open to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
11:30 a.m. – Warm-ups begin on the field
12:30 p.m. – Alumni Flag Football Game
1:00 p.m. – Orange & Blue Debut

Parking: Stephen C. O’Connell Center parking garage (first-come, first serve), Gale Lemerand Drive commuter lot (with shuttle)

Tickets: Free for alumni, students and the general public.

EVENT FORMAT

Instead of a full scrimmage, Saturday’s event will be an open practice that also includes limited scrimmage snaps. Florida will mix in approximately 40 scrimmage snaps with football drills. The format adjustment was made because the Gators currently only have six healthy offensive linemen and head coach Will Muschamp feels that it would be right to ask them to participate in 60-100 snaps over the course of a single afternoon. “It’s not fair to go into a spring game situation and ask these guys to take 60-70 snaps in a row,” he explained. “That’s not healthy. That’s not good, it’s not good for our team.”

Muschamp also detailed what will occur during the practice/scrimmage (in order): (1) Field goal/point after touchdown drills, (2) punting and individual drills, (3) one-on-one work with the secondary and receivers going head-to-head while the quarterbacks throw the ball, (4) one-on-one work with block reaction for the offensive line, (5) linebackers and running backs picking up blitz protection and coverage responsibilities, (6) two series of scrimmage with the ball on the 35-yard line, a total of 8-12 plays, (7) red zone one-on-one, (8) offensive and defensive line two-on-ones, (9) two series of scrimmage with the ball at the 35 yard line, a total of 8-12 plays, (10) two full cover punts and a punt/punt block drill, (11), two series of scrimmage from midfield, (12) two full cover kickoffs and a kickoff/kickoff return drill, (13) two series of scrimmage from midfield, (14) red zone 7-on-7s with the ball at the 18-yard line, (15) additional drills including pass rushing, (16) backed up punt drill, (17) one-minute scrimmage drill.

“It’s about getting good-on-good work. It’s about getting your best players going against your best players. … You get better when you’re going good-on-good,” Muschamp said. “This is good work. It’s good special teams work. This is a normal scrimmage-type situation for us as far as our football team is concerned. It’s good-on-good and that’s all I’m concerned with.”

MORE: Injury report, offensive and defensive notes, list of commitments and recruits in attendance…all available after the break!
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4/2: Muschamp on spring game, injuries, updates

Now in the third week of 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.

ORANGE & BLUE DEBUT SPRING GAME PRACTICE FORMAT

Instead of a full scrimmage like the Gators normally run for the Orange & Blue Debut, this year’s event will be more like an open practice that also includes limited scrimmage snaps. Florida will mix approximately 40 scrimmage snaps between individual and team position drills. The format change is being made because the Gators currently only have six healthy offensive linemen and Muschamp feels it would be unfair to ask them to participate in 60-100 snaps over the course of a single afternoon.

“It’s not fair to go into a spring game situation and ask these guys to take 60-70 snaps in a row,” he explained. “That’s not healthy. That’s not good, it’s not good for our team.”

Muschamp also detailed what the team will be doing during the practice/scrimmage (in order): (1) Field goal/point after touchdown drills, (2) punting and individual drills, (3) one-on-one work with the secondary and receivers going head-to-head while the quarterbacks throw the ball, (4) one-on-one work with block reaction for the offensive line, (5) linebackers and running backs picking up blitz protection and coverage responsibilities, (6) two series of scrimmage with the ball on the 35-yard line, a total of 8-12 plays, (7) red zone one-on-one, (8) offensive and defensive line two-on-ones, (9) two series of scrimmage with the ball at the 35 yard line, a total of 8-12 plays, (10) two full cover punts and a punt/punt block drill, (11), two series of scrimmage from midfield, (12) two full cover kickoffs and a kickoff/kickoff return drill, (13) two series of scrimmage from midfield, (14) red zone 7-on-7s with the ball at the 18-yard line, (15) additional drills including pass rushing, (16) backed up punt drill, (17) one-minute scrimmage drill.

“It’s about getting good-on-good work. It’s about getting your best players going against your best players. … You get better when you’re going good-on-good,” Muschamp said. “This is good work. It’s good special teams work. This is a normal scrimmage-type situation for us as far as our football team is concerned. It’s good-on-good and that’s all I’m concerned with.”

Additionally, Muschamp announced that the coaching staff will be wearing microphones so fans in attendance can get a better idea of what is going on throughout the event. Coaches will be explaining each session before it begins and Brady Ackerman will be on the field to ask the coaches questions.

Due to the new format, Florida and the sponsors of the Orange & Blue Debut have made it completely free to the public. Anyone who pre-purchased a ticket for the event will have it refunded in full (special passes are still needed for the premium areas).

Schedule of Events:
9:00 a.m. – Gator Locker Room Yard Sale (outside Gate 9)
10:00 a.m. – Verizon Fan Fest in North End Zone Lawn
10:30 a.m. – Gator Walk
11:30 a.m. – Gates Open to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
11:30 a.m. – Warm-ups begin on the field
12:30 p.m. – Alumni Flag Football Game
1:00 p.m. – Orange & Blue Debut

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TWO BITS: Young to NBA? Brown off ESPN?

1 » When Florida Gators junior center Patric Young climbed the ladder and snipped his piece of Florida’s 2013 SEC Championship on Wednesday evening in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center, fans in attendance serenaded him with chants of, “One more year!” Asked after the game if he does indeed plan on remaining in Gainesville, FL for his senior season, Young said he is unsure at this point. “[The fans] are thinking about it, but I’m not thinking about it too much,” said Young, according to The Gainesville Sun. “You know I love being here. There’s no better program in America. I love playing for coach [Billy] Donovan. I’m going to do what’s best for me and my family and whatever makes me happy, honestly.” Young is currently projected to be a mid-to-late second-round selection by numerous NBA Draft analysts. His stock has actually dropped over the last two years as scouts have not seen him progress as much as they would prefer. Sticking with the Gators and putting the finishing touches on his game – improving his mid-range jump shot, becoming a more consistent rebounder, providing a sustained level of energy – could help him in the long run.

2 » According to Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitch, who received confirmation Wednesday from the network, ESPN sideline reporter Jenn Brown has decided to leave the company. “Jenn Brown is no longer working for ESPN,” spokesman Mike Humes told SI. “We wish her well.” Brown first began working for ESPN in 2006 and signed full-time with the company in 2010. She had her workload increase with the departure of Erin Andrews but appears to have been one-upped by Samantha Ponder, who took some of the higher profile network assignments that Brown may have been expecting to receive. Brown, a former Florida softball player, is the second member of the Gators family to leave the network in the last seven months after Andrews (a former UF dazzler) departed for FOX Sports in August. Former Florida quarterback Jesse Palmer remains with the network as a college football analyst.

Extra BIT » FOX Sports Florida announced on Thursday that the Gators’ spring game, the 2013 Orange & Blue Debut previously set for April 6, will air live on Sun Sports at 1 p.m. Additionally, FSF will be airing the game live online at FOXSportsFlorida.com and replaying the contest on television the following Sunday and multiple times thereafter (check your local listings). Larry Vettel (play-by-play), Nat Moore (color commentary) and Brady Ackerman (sideline reporting) will be on the call.

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