Room for improvement in Florida’s passing game

If Saturday’s 2013 Orange & Blue Debut was any indication, the Florida Gators still have a long way to go to get their passing game on track for the start of the season.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp had plenty on his plate this spring as began to fill in holes created by the departure of 13 starters, but he and offensive coordinator Brent Pease have also been focused on ensuring that the Gators improve a passing offense that was ranked 114th in the nation a year ago.

During the 2012 campaign, Pease’s first year at Florida, the team averaged just 146.31 yards per game through the air. UF was only one of two programs in the country to average fewer than 150 passing yards and boast a winning record (Navy).

How poor was the Gators’ passing attack? Florida ranked 111th in total passing yards (1,902) and 110th in yards per reception (10.39). The Gators were also just one of two teams in the nation to rank in the bottom seven for passing offense and not boast a top-six rushing offense (Temple) to off-set the lack of yardage.

In other words, there is plenty of room for improvement.

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Florida offense: Quick hitters on Garcia, Jones, Brown, Ajagbe, Andrades and the offensive line

Over the last week-and-a-half of Florida Gators spring football practice, a number of players met with the media to discuss their individual play and the team as a whole. Below are some of the stories, notes and quotes that have fallen through the cracks.

READY AND ABLE TO CONTRIBUTE

A lot has been made over the last two weeks about injuries to the unit, but a huge boon for Florida’s offensive line is newly-eligible redshirt junior Max Garcia, a transfer from Maryland who sat out the entire 2012 season and has accepted a position switch from tackle to guard. Garcia was listed as the starting left guard on the Gators’ initial spring practice depth chart and has received nothing but positive views thus far in camp.

Garcia, who missed a few days of practice with a sore back, explained last week that Florida’s depth concerns on the offensive line are legitimate but the players are doing whatever they can to make it work.

“This spring is tough with the numbers that we have. The coaches are telling us we’ve been doing a great job, but at the end of the day, it’s going out there and doing what we need to do. With the O-line, we’re the backbone of the team, so we just got to keep pushing forward and getting the job done,” he said.

Garcia also spoke about why he decided to transfer to the Gators, noting that he is sure he made the right decision. “I’ve had a lot of support with the coaches and the players. That’s the main reason why I came down here, just because of the players that were here, the players I interacted with on my official visit. We got a good O-line, great chemistry, so the transition has been going really well,” he said.

Though he is now fully in the mix, Garcia had to sit out the entire 2012 season, watching the team from afar as it completed an unexpected turnaround under head coach Will Muschamp. He discuss how that affected him as a competitor.

“Honestly, when we were winning, it wasn’t really hard. With a great season, you’re just happy to be part of the team, happy to contribute. It was good getting recognized at the end of the year as the Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year. The hard work didn’t go unnoticed. The coaches did a good job just telling me I’ve been doing well. I was really excited. It wasn’t really a burden on me. I was just happy to be a part of the team.”

“It was tough on the away games sitting in front of the TV, wishing I could be out there trying to help the team. But for the most part we had a really successful season, so it wasn’t really that tough.”

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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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Gators offense improving; various team notes

Covering both Florida Gators basketball and spring football this week naturally forced some news, notes and quotes to fall through the cracks. Saturday’s spring football practice update covers everything that was not touched on previously this week on OGGOA. Be sure to check out the posts linked below in case you missed anything.

3/19: Three Gators injured, others progressing | Story: Brown ready for last go-around | Story: Dunbar coming into own | 3/22: Practice notes, Morrison, kicking

TAKING THE NEXT STEP ON OFFENSE

Though most fans chose to blame junior quarterback Jeff Driskel for all of Florida’s passing game struggles in 2012, offensive coordinator Brent Pease looked at the entire situation another way. If Driskel has no one to throw the ball to, how can he be blamed for being protective of it and not forcing it into windows that were simply not there?

“Looking back and seeing what they faced on a week-to-week basis from defenses, knowing the picture that he had to see at times for throwing, it’s a struggle when there’s nobody there for you. Guys got to get open,” he said.

To that end, Pease expects the Gators offense to continue its evolution in 2013 and noted two specific reasons why he thinks Florida will be able to move the ball better.

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Florida WR Quinton Dunbar coming into his own

For a team that has lost three of its top four pass catchers from a year ago, the Florida Gators sure are confident that the passing game will be much improved in 2013.

With junior quarterback Jeff Driskel entering his second year as Florida’s starter and a bunch of talented young receivers jockeying for position in spring practice, offensive coordinator Brent Pease has a lot more to work with now than he did in 2012.

While hopes seem to be pinned on junior Loucheiz Purifoy becoming a reliable part-time offensive playmaker, freshman Demarcus Robinson breaking out as a first-year player and will-he-or-won’t-he redshirt senior Andre Debose finally coming into his own after years of accomplishing little on the field, it is actually redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar who has been standing out the most early on during spring practice.

“They want me to be that guy. They want me to be the leader of the group and they want me to lead by example, so I’m looking forward to taking that role,” Dunbar said on Tuesday. “It’s just a humbling experience. I want to continue getting better each and every day, continue to work hard and lead by example.”

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3/19: Three Gators injured, others progressing

Now a week into 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.

INJURY UPDATES

Freshman linebacker Alex Anzalone, who got knocked out of spring practice on Saturday after colliding with sophomore tight end Kent Taylor, had surgery on his shoulder Sunday and will be out for the remainder of the spring. Muschamp said on Tuesday that Anzalone should return for fall practice after a four-month recovery.

“It was his labrum, right shoulder, I believe. It’s a freak deal. It was in a tackling drill and he got hit on it the wrong way. I’m disappointed for him, but he’s going to be a really good player, so we’re going to be fine,” he explained.

Muschamp also announced that sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard and redshirt junior cornerback Cody Riggs tweaked their hamstrings. Bullard is expected to return Monday while Riggs is technically listed “day-to-day.”

Additionally, redshirt senior right guard Jon Halapio, who will be limited throughout spring practice while recovering from a knee injury, was able to get on the Sunday but only for individual work. He is not yet ready for 11-on-11 drills but “looked good.”

THREE-WAY PLAYER, YES, BUT DEFENSE COMES FIRST

Though junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy has been spending spring practice playing offense and special teams exclusively up to this point in time, Muschamp made it clear on Tuesday that he expects him to primarily be a presence on the defensive side of the ball but hopes his work on offense allows the Gators to be more multiple in the ways that offensive coordinator Brent Pease uses him during the season.

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Muschamp, Pease discuss Florida Gators offense

With the Florida Gators set to begin 2013 spring practice on Wednesday, head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Brent Pease met with the media Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics concerning the team’s offense.

RELATED: Spring depth chart released | Muschamp, Durkin on defense, team

IMPROVING PRODUCTION AT QUARTERBACK

Junior Jeff Driskel returns as the entrenched starter at quarterback and has the full backing of both Muschamp and Pease going forward. Both coaches reiterated that they expect him to take a big step forward in 2013 now that he has a year of action under his belt and can spend the entire offseason continuing to educate himself with the offense and opposing defenses in order to become a better overall player.

» Muschamp on what Driskel has been doing in the offseason: “I think Jeff has really attacked the offseason from a mental standpoint as far as film is concerned, really studying what he can do to be a better quarterback. That’s part of the maturation process in becoming a better player is understandings what you go to do to be successful. […] I think the game continues to slow down for you. First year as a full-time starter, first year in a scheme in a system with new terminology and now you’re not splitting reps 50-50. He’s going to get all the turns and all the reps with the same people, which I think obviously will help us with some throwing game issues.

» Muschamp on what Driskel can specifically improve on: “As a player and as a competitor, knowing Jeff and talking to Jeff, he wants to go back and improve everything. But I think you take things in segments. ‘I need to improve here; I need to improve there.’ Within saying that, year two in the system, the game slows down a little bit. A better understanding of protection, a better understanding of where the ball needs to go, where you’re protected and where you’re not protected. I think those are the things that, as much as anything, that are going to help him to understand that. The passing game concepts versus middle field versus split safety, where to take the ball. I think all of those things, again, that’s easy to talk about but when it’s happening in front of 90,000 people against some of the people we play against, it’s a fast, fast game. Those are things, to me, as far as just the mental intensity of where we need to go with the football in situations. That will slow down for him in his second year. And he’s also not splitting reps. And he’ll be working with the first-team receivers all the time. I think you couple that with a lot of things and I think Brent does a really great job developing the quarterback position and recognizing things he needs to improve on.”

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Florida Gators 2013 spring practice depth chart

Readers may be excited to take a first look at the Florida Gators 2013 spring practice depth chart (see below). Don’t be. As he explained in each of his first two springs with the program, head coach Will Muschamp repeated Wednesday that he does not put a lot of stock in the spring’s first depth chart. In fact, back in 2011, he said it is “not worth the paper it is printed on.” In other words, the depth chart below is just a starting-off point for 2013 and plenty can change between now and the start of the season. Nevertheless, below is the depth chart as it was presented on March 12.

“Obviously we gave you a depth chart. I know it’s just the most critical thing that’s going to happen in the next 12 months of your year,” Muschamp said Tuesday.

RELATED: Muschamp, Pease on offense | Muschamp, Durkin on defense, team

Florida omitted players who are injured and not participating at all in spring practice. A list of those players can be found at the end of this post.

OFFENSE

QB: 6 Jeff Driskel, 10 Tyler Murphy, 17 Skyler Mornhinweg
RB: 24 Matt Jones, 33 Mack Brown, 21 Kelvin Taylor
FB: 43 Hunter Joyer, 29 Rhaheim Ledbetter* OR 25 Gideon Ajagbe*
WR (X): 1 Quinton Dunbar, 4 Andre Debose, 11 Demarcus Robinson
WR (Z): 15 Loucheiz Purifoy*, 88 Solomon Patton^, Raphael Andrades
F Position: 8 Trey Burton, 13 Latroy Pittman, 30 Michael McNeely
TE: 88 Clay Burton, 87 Tevin Westbrook, 18 Kent Taylor, 84 Colin Thompson

LT: 70 D.J. Humphries, 63 Trip Thurman
LG: 76 Max Garcia, 64 Kyle Koehne
C: 72 Jonotthan Harrison, 64 Kyle Koehne
RG: 67 Jon Halapio^, 64 Kyle Koehne
RT: 73 Tyler Moore, 98 Quinteze Williams*

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