Florida Gators 2015 spring practice: Buy-in, communication a focus on day one and beyond

Head coach Jim McElwain took the field with the Florida Gators for the first time on Monday as the program opened its 2015 spring practice session. Following the day’s festivities, McElwain met with the media in a short session to discuss some of the early goings on with the team.

Opening statement

“Fun first day. Gotta say this: finally – it seems like it was taking forever to get out on the field and do what the heck we’re here to do, and that’s coach some ball. I like the way the guys have come together, the competition between the units, understanding that each and every play is an opportunity to get better. They probably took a lot more reps than they had been used to in the past and yet we need to increase our pace. It was pretty good for the first day. I felt good about that.

“Defensively, they’re obviously ahead; there’s a lot of carryover from what they’re doing. You can see how fast they were playing. You saw some things offensively from some guys, especially with not that many offensive linemen, guys in there battling. We have to do a lot better job in the run game, but overall you can see some communication going on and that’s really a start. Fun day, great to be out there, now we get to go watch video. That’s even better!”

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Readers’ Choice IV: Quarterback battle to be focal point of Florida Gators 2015 spring practice

For five days from March 5-9, OnlyGators.com has handed a guest editor role over to you, the loyal reader. This is the fourth of five Readers’ Choice posts covering topics you want to know more about concerning the Florida Gators athletics program.

Submit your requests via e-mail, Twitter or this comment section.

Florida’s quarterbacks will be springing forward in a different way come March 11 as second-year signal callers Treon Harris and Will Grier will once again do battle in spring practice. This time, instead of Harris and Grier fighting to become Jeff Driskel’s backup, they will be vying for the starting quarterback job, one that has yet to be filled by a game-changing player since Tim Tebow graduated in 2009.

Harris won that showdown in 2014, though Grier – who hoped to redshirt his freshman season in order to gain experience and seasoning – ultimately got his wish and was not broken up about the decision, a source told OnlyGators.com last season.

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Florida Gators part ways with DE Gerald Willis III

Coming off a rocky first season with the program, freshman defensive end Gerald Willis III has been dismissed by the Florida Gators, which announced Tuesday that he will transfer from the program.

Willis, who got into an embarrassing public altercation with a teammates in Oct. 6, was in Florida’s doghouse for most of the season, missing two games at the start of the 2014 campaign for undisclosed reasons.

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NOT Top 14 for 2014: Moments Gators can forget

At the conclusion of each year, OnlyGators.com takes a look back at the top on-field moments and off-field stories from the previous 12 months. For the second-straight year, which will go down as another difficult and controversial one for the Florida Gators, we sort through the Not Top 14 for 2014 – games, actions and stories that fans of the program will look to put in the rear view mirror as the clock strikes midnight. Don’t forget to check out the Top 14 for 2014 (COMING THURSDAY) to begin 2015 on a positive note!

14 » SEE YA NEVER

Over the final two months of 2014, the Gators football program saw three seniors decide – whether through purposeful actions or team rules violations – to end their careers early. Learning he would not be starting at Vanderbilt, redshirt senior defensive tackle Leon Orr argued with then head coach Will Muschamp and was sent home on a bus before the game; he later tried to explain his side of the story. On the final day of the year, redshirt senior wide receiver/kick returner Andre Debose (mutual decision) and senior DT Darious Cummings (violation of team rules) were ruled out for the bowl game. Debose had an up-and-down hear overall, suffering a defenestration in the spring and barely playing on offense during the season; he was excellent as Florida’s all-purpose returner, however, and ends his career tied for the SEC record in kick return touchdowns (four).

13 » CHARACTER CONCERNS

Maurkice and Mike Pouncey kept their noses clean when they were with the Gators and continue to be fan favorite from their time at Florida. However, since becoming professional football players, some character questions have been raised – stemming in large part from the brothers wearing “Free Hernandez” hats last year – and those continued in 2014. Pouncey was one of the main players named in bullying allegations levied by former Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin, and both Pounceys were accused of serious assault during a night club incident in Miami. The brothers were not ultimately charged with assault from that evening’s incident but all of the allegations continued to paint UF in a bad light.

12 » UNEXPECTEDLY UNDRAFTED

It started in the 2014 NFL Draft when a pair of Gators junior cornerbacks that declared early – Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Robersonwere not selected. Purifoy had a drug incident in the offseason that contributed to him not being drafted – and both players dealt with character concerns – but it was nevertheless a surprise. (Purifoy and Roberson, respectively, signed undrafted free agent deals with the Indianapolis Colts and St. Louis Rams. Both saw limited action this season with Purifoy getting cut by the Colts, dropped by the Seattle Seahawks after a waiver claim [failed a physical] and ultimately suspended four games by the NFL for an undisclosed reason.)

There was even more of an expectation that center Patric Young would be picked in the 2014 NBA Draft with many believing he could go as high as the lower portion of the first round. Instead, Young fell out of the first and did not even get picked in the second as many NBA teams chose to select international players that they could stash and not sign to contracts. Young ultimately signed with the New Orleans Pelicans but was later cut by the franchise and is now playing in Turkey. Point guard Scottie Wilbekin and forward Casey Prather also went undrafted, and though Wilbekin performed well in NBA Summer League action, he did not get an opportunity in the league either.

11 » BAD OMENS

Though there was some positive momentum for the football program as the 2014 season approached, with the roster looking healthy and offensive coordinator Kurt Roper expected to turn things around for Florida, a number of bad omens cast doom over the Gators’ campaign. It started with the Orange & Blue Debut spring game, which ended in a tie. Though there was no reason to continue the game per se, fans in attendance hoped to see a little bit of extra Florida football action and left disappointed.

The ominous offseason continued with wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Joker Phillips resigning from his position in June after Miami staffers reported him for a recruiting violation. Muschamp named former Gators quarterback and team graduate assistant Chris Leak as the replacement receivers coach, giving UF four different coaches at that position in as many seasons. The last omen was even more obvious than the first two with lightning storms cancelling Florida’s season opener against Idaho. Though options were considered to play the game at a later date in the season, it was ultimately decided to take the contest off both teams’ schedules with the Gators and Vandals only playing 11 contests in 2014.

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10/11: Florida-LSU post-game report

A soul-crushing 50-yard game-winning field goal pushed the LSU Tigers (5-2, 1-2 SEC) ahead of the Florida Gators (3-2, 2-1 SEC) on Saturday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida, as LSU took advantage of multiple Florida miscues to pull off a 30-27 come-from-behind victory in The Swamp.

Head coach Will Muschamp spoke with the media after the close loss, and OnlyGators.com takes a look at a number of key moments in the game.

HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS

» After the win, LSU is now 27-31-3 all-time against Florida, trailing the Gainesville portion of the series 12-15-3. The Tigers have won four of their last five meetings with the Gators.
» Saturday was the 44th consecutive year, dating back to 1979, that UF and LSU squared off on the gridiron.
» The Gators are now 21-5 against unranked opponents under Muschamp and 12-3 against unranked SEC teams during his tenure.
» Florida has converted 19-of-20 red zone trips into points this season but have only scored 11 red zone touchdowns through five games.
» The Gators scored more than 21 points in regulation for the first time in nine SEC games.
» UF’s offensive line once again did not allow a sack; the Gators have only given up five through five games, including none against Eastern Michigan, Alabama and LSU.
» Florida entered Saturday with a +8 turnover margin but lost three turnovers in the game and did not gain any back; the Gators are now +5 for the season. UF gained 15 turnovers in its first four games.
» Florida’s run defense had only allowed 11 double-digit runs on the year entering Saturday’s game but gave up nine more over the course of the LSU contest.
» Redshirt senior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar entered Saturday having caught a pass in 32-straight games. He dropped his only target of the evening and came three games away from tying a school record for most consecutive contests with a reception.

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The Silver Lining for Thursday, October 9, 2014: Wider lens on the Treon Harris incident, Cleatgate

Due to a shift in schedule for the Florida Gators, this week’s The Silver Lining was pushed to Thursday. It will next be published on Wednesday, Oct. 15.

Taking a wider lens to the Treon Harris incident

This was originally written at 2:03 a.m. because no matter how I attempted to begin discussing this issue, I found my final product to be unsatisfactory. In fact, this is my fourth fifth (following the Huntley Johnson press release) draft of the same segment of this column, which I hope communicates how serious and important I consider this subject.

The details – and more importantly, the facts – of the sexual battery investigation involving Florida freshman quarterback Treon Harris remain a mystery at this time, and there is unlikely to be anything truly substantial that comes out until the University of Florida Police Department decides whether to charge Harris with a crime.

Harris’s attorney, Huntley Johnson, is just doing his job by publicly stating that he expects Harris to be cleared of the accusation and hopes the situation resolves itself in a timely fashion. The press release Johnson issued on Thursday is standard operating procedure for cases such as this with Johnson getting out in front of everything by presenting a mountain of circumstantial evidence in an effort to paint Harris as innocent, whether he committed the crime or not. Granted, there is more information than usual in Johnson’s release, but the concept of the release itself is quite common.

Even if everything Johnson wrote on Thursday is determined to be completely accurate, sexual battery may still have been committed that morning. “No” means “no” and “stop” means “stop” at any time, whether it is said before or during a sexual encounter.

Similarly, the UFPD continues to do its job, in conjunction with the Gainesville Police Department, by conducting a thorough investigation including the significant collection (and eventual analysis) of forensic evidence. The University of Florida and University Athletic Association also did their job by acting swiftly and justly, suspending Harris indefinitely pending the results of this initial investigation.

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10/8: Will Muschamp addresses recent incidents, Florida’s preparations for LSU

Updated/completed at 1:35 p.m.

Head coach Will Muschamp of the Florida Gators (3-1, 2-1 SEC) met with the media twice on Wednesday as his team continues its preparations for the LSU Tigers (4-2, 0-2 SEC). Florida is looking to defeat LSU for just the second time since 2010 as the Gators host the Tigers on Saturday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. The game will kick off at 7:30 p.m. and air live nationally on the SEC Network.

Muschamp’s regularly-scheduled media appearance on Monday was postponed as freshman quarterback Treon Harris is currently under investigation for alleged sexual battery. He addressed that and a variety of other topics on Wednesday.

TREON HARRIS SITUATION

With his second-string quarterback, freshman Treon Harris, suspended indefinitely while under investigation for sexual battery, Muschamp declined to comment further on the situation. In fact, he indicated that he preferred to not even have a press conference this week but understood that he needed to in order to help the media do their jobs.

“The statement that the university released Monday, I think, was pretty self-explanatory. It is a very serious charge, and there has been no change in his status,” he said.

“You handle things in life and you move forward and that’s what we’re going to do [as a team]. I feel very comfortable with how we’ve approached this situation.”

Muschamp declined comment on any questions related to Harris.

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Florida teammates – QB Mornhinweg, DE Willis – get in fight outside The Swamp

Updated at 2:45 p.m. with additional details.

The same day as a Florida Gators freshman quarterback was accused of sexual battery, another had a run-in with the law – and a teammate – outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Redshirt sophomore backup quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg and freshman defensive end Gerald Willis were involved in a fight outside The Swamp in Gainesville, Florida, early Monday evening. The Gainesville Sun first reported the incident.

According to the police report, obtained by OnlyGators.com on Tuesday afternoon, a complaint was received by the University of Florida Police Department at approximately 7:06 p.m., but by the time officer Stephanie Williams arrived on the scene, the incident was “already resolved and all involved parties were separated.”

The players declined to press charges against each other, and both are listed on the police report as victims.

“It was a misunderstanding between two teammates,” a Gators team spokesman told OnlyGators.com Tuesday afternoon.

Florida defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson was at the scene by the time Williams arrived, and the officer also spoke with assistant athletics director George Wynn, “who was in his office” and “had no knowledge of the physical fight.”

Robinson told Williams that the Gators “would deal with the issue internally,” but she still went on to speak with the players involved.

Williams met with Mornhinweg in the stadium’s training room and observed that he had “small lacerations on his lower lip,” which he admitted was from the fight.

From the police report obtained by OnlyGators.com:

Mornhinweg stated the fight was over a pair of football cleats. Mornhinweg stated that his football cleats went missing and they were later located by UAA staff in the locker of Willis. Mornhinweg stated that today outside the stadium, he spoke with Willis about his cleats being found in Willis’ locker. The two individuals then got into a verbal argument over the cleats that escalated into a physical fight between the two. Mornhinweg completed a Complaint Withdrawal Affidavit with no intent to prosecute Willis. UAA staff took Mornhinweg to Shands South ER to have the lacerations on his lip treated.

Willis was not on the scene at the time of the incident, so Williams met with him on Tuesday to obtain his side of the story.

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