Keanu Neal, young defensive linemen emerging; Gators evaluate each other before season

About a dozen Florida Gators players met with the media over the last couple weeks to discuss fall practice and how the team is coming together ahead of the season. With less than a week until the start of the 2014 campaign, OnlyGators.com is cleaning out its notebook and present you with a bunch of their thoughts.

TWO SECONDARY STARTERS

When head coach Will Muschamp on Tuesday afternoon unveils the team’s first depth chart since last November, one position group that will draw some of the most attention in the secondary. A unit full of talented starters that was ravaged by defections (graduations, early departures, a transfer), the secondary currently only has two players that have locked down roles at this time – sophomores cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and safety Keanu Neal.

Hargreaves, after a stellar freshman campaign, is already a known quantity. Neal, on the other hand, earned his job during training camp after impressing with some big hits during the 2013 season.

“Just my effort [has improved],” he explained. “This year seems like everything clicked versus last year. My recognition on plays and things like that is a lot better.”

Muschamp singled out Neal early in fall camp as the best safety on the roster, locking him into a starting role early and never backing off from that stance. Suffice to say, the player was flattered.

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Seven Gators named to 2014 Preseason All-SEC

Seven Florida Gators football players were voted onto 2014 Preseason All-SEC teams on Thursday as chosen by the league’s 14 coaches.

Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. led the way for Florida with All-SEC First Team nods on defense.

Hargreaves ended the 2013 campaign as an All-SEC First Team member, while Fowler found a spot on the second team.

Redshirt senior right tackle Chaz Green earned a spot on the Preseason All-SEC Second Team, while juniors running back Matt Jones, left tackle D.J. Humphries and linebacker Antonio Morrison were named to the third team.

Redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose also picked up a third-team nod as a return specialist.

Alabama and LSU led the way with 11 representatives each on the three teams. Seven schools had seven or more selections.

At the 2014 SEC Media Days in July, four Gators were voted onto the media’s Preseason All-SEC teams. Fowler and Hargreaves were placed on the first team, while Debose was a second-team return specialist and Green got a nod for the third team.

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8/18: Muschamp on depth chart, competition heating up as season approaches

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to kick off his team’s final few days of practice before preparation finally begins for the team’s first opponent on Saturday, Aug. 30.

INJURY UPDATES

The Gators were dealt their first notable injury blow this season as Muschamp announced that freshman defensive tackle Thomas Holley, who was already dealing with scar tissue on a sports hernia he had repaired in high school, also had an undetected torn labrum in his hip and was scheduled for surgery on Monday. Holley will take a redshirt.

Senior offensive guard Trenton Brown (foot contusion), redshirt sophomore defensive back Marcus Maye (hamstring) and freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe (ankle) were all injured in practice this week, though all are expected back soon. Brown will return to practice on Tuesday, while Maye and Sharpe are scheduled to get back onto the field next Monday after a week on the sideline.

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8/15: Muschamp updates injuries, evaluations and competitions after Florida’s 15th practice

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday following his team’s second-to-last open practice of the offseason. The Gators are now 15 practices deep and will spend Saturday only wearing helmets during a one-hour Fan Day showing.

INJURY UPDATES

Freshman offensive tackle David Sharpe, who worked his way into being the fourth option at his position, suffered a high-ankle sprain during practice Friday morning and is currently day-to-day.

“We need to get him back. He’s a really good football player,” Muschamp said. “He’s very athletic, 6-foot-6, 330 pounds. He moves his feet extremely well. [He's] a guy that’s going to help us this year.”

The news is better for some other players. Junior running back Matt Jones (knee swelling) and redshirt junior guard Trip Thurman (shoulder) will return to action on Saturday. Redshirt sophomore defensive end Bryan Cox, Jr. (shoulder) could already be back in practice but will instead return on Monday after spraining his AC joint.

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8/12: Roper breaks down Gators offense, backup quarterbacks and running backs

Florida Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper met with the media on Tuesday after the team’s 11th fall practice to provide his thoughts on the offense to this point. Roper also evaluated a number of Gators who should be big factors for Florida in 2014.

EARLY RETURNS

The theme coming out of spring practice was that the Gators installed more of the offense and were much further along in the learning process than Roper expected. While that might have been true then, Roper was cautious Tuesday to say that Florida’s players fully understand what is going on with his scheme.

“I think they’ve got a really good understanding of what we’re asking them to do, our base offense, I should say, the guys that were around for those 15 days – our two offensive lines, our two quarterbacks,” he explained. “Really, the young guys, it’s a battle right now to have a great understanding because it is so new to them and our defense is so multiple and causes so many problems. But the guys that have been in the battles before can obviously apply experiences to what we’re teaching them offensively, I think they’ve really got a good understanding of what we’re doing.”

He later added: “These guys aren’t there yet because they’ve just been in it 25-26 practices in. The biggest thing to guard against is putting too much on their plate.”

While Roper may still be spoon-feeding the Gators his offense, he is pleased with how the team has responded to his system and coaching.

“I think [their attitude's] been really good. I think these guys are excited about playing football,” he explained. “It wouldn’t matter who you rolled in here. When this time of season comes running around, everybody is excited. But I hope they’re enjoying the offense. I hope they’re enjoying competing every day on the practice field, and I think they’re excited about going and competing on Saturdays.”

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8/11: Muschamp updates injuries, backup quarterback, progress after nine practices

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss how the team is progressing in fall training camp. The Gators have completed seven days of practice to this point.

INJURY UPDATES

Though most of the injuries Florida players have suffered early this fall are minor, the list is beginning to lengthen with the Gators now nine practices into training camp.

Sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, who was diagnosed with a bone bruise in his knee on Thursday, has not yet returned to practice and spent Monday running in an anti-gravity treadmill. He is expected to return to the field on Tuesday or Wednesday.

Redshirt senior wide receiver Andre Debose and junior running back Matt Jones, both of whom are returning after suffering season-ending knee injuries in 2013, had swelling in the joint and did not practice Monday. Debose should return on Wednesday, while Jones might be back as early as Tuesday.

Sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor missed practice with a strained hamstring and will be held out until the end of the week, either Thursday or Friday barring an unforeseen setback. Junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard (ankle) did not practice Monday but will be back Tuesday.

Four players including redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Trip Thurman, redshirt freshman defensive ends Bryan Cox, Jr. and Alex McCalister, and freshman defensive back Duke Dawson all suffered shoulder injuries over the weekend but “should be fine” in the next few days.

Additionally, freshman DL Taven Bryan, who had been impressing Muschamp early in training camp, has strep throat and is day-to-day. “I hate that Taven has strep throat, because I thought he was making some progress. This will set him back,” he said.

Already out of action, freshman DL Thomas Holley continues to recover from a sports hernia that occurred in high school. Due to the build up of scar tissue, he will need minor surgery and remain out of action indefinitely until given clearance by doctors.

“They’re going to go in and shave that down, but I don’t know what the time frame is for that. I want to say the surgery is Tuesday,” Muschamp explained. “It’s not a major procedure, it’s more like having a scope done. He had some scar tissue that was built up that was very of discomforting when he ran, so he will be out for some time, but I do not know how much.”

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8/8: Muschamp on Hargreaves injury, Driskel and backup quarterbacks, player evaluations

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Friday to discuss the first four days of practice and provide some first impressions on what he has seen from the team this fall.

INJURY UPDATES

Muschamp related that he was not concerned about the knee injury suffered by sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III during practice Thursday night, noting that it occurred during a knee-to-knee incident prior to the scuffle that ensued between the defensive backs and wide receivers. It was, however, aggravated during the ensuing fight. Hargreaves was quickly diagnosed with a bone bruise, Muschamp said, and will miss practice Friday while receiving treatment. He remains day-to-day.

“I was told immediately it was a bone bruise. The knee was stable and there [were] absolutely zero issues,” he said. “Obviously, in any situation when you deal with a joint, whether it’s an ankle, a shoulder, a knee, an elbow, you’re going to always get an MRI. But our trainer told me last night it was a bone bruise and he’ll be day-to-day.”

He also addressed the fight with the team after practice and noted that he has no problem kicking players out of practice if something similar occurs in the future because that is exactly what would happen in a game.

“You had a young player, a freshman, who got a little excited. In those situations, you’ve got a bunch of guys trying to separate the situation. That’s not something we tolerate,” Muschamp explained. “We have a lot of competition at a lot of positions, so there’s a side of it that’s a good thing. You want your guys to be aggressive. You want your guys to play with toughness, but you also want your guys to play smart and disciplined. There’s a side of it that you understand is part of the game. I’ve been in 20 or so training camps and I don’t think there’s been one that’s had at least a little skirmish. [The media] calls it a melee. I call it a skirmish. Kind of the way it goes.”

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Florida CB Vernon Hargreaves III injures left knee

Updated at 11:10 p.m.

Florida Gators sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, widely considered the team’s best returning player on either side of the ball, injured his left knee in the middle of practice Thursday evening.

Hours later, results of an MRI determined that it was not a serious injury.

“An MRI revealed that Vernon Hargreaves suffered a bone bruise, and he is listed as day-to-day,” said head coach Will Muschamp in a statement released by the team.

According to reporters on-site, including the Orlando Sentinel’s Edgar Thompson and the Independent Florida Alligator’s Richard Johnson, Hargreaves was helped off the practice field by two trainers after a scuffle broke out between Florida’s defensive backs and wide receivers during a drill.

He was reportedly unable to put any significant pressure on his left knee while trainers were testing it in a tent far removed from reporters and fans, all of which gathered Thursday night for the Gators’ first open fall practice of 2014.

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