2014 SEC Media Days – Will Muschamp pleased Florida’s roster, progress made in spring

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. and sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III represented the team on Monday by participating in the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama.

Below are highlights primarily from Muschamp’s sessions with the media.

BETTER THAN EXPECTED

If anyone is to believe in the possibility of Florida turning things around in 2014, rebounding from its worst season since 1979, it is going to start on the offensive side of the ball. Muschamp knew this and brought in offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to employ a spread offense and make the Gators a more dynamic playmaking team.

Not only will Roper’s offense put redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel back in the shotgun, where he is more comfortable and capable, it should give Florida more space to make plays. Muschamp is already extremely impressed with how much UF has been able to get accomplished in such a short period of time.

“I went back and looked at our numbers from 2012 when we were in the shotgun as opposed to being under center. When Jeff was in the shotgun, our yards were better, our explosive plays were better in both the run and pass game. He was recruited to Florida to be a gun quarterback,” he explained.

“In making that change, I felt like Kurt Roper was a great hire for us from a standpoint of a guy that philosophically is on the same page with me as what we want to be, that’s a balanced offense. …

“In our 15 days of springs, we got a lot more done than I thought we would. He’s an outstanding fundamental football coach, very positive. It was good to see our offensive kids having fun again on the field. Really excited about that. Probably what excites me the most is this is probably the most talent we’ve had on offense in my four years at Florida.”

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2014 SEC Media Days – Mike Slive references Florida Gators in opening press conference

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, junior defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. and sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III will represent the team on Monday by participating in the 2014 Southeastern Conference Media Days at the Winfrey Hotel in Hoover, Alabama.

Before Muschamp could take the stand and the Florida contingent had the opportunity to be swarmed by reporters, SEC commissioner Mike Slive held an introductory press conference to address a number of topics including the league’s success, updates to bowl game arrangements and an outlook for the future. Below are some highlights of comments made by Slive on Monday afternoon.

PRAISING SOME GATORS

Two now-former Florida student-athletes, right-handed pitcher Hannah Rogers and center Patric Young, were singled out by Slive during his opening speech.

While running down the SEC’s multiple successes during the 2013-14 athletic campaign, Slive pointed out that Rogers won numerous awards while leading Gators softball to the first NCAA title in program history.

“Florida’s softball student athlete, Hannah Rogers, led Florida to its first national championship in softball and she was named the College World Series most outstanding player,” he noted. “Both A.J. [Reed] and Hannah were named Roy Kramer Athletes of the Year this year as voted by our league’s athletic directors.”

In the latter portion of his press conference, Slive used Young as a paradigm for what the SEC wants out of its student-athletes. He is someone who certainly excelled on the court but also was in great academic standing and contributed to the community both stateside and abroad.

“Florida’s basketball player Patric Young is an example of a student athlete who has made the most of his collegiate academic and athletic experience. He led the Gators to the 2014 SEC Men’s Basketball Tournament title and the NCAA Final Four, was named the SEC Scholar-Athlete of the Year twice, was named the SEC male winner of the Brad Davis Community Service Award. Then he traveled to Africa where he encouraged children to focus on exercise and healthy lifestyle,” he explained.

“While doing all of that, Patric maintained a 3.4 grade point average. Student athletes like Patric, as well as many other student athletes like him, inspire us to protect intercollegiate athletics, to keep it healthy, vibrant and an integral part of higher education. We do this for the young men and women who seek an education, compete in sports, and ultimately make a difference in people’s lives.

“This is why it is critical for the NCAA to change, and to change in accordance with the vision proposed for the 21st century by the five conferences. This is one important way we will be able to provide academic and athletic opportunities for the generations of Patrics yet to come.”

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4 BITS: SEC Media Day, Driskel, softball, Tebow

1 » The Southeastern Conference announced Wednesday that Florida Gators redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive end Dante Fowler, Jr. and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III will join head coach Will Muschamp as the school’s contingent at the 2014 SEC Media Days next week in Hoover, Alabama. Florida is one of just two SEC teams not bringing a senior on the trip, a departure from the past when the Gators tried to ensure all three spots were taken by players in their last year of eligibility. The event is scheduled from July 14-17 with Florida set to be the third contingent to go through the process behind league commissioner Mike Slive and Auburn. South Carolina’s Steve Spurrier will entertain on Tuesday, LSU’s Les Miles will follow suit on Wednesday and Alabama’s Nick Saban will kick things off on Thursday.

2 » Speaking of Driskel, UF’s school website announced that he will be working as a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy from July 10-13. It is the second-straight year Driskel will be attending the event in Thibodaux, Louisiana, and he will represent the Gators as one of 40 college signal callers working as counselors. He also participated once as a camper during high school. “The few chances I did get to speak with [the Mannings at previous camps], it was really good experiences,” Driskel said. “They are down-to-earth people and I’m just fortunate enough they invited me back for another year. I’m really looking forward to going.” Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has a long history with former Ole Miss QB Eli Manning after working as his position coach, so Driskel will likely have another topic to discuss with the Mannings over the weekend.

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Jaylen Watkins: Path to the NFL Draft: Pro Day

Through the 2014 NFL Draft, which will be held in New York, NY from May 8-10, Florida Gators defensive back Jaylen Watkins will be keeping you up-to-date on his Path to the Draft with exclusive blog entries here at OnlyGators.com.

Florida’s third-leading tackler with 52 takedowns last season, Watkins played safety for the Gators after being primarily used as a cornerback – the position he will play as a professional – during his first three years. Watkins started 28 of the 48 games in which he participated but saw the field for starter’s minutes in many of those other contests.

His eighth entry was submitted shortly after his participation in Pro Day in Gainesville, FL. Watkins also began private meetings and workouts.

Heading into Pro Day, I was hoping to be 100 percent recovered from my Achillles injury. I felt good that day, good enough to do the broad jump, vertical jump, shuttle drills and on-field work, which I did not anticipate doing all of those heading into the day. I ended up aggravating it doing those activities, and it definitely started bothering me, but I got some good notes back on how I performed.

The weather played a factor, too. It was nasty last year but dried up before the guys got out on the field. We didn’t know what to expect. The earlier part of the day, looking outside, it was pouring and we didn’t expect to go outside at all. I know it was rough for Marcus [Roberson] and Loucheiz [Purifoy] and the rest of the guys having to run on the indoor track and having things off-schedule. “Out of all the days, it had to rain this day.” You know? It was warm the day before, right after it cleared up as well. But just for it to happen like that was a stroke of bad luck for all of us.

Before Pro Day even began, the night before, I had my first meeting since the combine and linked up with the Indianapolis Colts at the Florida football facility. It was very similar to all of my other meetings. We went over film, got to know each other and they picked my brain on some things over about 20-30 minutes.

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2014 Florida Gators Orange & Blue Debut Preview

OnlyGators.com will offer full coverage of the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut via an on-site live blog on Saturday, April 12 as fans are unable to watch the spring game live for free either on television or online.

A live blog link is now available, so be sure to check OnlyGators.com to bookmark the page and stay with us as we take a first look at Florida football ahead of the 2014 season.

Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Weather: Sunny, 80 degrees, winds east at 8 mph
Time: 1:30 p.m. (EDT)

TV (5:00 p.m. Tape Delay): Sun Sports (Larry Vettel, Nat Moore, Jessica Blaylock)
SiriusXM: None | Radio: Gator Radio Network [Affiliates]
Free Online Video: None | Mobile Video: None
Free Live Updates: OnlyGators.com and @OnlyGators on Twitter

Reference: Roster | Schedule

EXPANDED VIEWING INFORMATION

Television:
Florida’s 2014 spring game will not air live on television but rather on tape delay at 5 p.m. due to a conflict with the Tampa Bay Rays. OnlyGators.com contacted Sun Sports and the Gators but received conflicting information as to why the game was not available live elsewhere on television, even as a pay-per-view broadcast.

Saturday, April 12 at 5:00 p.m. | Sunday, April 13 at 10:00 a.m.
Tuesday, April 15 at 12:00 p.m. | Thursday, April 17 at 12:00 p.m.
Saturday, April 19 at 12:00 p.m. | Tuesday, April 22 at 4:30 p.m.

Online:
While the game is not being offered live on television, you can pay $3.99 to stream the Orange & Blue Debut live online as a pay-per-view via GatorVision.tv.

However, OnlyGators.com is running a free live blog during the Orange & Blue Debut, so you can also check here on Saturday for full coverage without paying a cent.

EVENT FORMAT

Unlike 2013, when Florida only had six healthy offensive linemen and head coach Will Muschamp felt the team did not have enough healthy players to play a true spring game, the Gators will be reverting back to that format with four 12-minute quarters and a running clock, which will only stop during the two-minute drill at the end of each half.

Though Florida, for marketing purposes, held a “selection show” picking the first 12 players of each team, Muschamp previously stated that the Gators will run “good-on-good” during the game, meaning the first-team offense will play against the first-team defense and the same for the second-team units.

Therefore, even though there are supposed to be two teams – one wearing orange, the other blue – going against each other, both defenses will wear orange and both offenses will wear blue. Good luck keeping score.

Injury report, player notes and much more…all available after the break!

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Sophomore CB Hargreaves focused on leadership

Hauling in a pair of interceptions in the first two games of his career, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III raised his already-high expectations basically the very moment he stepped on the field as a freshman for the Florida Gators.

A five-star recruit, he may have started that first game had Florida not had three NFL-caliber corners returning, but he basically outplayed each of them as the season went on and wound up as a first-stringer for the final 10 games of the campaign.

His 11 pass breakups tied Janoris Jenkins for most by a freshman in school history, and his lockdown defense made him a national name in no time at all.

As a result, Hargreaves was named a third-team Associated Press All-American, first-team Freshman All-American by a number of organizations and got chosen unanimously to the first-team All-SEC and SEC All-Freshman teams.

To him though, it was all a blur.

“My first year was kind of fast. It went fast. I had to learn quick cause they told me I was going to play early. But I enjoyed it, it was fun. Had a lot of great guys behind me showing me the ropes. I enjoyed it,” he said.

“All that [award] stuff, it was good. I guess I was proud of myself for it, but I’d much rather win games than have all of that stuff for myself.”

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4/8: Muschamp pleased with Driskel, special teams & scrimmage, but lines, secondary need work

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday, four days before the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut spring game to provide updates on individual players and how the team as a whole is progressing heading into its final practices.

HE LOVES LONG KICKS, THAT (WAS) A PUNTING PROBLEM

Just one season after averaging 45.8 yards per punt and being a finalist for the Ray Guy award, punter Kyle Christy fell off in a major way. He was only able to average 39.6 yards on 21 attempts before losing his job to freshman Johnny Townsend, who was supposed to take a redshirt and not play during his first season.

Now a senior entering his last season with the Gators, Christy appears to have turned things around and was praised accordingly by Muschamp on Tuesday for his performance in the team’s last scrimmage. “Kyle Christy punted the ball extremely well, really hit the ball well,” he said.

With Townsend (wrist surgery) out for the remainder of spring and expected to miss 8-10 weeks, Christy has every possible opportunity to win his job back entering summer workouts and fall camp. He seems to be making the most of it.

“I think he’s had a good spring, I really do,” Muschamp added. “I think he’s punted well. He’s done some nice things, absolutely.”

Special teams as a whole was abhorrent for Florida last season, especially when it came to the kicking game. Muschamp also praised UF’s kickers for the work they did Saturday, combining to go 14-for-17 on field goal attempts.

Austin [Hardin] was 7-of-9 field goal-wise; he missed from 47 and 41. Frankie [Velez] was 7-of-8 and missed from 46,” he noted. “So, I thought we’ve made some improvement as far as being more accurate in kicking the football.”

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Florida defense solidifying as spring continues

Last Friday, one day before the Florida Gators‘ Saturday scrimmage, head coach Will Muschamp provided a number of updates about his players and discussed some hot topics concerning the team.

REBUILDING THE PASS RUSH

Once Florida lost defensive tackle Dominique Easley to a season-ending injury in 2013, the Gators pass rush suffered. With Easley now headed for the NFL, UF is on its way to ensuring that it will be able to pressure the quarterback this season.

Leading the pack, of course, is junior Buck linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr., who led Florida with 10.5 tackles for loss and finished second with 3.5 sacks as a sophomore. “Dante Fowler continues to play extremely well, hard, tough. He’s practicing with a purpose every day. He goes out there every day and really competes,” Muschamp said. “I think we have a special rusher in Dante.”

Junior defensive end Jonathan Bullard, long expected to be Fowler’s bash brother coming off the edge, played well in 2013 but continues to be worked inside at tackle as well in order for the Gators to build depth and get as much top-tier talent on the field as possible. Muschamp likes how Bullard matches up against guards because of his athleticism and is able to play him inside because of how redshirt sophomore Bryan Cox, Jr. has developed as an edge rusher.

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