October 01, 2014

Gators not lacking for confidence

15898716-standardVasha Hunt - al.com

GAINESVILLE -- Florida was steel-clubbed at No. 2 Alabama less than two weeks ago, but one surely wouldn't know it the way UF's players are talking in advance of this Saturday's division matchup at Tennessee (noon, SEC Network). 

Florida yielded 42 points and a school-record 645 yards to the Crimson Tide, losing for the eighth time in its last 10 games dating back to last season. 

That's all in the rear-view mirror. 

On Tuesday, senior safety Jabari Gorman called UF's defense "great" several times during a short interview with reporters. 

When prodded for clarity on exactly Florida's "greatness" on a unit ranked No. 113 in the country, Gorman said, "When we go over film you can see the potential. You can see the little things, and all it is about is the little things. If we can take care of the little things we can be a great defense.” 

Later, junior tailback Matt Jones emphatically stated Florida "should have beaten [the Tide]"

"I mean, we had 'em," Jones said.  "We should have executed better. And like I said, on third down we didn't convert as we should. They were a very beatable team, and they just pulled away from us.”

Then, on Wednesday, sophomore linebacker Jarrad Davis fired a shot a UT tailback Jalen Hurd. 

The Vols' five-star freshman totaled 216 rushing yards against No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 13 Georgia, but Davis said Florida's defense is ready to truly introduce Hurd to the Southeastern Conference.

"I don't think he can hang with us. He's a good athlete but we've got a whole defense coming for him," Davis said. 

"Georgia was a big test for him, that's a physical team, but I feel like we have more to offer for him. We're going to come down and we're going to talk to him a little bit with the pads. We're not going to talk with our mouth, we're just going to hit him and get back lined up. ...  We have to let him know what it is and we have to welcome him to the SEC."

Trash-talk -- even the most innocent natured -- is always fun. On the surface, the Gators are a confident team. Whether they're simply breathing hot air doesn't really matter, they know Saturday is a must-win anyways.

"Every game is a must-win," sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III said. 

Added coach Will Muschamp: "They're all must-wins. Whe has it ever changed? I mean really."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 30, 2014

The Decider

Ncaa-football-idaho-floridaKurt Roper / Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

GAINESVILLE -- Will Muschamp has long maintained he has never called an offensive play as Florida’s head coach.

However, influencing (or making) other offensive decisions remain the head coach’s call, according to coordinator Kurt Roper.

Roper said he and Muschamp have “always been on the same page” early in their first year together. But Florida's offensive coordinator also acknowledged Muschamp ultimately holds the decision-making power on personnel changes and in-game strategy.

As criticism swirls around quarterback Jeff Driskel’s job security, Roper said the staff has “100 percent confidence in Jeff” and that freshman Treon Harris simply isn’t ready to compete for the No. 1 spot.

But, it’s not even his call.

“Will is the one that will have that conversation,” said Roper on benching Driskel. “It's plain and simple his decision. But again, we have 100 percent confidence in Jeff right now and he's the guy we feel like we're going to win football games with."

Specifically asked about the play-calling late in the first half at Alabama (UF trailed 21-14 with 1:44 remaining and simply ran out the clock), Roper again stated he and Muschamp “work great together."

“And I was in 100 percent agreement with [Muschamp’s call to run-out the clock]. In a 100,000 seat stadium and it wasn’t like we were being productive on offense at that point that you got a chance to go in one score down to tie the game. And so, you know, I’m one of those guys that’s maybe a little bit more old school that way offensively, cut my teeth a little bit in the era where, ‘Hey, that’s just smart football.’ You know what I mean? Now if you’re being productive and you’ve got 30 points at halftime and those things, maybe you’re more aggressive. But based on what was happening offensively, that was just a smart decision that I agree with 100 percent and always will."

Will Muschamp. The decider. 

THIS & THAT

Florida (2-1, 0-1 SEC) opened as a one-point favorite over Tennessee (2-2, 0-1 SEC) before the line quickly shifted in UT’s favor. UF is now a one-point underdog. ... Florida 2-2 following an idle date under Muschamp, including a 31-17 victory over Tennessee last season. … CBS announced it will utilize its six-day option for its double-header (noon and 3:30 p.m.) slate on Oct. 11. The network will chose two games on a blockbuster weekend that includes No. 15 LSU at Florida.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 29, 2014

The Whole Nine Scars: Florida's (nearly) decade of dominance over division-rival Tennessee

Jonotthan-harrison-ncaa-football-tennessee-florida-e1405208604547-850x560 Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

GAINESVILLE -- Florida has won nine straight against Tennessee, last losing in controversial fashion in 2004 -- formally known as the Dallas Baker unsportsmanlike conduct game -- at Neyland Stadium.

Ron Zook piloted the Gators then, while the Volunteers are now on their fourth different head coach.

It’s been that long.

In recent years, Florida has taken advantage of the Vols’ demise, winning seven straight by at least double-digits.

But under second-year coach Butch Jones, UT is considered a promising program on the rebound and is actually a one-point favorite at home on Saturday (noon, SEC Network).

Can the Vols get a statement win -- even against a floundering Gators team -- this weekend?

We’ll see.

First, here’s a look at Florida’s series dominance over the last decade. 

2013: 31-17 – Jeff Driskel broke his leg on a pick-six, but backup quarterback Tyler Murphy rallied UF with two scores in a game featuring plenty of gaffes and follies.

2012: 37-20 – The Gators rushed for 336 yards and scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to shock the Vols -- ranked for the first time in the series since ’07.

2011: 33-23 – Shifty all-purpose tailback Chris Rainy tallied 233 total yards, including an 83-yard touchdown reception. Rainey also blocked a punt, as the Gators held on late after jumping out to a 30-6 lead.

2010: 31-17 – Florida dominated the line of scrimmage, holding Tennessee to just 29 yards rushing on 23 attempts (1.3 yards per carry), while tallying three touchdowns and 150 yards on the ground.

2009: 23-13 – Lane Kiffin did his best to muck up an ugly contest, but the Gators slowly wore down the Vols, running for 208 yards and two scores in a lackluster game. 

2008: 30-6 – The eventual national champions jumped out to a 27-0 lead and held Arian Foster & Co. to its lowest point total during the nine-game losing streak.

2007: 59-20 – Heisman Trophy quarterback Tim Tebow scored four touchdowns, as Florida rattled off the final 31 points in a game separated by just a single score midway through the third quarter.

2006: 21-20 – Tebow -- then a freshman -- plunged for two yards on a 4th-and-1 to secure a win after Florida rallied from a 10-point deficit. Tebow ran for four first downs on seven attempts.

2005: 16-7 – The Gators took advantage of three special teams miscues, holding the Vols scoreless after halftime in Urban Meyer’s SEC debut. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 27, 2014

Boom goes the dynamite? Not so fast

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp isn’t going anywhere.

Yet.

Despite a venomous and vociferous mob calling for Muschamp’s firing, the embattled head coach will survive the rest of the year and be evaluated at season’s end, according to UF athletic director Jeremy Foley.

Foley told Mike Bianchi at The Orlando Sentinel that Muschamp -- in his fourth season with the Gators -- will have the rest of the regular season to prove his mettle and turnaround a dwindling program.

"You never judge or evaluate a program based on one game or one season," Foley told the Sentinel.

"That's just not how we do things here. We're going to evaluate where we're headed – where the players are, how is recruiting going, what type of staff we have — are we a better (program)? That's going to be plain for all of us to see, but it's also going to be played out over the course of 11 games and we'll see where we are when we get to the end of the season."

Foley fired Ron Zook -- just 23-14 at Florida – mid-season in 2004, but Muschamp won’t endure a similar fate.

The Gators are fresh off a record-setting, three touchdown loss to No. 3 Alabama, leaving Muschamp with a career 24-17 mark as the head coach at UF.

While Muschamp’s entire body of work will be evaluated at end of the year, he won’t see a fifth autumn in Gainesville unless the Gators start winning some conference games.

Florida is just 1-6 in its last seven SEC contests, with marquee showdowns with Tennessee (Oct. 4), No. 17 LSU (Oct. 11), Missouri (Oct. 18), No. 12 Georgia (Nov. 1) and No. 13 South Carolina (Nov. 15) all remaining on its slate.

“The meat of our schedule is coming up,” Muschamp said. “We need to stay the course right now. Everything is still out there in front of us.” 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 21, 2014

Gator Grades: Welp...

Florida Alabama FootballJeff Driskel - Bryan Anderson/AP

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- So needing triple-overtime to beat Kentucky in The Swamp was a bad omen after all. 

No. 3 Alabama steam-rolled Florida, self-destructing just enough to keep the game from being a total laugher on the scoreboard. 

The Gators were outgained by 445 yards. That is not a typo. Florida was straight worked on Saturday afternoon. 

UF yielded the most yards in school-history (645), the most points in the Will Muschamp Era (42), the second-most passing yards in school history (449) and a 200-yard wideout. 

Are grades really necessary? 

OFFENSE - F

Florida couldn’t run. Florida couldn’t pass, but oddly Florida actually blocked ok. 

In all though, the offense looked a lot like last year’s toothless attack. The Gators gained just 200 yards, as quarterback Jeff Driskel was dreadful. Possibly an understatement. 

Florida’s veteran quarterback was 9-of-28 for 93 yards with three turnovers (2 picks) and two scores (1 rushing). Florida was terrible on third down (just 2-of-13) and ran just six plays in the third quarter. 

There was no Treon Harris or Brandon Powell sightings. Not exactly sure why not. 

DEFENSE - F

Many Florida historians thought UF’s shellacking in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl (Nebraska gained 629 yards in a 62-24 win) was an unbreakable record. 

Guess not. 

Lane Kiffin out-coached Muschamp’s prized possession, dialing up explosive play after explosive play. Senior quarterback Blake Sims was excellent, slicing up Florida’s woeful secondary (also: Amari Cooper really helps). Alabama’s rushing attack went off after halftime as UF’s defense got gassed. 

The Gators missed at least two dozen tackles, practically negating four forced turnovers.  

SPECIAL TEAMS - B+

Punter Kyle Christy was Florida’s best player on the field Saturday, averaging 52.7 yards on seven punts. 

He pinned the Tide inside the 20-yard line three times. He was excellent. 

Florida’s coverage units were solid, but Andre Debose was unable to do anything on returns. 

OVERALL - F

Alabama miscues (four turnovers, 11 penalties and poor special teams play) allowed Florida to hang around long after the Gators shouldve been buried ... and it still didn’t matter. UF was fortunate to not lose by six touchdowns. With plenty of issues to sort out, Florida's first idle date falls at the perfect time. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 20, 2014

GameDay Thread: Florida at Alabama

Unnamed

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Live from beautiful Bryant-Denny Stadium, where unranked Florida hopes to send No. 3 Alabama to just its fourth home loss since 2008. 

The stadium is rocking -- video montages of Tide beating Gators in 2009 SEC Championship Game, Bear Bryant and Lynyrd Skynyrd will have that affect, but can UF's up-tempo offense give Alabama enough fits to silence crowd?

Florida is a two-touchdown underdog (+14.5). Gators cover but Tide wins. Too much Yeldon-Henry-Drake. 

********** PREGAME STORYLINES/FEATURES **********

Will Muschamp is waiting for his watershed moment as a head coach, aims to defeat his longtime mentor

Gators QB Jeff Driskel hopes for better result against Tide

Vernon Hargreaves III braces for matchup with Amari Cooper

Muschamp encouraged by 3OT win 

Alabama QB Blake Sims on Florida's radar

Gators not hiding anything for Tide

Who y'all got this afternoon?

Will Florida's tide turn or will Alabama roll?

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

September 18, 2014

Q&A: Chaz Green

Hi-res-154981576_crop_northimg.bleacherreport.net

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time since he was a redshirt freshman, Chaz Green -- a three-year starter at right tackle -- played on the left side in Florida’s triple-overtime win over Kentucky.

Replacing injured starter D.J. Humphries, Green flipped positions and manned Driskel’s blindside, squaring off against UK's talented bookends Alvin Dupree and Za'Darius Smith.

But Green's challenge gets even harder this Saturday (3:30 p.m., CBS). 

Alabama’s perilous defensive line awaits (the Tide rotate as many as 10 linemen up front), and Green discussed the upcoming matchup, the Gators' underdog role, Roderick Johnson’s debut as a starter and much more.

On Alabama’s defensive front…

“Yeah, they’re deep across the board. They have good talent and they’re also coached well, they bring a lot of different fronts. It’s something we definitely have to pay attention to this week with film and at practice. … No. 47 [Senior Xzavier Dickson] stands out. I was watching some film last night. I’ll be going against him. He’s very, very talented. I’ll have to have good technique against him.”

On playing the role of underdog… 

“I don’t [see it that way]. As a team, I think we take them one game at a time. We don’t pay attention to the rankings and all that. We’ve just got to take it one week at a time and show who we are. … I personally like [being the underdog] that way instead of being a frontrunner. Like I said, we’re out here to show what we can do.”  

On playing left tackle for the first time in years… 

“I thought I did pretty well. The first half I had some issues cutting off the back-side. We knew that was going to be an issue last week with the scheme that they ran with those ends. As the game went on, I think we showed that we can get that taken care of.”

On Roderick Johnson’s first start at right tackle...

“I thought he played well. As a young guy, I’ve been in that position before, so I thought he played very well. He’s got a big challenge this week, too.”

On learning about UF's potential after a trip to 'Bama…

“Given the bunch that Alabama has I would say that it’s a good measuring stick if that’s what you mean.”

On if beating the No. 3 Tide could put Florida back on the map… 

“I don’t know what the map means. Like I said, we don’t pay attention to none of that. I know it may sound arrogant or something, but we’re just focused on getting better each and every week, going out there putting on the best show we can and just playing with each other. Personally, I don’t get involved in all the outside stuff. I’m not a big guy on Twitter. It’s just something that we just try to go out there and just improve week in and week out.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 16, 2014

Jones the "best back" in the SEC?

USATSI_7475002Matt Jones - cbssports.com

GAINESVILLE -- Gators center Max Garcia turned heads Tuesday, calling teammate Matt Jones “the best back” in the Southeastern Conference. 

The senior offensive lineman meant no disrespect to Heisman frontrunner Todd Gurley, South Carolina’s Mike Davis or the two-headed attack Florida will face this weekend -- Alabama’s T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry -- but Garcia backed Jones after the tailback’s monster performance against Kentucky. 

“Not a lot of people are talking about him in the SEC, but we feel like he’s the best back,” Garcia said. “Just to see him work hard like that and be our workhorse on offense, just to see him break tackles -- I think he broke like 16 tackles or something -- that just motivates the offensive line to block just a little bit more, take another bite.”

Jones, a junior, rushed for 156 yards on 29 carries in UF’s 36-30 triple-overtime thriller against UK. He scored the winning touchdown, a 1-yard plunge, after four straight carries in the final period. It was the tailback’s second-career game over the century mark, tallying 176 yards against the Wildcats in 2013. 

“In that last overtime, we just sat there and said, ‘Let’s give it to him and see what happens,'" coordinator Kurt Roper said.

“If it wouldn’t have worked, if we would’ve stalled out at the 10 [yard line] or whatever, we would’ve stalled out. But he was getting the football at that point.”

***** CLICK LINK FOR VIDEO, TIRED OF AUTO-PLAY *****

Jones is most definitely not the top tailback in the SEC. 

In fact, he’s hard-pressed to find himself in the top 10 -- Gurley, Yeldon, Davis, Henry, Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams of Arkansas, Auburn’s Cameron Artis-Payne all rank ahead of Jones -- but the junior could emerge as a true bellcow this fall.  

What do y’all think? 

How would you rank the running backs in the SEC? 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 15, 2014

Nothing to see here

 

GAINESVILLE -- The best -- but most controversial -- play of quarterback Jeff Driskel’s career almost didn’t happen.

Facing 4th-and-7, down a score in overtime, Florida’s frenzied game-tying touchdown -- a beautiful fade to wideout Demarcus Robinson -- immediately infuriated Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, as the Gators appeared to catch a lucky break.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 7.38.50 PM

The 40-second play clock expired -- at best -- as the ball was snapped, but officials didn’t throw a delay of game penalty so Driskel's clutch play sent the game to a second overtime.

Correct call -- according to the Southeastern Conference league office.

Kentucky appealed the ruling, but the league (essentially) supported the officials’ judgment. 

"At the request of the University of Kentucky, consistent with SEC protocol, the conference office reviewed the fourth down play in the first overtime of the Kentucky-Florida game and has determined the officials applied the proper mechanics and guidelines that are in place to determine when a flag should be thrown for delay of game. The back judge is responsible for delay of game calls. The procedure for the back judge is for his eyes to stay on the clock when it nears zero. When the clock hits zero, he immediately looks from the clock to the ball. If the ball is moving, there is no delay of game. If the ball is stationary, a delay of game penalty is called.''

The Gators were without a timeout, using their lone stoppage earlier in the drive, and coach Will Muschamp said he had one thing on his mind amid all the confusion.

“Hurry up."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 14, 2014

Gator Grades: Utter relief

Kentucky_Florida_Football_8021011_ver1.0_640_480Matt Jones - naplesnews.com

GAINESVILLE -- About that cynicism?

Well … Florida won, but it needed three overtimes to beat Kentucky in a thriller that spanned two days. … Kentucky.

JoJo Kemp’s upset proclamation nearly proved prophetic.

It took a record night from Demarcus Robinson, the best pass of Jeff Driskel’s career and a gutsy effort from guys like Matt Jones (159 yards, game-winning score), Brian Poole (1 INT, game-saving pass breakup) and Antonio Morrison (team-leading 10 tackles), but a win is still a win.

Florida is 2-0 headed to doomsday Tuscaloosa. 

OFFENSE – B-

The Gators gained plenty of yards (532) but quarterback Jeff Driskel was dreadful in the first half (just 7-of-20) and electric wideout Demarcus Robinson was Florida’s passing game. The sophomore delivered a sensational performance, finishing with over 1/3 of Florida’s total offense (216 yards receiving) -- the majority coming after the catch. Driskel rebounded with a solid second half, saving Florida’s season (and potentially Will Muschamp’s job) with a great pitch and catch on 4th-and-7 in overtime. The offensive line couldn’t pass protect a lick, but the interior run blocking was strong throughout. Also where was Brandon Powell? Treon Harris?

DEFENSE - C

The Wildcats averaged 5.77 yards per play Saturday night. They averaged 4.80 yards per play against Ohio. The Gators stuffed UK’s run game, forcing six first-half punts, but Florida’s secondary was spotty all evening. The Gators were burned by busted coverages (see: Garrett Johnson running wide open for a 30-yard touchdown) and bad communication. UF picked off three passes (two via deflections) but Patrick Towles’ unheralded wideouts won plenty of one-on-one matchups. Poole’s play in overtime was huge, as was Keanu Neal’s interception late in regulation. 

SPECIAL TEAMS – B+

Frankie Velez was 2-of-3, missing a crucial kick early in the fourth quarter. Austin Hardin shanked his 52-yarder as time expired, but was solid on kickoffs. Kyle Christy boomed all six punts (48.7 y/p), allowing Florida to dominate field position. Andre Debose electrified the crowd with a pair of nice returns.

OVERALL – C+

We'll see soon enough if Saturday's performance was real or a mirage. The cynicism can wait a week. The Gators are 1-0 in the SEC. They didn’t fold. They found a way to win, even if it took a fortuitous bounce or a no-call. Florida loses that game in 2013. It remains to be seen how the Gators respond moving forward.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 13, 2014

GameDay Thread: Florida vs. Kentucky

Unnamed

GAINESVILLE -- Can the Wildcats win in Gainesville for the first time since 1979?

Probably not. 

Although Mark Stoops' team is an improved bunch, the Gators have won the last six meetings by an average of 36.5 points -- and I wouldn't expect that to change tonight. 

Florida needs another solid contest before a trip to Tuscaloosa and I think it covers the 17.5 spread.

Too many playmakers + rowdy crowd = bad combo for UK.

ICYMI:

Will Muschamp had some fun this week, calling into the Gator Hotline as "Bill from Gainesville," joking with athletic director Jeremy Foley.  

 

*************** UF-UK STORYLINES *************** 

Gators lose Jake McGee, turn to Clay Burton at tight end

Roper wants Florida to speed up tempo

UK tailback JoJo Kemp predicts upset 

Treon Harris shines in debut

Gators focus on ball security

Florida refuses to be overconfident

It's a gorgeous day in town, y'all. 

Enjoy the game. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 11, 2014

Honey Thunder: reformed, ready to shine (again)

 

GAINESVILLE -- Demarcus Robinson finally proved what all the fuss has been about.

The dynamic wideout exploded against Eastern Michigan last Saturday, reeling in six receptions for 123 yards, skying for a 70-yard touchdown.

“Hopefully, plenty more to come,” he said, grinning.

Robinson -- who tallied his first career score -- flashed his playmaking skills, elite athleticism and joystick jukes, validating coach Will Muschamp's favorite moniker: "It's not add water, instant player." 

Is that how you envisioned last season?

"Yes," Robinson said. "[It was frustrating] missing the playing time on the field. Not being on the field when I know I could’ve been on the field.”

Instead, it took the sophomore -- or Honey Thunder, as he calls himself -- a little longer to produce than most anticipated.

The 6-foot-1, 205-pound wideout from Peach County High (Ga.) -- the same school as former Florida standout Jacquez Green and Robinson’s uncle, Marcus, an 11-year NFL vet -- struggled mightily transitioning away from home last year. 

Robinson missed three games due to suspensions in 2013, and was forced to sit out Florida’s 2014 weather-suspended opener against Idaho due to a “university sanction.” But the sophomore feels his off-the-field troubles are in the past and he’s matured from his tribulations.

“It’s very difficult being away from your family which you’ve been with for 19 years or 18 years,” Robinson said.

“Being with your mom, being with somebody taking care of you and looking over you, then being on your own and making decisions on your own that you’ve never had to make before. It was kind of difficult.”

He continued: “[It’s all about] being more humble, more mature about things. Being more smart about my decisions and the choices that I make.”

Robinson caught just five passes all last season, but another strong training camp put him in the spotlight as Florida’s most talented receiver.

He delivered last weekend.

Robinson praised the efforts of teammates helping him hurdle his issues, specifically highlighting star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III as a supportive friend.

Offseason mentoring from his uncle was key to his development and maturation too, saying he received a phone call following his breakout performance from Marcus.

“He told me I had a great game,” Robinson said. “He said he watched every play. He’s just a good guy all around, let’s me know what I did good and bad.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 09, 2014

Q&A: Clay Burton

20140906_mje_sv7_575.jpg.0_standard_730.0 Kim Klement - USA TODAY Sports

GAINESVILLE -- With Jake McGee’s season-ending injury, Clay Burton is no longer Florida’s starting tight end in name only.

Burton is now the de facto starter. For good. 

The former defensive end turned tight end reeled in seven passes for 42 yards in UF's opener against Eastern Michigan -- more than doubling his career totals (3 receptions for 24 yards) in one game.

It was a breakout performance for the beleaguered senior, plagued by drops since his transition to offense.

The 6-foot-4, 250-pound tight end spoke about his offseason development, his productive performance and the urgency of stepping up in McGee’s absence.   

On his evolution as a player…

“It’s just a lot of hard work that’s kind of finally coming to the surface. I’m thankful for the opportunity to compete and play and earn the job. I’m just ready to have a great senior season and help the team win.” 

On specific work towards improvement…

“We have a JUGS machine, I did that. And just doing a little extra with Jeff [Driskel] and stuff like that, just trying to get out there every time. Whenever Jeff would go out and throw extra, I would try to get with him and stuff like that. Just extra stuff. … You could say there was more urgency because it was my last year.”

On UF's revamped offense optimizing tight ends…

“It felt great. Just really doing anything I could to help the team win. Felt great. The fact I was catching a lot of balls, something I haven’t done in the past, I really enjoyed it.”

On transforming his body… 

“This offseason I've lost like 15 pounds, so that's kind of like goes into what I did in the offseason to try to help myself get lighter and be able to run a little better and stuff like that, better conditioning."

On replacing McGee...

"Whatever his production was going to be as a starter I've just got to keep on doing what I've been doing. I kind of felt like it was always on me, you know, but just keep playing well."

*************** BONUS QUOTES ***************

Coach Will Muschamp on Burton’s transformation… 

“He’s changed his body a little bit. He’s slimmed down. He’s quicker than he’s been, he’s faster than he’s been. He worked extremely hard on the JUGS machine all summer. He hasn’t had many drops at all through fall game and working into game week. All those things, he’s a player who has done everything we’ve asked him to do to put himself in a position to be successful, and he certainly was Saturday.”

Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper on Burton’s breakout performance…

“I can't say that I was surprised. We've been out there quite a bit in practice. I think he’s a guy that has been steady for us the whole time. I think he understands. He's got a lot of experience to grow back on. He just gets the game now because he's older. He plays with a great base and he understands how to be in good positions, so that just carried over to the passing game. Same thing. He gets big picture, so he knows where he fits into schemes and gets in the right spots and makes those plays.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 08, 2014

Humphries sidelined, Gators forced to shuffle OL

1bVu7w.St.56D.J. Humphries (70)

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s offensive line depth -- its principal concern entering 2014 -- will be tested one week into the season.

Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries (high ankle sprain/bone chip) will be sidelined at least two weeks, forcing the Gators (1-0) to reshuffle a unit thin on experience.

Senior starting right tackle Chaz Green will shift to left tackle, while redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson slides into the lineup at right tackle. True freshman David Sharpe is now the backup at both tackle spots.

“Rod is certainly capable of playing very well, and I think he will,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said.

“David [Sharpe] is a young guy who is a very good big athlete. He’s 6-6 330 pounds. He moves his feet extremely well. Trenton [Brown] has got enough reps at the right tackle position for us to feel very confident in all four players playing well.”

Both freshmen tackles performed admirably in extensive playing time against Eastern Michigan, but the challenge increases immediately with Kentucky (2-0) and No. 2 Alabama the next two weeks.

Humphries’ injury will not require surgery, and Muschamp said,  “I hope to get him back after the open week (Sep. 27).”

QUOTABLE

"It's a 2014 Florida team vs. a 2014 Kentucky team. That's all it is to me."

-- Muschamp, on the insignificane of Florida's 27-game winning streak against the Wildcats.  

THIS & THAT
After missing UF’s opener, starting sophomore nickel back Marcus Maye (strained hamstring) is probable for Saturday’s game against the Wildcats. Freshman cornerback J.C. Jackson (Immokalee) reinjured his shoulder and his status is uncertain moving forward. … Florida’s heavyweight bout against Alabama on Sep. 20 will be televised by CBS at 3:30 p.m. ET, the league announced Monday. The Gators travel to Tuscaloosa for the first time since 2010, a 31-6 loss in Urban Meyer’s last season at Florida.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

Numbers never lie?

20140906mjesv7341Matt Jones - Florida Today 

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators lead the nation in six significant statistical categories: scoring offense (65.0 ppg), total defense (125.0 ypg), scoring defense (0.0 ppg), passing defense (45.0 ypg), turnover margin (+5) and red zone defense (.000). 

Excuse me? Oh, they played Eastern Michigan? 

Nevermind. Carry on. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 07, 2014

Gator Grades: Alright, Alright, Alright

C4s_inside1090714_13808825_8colDemarcus Robinson - Tampa Bay Times 

GAINESVILLE -- Whew. 

A week after rain and lightening soiled Florida's original opener, the Gators poured points on poor Eastern Michigan on Saturday afternoon in The Swamp. 

It was a pay-day game (EMU received $850,000 for the beatdown), but UF badly needed a frustration release. 

The Gators couldn't have asked for a better opponent, as the Eagles were awful and played scared the whole game.

The "statement win" deserves an asterisk, but the Gators don't care. 

OFFENSE - A

Holy moly. Kurt Roper's revamped unit gashed EMU's pitiful defense, gaining 655 yards on a swift 86 snaps. The quartet of tailbacks scored five touchdowns, while 11 different receivers caught passes. Demarcus Robinson is the truth (the hype was legit this time, wow!). The Gators didn't hold anything back (no vanilla talk this year), but perhaps the most encouraging sign for the offense is that is still has legitmate issues to sort out ... yet scored seven touchdowns. Jeff Driskel wasn't a world-beater (continues to struggle with his progressions, accuracy comes and goes) and the offense stalled several times in the redzone. 

DEFENSE - A

The Gators pitched a shutout. You can't do any better than that. [I wrote that last week, still stands.] Florida forced five turnovers, its front-four dominated the line of scrimmage and it yielded just two plays inside its own territory. The Gators tallied nine tackles for loss, as the Eagles appeared terrified to run or pass. UF's youthful secondary was never challenged. One negative, several stupid penalties could come home to roost in the future. 

SPECIAL TEAMS - A

Frankie Velez was perfect kicking field goals (3-3, although his kicks look like ducks every time), and Kyle Christy was sharp in his return as Florida's starting punter. The kickoff coverage unit had some issues, but maybe they were just tired running down the field so many times. 

Andre Debose's electrifying 55-yard punt return was a top 10 play on ESPN. The sixth-year senior finally looks healthy and could be a lethal returner all season. The directional kicks didn't work (Austin Hardin booted the ball out of bounds twice), but that's just nitpicking. 

OVERALL - A

EMU stinks. Really stinks. But the Gators needed to release some rage following a miserable 4-8 season. We'll see soon enough if Saturday's performance was real or a mirage. The cynicism can wait a week.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 06, 2014

GameDay Thread: Florida vs. Eastern Michigan

Unnamed

GAINESVILLE -- FOOTBALL?!?!?!?!? FOOTBALL?!?!?!?

(Maybe?)

The Gators and Eagles are set to kickoff at 4 p.m. (SEC Network), as grey clouds and darkening skies hover over Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. There's currently a flood warning in town until 12 a.m., but the heavy rain has managed to stay away. For now. 

The forecast isn't nearly as promising, but lightening delays appear unlikely. 

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 2.51.43 PM

Florida is a 38-point favorite, and while that's a lot of points, I think the Gators cover. EMU allowed nearly 500 yards and four touchdowns to Morgan State. The weather is a concern (for spread purposes), but the Eagles are a dreadful team -- especially against a hungry group desperate to end a seven-game skid dating back to last season.    

********* SEASON PREVIEWS *********

Gators' chance to rebound rest with quarterback Jeff Driskel

Grading the Gators: position-by-position look

Florida schedule predictions 

SEC capsules 

 ********* UF VS. EMU ********

Matt Jones is ready to make up for lost time

"Pray for them"

Gators won't make up Idaho game

Three suspended players reinstated

Muschamp fires back at critics 

Florida eager for season opener do-over

Hopefully there's actual football to watch ... and cover.

 

Enjoy the afternoon, everybody. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 05, 2014

Tear down this wall?

 

GAINESVILLE -- Eastern Michigan hasn't been to a bowl game since 1987. The Eagles have won just four games over the last two years. 

Apparently, the not-so-smashing sledgehammer entrance is will continue

The Gators and Eagles (1-0) kickoff at 4 p.m. (SEC Network) on Saturday. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 03, 2014

Muschamp fires back at critics

871632acde9d4f8a96c264661649c931-1 The Associated Press 

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp staunchly defended his decision to reinstate three suspended players -- defensive tackles Darious Cummings and Jay-nard Bostwick and wideout Demarcus Robinson -- for Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan (4 p.m., SEC Network).

The Gators’ weather-cancelled opener against Idaho lasted just a single play, but Muschamp determined the punitive measure was enough and testily criticized those who questioned the reinstatements.

“It's not just about suspending players for games, OK?,” Muschamp said, emphatically, on the SEC coaches’ teleconference.  

“There are a lot of things that go into discipline. It's about altering and changing behavior, which we've done here. I think our discipline speaks for itself and how we've handled our football team. So it's not just about missing games, if it was just about suspensions, you never have an issue, right? So I mean at the end of the day it's more than (just suspensions) and there are a lot of things that go into those situations, a lot more than people know.”

But Muschamp refused to add any additional details to the reinstatements, simply saying, “It's very frustrating for me as a coach or any coach to have someone being critical and you don't even have all the information. So at the end of the day I make the decisions in this program I handle the discipline in this program and it's been handled very well.''

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

September 02, 2014

That's gold, Jerry! Gold!

M3TZ5797Gatorzone.com

GAINESVILLE -- "I learned this from [Tennessee] Coach [Phillip] Fulmer. He said, 'You really want those offensive linemen knowing their role and knowing where they fit. When they walk into a restroom and there’s five urinals, the center goes to the middle one. The right guard goes to the second one.' That’s the mindset. I think we’ve been able to create that through spring of, hey, those guys are working at those positions. Hopefully communication is really good there.”

-- Gators offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, on the unity and development of Florida's starting offensive line. 

September 01, 2014

Three Gators reinstated

Hi-res-071ccca549000ba181f1c659a2aefb7e_crop_exactDemarcus Robinson | James Crisp - Corbisimages

GAINESVILLE -- The resolution to Saturday’s weather-suspended opener remains up in the air, but Florida coach Will Muschamp determined a single, 10-second play was punishment enough for three suspended players. 

Sophomore wideout Demarcus Robinson (university sanction) and defensive tackles Darious Cummings and Jay-nard Bostwick (violation of team rules) have been reinstated, and will play Saturday against Eastern Michigan (4:30 p.m., SEC Network). 

“They will be back this week,” Muschamp said. “Not just as far as the suspension of the game, but they’ve handled a lot of other things for me.”

According to Muschamp, Robinson’s university sanction “has been resolved.”

Florida’s coach was asked specifically if the players would be suspended should Idaho return to Gainesville later in the year, with Muschamp saying, “I can’t even answer that question. No 1., we don’t know the situation of the game right now.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 31, 2014

Gators Grades: Seriously...

Bilde-1 Rob C. Witzel - Gainesville Sun

GAINESVILLE -- Florida was particularly sharp in its weather-soiled opener against Idaho. 

OFFENSE - A

Kurt Roper's revamped unit produced zero turnovers on no snaps. That's still pretty good! Quarterback Jeff Driskel led the team on the field without injury or incident. Progress!

DEFENSE - A

The Gators pitched a shutout. You can't do any better than that. 

SPECIAL TEAMS - A

Valdez Showers' 64-yard return stands as Florida's greatest highlight since last October. 

OVERALL - INC

Unfortunately, Will Muschamp's seven-game losing streak still stands. 

August 30, 2014

GameDay Thread: Florida vs. Idaho

Unnamed

GAINESVILLE -- It's baaaaaaaacccckkkkkkk. 

I know the college football season officially kicked off in the middle of the week, but whatever.

Today, it really starts. 

Florida hosts Idaho tonight at 7 (ESPNU), as the Gators look to end their seven-game losing streak. 

There's a 70+ percent chance of thunderstorms, but Florida fans just hope the offense is raining touchdowns.

BOOM!

********** UPDATE **********

Florida announced wideout Demarcus Robinson (university sanction) and defensive tackles Darious Cummings (violation of team rules) and Jay-Nard Bostwick are suspended for tonight's opener. 

********************

If you missed ESPN "College GameDay" this morning, the Jimmy Kimmel-inspired "Mean Tweet" read is a must watch (Dan Mullen became an American hero). OnlyGators.com captured Will Muschamp's brief segment, but seriously, click the link. You'll die at Mullen's response. 

 

I'll pick Florida's game a little later, but in the meantime, if you missed a feature or article during the week, no worries. Read up now!

********* SEASON PREVIEWS *********

Gators' chance to rebound rest with quarterback Jeff Driskel

Grading the Gators: position-by-position look

Florida schedule predictions 

SEC capsules 

********* UF VS. IDAHO ********

Kurt Roper bring postive approach to offense

Gators face tough decision on whether to run Driskel

Former Deerfield Beach tailback Brandon Powell offers Gators speedy 'change-up'

Dante Fowler Jr. hopes to feast on Gators' opposing quarterbacks, spark anemic pass rush

Jabari Gorman brings much-needed experience to UF secondary

Former Booker T. Washington High standout Treon Harris wins backup quarterback job 

Gators' defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin very confident in unit 

Florida releases Week 1 depth chart 

Enjoy the game, y'all. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 29, 2014

Desperate for 1-0

GAINESVILLE -- Florida, fresh off its worst season in 35 years, hasn’t won a game in nearly 11 months.

Senior linebacker Michael Taylor can barely remember the taste of victory. 

“Arkansas? In like October or something,” he said.

“Way too long.”

The Gators are desperate to end their seven-game losing streak and the lowly Idaho Vandals, losers of 22 games in the last two seasons, could be the perfect remedy.

“Everybody starts out the season undefeated, so I think it's a good chance to start fresh and really showcase all we've done throughout the spring and summer,” quarterback Jeff Driskel said.

“There’s a lot of excitement around our program right now.”

Florida holds the second-longest opener winning streak in the country (24) and Taylor admitted the team is desperate for a locker room celebration and a happy home crowd.

“Definitely excited to get a victory because we haven’t had a victory in a while around here,” he said.

“We’re definitely excited to get this thing started, the whole campus is excited, coaches excited, players excited so we’re definitely ready to showcase our talent. … The seven game losing streak was definitely tough to bear, to have to play through and witness. Getting a win will definitely help; definitely help the whole feeling around the stadium.”

The Gators and Vandals kickoff Saturday at 7 p.m. (SEC Network). 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 28, 2014

Like Father, Like Daughter

M3TZ5797(Courtesy Gatorzone.com)

GAINESVILLE -- "We all have nerves, there’s no doubt about it. I don’t think it’ll ever go away. I was taking my daughter this summer to a swim meet. I could see her getting upset in the back of the car and I was like, “Reese, what’s going on?” She said her tummy was hurting. She was getting anxious to swim in a 6-year-old swim meet. That was an interesting thing to me. I was trying to calm her nerves, and I was like, 'Daddy gets nervous on game day, too, and it’s OK. It’s natural.'

"She swam her first race, and when she came out of the pool, first thing she came up and says, 'My tummy feels better, dad.' Once it started, the nerves go away. It’s natural. You’re going to get the nerves. Once it gets going, it goes away and you’re focused in."

--- Florida offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, on pregame butterflies: at a 6-year-old’s swim meet or a college football game.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 27, 2014

Q&A: Alex McCalister

263-RItpj.AuSt.56

GAINESVILLE -- Dante Fowler Jr. traded Big Macs for quarterbacks as his New Year's resolution, but the junior defensive end needs help resurrecting Florida's poor pass rushing production. 

Enter: Redshirt sophomore end Alex McCalister. 

The 6-foot-6, 245-pounder came to UF as a project, raw but with impressive measurables.

Three years later and 40 pounds heavier, McCalister is ready to display his "freakish" athleticism and is now studying film of NFL icons J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. 

Fowler -- McCalister's roomate and best friend -- teased the sophomore as Florida's surprise impact player this fall.

Recently, McCalister spoke about his 7-foot-2 wingspan, his development and his relationship with position coach Brad Lawing. 

On his slow and steady development…

"Getting that extra weight playing in the 240-250 range is way easier now. When I first came in at like 206 I really couldn't push anything. Now I can hold the point, push the point and the pocket back with that weight.”

On his go-to moves as an edge rusher…

“I [use] my speed and power. I'll stick out my long arm. My long arm pass rush is my golden ticket. There's not a lot of people that can stop that. The long arm my pass rush move. It's because I have a long wingspan [7-2], so using that to my advantage, bigger people can do speed and power, quicker people can do footwork, mine is my left. I use my left.

On the importance of his emergence opposite Fowler… 

“Most teams are going to set to Dante as a big threat, so that just allows others to come aboard, come along and show what they can do to get to the quarterback as well.”

On his relationship with position coach Brad Lawing…

“Coach Lawing’s my dog, Big Law-dog. Coach Lawing has showed me a lot. He’ll show you everything really. He’s been coaching for 92,000 years, so you can learn a lot from coach Lawing.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 26, 2014

Depth Chart dispatch: UF releases Week 1 two-deep

GAINESVILLE -- Drumroll, everyone. Game week is officially here.

Florida coach Will Muschamp met with reporters Tuesday afternoon discussing a myriad of topic -- most notably, the depth chart. 

There were few surprises, but highlights included Treon Harris as the No. 2 quarterback -- for now anyways, Clay Burton over Jake McGee at tight end (first play must be a run) and the addition of nine 'OR's (see: nearly all the special teams jobs, backup cornerback, tailback, right guard). 

As I noted, the kicking situation will remain fluid all season. I still think Kyle Christy wins the punter battle and Kelvin Taylor will be UF's No. 1 tailback. 

*************** Florida's "unofficial" depth chart ***************

Unnamed

Unnamed-1

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 25, 2014

Projected two-deep? The Gators' 2014 depth chart

Icb8Y.St.56

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will release its 2014 depth chart on Tuesday.

It’s largely an academic exercise, as coach Will Muschamp said late last week, “Kids and parents want to start. Coach Muschamp cares about who finishes.”

Really it’s a crapshoot. Florida rotates a ton of players, so the two-deep is probably written in pencil anyways.

But here she goes.

I should note: This is both my best guess at UF’s listed depth chart coupled with reading between the coach-parlance and listing who actually is second string on the field … and not on a piece of paper.

For example: Trip Thurman will not be listed as the backup at three positions, but rest assured, he is Florida’s super-sub offensive lineman and will be the first guy off the bench if any of the regulars inside go down.    

********** OFFENSE **********

POSITION

FIRST TEAM

SECOND TEAM

QUARTERBACK

Jeff Driskel

Treon Harris

RUNNING BACK

Kelvin Taylor

Matt Jones

‘B’ BACK

Matt Jones

Jake McGee

WIDE RECEIVER (x)

Quinton Dunbar

Demarcus Robinson

WIDE RECEIVER (z)

Ahmad Fulwood

Demarcus Robinson

WIDE RECEIVER (s)

Latroy Pittman

C.J. Worton

TIGHT END

Jake McGee

Clay Burton

LEFT TACKLE

D.J. Humphries

Roderick Johnson

LEFT GUARD

Tyler Moore

Trip Thurman

CENTER

Max Garcia

Trip Thurman

RIGHT GUARD

Trenton Brown

Trip Thurman

RIGHT TACKLE

Chaz Green

Roderick Johnson

********** THE SKINNEY **********

Harris wins the quarterback battle with his ability as a special package runner.

The wideout positions are a mess, as Florida will move Dunbar around to get Robinson on the field with Fulwood. Alvin Bailey and Andre Debose aren’t listed, but both receivers will figure into the mix. 

The tight end and ‘B’ positions are tricky -- and perhaps the most interesting note to examine when the official depth chart is released. Where exactly is Jones listed? Guys like Hunter Joyer and DeAndre Goolsby will see snaps. But how many, and where, is largely dependent on how the Gators designate Jones and McGee.

Mack Brown is probably the technical backup tailback, but he won’t see traditional No. 2 carries with Jones and Brandon Powell vying for snaps. 

Lastly, Green or Brown could be the backup left tackle, but recently, Muschamp has praised the efforts of Johnson.

********** DEFENSE **********

POSITION

FIRST TEAM

SECOND TEAM

BUCK

Dante Fowler Jr.

Alex McCalister

NOSE TACKLE

Leon Orr

Jay-nard Bostwick

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Darious Cummings

Joey Ivie

DEFENSIVE END

Jon Bullard

Bryan Cox Jr.

WEAK-SIDE BACKER

Michael Taylor

Daniel McMillian

MIDDLE BACKER

Antonio Morrison

Jarrad Davis

STRONG-SIDE BACKER

Neiron Ball

Jeremi Powell

CORNERBACK

Vernon Hargreaves III

Jalen Tabor

SAFETY

Keanu Neal

Marcell Harris

SAFETY

Jabari Gorman

Duke Dawson

CORNERBACK

Brian Poole

J.C. Jackson

NICKELBACK

Marcus Maye

Brian Poole

********** THE SKINNEY **********

The front-seven is rather straightforward. Davis didn’t do enough in camp to warrant a starting gig over Morrison or Taylor, but he’ll play plenty. The backup SAM spot is whatever, as even Ball won’t be on the field all that much. 

Hargreaves and Neal are assured starters. Beyond that? It’s secondary roulette. Poole, Maye and Gorman could all be shuffled around.

In truth, I have the least confidence in Harris as a No. 2 safety, but where exactly the freshmen corners slide in is anyone's guess too. Jackson was the best in camp, but Tabor has the most upside. They’ll both play a lot. Nick Washington could sneak his way into a rotational spot at safety (over Dawson) if Duke moves to nickel. 

********** SPECIAL TEAMS **********

POSITION

FIRST TEAM

SECOND TEAM

KICKER

Austin Hardin

Frankie Velez

PUNTER

Kyle Christy

Johnny Townsend

KICK RETURNER

Andre Debose

Chris Thompson

PUNT RETURNER

Demarcus Robinson

Brandon Powell

********** THE SKINNEY **********

Townsend is a natural redshirt candidate, while the competition at kicker probably never ends all season. Velez earning a scholarship could be nothing more than a generous gesture to a hard-working fifth-year senior, or it’s a wake-up call to Hardin. 

Thoughts? Comments?

Pull. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 23, 2014

McNeely, Velez awarded scholarships

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp awarded a pair of walk-ons scholarships Friday, honoring wideout and special teams contributor Michael McNeely and kicker Frankie Velez in a team huddle at the end of practice.

 

“We had two available scholarships. Both of those guys will contribute to our football team,” Muschamp said.

“Mike has been a fantastic special teams player and just a wonderful young man and has done everything we've asked him to do. He will be a huge contributor on special teams. Frankie is still in competition for field goal mixing duties and extra point duties and I think he has done a fantastic job in camp and has been here for five years and done everything we've asked him to do as far as those things. Plugging in last year. Both of those guys very well rewarded.”

Muschamp was a former walk-on at Georgia before earning a scholarship, and called the ability to honor others among the more gratifying experiences as a head coach.

“Awesome, absolutely awesome,” he said. 

“I earned a scholarship when I went to school and I’ll never forget the feeling when my coach, Ray Goff, walked up to me and said you earned your scholarship. That means you have now gained the respect of your staff and your teammates, not that you didn’t have it before. But now you’re recognized as one of the guys, not that you weren’t before. And that’s why walk-ons are so important to me. They’re treated no different than a scholarship player. They’re not going to get as many turns and opportunities because obviously we have invested ourselves into some of these scholarship players that we feel like may be further along. But we’re not always right either. So there’s nothing better than that feeling of seeing that today and being able to do that on the field with Frankie and Mike. They’re two very well-deserved young men.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 22, 2014

Fowler, Hargreaves III earn first-team honors

LJrqo.St.56

GAINESVILLE -- The Southeastern Conference released the 2014 coaches’ preseason all-conference teams Thursday, and Florida had seven players selected including star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. 

Hargreaves and Fowler earned deserved first-team honors, while no player from Florida’s offense was named to the first team. 

Right tackle Chaz Green was selected to the second-team offense, and junior offensive tackle D.J. Humphries and tailback Matt Jones were third-team picks. 

Lastly, junior linebacker Antonio Morrison was a third-team linebacker, while sixth-year senior Andre Debose was the coaches’ third return specialist. 

Alabama and LSU led all squads with 11 selections. 

The real question: Which players will earn honors at season’s end?

My guess: VG3, Fowler Jr., Debose, TE Jake McGee, DE Jon Bullard and just maybe, QB Jeff Driskel. 

Y'alls turn. 

Pull. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 21, 2014

Muschamp accepts ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

 

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp completed the popular ALS Ice Bucket Challenge on Wednesday evening, accepting a challenge by Alabama coach Nick Saban, formers Gator golfer Chris Dimarco and UF softball coach Tim Walton. 

Muschamp, who completed the ice bath with his son Whit, then challenged his nine assistant coaches, Gators trainer Paul Silvestri and his three first round picks with Florida: safety Matt Elam, defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and defensive tackle Dominique Easley.

He also noted he would contribute a donation to ALS research. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 19, 2014

About-face: What depth concerns?

Will-muschamp

GAINESVILLE -- Just three days after calling Florida’s depth along both lines of scrimmage his principal concern (or worse: “a huge issue”), Gators coach Will Muschamp said he was “misquoted somehow.”

“We don’t have depth issues on the offensive and defensive line,” Muschamp explained.

“We have depth that doesn’t that have experience on the offensive and defensive line. We have good depth. We’ve got 15 scholarship offensive linemen. We’ve got 16 scholarship defensive linemen. … We have very good depth. We have some guys that haven’t played a lot.”

Semantics.

Muschamp is absolutely correct that Florida is healthy (unlike a year ago) with plenty of talented players (unlike a year ago) behind its prospective starters along the offensive and defensive lines.

But inexperience still = questionable depth.

That’s not a debatable point.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 18, 2014

Unranked: Gators No. 27 in AP preseason poll

GAINESVILLE -- For the first time since 2003, Florida will open the season unranked.

RON ZOOK RETURNS!

The Associated Press released its preseason poll Sunday, and the Gators stand as the consensus preseason No. 27 team in the country.

Like with the USA Today Amway coaches’ poll, Florida received the second-most “others” votes following its disastrous 4-8 season in 2013. 

But the Gators will have plenty of opportunities to prove their naysayers wrong this fall. Florida plays six teams ranked in the preseason top 25, including No. 1 Florida State and No. 2 Alabama. 

The Gators are the first team since 2010 Penn State to square off against the preseason top two teams, per Cecil Hurt of the Tuscaloosa News. 

In all, eight Southeastern Conference teams are ranked in the preseason poll: Alabama (No. 2), Auburn (No. 6), South Carolina (No. 9), Georgia (No. 12), LSU (No. 13), Ole Miss (No. 18), Texas A&M (No. 21), Missouri (No. 24). 

The real question: Where does Florida finish the season? Ranked or on the outside looking in?

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

August 16, 2014

Durkin talks pass rush, Gerald Willis & more

03_140807_DurkinDJ_0381_TimCasey(Courtesy gatorzone.com)

GAINESVILLE -- While all eyes will be on Florida’s revamped offense this fall, the Gators’ defense hopes to improve its consistency too.

Coordinator D.J. Durkin spearheaded the nation’s No. 8 unit in 2013, but dispirited by the team’s woeful attack and a season-ending injury to leader Dominique Easley, the defense never found its true traction.

Florida returns seven starters this year, led by all-conference stars Dante Fowler Jr. and Vernon Hargreaves III. The secondary is inexperienced, albeit with a slew of talent, while Florida’s linebackers are a talented but enigmatic group.

Recently, Durkin discussed a number of topics, including the desire to improve the team’s pass rush, the youth in the defensive backfield and more.

On Florida’s pass rush…

“Our guys have done a good job all through camp with that. We’re finding some more guys that can win some one-on-ones. Coach Lawing is doing a great job with those guys. They’re developing. We’ve got to keep them coming. …Dante Fowler’s doing a great job. Jon Bullard’s doing a great job, Alex McCalister’s coming on; We’re even using Neiron Ball and Jeremi Powell in pass rush situations up at defensive end. I think those guys can really get it. We’ll keep it going. Gerald Willis is a young guy too.” 

On Willis’ role this season…

“[He’ll play] Somewhere. Somewhere.  He can play, he’s good. He’ll play and help us. Gerald’s got to keep learning the defense and being in the right spot and all the typical things for a normal freshman. But he’s going to play."

On the five freshmen in the secondary…

“It's been great. We've had great competition. Competition makes everyone better, and they're battling really good. So Quincy [Wilson], J.C. [Jackson], Jalen Tabor, Duke Dawson, all those guys out there, Deiondre Porter as well, they've all had days where you could say this guy is better than the other. But the good news is they're all competing and playing well. They're going to help us."

On key adjustment for young cornerbacks…

"The biggest thing with guys coming out of high school is breaking some habits they may have of things they were doing and got away with in high school technique-wise that we've got to break. They're doing a good job with it. They're taking coaching well and getting rid of those habits. The receivers they're going against every day, those guys are pretty darn good they're going against. They're seeing game speed right now from those guys. That to me has them prepared well because of who they're going against."

On Marcus Maye's emergence at nickel-back...

"That was something we just tried out here going into camp and he's looked really good doing it. Obviously, he has great coverage ability. That nickel spot is a unique thing. That guy's got to be able to bliz, cover, man cover, zone cover, do all those things. Marcus kind of has a feel for it."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

August 14, 2014

The Good, the Bad & (just one) Ugly: Harris shines again, other Thursday practice observations

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GAINESVILLE -- On a sizzling (really boiling) Thursday morning, Florida completed its seventh open practice of training camp, as freshman quarterback Treon Harris continued his red-hot week.

The Booker T. Washington standout, currently battling for UF’s backup job, was impressive for the third straight practice, showcasing his arm-strength, accuracy and decisiveness. Harris produced the day’s top play: a gorgeous seam-route to freshman wideout C.J. Worton, drilling the receiver in stride for a 40-yard touchdown against solid coverage.

With his ability as a duel-threat option, especially as a special package short-yardage runner, Harris appears to separating himself in the battle with fellow freshman Will Grier.

Although Grier has a greater command of the offense, his touch has been suspect of late and his frame could use a year of development.

Meanwhile, Harris had a poor first week of camp, but the freshman is rapidly progressing and has been very sharp in recent practices. 

A decision could be made soon. Stay tuned.

As for the rest of practice, the Gators ran through plenty of special teams drills (punt/kickoff return/field goal practice), 2-minute hurry-up, positional drills and more.

The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Lightening Round Style…

GOOD 

WR Ahmad Fulwood & WR Quinton Dunbar (consistent, solid route runners), DB Marcus Maye (best day yet), LB Antonio Morrison (sharp again), freshmen secondary, namely DB Jalen Tabor (highlight-reel tip-pick), RB Mack Brown (long wheel-route touchdown), WR/KR Andre Debose (knee appeared fine, speed fluid)

BAD

WR Demarcus Robinson (too many drops), RT Chaz Green, DB Marcell Harris (too inconsistent), TE Clay Burton (drops, effort), Jabari Gorman (poor eye control)  

UGLY

Nada, well, maybe the No. 2 offensive line (a work in progress indeed) but overall it was a strong practice by the Gators

INJURY UPDATE

Starting tailback Kelvin Taylor (hamstring strain) returned to practice after missing three days.

Dante Fowler Jr. (undisclosed) was non-contact and mostly worked out in “the pit,” but defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said Fowler “is fine” and the day-off was "just precautionary.”

Linebacker Daniel McMillian, offensive lineman Trip Thurman (shoulder) and cornerback Duke Dawson (shoulder) joined Fowler in the pit. 

Tailback Adam Lane (undisclosed), cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (knee bruise) and J.C. Jackson (shoulder) were all non-contact.

Junior tailback Matt Jones (knee swelling) missed practice for the fourth straight day.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 13, 2014

Tebow in Gainesville as part of SEC Network launch

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GAINESVILLE -- Former Florida legend Tim Tebow will be in Gainesville on Thursday, reporting live from UF’s campus as part of the SEC Network’s premiere launch event. 

Tebow, the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion quarterback, will join host Joe Tessitore for the 6 p.m. special outside the Heavener Football Complex. 

Florida is encouraging students and fans to come out and participate in the background of live shots. 

Tebow, who continues to train daily for another shot in the NFL, will be an analyst on SEC Nation, a travelling pregame show similar to ESPN's College GameDay.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 12, 2014

In a rainy open practice, Harris, Dunbar shine

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GAINESVILLE -- The lights were on, the field was wet and Florida’s revamped offense actually won the practice Tuesday morning.

Despite the inclement weather, the rain didn’t dampen UF’s effort, as Tuesday 14-session workout was much crisper than Monday’s practice.

The Gators focused on plenty of positional drills and special teams work, but they also concentrated on short-yardage, goal line and red zone drives -- with their offense winning their fair share of battles.

A number of players returned to practice following Sunday’s physical scrimmage, highlighted by Vernon Hargreaves III. The sophomore cornerback (knee bruise) wore a non-contact jersey and participated in minimal drills. Defensive end Jon Bullard (ankle) was back in action too, while offensive lineman Trip Thurman (shoulder) and defensive tackle Leon Orr (undisclosed) practiced both with the team and in “the pit.”

Marcus Maye, J.C. Jackson, Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox Jr. all worked out in non-contact jerseys, and unlike recent days, freshman tight end DeAndre Gooslby no longer wore orange.  

Tailbacks Matt Jones (knee swelling), Kelvin Taylor (hamstring) and Adam Lane (undisclosed), along with linebacker Matt Rolin (knee) and freshmen corners Jalen Tabor (undisclosed) and Duke Dawson (shoulder) pulled sleds, tossed medicine balls and rode bikes in the pit. 

Now, Tuesday’s quick-hitting observations from Florida’s ninth day of training camp…

-- Freshman quarterback Treon Harris has struggled for much of camp, but the athletic signal caller produced his best practice yet. Harris was decisive, accurate (noticeably so) and converted three consecutive first downs with his legs in a Wildcat package during short-yardage work. When the coaches forced Harris (and Will Grier) to go live, he further excelled. Unlike previous practices, Harris demonstrated an ability to hit wideouts in stride -- either on crossing patterns (top highlight: a sweet throw to Raphael Andrades) or deep balls (Chris Thompson, Ahmad Fulwood).

Grier also did some nice things, with a beautiful sideline throw to Demarcus Robinson [when the offense was backed up inside its own 1-yard line] his best play of the morning. Compared to Harris, Grier clearly has a better understanding of Kurt Roper’s offense, but he continues to struggle with decision-making and ball security lapses.

-- Receivers Quinton Dunbar and Latroy Pittman had their best (open) practice of camp. Dunbar, who's probably been UF's most consistent (albeit unspectacular) wideout in camp thus far, snagged a pair of touchdowns in red zone 7-on-7 work. Dunbar had the day's highlight play: a gorgeous finger-tip snag in the corner of the end zone as he was drapped by Nick Washington.

Meanwhile, Pittman, who has battled dropsies much of camp, was solid in pass skeleton drills. The rest of Florida’s wideouts had so-so days, as the slick balls did players little favors. C.J. Worten and Valdez Showers were forced to work with the JUGGS machine after practice due to too many drops. During one skeleton drill, Andrades, Thompson and Alvin Bailey whiffed three straight attempts. 

-- Starting left tackle D.J. Humphries continues to underwhelm in camp. One day it’s drills, the next it’s scrimmage snaps. On Tuesday, the junior -- who is clearly a team leader among the offensive linemen -- was beaten off the edge too often, as Dante Fowler Jr. (A monster yet again. Drink), Neiron Ball and Jon Bullard all won 1-on-1 scrimmage battles. Fowler straight rag-dolled Humphries on one play, beating him inside and meeting tailback Mack Brown in the hole. Florida's junior end, who also abused right tackle Chaz Green multiple times Tuesday, leveled Brown and stripped the ball at the same time. 

-- Surprisingly, Florida’s offense (namely No.1’s-vs-No.1’s) got the best of its defense during the goal line (backed up inside own 1-yard line) and short-yardage situations. Misdirection plays were key in both drills, springing Dunbar open for two huge gains on short throws. 

-- Others who showcased well Tuesday: WR Fulwood, DE Gerald Willis, DT Caleb Brantley, RB Brandon Powell, C Max Garcia

-- Others who did not: OG Antonio Riles, DB Maye (who seems to be the frontrunner for coaches’ whipping boy), DB Marcell Harris, RB Mark Herndon, C Cam Dillard, OT Rod Johnson  

THIS & THAT

Muschamp rocked a cut-off pullover with “I © Hard Counts” stitched across the front. … Walk-on wideout Ryan Parrish has taken over Dominique Easley’s dancing duties. Parrish showcased his moves on such hits as “Party in the USA” and “Classic.” … WR Andre Debose (knee swelling) was not at practice.

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Neal, Taylor named as starters

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp tabbed senior linebacker Michael Taylor and sophomore safety Keanu Neal as definitive starters on Monday.

According to Muschamp, Neal -- an eraser defensive back with impressive eye control -- is “the team’s best safety right now. And past that, we’ll see.”

Senior Jabari Gorman and underclassmen Marcell Harris, Nick Washington and Marcus Maye are all competing for the second safety spot. Freshman Duke Dawson, a hybrid defensive back, is also repping at the position.

Meanwhile, Taylor, a redshirt senior, has locked up Florida’s weak-side linebacker job.

Muschamp praised Taylor’s offseason, saying, “Mike has lost weight and kept his strength. He’s a very intelligent, smart player, understands what we do and how we do it. … He is a physical, tough presence. There is no question he is a guy that’s been in the war before and understands what it’s going to take week in and week out in our league." 

YOUNGSTERS MAKING IMPACT

The Gators return just six offensive linemen with any collegiate experience, but a pair of underclassmen are slowly emerging as legitimate depth.

Redshirt freshman Roderick Johnson is now the seventh linemen in the rotation, per Muschamp.

Johnson, who impressed during Monday’s open practice, is competing with Chaz Green for Florida’s starting right tackle job. Mammoth freshman tackle David Sharpe continues to jockey for playing time, despite “swimming mentally.”

THIS & THAT

Muschamp applauded the recent work of Florida’s trio of kickers (Austin Hardin, Brooks Abbott and Frankie Velez), but he called out veteran specialists Drew Farris (long-snapper) and Kyle Crofoot (holder) saying, “I’m disappointed with [our] operation from snap to hold.” … Freshman wideout C.J. Worten (Homestead) remains in the mix for a rotational role in the slot. “He’s a guy we talked about we need to get more snaps,” Muschamp said. … Joey Ivie has flourished since his move to defensive tackle. The sophomore is up to 285-290 pounds and is “playing blocks extremely well,” per Muschamp.    

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 11, 2014

A litany of practice observations from Day 8 of camp

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GAINESVILLE -- A day after Florida completed a physical (closed) scrimmage with between “80-85 snaps,” the Gators practiced in the sweltering humidity early Monday morning.

It wasn’t the crispest of workouts, and once again, positional drills, special teams work and individual battles dominated the open practice. Florida also worked extensively on situational passing drills, namely third down and 1-minute scoring drives.

Following Sunday’s tough scrimmage, a number of players were absent from practice, including tailback Matt Jones (knee swelling), wideout Andre Debose (knee swelling), guard Trip Thurman (shoulder), defensive lineman Taven Bryan (strep throat) and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (knee bruise).

Meanwhile, starting tailback Kelvin Taylor (hamstring), tailback Adam Lane (undisclosed), end Alex McCalister (shoulder), end Bryan Cox Jr. (shoulder) and end Jon Bullard (ankle) worked out in the “the pit,” pulling sleds and tossing medicine balls.  Defensive backs Marcus Maye and J.C. Jackson, along with sophomore linebacker Alex Anzalone and freshman tight end DeAndre Gooslby, practiced in non-contact jerseys.

Without further ado, some quick-hitting observations from Florida’s eighth day of training camp…

-- Without Taylor, Jones or Lane, the Gators were down to just two scholarship tailbacks (Brandon Powell and Mack Brown). Powell continues to climb the depth chart, again showcasing his quick-twitch ability and skills an as option in the passing game.

-- Junior linebacker Antonio Morrison, much-maligned last season, had his best (open) practice of camp.

-- The ball hit the ground waaaaaay too much during pass skeleton drills and 7-on-7 work. The wideouts had tons of drops and the quarterbacks airmailed too many throws -- all while Florida’s defensive backs weren’t particularly impressive in coverage.

-- Jeff Driskel had a fine day, connecting well with various playmakers on short and/or intermediate throws. Driskel has an obvious chemisry with transfer tight end Jake McGee, but Florida's vertical passing game remains a real work in progress.

-- Freshman receiver C.J. Worton continues to stand out as the No. 2 slot wideout.

-- Florida’s coaches -- especially TEC Derek Lewis, DBC Travaris Robinson, OC Kurt Roper and HBC Will Muschamp -- were very vocal throughout practice. Roper constantly lit into the freshmen quarterbacks (Will Grier and Treon Harris both struggled again, mainly with decision-making and timing), while Muschamp and Robinson chewed out the freshmen defensive backs (namely Jalen Tabor) for gambling too often for interceptions. Also, Maye was forced to run laps for much of practice following multiple mistakes, including jumping offsides on a blitz during 11-on-11 work.

-- Florida successfully “completed” a pair of 1-minute scoring drives, as kickers Frankie Velez and Brooks Abbott both drilled game-tying 46-yard field goals. One drive was aided by the fact Florida’s defense played extremely loose coverage, with menacing pass-rusher Dante Fowler Jr. bizarrely lined up opposite wideout Demarcus Robinson. Robinson (predictably) gained 20+ yards on a quick hitter to set up the field goal try.

-- The offensive line produced another up-and-down day. D.J. Humphries struggled in 1-on-1 drills, but the left tackle preformed much better during scrimmage snaps. Roderick Johnson is battling for a starting spot at right tackle. The redshirt freshman dominated drill work, however, his success didn’t translate as well in 11-on-11 sessions. During one session, Johnson was whipped twice on consecutive snaps, as a walk-on and Morrison simply beat him off the edge with speed moves.

-- UF’s young, blue-chip defensive linemen continue to push for rotational roles. Joey Ivie (DT), Gerald Willis III (DE) and Jordan Sherit all flashed at times.

-- Skyler Morhinweg tossed the best pass of his career I’ve ever seen him make: A gorgeous 40-yard touchdown fade to sophomore wideout Ahmad Fulwood. Fulwood actually dropped a similar pass from Driskel at the beginning of practice. 

-- Finally, the absolute best moment of practice? When Robinson and Powell alternated fielding punts, trying to catch as many balls as possible at one time. Powell snagged five before barreling over, but then Robinson and his freakish hands did this… 

 

That between-the-legs, one-handed transfer? Whew.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 10, 2014

VIDEO: Highlights from UF's first week of camp

GAINESVILLE -- "We all we got. We all we need."

 

August 09, 2014

Friday Night Yikes? (Not really, but still...)

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GAINESVILLE -- The Gators practiced in full pads for the first time Friday night, but their revamped offense did not appear ready for primetime.  

Florida’s defense dominated the practice, especially the 2-minute drill session (zero touchdowns allowed) and late scrimmage "good-vs-good" work (five straight plays for zero or negative yardage) where the front-seven couldn’t be contained. 

Although UF’s offense teased its explosive ability (see below), the same inconsistencies that plagued the unit for much of last season were present throughout Friday’s proceedings. 

It was one practice, and there's absolutely zero reason to panic. The instillation of Kurt Roper's scheme -- both tangibly and mentally -- simply remains a work in progress. 

In all, Friday's 16-session practice was quiet, as the majority of scrimmage sessions took place on the far fields -- away from stands. The bulk of practice consisted of individual position work (specializing in technique, footwork and strength) with special teams drills mixed in. 

It’s the weekend, so here’s a six-pack of observations on Florida’s second open practice in training camp. 

1. Playmakers

Although Florida’s offense struggled for much of the evening, its top two skill players still showcased their individual talents. Starting tailback Kelvin Taylor -- who continues to remind me of a smaller Knowshon Moreno with his quick feet and hip-sinking ability -- made linebacker Antonio Morrison look silly with a cut and dash, while wideout Demarcus Robinson again dominated UF’s vaunted (but raw and thin minus Vernon Hargreaves III) secondary. Twice -- waaaay far away -- he snagged balls near the sideline, displaying incredible body control and athleticism. Robinson is easily Florida’s most talented wideout, and along with Quinton Dunbar and Ahmad Fulwood comprise a solid trio. How they all fit on the field at the same time (none currently plays the slot) is the biggest question mark moving forward. 

2. Bookends 

Dante Fowler Jr. and Jon Bullard abused Florida’s starting tackles during 1-on-1 drills and scrimmage sessions, consistently meeting quarterback Jeff Driskel in the backfield. Driskel, who labored with accuracy issues at times, was frequently forced to get rid of the ball with a pass rusher in his face. Even when UF’s dynamic duo sat out, backups Alex McCalister and SAM-backer Neiron Ball registered sacks off the edges.

3. Steady Emergence 

Sophomore DB Keanu Neal continues to emerge as Florida’s top option at safety. With a rare combination of speed, thunder, intellect and instincts, Neal is player ready to be unleashed. The sophomore's heady anticipation often times leads him to the exact spot in position to deliver a big hit, and he nearly decapitated Valdez Showers on one such play.  

4. Highlights

Driskel’s 30-yard back-shoulder throw to Dunbar; Nose tackle Darious ‘Bear’ Cummings swallowing Taylor in the hole after knifing through UF’s interior offensive line; Latroy Pittman's diving sideline grab; Matt Jones, not giving an inch, delivering a bit of payback withstanding another blow from Neal; Joey Ivie’s strength and motor; Freshman defensive lineman Gerald Willis’ penetration and power.

5. Lowlights

Florida’s second-team offensive line (sans Trenton Brown); The Dropsies, mainly by the tailbacks during skeleton drills, but Robinson, Dunbar and others all whiffed on several receptions as well; Tough evening for the freshmen corners, namely Deiondre Porter and Jalen Tabor; Velocity is not an issue for Florida's freshmen quarterbacks. Touch? That's horse of a different color.    

6. This & That

Redshirt freshman tailback Adam Lane and freshman tight end De’Andre Goolsby exited practice with apparent injuries. Later, sixth-year senior wideout Andre Debose was seen standing on the sideline with his left knee wrapped in ice. … Meanwhile, redshirt freshman linebacker Matt Rolin (knee) and freshman tight end C’yontai Lewis (thigh bruise) worked out in the pit with the strength and conditioning staff.  … A day after practicing with the running backs, junior fullback Hunter Joyer worked with the tight ends. … Finally, Roper had the play of the day -- catching a pass while demonstrating how to properly run a route, then spiking the ball in celebration. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 08, 2014

Competition for backup QB remains "even"

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GAINESVILLE -- The Gators hope to sort out their quarterback depth chart by the “15th or 16th practice,” according to coach Will Muschamp.

Jeff Driskel, who looked sharp during Thursday’s open practice, is cemented as Florida’s starter, but the battle for the backup job remains “even.”

Freshmen Treon Harris and Will Grier, along with sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg are splitting reps with the second team.

Harris and Grier both struggled with accuracy issues Thursday night, but Muschamp praised their “it” factor and intangibles -- especially so early in their careers.

“Those guys have shown some really good things as far as arm talent and poise,” he explained.

“The No. 1 thing that strikes me with both young men is they have a very positive way about themselves with the players. I think I call it the ‘it factor,’ they both have that as far as how the players respond to them. You can see a reason why they were where they were in high school and the accomplishments they have are very easy to see. They’re very talented guys, but I look at more the intangible part of that position, and they both have that.”

Meanwhile, Driskel continues to impress in Kurt Roper’s spread offense, with Muschamp saying the redshirt junior signal caller is completing 70-75 percent of his passes over the first four days of camp. 

“His timing has been very good,” Muschamp said. 

“He’s thrown the ball well. He’s making very good decisions in the run and pass game.”

SECONDARY SHAKEUP

Vernon Hargreaves III made national headlines with his injury scare Thursday night, but the rest of Florida’s defensive backs had a chance to shine without their All-American leader.

Muschamp praised the play of junior corner Brian Poole, who appears close to securing a starting job as the boundary corner opposite Hargreaves.

Sophomore Marcus Maye, normally a safety, has “done a fabulous job inside” as a nickel cornerback.

Keanu Neal, a sophomore, and senior Jabari Gorman are the frontrunners for the two starting safety spots, per Muschamp.

THIS & THAT

As part of his tour through the league, SEC head of officials Steve Shaw is in Gainesville to meet with Florida and discuss rule changes, pace and procedure. … Muschamp chalked up the kickers’ issues Thursday to poor snaps and holds. He remains adamant, though, the competition between Austin Hardin and walk-ons Brooks Abbott and Frankie Velez is open.

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Hargreaves III exits with knee injury (oh & other practice observations)

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GAINESVILLE -- On a toasty summer evening, Florida’s first open practice gave nearly 1,000 fans reasons for optimism heading into a critical 2014 season. 

Then, waaaay out in right field, a sizable brawl broke out and star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III ended up carted off the field with a left knee injury. 

Hope curtailed.

************************* [UPDATE] *************************

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A scuffle between the secondary and wide receivers started following a heated tackling drill -- some 100 yards away from the stands at the Dizney Lacrosse Stadium. 

Freshman cornerback Duke Dawson and wideouts Latroy Pittman and Raphael Andrades threw punches in the scrum involving roughly 20-plus players. When the fight broke up, Hargreaves limped away and sought immediate medical attention. He was taken to the tent and had his left knee wrapped with ice before leaving the field on a cart. 

Florida coach Will Muschamp's next media availability is Friday afternoon. 

As for the rest of practice, the Gators conducted their usual 17-session workout, complete with 1-on-1 drills, 11-on-11 work and more. Here’s 10(+) observations on Thursday's proceedings. 

1. Shankapotamus 

Florida’s kickers still stink. Austin Hardin opened the practice shanking several field goal attempts, while walk-ons Frankie Velez and Brooks Abbott didn’t fare much better. 

2. Steady as she goes

Quarterback Jeff Driskel was sharp all evening, displaying visible improvement on his sideline throws and deep ball touch. The junior signal caller had complete command of Kurt Roper’s offense, and exhibited a real connection with transfer tight end Jake McGee and sophomore wideout Demarcus Robinson. 

3. Deja vu anyone?

Florida’s offense was fluid and crisp, but the instillation remains a work in progress as the pace never hit a dizzying speed. The Gators ran all sorts of varied formations, including pistol sets, diamond backfields and wide receiver sweeps  (see: shades of Meyer’s spread). The offense also teased a steady dose of vertical passes. Bummer alert: lest we forge, Brent Pease’s offense featured many of the same motions, shifts and crazy formations during open practices too. So…

4. MonStar 

Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. was a beast. See: the sun always rises in the east. 

5. Gamechanger?

Robinson had a couple drops during skeleton drills, but the “freakish” wideout was dominant during scrimmage sessions and corralled a deep touchdown (< 35 yards) over Brian Poole on one play. 

6. Position battles

Florida’s offensive line opened 11-on-11s (L-R) with D.J. Humphries, Trip Thurman, Max Garcia, Tyler Moore or Trenton Brown, Chaz Green. Roderick Johnson also worked with the first-team at right tackle. The second-team line (L-R) featured David Sharpe, Antonio Riles, Cam Dillard, Moore or Brown, Johnson or Andrew Mike. 

Before Hargreaves exited with the injury, Poole started opposite the sophomore stud in Florida’s base defense. Keanu Neal and Jabari Gorman played safety, while Marcus Maye (who also played plenty of safety and later donned a non-contact jersey) manned the nickel. Later, three freshmen corners -- J.C. Jackson (non-contact), Duke Dawson and Jalen Tabor -- split reps with the first-team. 

Former linebacker turned fullback Gideon Ajagbe is now working with the tight ends. 

Freshman speedster Brandon Powell appears to have leapfrogged Adam Lane (and possibly Mack Brown) on the depth chart at tailback. Powell saw plenty of reps behind Matt Jones and starter Kelvin Taylor. 

8. Flying robot 

Florida’s very own drone got great look -- much better than I did -- at the team’s offense and defensive line during numerous drills Thursday. 

9. Highlights 

Freshman tight end DeAndre Goolsby snagged a nice 20-yard touchdown pass from Driskel during a two-minute drill. Gooslby also pancaked a pair of teammates (Alex Anzalone & Justus Reed) during blocking drills; Neal leveled tailback Matt Jones near the sideline following a long reception; Powell showcased his speed and twitch with a two-step juke and dash for a long touchdown during 11-on-11s; Dawson grabbed an interception off a tipped pass; Jon Bullard played well at both end and tackle, while freshmen linemen Gerald Willis and Khairi Clark provided solid penetration at times.   

10. Lowlights

Dilliard’s snaps; The rookie quarterbacks. Treon Harris and Will Grier both labored with accuracy issues. The two freshmen (especially Grier) have cannons but their touch and footwork need continued development; Freshman offensive lineman Travaris Dorsey’s fitness; Humphries in any 1-on-1 matchup against Fowler.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 07, 2014

Take Two? Robinson poised for breakout season

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GAINESVILLE -- In 2013, the Demarcus Robinson hype-train rapidly approached maximum velocity.

Following explosive spring and fall camps, Robinson, then just a freshman, was touted as Florida's savior at the receiver position, but the heralded four-star wideout failed to produce an impact season after struggling through a suspension-riddled year. 

Once again this fall though, coaches and teammates are trumpeting Robinson's talents and teasing a breakout campaign by the sophomore. 

“Sometimes you just have to mature a little bit more and that’s what he’s done,” sophomore tailback Kelvin Taylor said.

“He’s ready to put it in the past and he’s ready to look forward to the future. He’s going to have a tremendous year this year, and I’m just so excited for him.”

Taylor, the Gators’ starting running back and Robinson's roomate, called the 6-foot-1, 205 pounder “a freakish athlete” and compared him to San Franciso 49ers wideout Michael Crabtree.

“He’s super fast. He just makes all types of spectacular catches,” Taylor said. “The guy, he reminds me a lot of Crabtree, he’s really good. Anytime the ball’s in the air he’s coming down with it.”

Plagued by off-the-field issues, Robinson tallied just six receptions for 43 yards last season but the sophomore has turned the corner according to his head coach.

“He’s really matured,” Will Muschamp said.

“Demarcus had a very good spring. The game slowed down for him. It’s not add water, instant player. Sometimes it takes a guy a little more time to adapt to the college speed of the game.”

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#HELP: Muschamp talks Twitter mishaps

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Will Muschamp continues to improve his Twitter skills.

Slowly. 

“It's a work in progress,” he said, jokingly.  “My 9-year-old and 12-year-old have helped me.” 

After several recent misadventures where Muschamp accidentally publicly tweeted -- rather than direct messaged -- prospective recruits, Florida’s coach made a light-hearted attempt soliciting social media help. 

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“It's really unfair,” Muschamp said. “When you get a message sent to you, it also goes to your text and then you respond to your text -- not that I violated any of the NCAA rules because you are not allowed to text -- then it goes out.  It's not a direct message, it's a message for everybody.  You learn the hard way in life sometimes.” 

Muschamp avoided any wrath by the NCAA by not mentioning the recruit(s) by name, but the coach has instructed his staff to take precautions by not putting a prospects name “on anything” moving forward.

“Hey, you live and learn," he said. "The social media thing is interesting.  I can you that.  It's a way that you've got to be able to understand how to do it to be able to communicate with recruits.  That's a huge part of it.” 

The Gators, like most schools, monitor prospects and current players’ Twitter accounts, with Muschamp noting social media is simply part of the evaluation process nowadays. 

“When they press send it’s out there,” he explained. 

“There has been some situations that we’ve communicated with the perspective student athlete and said, “Where exactly are we, what road are we headed down here?” We may have talked to the high school coach, the principal and people within the school to find out more about exactly what messages are trying to be sent here. There’s no question there’s a lot of issue that can be made from the messages on a public social media. I’ve told our players this story all the time. I had a player one time that was going for a visit to a pro team coming out of college and jokingly made a tweet that was not viewed very humorously by the organization. The general manager called me and said, “What’s the deal with this guy?” It ended up, he was a defensive tackle that got drafted in the second round as opposed to end of the first round. … It cost him about $3.5 million based on where he was picked. I tell our guys all the time that I don’t ban them from Twitter but we try to monitor those things as best we can.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

 

August 06, 2014

Q&A: Andre Debose

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GAINESVILLE – In today’s Miami Herald, I wrote a story on Florida’s receivers and how they’re ready to step up in Kurt Roper’s spread offense.

I know, it's about time.

But for the first time since 2009, an unproductive unit is suddenly a team strength with as many as nine contributors competing for playing time.  

Enigmatic sixth-year senior Andre Debose is the X-factor in the group, returning to school for a final season after sustaining a season-ending knee injury in last year’s training camp.

The former five-star recruit was once (famously) billed as Florida’s next Percy Harvin, but Debose’s career has been plagued by injuries and inconsistencies and Urban Meyer’s pressure-filled premonition has never come to pass.

Here’s an extended interview with Debose on his knee recovery, Roper’s scheme, Joker Phillips’ exit and more.

On his comeback…

"I’ve been grinding man. I’m feeling real good. I wouldn’t say I’m completely 100 percent, but mentally I’m almost there. I’m still trying to strengthen my leg up, but as far as practice goes I’m full go. No worries. Nothing. I’ll be ready.”

On the new offense…

“It’s definitely exciting. I was recruited to play in a spread offense. It’s something that’s been in my mind. I’m finally in the offense I came to play in. I’m definitely excited about it. With all our young receivers I feel like all of us are going to flourish in the offense because it is a spread. The wideouts play a big part of it. With the ball in space a lot of us can get the job done.”

On a renewed perspective after so many falls in Gainesville...

“I take everyday like it’s my last. I will never have another media day like this. I will never have another first practice, second day. If I had a message to say to a young guy it would be to say, ‘Take everyday like it’s your last. You never know when it’s the end.’ I have a whole different perspective from when I was a young guy. I used to take a lot of stuff for granted. Practicing, just going through the motions, something I’d never do now. Enjoy everything you do.”

On Joker Phillips' abruptly exit and Debose's sixth position coach in as many seasons...

“It was definitely unexpected. I had just had a long conversation with Coach [Phillips] before he later told us the message he was leaving. It was unexpected, but I’ve been through it before so it really wasn’t a big deal to me. [Laughs] At the end of the day it’s us playing on the field, and there’s only so much they can teach us. I just started to develop a relationship with him, but it really wasn’t a shock to me since I’ve had now six different receivers coaches. It wasn't something I haven’t been through before.”

On recovering from last fall’s torn anterior cruciate ligament...

"The injury was a humbling experience. I wouldn’t put my worst enemy in that position. Being a senior, finally get my chance to really play and then it just all goes away. I wouldn’t put those emotions on nobody. With that being said, I’m just enjoying the process. I never would’ve thought I’d been in this position again, today."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 05, 2014

Gators open camp with clean bill of health

GAINESVILLE -- Florida opened training camp Monday, and no one got hurt.

It’s early, but it was a massive leap forward compared to last season.

“Drastically different,” coach Will Muschamp said.

“There’s no question it was a rough fall.”

A year ago, UF opened training camp without quarterback Jeff Driskel (appendectomy), starting tailback Matt Jones (virus) and offensive linemen Jon Halapio (torn pectoral) and Max Garcia (back), and the injury situation further snowballed throughout camp.

The Gators -- working out in helmets and shorts per NCAA rules -- had a “solid” first split-squad practice, as the veterans went in the morning and the majority of underclassmen worked out in the evening. Florida will practice in shells Wednesday and Thursday and then transition to full pads on Friday.

Three (notable) true freshmen -- corners Jalen Tabor and Duke Dawson and offensive lineman David Sharpe -- practiced with the veterans early Monday morning, but Muschamp chalked it up to class conflicts.

He added another “three or four freshmen” would also practice Tuesday morning due to exams.

Muschamp, who welcomed lofty expectations during Sunday’s Media Day, raved about his team effort and energy before quickly adding a qualifier.

“Everybody is fired up Day 1,” he said. “Let’s find out how they are Day 12. … I think we’ve seen a very inspired group throughout the summer.”

FRESHMEN CORNERS IMPRESS

The Gators have five rookie defensive backs competing for the starting job opposite All-American Vernon Hargreaves III, and Muschamp noted the quintet had some positive first showings.

“They’re all athletic,” he said of Dawson, Tabor, Quincy Wilson, J.C. Jackson and Deiondre Porter.

Wilson, a hybrid defensive back from University School capable of playing corner or safety, had in interception during the evening practice working out at cornerback.

… DID SOME NICE THINGS

It was just the first day of camp, but Muschamp couldn’t resist his favorite saying (one he’ll undoubtably repeat all preseason): “[Player X] did some nice things.”

Those named included Dawson, Tabor, Driskel, wideout Andre Debose, kicker Austin Hardin and punters Kyle Christy and Johnny Townsend.

QUOTABLE

"I got up about 3:35 a.m. today. … I didn't sleep a whole lot last night. Excited about getting back on the field and coaching. That's what you get hired to do. That's what I enjoy doing. All of the other stuff, not so much, but the coaching part of it I really enjoy.”

-- Muschamp, on working on just a couple hours of sleep in eager anticipation for fall camp to start.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 03, 2014

Gators confident, ready to move on from abysmal 2013

Bilde(Will Muschamp | Courtesy Matt Stamey/Gainesville Sun)

GAINESVILLE -- On the eve of fall camp, Florida coach Will Muschamp strolled up to the podium, quickly measured his media audience and immediately opened with the one word absent from Florida football all of 2013.

“Exciting…”

The only people rah-rah about the Gators during last year’s humiliating 4-8 season were their weekly opponents. 

According to an enthusiastic bunch donning orange and blue, that’s set to change.

Florida -- admittedly traumatized by its most embarrassing season in 35 years -- is motivated, determined and -- most notably -- confident in a drastic turnaround.

“If we stay healthy at the quarterback position, we're going to win a bunch of games,” said Muschamp, who boldly welcomed major expectations. 

This fall, the Gators return a young and hungry defense.  For the first time since Tim Tebow was on campus, Florida’s revamped offense features legitimate playmakers other SEC teams coveted. 

The talent is there, but just how many wins “a bunch of games” entails will ultimately determine Muschamp’s future employment at UF. 

Challenge accepted.

Muschamp’s third season in Gainesville was torpedoed by a rash of injuries, offensive ineptitude and a “woe is me mentality,” but there was a palpable energy among Florida’s players during Sunday’s Media Day. 

Guys on both sides of the ball spoke openly about their eagerness at a chance for redemption, desperate to forge last year’s misery into memories this fall.

“I’ve been around this program for over two years now and this is the most excited I’ve seen all the players who want to come out and compete and just win,” junior tailback Matt Jones said. “That just tells you something about this team.”

Added sophomore safety Keanu Neal: “We know we’re going to be a lot better than we were last year.”

Muscham -- who once again acknowledged he hired former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to jumpstart a stagnant attack after he witnessed Florida’s players lose confidence last seaso -- recognized an immediate attitude adjustment in his team this summer.

“We always talk in terms of either renting it or owning it,” Muschamp said. “You take ownership in your team.  I see a lot of that.”

He later continued: “[Last season’s debacle] was something we sort of buried to start the summer.  It was great motivation through spring and the off season workouts [and] something we still go to deal with. … I addressed our team about our preparation, about our attitude, about our embracing adversity, having a competitive edge every day.  To stick your head in the sand and pretend it was all injuries, that's not right. 

You will fool yourself if you believe that.  We addressed a lot of those things in the off-season. We're getting ready to get started with the 2014 Florida football team.”

Players swear camaraderie is at an all-time high. Everyone has “bought in.”

“The chemistry is there,” Neal said. “Having everyone on board and knowing they have the opportunity to be successful just makes [everyone] want to work that much harder.” 

Muschamp loves to say “talk is cheap,” but these Gators seem genuinely convinced in their chances this fall.

It's only August and it remains to be seen whether the traditional optimistic off-season platitudes hold true, but Muschamp & Co. refuse to deflect pressure. 

“I think all of the components are there,” he said.

“We need to go do it now.”

Yes they do. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

A skinny six-pack: Florida’s 2014 fall camp primer

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GAINESVILLE -- The Gators open training camp Monday, ready to rebound from their worst season in over three decades. 

With so much static in the system, coach Will Muschamp’s long-term future with the Gators remains in flux and although Florida is a confident bunch entering 2014, its preseason optimism hardly guarantees a successful year.

UF has a talent-laden squad heading into fall camp, but there’s plenty of uncertainties the team hopes to solve before its opener against Idaho (Aug. 30).

Later this afternoon, Florida will host its Media Day to officially start the season. 

Here’s a quick preview of UF’s training camp.  

********** FIVE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW **********

1. Can Florida develop depth along the offensive line?

The starting five isn’t spectacular but it’s a solid group. The players behind the first five? Yikes. UF’s o-line depth is thinner than a Victoria Secret model.  

2. Will transfer tight end Jake McGee fit seamlessly in Kurt Roper’s offense?

Expectations have skyrocketed for the former Virginia Cavalier, as fans and media members are already anointing him Jordan Reed 2.0. We’ll see. 

3. Will spring stars have staying power?

It’s a yearly tradition in college football -- especially at Florida: spring standouts become fall frauds. Explosive receiver Demarcus Robinson has dominated the last two April camps, but will he become the much-needed X-factor this fall? Tailback Adam Lane, rookie corners Jalen Tayor and Duke Dawson, pass-rusher Alex McCalister and linebacker Daniel McMillian all made noise this spring as well. Can they continue their good play as the real season approaches? 

4. What will the linebacker rotation look like?

Florida has plenty of ability at the position, but raw talent didn’t materialize into a dominant group last season. The Gators hope the scrip flips this fall. Sophomore Jarrad Davis is a probable starter, while junior Antonio Morrison (a disaster in 2013) and senior Mike Taylor will compete for significant playing time. How the youngsters (McMillian, Matt Rolin and Alex Anzalone) fit into the rotation will be interesting to watch.   

5. What sort of strides has Jeff Driskel made under Kurt Roper’s tutelage? 

There’s an assumption Driskel has never showcased his true talents at Florida, but then there’s also that saying about assumptions. The redshirt junior has the physical tools to succeed at the highest level, but he's yet to demonstate any sort of consistency. Can Roper straighten out his deep-ball mechanics and fix the issue between Driskel's ears?

********** FIVE POSITION BATTLES TO WATCH **********

1. Backup quarterback -- Skyler Mornhinweg is the veteran of the group, and despite an absence of upside, is the front-runner for the back-up job behind Driskel. But it’s really a figurative No. 2. Should Driskel go down (again) for any significant period of time, Florida will turn to the future: a battle between Will Grier (shifty with super arm strength, but likely needs a redshirt season) and Treon Harris (an uber competitor with road-runner speed, but undersized for the position). 

2. Safety -- For the second straight fall, the Gators must replace both safety spots, as Jaylen Watkins (NFL) and Cody Riggs (transferred to Notre Dame) are gone. It’s an open competition, with as many five guys (Jabari Gorman, Keanu Neal, Marcell Harris, Marcus Maye, Nick Washington) competing for lots of playing time. Neal -- a sophomore who carries the most potential -- and Gorman -- a senior who offers a veteran, stable presence -- are the likely frontrunners, but Maye might sneak his way into the lineup after being in the coaches’ doghouse much of last year. 

3. Kicker -- Austin Hardin was miserable in 2013 (4-of-15), and although the redshirt sophomore seemed to solve some of his mechanical issues this spring, the Gators elected to bring in two kickers -- former Virginia Tech kickoff specialist Brooks Abbott and Belen Jesuit Prep freshman Jorge Powell -- to compete for the job. Senior walk-on Francisco Velez (6-of-8 in 2014) remains in the mix as well.     

4. Cornerback -- Florida has five freshmen battling for the spot opposite sensational sophomore Vernon Hargreaves III. Brian Poole, the lone upperclassmen in the the entire group, is best suited to play inside (nickel back), so Jalen Tabor, Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson and two others will vie for the boundary corner job. Tabor and Dawson were early enrollees and have a leg-up on the other three freshmen. 

5. Back-up tailback -- Sophomore Kelvin Taylor is penciled in as the likely starter, but the competition for the remaining carries should be fierce. Matt Jones could be an X-factor at the ‘B’ position, but Florida’s former starter (now healthy) is expected to continue to compete for playing time at tailback alongside Taylor and senior Mack Brown. Lane, a battering ram, busted heads this spring and could find his way into the mix. 

********** FIVE FRESHMEN TO MONITOR **********

1. QB Treon Harris -- The Booker T. Washington standout is a dynamic playmaker and should see immediate playing time in special packages as a change-of-pace runner.  

2. WR CJ Worton -- An underrated athlete with solid hands. A potential cog in the slot. 

3. CB Duke Dawson -- An early enrollee who had an outstanding spring, should be a rotational player right away. 

4. CB Jalen Tabor  -- Florida’s most heralded recruit. The five-star corner has size (6-1), athleticism and intelligence and is expected to be an instant impact performer.  

5. DL Thomas Holley -- Raw but physically dominant. The Brooklyn native could battle for a back-up job with so many inconstant options inside. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

August 02, 2014

Practice times set; Thomas picks Gators over Tide

GAINESVILLE -- Florida announced the times for eight open practices in August, starting with a Thursday night session (7:40) this week at the Dizney Lacrosse Stadium. 

The Gators, looking to rebound from a dreadful 4-8 campaign last season, kickoff fall training camp Monday. 

According to UF, fans will be allowed to take pictures and videos during specific periods of practice, while select players will be available to sign autographs following each open session. 

In an effort to reconnect an irritated fan base, Gator Booster season ticket-holders will be allowed to exclusively watch practice on Aug. 9. 

The complete schedule:

Thurs., Aug. 7 - 7:40-9:40 p.m. (Lacrosse Stadium)

Fri., Aug. 8 - 7:40-9:40 p.m. (Lacrosse Stadium)

Sat., Aug. 9 - 10:45 a.m - 12:45 p.m. (season ticket-holders only)

Mon., Aug. 11 - 8:50-11:00 a.m. (Lacrosse Stadium)

Tues., Aug. 12 - 8:50-11:00 a.m. (Lacrosse Stadium)

Wed., Aug. 13 - 8:50-11:00 a.m. (Lacrosse Stadium)

Thurs., Aug. 14 - 8:50-11:00 a.m. (Lacrosse Stadium)

Sat., Aug. 16 - 9:00-11:00 a.m. (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

KEY GET(s)

Consensus four-star linebacker Adonis Thomas (Central Gwinnett, Ga.) verbally committed to the Gators on Friday evening, capping a whirlwind two weeks on the recruiting trail for Florida. 

Thomas, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound Under Armour All-American, chose the Gators over Alabama, becoming UF’s 10th prospect in its 2015 class. 

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Following four decommitments in just over a week, the Gators are suddenly full of recruiting momentum.   

Thomas is the fourth prospect in seven days to verbally pledge his services to UF, joining offensive linemen George Brown Jr. and Mike Horton and wideout Kalif Jackson. 

Horton, a fellow Georgian and one of Thomas’ close friends, is a 6-4, 320-pound three-star prospect according to Rivals and committed to Florida on Thursday. 

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The Gators currently sit No. 34 nationally in team recruiting rankings, per Rivals. But Florida slides in at No. 13 in average prospect star ranking (3.4). 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton