May 02, 2016

2017 Mock Draft(s): Tabor, Davis projected as 1st round picks

GAINESVILLE -- With the 2016 NFL Draft in the books, a number of sites have already pumped out 2017 mock drafts.

Too early? Ridiculous? Useless?

Sure!

But mock drafts are mostly silly exercises anyways, so you might as well take look at what others are saying about a pair of Florida's star defensive players.

According to analysts, All-SEC cornerback Jalen Tabor is a consensus first-round pick. In 2015, UF’s rising junior actually outplayed All-American teammate Vernon Hargreaves III, who went No. 11 overall to Tampa Bay on Thursday.

Tabor, who measures a hair taller than 6-foot and weighs 191 pounds, is bigger than Hargreaves and has better ball-skills. He led the SEC with 18 passes defended, intercepting four passes and returning two picks for touchdowns.

Most projections have Tabor somewhere in the ‘teens, but one mock draft lists the cornerback as a Top 5 pick.

CBS Sports -- No. 11 to the Tennessee Titans

"The Florida secondary loses Vernon Hargreaves, but Tabor had 10 more pass break-ups last season than the 2016 first-rounder and competes with unwavering confidence."

Bleacher Report -- No. 16 to the New York Jets.

“The No. 2 cornerback job is up for grabs in New York, and while the Jets did add Juston Burris in the fourth round, a lockdown starter coming in the first-round of the 2017 draft makes sense for general manager Mike Maccagnan's crew.

Tabor was a star in the Florida defense—a group that was and is loaded with future NFL talent when you watched them in 2015. Tabor even out-shined first-rounder Vernon Hargreaves on film at times, impressing with his 6'1", 192 pound frame and length. Where Hargreaves was shorter and more technical, Tabor brings elite size and length, plus the speed to turn and run with the best of the best at receiver.”

The Big Lead -- No. 13 to the Chicago Bears.

“Two scouts told me he had a better year with the Gators last season than Vernon Hargreaves who was taken 11th overall. Tabor’s slightly bigger and had four interceptions in 2015. Was the 10th best player in the high school class of 2014, according to Rivals.”

SB Nation -- No. 10 to the Miami Dolphins

“Drafting Xavien Howard in the second round [in 2016] was a need-based pick, but Tabor projects as a true No. 1 corner.”

Walter Football -- No. 4 to the Tennessee Titans

“Tennessee's glaring weakness on the defensive side of the ball is in the secondary. Upgrades have to be made at cornerback and safety, and given the team's other needs, it may not be able to address both positions until 2017.”

Sporting News -- No. 16 to the New York Jets

"While Vernon Hargreaves stole most of the attention at Florida this past year, Tabor was also one of the most respect defensive backs in the SEC in 2015. With better size than Hargreaves (6-1 listed), he’ll have a chance to be drafted similarly. Jets need long-term planning for the cornerback position."

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

Meanwhile, Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis, a heat-seeking missile from the weak-side spot, also showed up in several mock drafts. Davis opted to return for his season after finishing second on the team in tackles with 98. Davis also added 11.5 TFL, one interception and 3.5 sacks last season.

CBS Sports -- No. 20 to the Baltimore Ravens

"A loose athlete with quick read-react skills, Davis would fit well next to C.J. Mosley as an inside linebacker in Baltimore' scheme."

Bleacher Report -- No. 18 to the New York Giants

“An absolute thumper at linebacker, Jarrad Davis was all over the field when you turned on the Florida tape in 2015. He's a complete three-down 'backer with the movement and instincts to lock down a defense as a 4-3 or 3-4 middle linebacker.

The New York Giants don't traditionally draft linebackers in the first round, but Davis should be the exception. He would be a freak in a defense with Devon Kennard at strongside 'backer and a gigantic hole at the other two linebacker spots. Draft Davis in Round 1, plug him into the defense and you'll see instant improvement over what the Giants' front seven has been able to do in recent seasons.”

Walter Football -- No. 24 to the Minnesota Vikings

“Chad Greenway was retained for 2016, but he announced that this upcoming season would be his last in the NFL. As a result, the Vikings will have to find a third linebacker sometime in the near future.”

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May 01, 2016

2016 NFL Draft recap: Seven Gators get drafted, two ink FA deals

GAINESVILLE -- The 2016 NFL Draft is over, and Florida continued its tradition as a football factory. 

The Gators produced seven selections during the weekend’s three-day extravaganza, tying Alabama for the most among league schools

All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III went No. 11 overall to Tampa Bay, returning to his old stomping grounds as a star at Wharton High. 

Just six picks later, explosive safety Keanu Neal reconnected with former UF defensive coordinator Dan Quinn in Atlanta at No. 17 overall. 

On Friday, hybrid defensive lineman Jon Bullard had to wait a while to hear his name called, but the All-American was eventually taken in the third round by the Chicago Bears. 

During the final rounds Saturday, four former Gators came off the board, with linebacker Antonio Morrison and receiver Demarcus Robinson going in back-to-back picks in the fourth round. Morrison went to Indianapolis and Robinson was scooped up by Kansas City. Tailback Kelvin Taylor was a sixth-round pick by San Francisco, while defensive end Alex McCalister was a seventh-round pick, landing in Philadelphia. 

Meanwhile, tight end Jake McGee (Carolina) and nickel-back Brian Poole (Atlanta) both inked free-agent deals after going undrafted. 

Finally, two former Florida quarterbacks were selected over the weekend, as N.C. State’s Jacoby Brissett was taken by New England in the third round and Jeff Driskel, who finished his career at Louisiana Tech, joined Taylor as a sixth-round pick headed to the Niners. 

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April 27, 2016

Florida Gators F Devin Robinson withdraws from 2016 NBA Draft

 GAINESVILLE -- Florida forward Devin Robinson will return for his junior season, withdrawing his name from the 2016 NBA Draft the school announced late Tuesday.  

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 9.0 points and 5.6 rebounds last season, starting 18 games. He entered the draft without an agent but his plans were foiled due to a significant foot injury. Last week, Robinson underwent surgery to repair a stress fracture in his left foot and the injury is expected to sideline the forward for four-to-six months. 

Gators coach Mike White told Gatorsports.com, “It’s going to be extensive. He’s going to have to be patient. It’s going to be a long process with his recovery.”

Robinson was considered a late second-round pick, so as a fringe prospect the injury made his decision to return to school a rather simple one. 

GATORS ANNOUNCE SIGNEES

Florida inked 6-foot-11, 205-pound center Gorjok Gak (Victory Rock Prep, Bradenton) over the weekend, completing White’s first true recruiting class at Florida. 

Gak was originally committed to Oklahoma State but was released from his NOI after the Cowboys fired coach Travis Ford. 

The three-star prospect averaged 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds as a senior. He joins Oldsmar Christian teammates -- four-star guard Eric Hester and three-star forward Dontay Bassett -- as UF’s 2016 signees. The Gators’ class ranked No. 58 nationally, per 247Sports. 

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April 25, 2016

Gators claim three conference titles in fantastic sports weekend

GAINESVILLE -- Roundup!

Here’s an instant recap of Florida’s weekend in sports:

* The No. 2 women’s lacrosse team claimed the Big East Championship with a 13-8 win over Connecticut. 

* The No. 11 men’s tennis team upset Georgia 4-2 to win the conference tournament title. 

* The No. 3 women’s tennis team downed UGA to clinch the program’s 20th SEC Tournament title.  

* The No. 2 baseball team took 2 of 3 from Georgia, as Florida’s starting pitching dominated the Bulldogs (21.3 innings with just one run) during the three-game series.

* The No. 1 softball team swept Mississippi State, including Delanie Gourley’s no-hitter Friday and a walk-off homer by freshman outfielder Amanda Lorenz on Sunday. 

Not too shabby, huh? Three championships, multiple wins over a border-rival and several outstanding individual performances. 

Here are some notable sights and sounds from the weekend:

* Amanda O’Leary’s lacrosse team won its sixth-straight conference title (four American Conference championships, two Big East titles). 

"It's fantastic. It's a great tribute to these seniors. It's something for them to remember forever,” O’Leary told the school’s website. “We demanded a lot of them and they delivered."

* UF righty Logan Shore continued to flex his pitching prowess, tossing a two-hit shutout Friday and breaking a 32-year-old school-record with 13 consecutive wins. Shore faced the minimum against the Bulldogs, as the junior needed just 101 pitches to compete his gem. During Florida’s 6-0 win, speedster Buddy Reed (a surefire first-round pick in this summer’s MLB Draft) stole home.

* Not to be outdone, Florida’s softball ace Delanie Gourley threw a no-hitter in a 16-0 rout over Mississippi State. In a bit of a bizarre coincidence, Gourley -- and the Gators -- managed to match the feat of the Chicago Cubs, who won 16-0 over Cincinnati behind flamethrower Jake Arrieta’s no-hitter Thursday. 

“It's hard to get a no hitter in general,” Gourley told the school’s website. “Let alone in the SEC. I wasn't even thinking about it. I just came out, did my stuff, my team played great, and that was it."

On Sunday, Lorenz drilled a walk-off two-run homer on her birthday to complete the sweep over the Bulldogs. 

* With its 4-2 victory over Georgia, Florida’s women’s tennis team won its 16th straight match and is rolling heading into the NCAA Championships. 

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April 21, 2016

NFL Mock Drafts: Projections on Hargreaves, Neal & Bullard

GAINESVILLE -- The 2016 NFL Draft is in one week, so let’s take a look at the latest mock drafts and where Florida’s trio of defensive standouts are projected to get selected. 

All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and hard-hitting safety Keanu Neal will both be in Chicago on April 28. Hargreaves is a consensus first round pick, while Neal, who performed well during UF’s Pro Day, is considered a Top 50 prospect. 

Gators defensive tackle Jon Bullard will not attend the draft and remains a likely Day 2 pick. 

CB VERNON HARGREAVES III

Round 1: No. 14 to Oakland Raiders - Mel Kiper, ESPN

Round 1: No. 15 to Tennessee Titans - Todd McShay, ESPN

Round 1: No. 9 to Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Pete Prisco, Will Brinson, Rob Rang, CBS

Round 1: No. 14 to Oakland Raiders - Jared Dubin, CBS 

Round 1: No. 10 to New York Giants - Chris Burke, SI

Round 1: No. 9 to Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Daniel Jeremiah, Charles Davis, NFL.com

Round 1: No. 9 to Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Peter Schrager, FoxSports

S KEANU NEAL 

Round 1: No. 30 to Arizona Cardinals - Dane Brugler, CBS

Round 2: No. 62 to Carolina Panthers - Chris Burke, SI

Round 3: No. 75 to Oakland Raiders - Mel Kiper, ESPN

Round 2: No. 35 to San Diego Chargers - Peter Schrager, FoxSports

DT JON BULLARD 

Round 2: No. 41 to Chicago Bears - Dane Brugler, CBS

Round 2: No. 51 to New York Jets - Chris Burke, SI

Round 3: No. 74 to Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Mel Kiper, ESPN

SUMMARY

Florida’s junior cornerback remains one of the first defensive backs off the board on most analysts’ mock drafts. The two blockbuster trades have shaken up the top of the first round though, so Hargreaves is no longer considered a surefire Top 10 pick. Hargreaves has also battled some recent nitpicking from scouts and analysts, many of whom have raised concerns about the cornerback’s overall size, speed and ability to be a No. 1 guy. 

Said ESPN’s Mel Kiper, “He has been the best pure cover cornerback in college for the past two years on the aggregate, and even if you have concerns about the size and speed, the tape makes up the difference.”

Meanwhile, Neal remains a fringe first round prospect, and is most likely to get selected somewhere early on Day 2. The physical safety projects as a future starter (with a high ceiling should he improve his cover skills and tackling technique), but with such a deep draft class it will be tough for Neal to sneak into the first round. 

Bullard has slid a bit on most draft boards lately, as the versatile senior has been leapfrogged by other defensive linemen with projected higher ceilings. Bullard is what he is -- a blue-collar, powerful, penetrating lineman with the ability to play inside or as a five-technique end. He was very productive in college, too, but he played through a lot of injuries and he doesn’t possess ideal size for the position. 

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April 13, 2016

Foley: "Very good chance" Florida-Miami meet in Orlando in 2019

GAINESVILLE -- Last October, reports surfaced that the Florida-Miami rivalry would likely be renewed in 2019

But after six months of radio silence, Gators athletics director Jeremy Foley essentially confirmed the rumors on Wednesday. 

The Gators and Hurricanes would meet in Orlando in the newly renovated Citrus Bowl.  

Foley told the Sun, “There’s a very good chance it will happen, but that’s not final yet.”

He later added, “I’m confident it will happen. Hopefully we’ll know something in the next couple of months.”

Florida and Miami have played just six times since the annual series was discontinued in 1987. The Hurricane beat the Gators 21-16 in 2013 -- the most recent meeting in the rivalry. 

The timing on Foley’s statement comes just one day after Florida head coach Jim McElwain was asked about playing Miami at a campus event Tuesday.

“It’s something we’ve talked about,” McElwain said. 

“There might be some things in the works, and yet, I don’t want to let the cat out of the bag there at al. It’s definitely not one of those things that we’re dodging them, I’ll say that.”

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April 09, 2016

10 takeways from UF's spring practice & Orange & Blue Debut

GAINESVILLE -- With spring camp in the books, here are 10 thoughts on Florida’s 15 practices and Friday’s Orange & Blue Debut.

1. Luke Del Rio is positioned to become Florida's ninth starting quarterback since Tim Tebow. Del Rio delivered a flawless performance in the spring game, exiting camp as the heavy favorite to out-right win UF’s latest quarterback derby. The Oregon State transfer competed 10 of 11 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns -- with the noted caveat that Del Rio was carving up second- and- third-teamers. 

Still, it was an impressive performance by the redshirt sophomore, and considering Del Rio’s experience in the system and general accuracy, it would be quite a surprise if anyone else takes the first snaps again UMass on Sept. 3. 

2. Duke Dawson could be Florida’s next star in the secondary. The junior struggled for two years seeing limited snaps, but with several standouts off now to the NFL (Vernon Hargreaves, Keanu Neal, Brian Poole), Dawson stepped up this spring and embraced a newfound opportunity. Dawson grabbed a stranglehold on the nickel-back spot with an outstanding camp, as the former safety looks much more comfortable playing inside.

Dawson flashed as an upgrade in coverage compared to Poole, picking off two passes Friday night, including a 26-yard pick-six.  

3. Florida’s pass rush shouldn’t miss a beat in the fall. The Gators’ edge rushers (veterans Bryan Cox Jr. and Jordan Sherit, along with youngsters Keivonnis Davis and Jabari Zuniga) gave UF’s offensive tackles fits Friday night, combining for 4 sacks and a forced fumble. Had it been a real game, the group likely would’ve doubled their total. 

It's been that way most of the spring, too, as Davis and Zuniga both had really solid camps, while Cox, now a redshirt senior, appears primed for a breakout season…

4. … And yet, Florida’s offensive line still needs lots of work. The Gators allowed the most sacks in the nation last season (45), and their tackles didn’t do a whole lot this spring to inspire much confidence. The interior OL appears improved, but sophomore tackle Fred Johnson had a tough spring, while starting left tackle David Sharpe was inconsistent, too. The Gators will get former five-star recruit Martez Ivey (shoulder surgery) back in the fall, and they need him to be ready to play because there aren’t many options behind Sharpe or Johnson. 

5. Kylan Johnson vaults into the mix at linebacker. Florida doesn’t have a ton of depth at linebacker, but Johnson concluded a strong spring with a standout performance Friday night. The former safety earned the start opposite of star linebacker Jarrad Davis, recording a team-high eight stops. The 6-1, 230-pound redshirt freshman also added an interception and a hurry, showcasing his versatility in the box. While Alex Anzalone is likely to start in the fall, Johnson emerged as another viable option -- especially against spread offenses.  

6. Florida’s tight ends and tailbacks will be focal points in the passing game. Throughout the spring, McElwain praised both groups’ ability to make plays and the two units showed why on Friday night. 

Of UF’s 27 completions in the spring game, 14 went to tight ends or tailbacks. C’yontai Lewis led all players with five catches for 79 yards, while JUCO-tailback Mark Thompson had three receptions for 25 yards. Lewis and DeAndre Goolsby (who caught a touchdown) are a formidable duo inside, as each tight end has the ability to challenge defenses vertically and make plays after the catch. 

7. Feleipe Franks needs to redshirt. The four-star quarterback had a disastrous debut, throwing three interceptions on his first four pass attempts. The early enrollee is swimming mentally, struggling with reads and pass-progressions. The arm talent is obvious (see: late touchdown to Lewis) but a full year to learn the system and put on some weight would do wonders for Franks’ development and future confidence. 

8. The Gators have a kicker. Eddy Pineiro wasn’t perfect Friday night, missing a pair of 50-yard field goals, but the Miami native displayed his rocket leg on nearly every kick. The JUCO-transfer bombed all his kickoffs, nailed all five PAT’s and drilled two field goals from 52+ yards. 

Florida missed five extra points last season and didn’t hit a field goal longer than 43 yards, so Pineiro already represents an instant upgrade. 

9. Many of UF’s early enrollees will see significant snaps in the fall. Along with Pineiro and Thompson, wideouts Dre Massey (2 catches for 29 yards and a score) and Joshua Hammond (3 catches for 24 yards) made plays Friday, concluding strong showings all spring by both receivers. Defensively, linebacker David Reese flashed some (3 tackles, 1 sack) and definitely should have a role on special teams. Freshman safety Chauncey Gardner remains in the mix for a starting job, too. 

10. The Gators avoided the injury bug in camp. Aside from a few minor dings, McElwain’s team didn’t sustain any devastating injuries over the last month. Several notables didn’t play much (or at all) Friday night (defensive tackle CeCe Jefferson, linebacker Daniel McMillian, wideout Ahmad Fulwood) but avoiding any serious setbacks was key for a team that still has some depth issues. 

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April 06, 2016

Gators QB Kyle Trask emerging as an intriguing project

GAINESVILLE -- Kyle Trask was a two-star recruit and a backup quarterback at Manvel High in Texas, but the 6-foot-4, 227-pound early enrollee has emerged as an interesting arm in Florida’s four-headed battle for the starting job. 

Although the freshman will almost certainly not win the competition, Trask has impressed both coaches and teammates throughout spring practice, oftentimes showcasing the best pure arm-talent of anyone in the group. 

“As far as the eye test, the kid is big and he can throw,” UF superstar cornerback Jalen Tabor said. 

“I tried to bait him into one play in the scrimmage and he baited me. He threw it right over my head, I'm like, 'Oh, I thought I had it,' but he put it right on a dime. He can definitely drop dimes."

Trask played behind D’Eriq King, a Houston signee, in high school, but Florida’s coaches were intrigued by the freshman’s measurables, competitiveness and potential upside.  

“I say this about that guy -- overtime you tried to say, ‘Well, I’m not so sure, and he did something that said you are sure,’” Gators offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier said. 

"If you just turned on the film when he played in the games and looked at his production, it’s pretty darn good now. You look at the decision making, the size, arm strength, accuracy and say, ‘What box aren’t you checking, what are we missing here.'”

Trask threw for 10 touchdowns as a senior, and while he came to UF as a project, the early enrollee is quickly overcoming his inexperience and could potentially see the field sooner than many people anticipated. 

“I love Trask,” Tabor said.

“He has the prettiest ball. Now it’s different when you get under the live bullets in the SEC. Guys like Dante Fowler, Jarvis Jones coming after you. Can you still step up in the pocket and deliver a ball to help your team win? That’s the only question I have for him.”

GRIER FINDS A LANDING SPOT

Former UF starting quarterback Will Grier transferred to West Virginia, the school announced Wednesday. Grier must sit out the 2016 season but will have two years of eligibility remaining. Grier was suspended for a calendar-year on Oct. 12 for violating the NCAA’s performance-enhancing drug policy. He later left Florida in December and it remains to be seen whether or not his suspension will run concurrently with his transfer. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 04, 2016

UF forward Devin Robinson mulling entering the NBA Draft

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s sophomore swingman Devin Robinson could test the NBA waters, according to coach Mike White. 

The Gators' 6-foot-8 forward averaged 9.0 points on 46 percent shooting in 2015-16. He shot 34 percent from 3, adding 5.7 rebounds. 

Robinson was Florida’s sixth-man for much of the season before starting the team’s final nine games of the year.

“Devin’s got a very high ceiling,” White said Monday. 

“He’s very talented. I think in the back of everyone’s mind, especially with the new rule, most guys at this level are always at least somewhat considering it. I don't know whether he declares or not but I think we find out soon."

Under the new rules, Robinson could enter the draft, participate in the combine and then decide to return to school -- so long as he doesn’t hire an agent. 

White “would like to see Devin come back,” but Florida’s coach supports any decision Robinson makes. 

“I’d like to continue coaching him,” White said, adding that Robinson is home in Virginia mulling the decision. 

“I thought he made a very big jump this year. And I think he could make a equally as big if not bigger jump next year.”

According to most draft rankings, Robinson would be wise to return to school, as DraftExpress.com ranks the forward No. 71 overall and CBSSports.com lists Robinson as the 98th best prospect

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April 02, 2016

Gators assistants recap team's second spring scrimmage

GAINESVILLE -- Florida scrimmaged for the second time this spring Friday, and according to several Gators assistants, players on both sides of the ball turned heads. 

Junior-college tailback Mark Thompson, competing with Miami natives Jordan Cronkrite and Jordan Scarlett for the carries, scored a “60 to 70 yard touchdown,” according to tight ends coach Greg Nord. 

“We had a few explosive plays that we’ve been looking for out of the offense,” he said. 

“That was good to see.” 

Nord also highlighted big plays by senior wideout Ahmad Fulwood and junior tight end DeAndre Goolsby. 

“Fulwood had a nice catch-and-run,” Nord said. 

“We had Mark [Thompson] get out and get the big run. Goolsby had a nice long catch. There were several other, which is good.”

Defensively, Florida’s secondary forced multiple turnovers Friday, not including a negated pick-six by nickelback Duke Dawson. 

“We got our hands on the ball, and we did some positive things,” UF secondary coach Torrian Gray said.

“But there were also some long plays that we got to clean up.”

Gray noted that early enrollee Chauncey Gardner, who recently moved to safety, had an interception, as did senior safety Marcus Maye. 

“Overall, we’re going to like what we’re going to put on film with the understanding that we’ve got a lot of work to still do,” Gray said. 

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March 31, 2016

Q&A: A six-pack of questions for LB coach Randy Shannon

GAINESVILLE -- Gators co-defensive coordinator and linebackers assistant Randy Shannon recently met with reporters and discussed replacing Florida’s leading tackler the last two seasons (Antonio Morrison), Jarrad Davis’ development into a star and what he expects from Alex Anzalone next season. The former Miami Hurricanes alum and head coach also identified exactly where linebackers need to improve and how Miami Norland linebacker Rayshad Jackson fits into the mix.

What exactly do you lose with Morrison off to the NFL?

 "A senior who played a lot. But it's time for other guys to step up. Daniel McMillian played a lot last year for us, there's opportunity for him to come up.” 

Are you looking for Anzalone to fill that leadership void?

“Tonio' [brought] a lot to the table. He's very energetic. We always say Tone' gets guys going. He's going to shoot guys straight. Players understood if Tone' say something to you and he didn't think it was right, it wasn't right. So you lose that aspect, but then you're gaining things with Anzalone coming back, because Anzalone played a lot last year in the early part of the season. But he's that same type of guy. … Anzalone's been practicing a little bit non-contact, but he's been going through the seven-on-seven drills, been going over the things where it's not banging. So that's where a lot of leadership comes back also.”

What makes Davis a such a productive player?

“He’s competitive like Jon Vilma was. Vilma, you couldn’t, if you played cards he’d play all night until he beat you. That’s how Jarrad is: He’ll never quit. He’s going to have to win. If you want to keep competing at dominos or a game you’re gonna be up all night with it until you let him win. Very competitive in that aspect, he takes a lot of pride in himself. Athletically he has like Jon Beason-ness, the speed and the power and stuff like that and then the knowledge like Ray [Lewis] was. He has the game. He knows what to do. He knows how to get the guys lined up, and he knows how to protect certain guys on the defense with a call or something like that.”

As a whole, where do the linebackers need to improve the most?

“Just got to get better as a unit with communicating. That’s one that we’re going to continue to stress, is communication. We always have a saying, 'If we’re all wrong, then that means we’re all right.' We all on the same defensive call, the wrong defense, that means we’re going to execute it. When you’ve got guys playing two different defenses, bad things happen. So the communication factor, we want to be on point with that.”

How you do see Jackson fitting into the mix?

“He's coming along. It’s still a learning process. But like anything, he’s going to get better if he just keeps the reps. The way we practice, Rayshad’s probably averaging about 35-40 snaps in practice, so he’s getting opportunities to get better.”

Has McMillian made a jump this offseason?

“We moved him. We moved him to strong-side linebacker. He’s doing well, phenomenal. Sometimes the secondary, it’s not, maybe have an angle of something like that. We moved him at the nickel position, we’ve played him at outside linebacker, the strong-side position. He’s adapted. He’s done well at it. We’re kind of excited about the progress, the way he’s learning. Great things ahead for us and for him, because him learning the weak-side and now he’s able to play the strong-side, now we gain two positions out of one. That’s how you build depth.”

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March 29, 2016

UF retains same offensive staff for first time since 2007 season

GAINESVILLE -- The coaching carousel in football -- both in college and the pros -- is a time of year now as much as flu season, so Florida’s second-year head coach Jim McElwain placed an extra emphasis on staff continuity this offseason as he continues to rebuild the program.

Barring any unforeseen moves, the Gators will enter the fall with the same offensive staff for the first time since the 2007 season under former coach Urban Meyer. 

“When you break down a lot of those programs that have been consistently successful, they haven’t had a ton of turnover,” McElwain said. 

"That consistency is something that is huge. For us to stick together … it’s a good thing.”

Since 2007, Florida has had 21 offensive staff changes, including six coordinators and receivers coaches. 

UF’s offensive staff in 2015 and 2016

Doug Nussmeier - Offensive Coordinator/Quaterbacks coach

Kerry Dixon - Wide Receivers coach

Tim Skipper - Tailbacks coach

Mike Summers - Offensive Line coach 

Greg Nord - Tight Ends coach

UF’s offensive staff in 2006 and 2007 

Dan Mullen - Offensive Coordinator/Quaterbacks coach

Stan Drayton - Tailbacks coach

Steve Addazio - Tight Ends/Tackles coach

Billy Gonzales - Wide Receivers coach

John Hevesy - Guards/Centers coach

This offseason, Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier rebuffed Southern Miss’ advances and decided to remain in Gainesville, while the Gators retained offensive line coach Mike Summers. Kerry Dixon (receivers), Tim Skipper (tailbacks) and Greg Nord (tight ends) all remain on staff, too. 

Continuity was good for recruiting and has been evident in camp this spring also, as the open-portions of practice have run smoother. The players aren’t swimming learning a new system again, either.  

McElwain (and Florida’s administration) smartly incentivized continuity by giving assistants multi-year contracts and retention bonuses.

Now we’ll see how much the move pays dividends in the fall. 

Florida’s offense still has plenty of question marks moving forward, but a lack of staff cohesion is no longer an issue. 

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March 28, 2016

McElwain on joining the $4 million club: "I've come a ways"

GAINESVILLE -- Nearly 30 years ago, Jim McElwain earned $4,723 in his first coaching job at Eastern Washington. 

“Still have the contract,” he said, chuckling. 

To make ends meet, Florida’s second-year head coach also “taught classes, tended bar and worked at JCPenny’s.”

“I’ve come a ways,” he said.

Truly. 

McElwain joined the $4 million coaching club in February, as Florida announced his $750,000 raise on Friday. 

The Gators’ coach now earns $4.25 million annually, becoming the highest-paid coach in the SEC East after winning the division in his first year. 

“I’ve said this before but there’s times I just walk out to practice and it’s hard to imagine I’m at the University of Florida,” McElwain said. 

"It's so good to know that your university and your administration believes in the direction that we're taking this thing. It's something that sends a message in recruiting. Just the belief in our organization and where we're going. We got a ways to go now, but I'm happy for all of us."

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March 25, 2016

McElwain gets a raise, now the highest paid coach in SEC East

GAINESVILLE -- After becoming the first Florida coach to win 10 games in his inaugural season, Jim McElwain was rewarded with a raise. 

The Gators’ second-year coach received a $750,000 bump on Feb. 1, the school announced Friday. 

McElwain, whose deal runs through 2020, is now the highest paid coach in the SEC East, earning 4.25 million annually. 

The 54-year-old coach's compensation ranks sixth overall in the conference, behind Nick Saban ($6.9 million), Kevin Sumlin ($5 million), Hugh Freeze ($4.7 million), Gus Malzahn ($4.35 million) and Les Miles ($4.3 million).

"We recognized early in Coach Mac's tenure that he totally changed the vibe around football for The Gator Nation and in the building," UF athletics director Jeremy Foley said in a statement. 

"Dr. Fuchs and I first talked about this in mid-October -- We didn't want to make it about winning one game or advancing to the SEC Championship Game.

"We wanted to make a change because of the direction of the program and his leadership. From the moment he set foot on this campus, he has steadily put into place his blueprint for the football program. His efforts have been relentless. We are very grateful to have him and his family in Gainesville."

Florida sprinted to a surprising 6-0 start in 2015, climbing as high as No. 8 in the polls. But following quarterback Will Grier’s suspension for violating the NCAA’s performance-enhancing drug policy, UF’s offense tanked and the team went 4-4 down the stretch including a three-game losing streak to end the season. 

Still, McElwain was named the SEC Coach of the Year by the Associated Press, earning a $25,000 bonus. McElwain also received bonuses for leading the Gators to the SEC Championship and the Citrus Bowl. 

"It's great to know that our university and administration believe in the direction we are taking this program,'' McElwain said in a statement. 

"This sends a strong message about the things we are putting in place and the work of the entire organization. It sends a real message in recruiting that we have the support and confidence in our long-term vision.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 24, 2016

Notebook: Celebrity sightings, scrimmage details & more

GAINESVILLE -- Florida held its first scrimmage of the spring Thursday, but Wednesday’s practice was more like a red carpet event. 

A pair of current NFL head coaches, an Oscar-winning actor and a Gators legend all visited UF's workout, with coach Jim McElwain saying “that’s pretty special having those guys around.”

Former Heisman Trophy winner and National Champion head coach Steve Spurrier was in town, stopping by practice to lend some tips to McElwain and checkout his old stomping grounds. 

“I’m glad his accountant is here, gave him a reason to be in town,” McElwain quipped.

“Had a chance to visit with him. … Sitting down, it’s awakes great to talk to him. The guy meant so much to this program, obviously, not only as a player but what he did as a coach. Let’s fact it, the guy’s a former Gator and that’s cool.”

Spurrier spent time watching Florida’s four-headed battle at quarterback, with McElwain saying Spurrier “was exited to see when had some.”

“They threw the ball well, he said. He gave me a little, good critique about throwing the corner balls when we’re down in the red zone. It’s something that we’ve definitely talked about in the staff meetings. It makes a lot of sense. Like I said, having that guy around, that’s pretty neat.”

Meanwhile, the Head Ball Coach wasn’t the only celebrity in attendance, as Oakland Raiders head coach Jack Del Rio was in town to watch his son Luke Del Rio -- the frontrunner for UF's starting quarterback job. Tagging along with Del Rio was close family friend Gene Hackmon. 

McElwain, a huge hoops fan, was floored by Hackman’s presence, calling “Hoosiers” once of his favorite films. 

“Automatic,” he said, laughing. 

Former Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, now the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, was also at Wednesday practice, as were a number of former UF players (Keanu Neal, Antonio Morrison, Demarcus Robinson) and 2017 quarterback commit Jake Allen (St. Thomas Aquinas).  

SCRIMMAGE DETAILS

Thursday’s scrimmage was closed, but McElwian said the plan was rep between 117 to 128 plays, focusing on situational work. The Gators planned to work on red zone, third down, two-minute offense and goal-line. 

INJURY REPORT

Wideouts Ahmad Fulwood (leg) and ‘Dre Massey (leg) both sat out the scrimmage, while starting center Cam Dillard (broken nose) and defensive end Justus Reed (illness) were sidelined, too. 

McElwain wasn’t sure if sophomore tailback Jordan Scarlett (hamstring) would participate but wideout C.J. Worton, who took a spill in practice Wednesday, was “good to go.”

THIS & THAT

Early-enrollee quarterbacks Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask were scheduled to receive reps with the first-team offense during Thursday’s scrimmage. … McElwain identified Dillard and left tackle David Sharpe as offensive leaders this spring. He also named star linebacker Jarrad Davis and senior defensive end Bryan Cox as players who have taken additional leadership roles, too.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 23, 2016

Q&A: A six-pack of questions for DL coach Chris Rumph

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s defensive line coach Chris Rumph recently met with reporters and discussed replacing All-American defensive tackle Jon Bullard, the emergence of interior pass-rushers CeCe Jefferson and Caleb Brantley, as well as the progression of sophomore end Keivonnis Davis, a Miami Central product. 

How has the DL performed overall so far in camp?

"Guys are really, really working hard on both sides of the ball. Definitely seeing an improvement. Guys are picking up the concepts a little better from last year. They know where to go. They understand what we're expecting, so I've been really pleased so far."

What does Bullard bring to an NFL team?

“He's just a hard worker, a student of the game, a great guy on and off the field. You're not going to have to worry about the phone ringing at night or reading something on the ticker. He's that kind of guy. He can babysit my kids."

How hard is it to replace a guy like that?

"They say it was hard to replace Dante [Fowler Jr.], but Jon stepped up. So somebody will have to step up and be whoever that guy is this year. But at first it has to be a committee, and then hopefully one of those young guys or one of the old heads will take the bull by the horn and run with it."

Has Brantley seized that opportunity? 

“Caleb just made up his mind mentally that he wants to be a player. He's not giving in to some of the things from before. He's conditioning, being in shape and pushing."

What is Jefferson’s strength as a pass rusher?

“He's a guy that can play all four positions if he really wanted to. To have a guy like that inside is going to create some problems for people."

How has Davis progressed since last season?

“Tremendously. That guy's done a really good job of just picking up the defense. The other guys have done a good job of just coaching him up, helping him, calming him down and just giving him confidence in himself and his own abilities. … He’s picking up his scheme, he’s slowing down and he’s playing within himself. He’s not out there reaching and trying to do something outside the framework of the defense.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

 

March 22, 2016

Times, notes & quotes from Florida's annual Pro Day

Unnamed-1

GAINESVILLE -- The Gators held their annual Pro Day on Tuesday. 

Vernon Hargreaves III and Jon Bullard dominated the day, as 15 former Florida players participated in the showcase. 

Here are some unofficial results, as well as sights and sounds from the event. 

(UNOFFICIAL) 40-YARD DASH TIMES 

SS Keanu Neal: 4.52

WR Demarcus Robinson: 4.58

DB Brian Poole: 4.49 

LB Antonio Morrison: 5.0

TE Jake McGee: 4.76

Unnamed

NOTES

* Morrison, who missed the NFL Combine due to an illness, had 23 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press -- that would’ve been the third-best mark in Indianapolis. McGee, who also sat out the combine, showed well in positional drills, flashing his strong hands and a sleeker physique.

* Robinson clocked an almost identical 40-time as to what he ran in Indy (4.59). His vertical jump, 20-yard shuttle and broad jump were basically the same, too. 

* Tailback Kelvin Taylor improved his bench press by two reps, hitting 17 on Tuesday. 

* Defensive end Alex McCalister gained six pounds (up to 245) from his measurements at the combine. 

* Hargreaves is meeting with the Jacksonville Jaguars on April 5 and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on April 7. 

* Neal said he received a second-round draft grade by the NFL Advisory Committee. 

* Brian Poole has meetings lined up with New England, Tennessee, Arizona and others. 

QUOTEABLES

“This is for real. This is crazy.’ It was exciting, sitting in front of John Elway and sitting right in front of him and talking ball with him. It’s a dream come true. You’ve got this Hall of Famer and you’re sitting right in front of him talking ball just chatting it up. It’s still surreal to me honestly. I’m really humbled and blessed to have this opportunity.”

-- Safety Keanu Neal 

“The type of guy like me, these numbers and all that stuff ain’t going to show what type of player I am. You put the film on to see what type of guy I am. I’m a competitor. For what I had, I could have easily said I wasn’t going to do any of this stuff, but I’m a competitor and I wanted to come out here and compete with guys I’ve been doing it with for four years.”

-- Linebacker Antonio Morrison

“I'm kind of late first, early second [round] guy, so I don't want to be that guy sitting there [alone in the green room].”

-- Defensive tackle Jon Bullard 

FORMER GATORS IN THE HOUSE

A number of former Florida players came out and supported their buddies and old teammates Tuesday, including Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd, Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam, Washington Redskins tailback Matt Jones, San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Trenton Brown and Tennessee Titans safety Cody Riggs.

Chris Rainey, Tevin Westbrook and Mack Brown were also in attendance.

“Isn’t that cool,” UF coach Jim McElwain said. 

“I love it. As I’ve said, look I just happen to be sitting in the chair. These former players are the ones that put this program together. To see all of them come out and support their former teammates, I just really think that’s the way it should be. That’s what family is all about.” 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 21, 2016

Notebook: Pineiro progressing, Fulwood identified as a leader

GAINESVILLE -- Eddy Pineiro didn’t miss a kick in his first ever practice at Florida, and the Gators’ second-year head coach Jim McElwain continues to be impressed by his new specialist. 

“He’s been doing good,” McElwain said. 

“The operation times have steadily come down. It’s something that we needed to really work on from the start of practice.”

The Gators finished 2015 with the nation’s second-worst field goal percentage (41.2), missing 10 of 17 kicks. Now they hope the Miami native is the answer to their woes. 

Pineiro, the nation's No. 1 JUCO kicker in the 2016 class, is UF’s sole scholarship kicker in spring camp after the much-maligned Austin Hardin left the program.   

While Pineiro boasts a rocket leg, he’s has never kicked in a live game, so McElwain is using the spring as a vital preparation period for the fall. 

“We're putting him in situations every day where he doesn't quite know when it's going to happen,” McElwain said. 

“So his understanding that you kind of have to be ready throughout the practice or just like a game. You never know when those kicks are going to come. The thing I've been happy with is the operation times have come down. He's starting to move on the ball a little quicker. It's great to see the ball really get up as quick as it does off his foot."

THIS & THAT

McElwain expects junior wideout Alvin Bailey (back) and junior defensive end Jordan Sherit (hamstring/leg) to return to practice this week, but UF’s coach also complimented JUCO-wideout ‘Dre Massey and sophomore end Keivonnis Davis for their strong work filling in for the injured players. … Senior Ahmad Fulwood was mentioned as a leader in the receivers group by McElwain. … Florida’s coach said the spring is an excellent opportunity to work on special teams fundamentals, specifically mentioning “the competition piece” that comes with the various drills. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 20, 2016

Florida Gators OC Doug Nussmeier: "This is a special place"

GAINESVILLE -- For just the second time in the last six years, the Florida Gators will have the same offensive coordinator for two straight seasons. 

They almost didn’t, though. 

In late January, Doug Nussmeier was considered the frontrunner for the opening at Southern Miss. The former offensive coordinator at Alabama and Michigan interviewed for the head coaching job but ultimately decided to stay at Florida. 

He explained why on Friday. 

“This is a special place,” Nussmeier said. 

“My family and I feel very blessed and fortunate to be here. There is not a day that goes by that we don’t feel fortunate to be a part of such a great program with a great tradition. It’s an honor to walk out here everyday and be the OC.”

The Gators finished the 2015 season with the nation’s No. 112 total offense (just 334.0 yards per game), as the Oct. 12 suspension to starting quarterback Will Grier zapped any early season progress. Florida ended the year on a three-game losing streak and scored just a single touchdown in blowout losses to Florida State, Alabama and Michigan.  

Still, Nussmeier’s offense flashed some potential, and the 45-year-old assistant is confident his unit can build on some of its early season’s successes -- especially with a deeper talent pool at quarterback, running back and receiver in 2016. 

“Southern Miss was an opportunity that presented itself,” he said. 

“I just felt good about what we’re starting to develop here. We’re still a ways away. But I felt really good about our situation here and the things we’re going to be able to accomplish over time.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 17, 2016

Caleb Brantley: "I feel like I'm the best d-lineman in the country"

GAINESVILLE -- The Florida Gators have had a defensive lineman selected in the first round of the NFL Draft for three straight seasons, and and former UF standout Jon Bullard could make it four in a row this April. 

Now, another Gators defensive lineman is already chasing his own future first-round dreams. 

Caleb Brantley was a productive player as a redshirt sophomore in 2015, but the 6-2, 300-pound tackle was often overshadowed by Florida’s other defensive stars. 

Not anymore. 

After racking up 29 tackles, 6.5 TFL and three sacks last season, Brantley is ready to become a household name. 

“I feel like I’m the best d-lineman in the country,” he said. 

“So I’m going to go out and try to prove it.”

Last season, UF’s coaches praised Brantley for his improved motor, practice habits and unselfishness. He’s only getting better this spring. 

“I’ve been really happy with Caleb,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. 

“I think Jon Bullard did a great job kind of teaching him what it so to be that person. So far, he’s been really good this offseason.”

Brantley has come along way in four years, developing from a moody and raw playmaker into a reliable leader and budding star. He learned a lot from Bullard and is now paying it forward with sophomore stud CeCe Jefferson and the rest of UF’s defensive linemen. He’s accepted he’ll be double-teamed on nearly every snap, too. 

“[Bullard taught me how to be a leader, a role model to the younger guys. Always do stuff right,” he said.

“I can’t be selfish, you feel me? If you’re good, you’re going to get double-teamed nine out of 10 times. It’s a chance for other guys to step up. I’m not the only one on the d-line that’s a hell-raiser.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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