With Florida nearing the end of spring practice, injuries are starting to take a toll on the offensive line and the Gators’ annual spring game could look more like a glorified practice as a result.
The depth up front has been an issue since Will Muschamp took over for Urban Meyer as UF’s coach. Practices in spring and fall have had to be adjusted, and that helped lead to what Muschamp called a “soft” football team following the 2011 season.
The number of scholarship players along the offensive line has increased to 11, but the problem has returned this spring because of a litany of injuries. Returning starters Chaz Green (ankle) and Jon Halapio (knee) are still recovering from offseason surgeries, as is backup Ian Silberman (shoulder). Sophomore Trip Thurman just went down last week with a shoulder injury that Muschamp said “doesn’t look good,” transfer Max Garcia has been limited with a back issue and fellow sophomore Jessamen Dunker remains suspended due to multiple run-ins with the law.
“What’s really hurt us is on the offensive line,” Muschamp said Tuesday. “Really right now we’ve got six healthy guys.”
The lack of depth has prevented Florida from running many full-squad, 11-on-11 snaps in practice, something that Muschamp said could carryover into the team’s scrimmage this Saturday and the spring game on Apr. 6.
“It’s tough right now on those guys and now it’s even harder to get scrimmage snaps because of the lack of numbers at those positions,” he said. “We’re adjusting as we go as far as this coming Saturday and even with the spring game, it may be more of a practice-like atmosphere for what we’re going to do.”
Muschamp said there will be more work on fundamentals with individual players, as well as 1-on-1s and 7-on-7 drills. In Saturday’s scrimmage, Florida ran between 30 and 40 snaps of live football with full squads. That number is closer to what fans should expect during the spring game, not the 120-130 the Gators ran last year during scrimmages and the spring game.
“What’s hard for the offensive line is just taking 60 straight snaps,” Muschamp
said. “That’s kind of difficult for just five guys to take that. I think if
we’re incorporating within the scrimmage some 7-on-7, some special teams
periods, where we just concentrate and let those guys get a break. … Last
spring, we’d go 120-130 snaps in a scrimmage. You can’t do that with five
offensive linemen. That won’t be good.”
Taylor still ‘swimming’
During Saturday’s scrimmage, freshman running back Kelvin Taylor (Glades Day) caught a short screen pass, made one move and took it 40 yards to the end zone for a touchdown.
The score showed exactly why Taylor racked up record after record in high school and was one of the most coveted backs in the 2013 recruiting class. Muschamp called it a “really nice play” and a display of Taylor’s “natural running instincts.”
Still, expecting Taylor to see the field early and often this fall might be a bit optimistic. Taylor, like many other early enrollee freshmen, is still struggling to pick up the offense at this point, Muschamp said.
“Kelvin Taylor has really nice, natural running instincts – he just has to learn what to do and where to go,” Muschamp said. “The tempo of practice, the speed of the practice, the installation, it’s all a mess right now. … All of those guys right now are swimming. … They’re drinking water out of a fire hose right now.”
Taylor is currently battling for carries with junior Mack Brown, as sophomore Matt Jones appears to be the frontrunner for Florida’s starting running back job in 2013. And, according to Muschamp, he will have to earn those carries.
“Any freshman and any player that hasn't played a lot, you're challenging them all,” he said. “I always tell the guys, 'You've got to earn your stripes around here.' That's kind of my process, but it's not just one guy, there's a bunch of guys that need to do that.”
Roberson earns praise
Asked to identify players that have caught his eye this spring, Muschamp mentioned cornerback Marcus Roberson, which was somewhat surprising considering Roberson has started 14 games in two seasons at Florida.
But Muschamp said he was impressed with the growth Roberson has made in the offseason. A lean player coming out of Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas, Roberson has now bulked up to around 195 pounds.
“He's changed his upper body,” Muschamp said. “It's gotten stronger. He's better on the line of scrimmage in press. He's more disruptive on receivers and routes. I think he's made some strides.”
Freshman wide receiver Demarcus Robinson suffered a high ankle sprain last week in practice. He is currently in a walking boot to stabilize the injury, and Muschamp said he is unsure when Robinson will return to practice.
Sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard is still considered day-to-day with a hamstring injury, and Muschamp said he hopes that Bullard will be able to return for Saturday’s scrimmage.
Linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) and cornerback/safety Cody Riggs (hamstring) are both considered day-to-day as well.