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August 01, 2013

Media Day notebook: Injuries snowball for Gators

GAINESVILLE -- So much for chemistry.

Florida will kickoff Friday’s training camp without one-third of its starting offense, coach Will Muschamp announced Thursday during UF’s annual Media Day in Touchdown Terrance at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel remains sidelined recovering from appendectomy surgery, but the major revelations involved starting sophomore tailback Matt Jones and first-team guards Jon Halapio and Max Garcia.

Muschamp exited SEC Media Days on July 16 confident he had a healthy football team entering the fall, but the situation has drastically changed in the weeks since.

Jones -- an anticipated breakout star -- is out “indefinitely” with a serious viral infection, and Muschamp could give no timetable on his return.

When asked if Jones was discouraged or disappointed, Muschamp said, “10 percent of life is what happens to you, 90 percent is what you do with it. There’s no better kid in that locker room.”

As for the Gators’ starting offensive linemen, Halapio partially tore a pectoral muscle three days after attending SEC Media Days and will miss at least the first week of camp. Florida’s senior guard will not need surgery but a definitive return timetable won’t be determined until a doctor’s appointment next Friday. Garcia, a Maryland transfer, is out due to a recurring back injury (inflammation) and won’t be cleared for contact until Aug. 6.

Muschamp did not seem overly concerned with the sudden rash of injuries, curbing any potential gloom and doom by saying, “We’ll be fine. …I worry about the things I can control. The guys that are on the field, we’re going to coach them hard and we’re going to have a good football team. I can’t wait for tomorrow.”

There was some positive injury-related news shed too, as linebackers Ronald Powell (ACL), Matt Rolin (ACL) and Alex Anzalone (torn labrum) are all fully cleared for camp.

“They’ll be full-speed,” Muschamp said. “We’ll monitor their reps, obviously, as we work through camp.”

CHECKIN’ IN

The Gators will open the 2013 season ranked in a familiar spot.

Florida debuted at No. 10 in the USA Today Coaches Poll; the same position it finished the 2012 campaign.

Thursday’s preseason rankings are the highest for the Gators since 2010 (No. 3).

Muschamp was particularly impressed, bitingly quipping, "It's really important."

UF was one of five Southeastern Conference schools in the coaches’ top 10, including Alabama (No. 1), Georgia (No. 5), Texas A&M (No. 6) and South Carolina (No. 7).

In addition to squaring off against eastern division foes Georgia and South Carolina, Florida will also play intra-state rival Florida State (No. 12) and LSU (No. 13).

The Associated Press poll is scheduled for release on Aug. 17.

STILL SUSPENDED

Sophomore linebacker Antonio Morrison remains suspended and will not be in camp until a later date. 

NEWEST GRAD ASSISTANTS

The Gators announced former defensive end Duke Lemmens (2007-10) and quarterback Chris Leak (2003-06) were both accepted into graduate school and will be assistants for Florida this fall.

Both ex-players received rather hasty promotions after originally serving as quality-control coaches (glorified interns) during the spring and summer periods.

As graduate assistants, Leak and Lemmens are now allowed to work with players during practice.

Under NCAA guidelines, quality-control coaches are permitted to scout opponents and break down film, but cannot have any contact or access with players during practice sessions.    

Meanwhile, former Florida All-American Mike Peterson (1995-98) will be around the program as he completes his undergraduate degree requirements.

QUOTABLE 

“A woodpecker is never going to have a concussion. I bet you didn’t know that. That’s a true story. They have an extra bone in their neck. You learn something new every day.”

            --- Muschamp on injury recovery time being different for every player

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

A Skinny Six-Pack: Florida’s Fall Camp Primer

The Gators open training camp on Friday with coach Will Muschamp’s (now annual) split-squad schedule -- freshmen and various other underclassmen are separated from the rest of the team for the first couple of days.

UF will practice in full pads for the first time on Tuesday, Aug. 6.

Later this afternoon, the team will host Media Day to kick-start the season. But before we meet with players and coaches, here’s a quick preview of UF’s training camp.

FIVE STORYLINES TO FOLLOW

 1. Will this be the year a productive wideout finally emerges? Probably not. Maybe. We’ll see. Muschamp worked tirelessly to infuse Florida’s black hole position with new talent (five freshmen) and an improved coach (former UK head coach Joker Phillips). Demarcus Robinson is the anticipated savior, but so was Andre Debose four years ago. 

2. Is the looming rivalry game versus Miami (Sep. 7) already on Florida’s mind? Last season, the Gators swore they approached every opponent/game the same way. Malarkey. Rewind the Louisiana-Lafayette tape. The Gators kickoff the season against a respectable Toledo team, but where will their heads truly be?

3. What will Loucheiz Purifoy’s offensive role truly look like? Muschamp says the versatile junior will play both ways. How much?  

4. Is Ronald Powell primed to be a (once-promised) breakout star? The linebacker returns to action following two ACL injuries, a year away from football and a position change (now a strongside linebacker).

5. How long is Antonio Morrison’s suspension, and who (potentially) temporarily replaces him? The likely answer to the latter is redshirt junior (and career-backup) Michael Taylor. As for Morrison, the charges against him have been dropped so does Muschamp reduce the punishment with his own “as of right now” escape clause?

FIVE POSITION BATTLES TO WATCH

1. Safety – It’s not just one spot to fill, but two. Matt Elam and Josh Evans are off to the league, while De’Ante ‘Pop’ Saunders was (not-so) kindly asked to transfer. With ridiculous depth at cornerback, senior Jaylen Watkins is an obvious candidate (size, experience) to fill one void. The other? Redshirt freshman Marcus Maybe is probably the frontrunner following a nice spring, but Muschamp is super high on promising freshmen Marcell Harris and Keanu Neal.

2. Right tackle – It’s a Chaz Green vs. Nebraska-transfer Tyler Moore showdown. Plagued by injuries and inconsistencies, Green, a redshirt-junior, would likely be the backup if the season started today. But it doesn’t and the kid does possess some talent. Moore struggled early in spring practice before ultimately working his way back into football shape, while Green missed the entire camp recovering from ankle surgery.

3. Tight end – There’s not exactly a who’s who collection of studs here. Quarterback Jeff Driskel will certainly miss his safety valve and favorite target, Jordan Reed, and Florida will be hard-pressed to duplicate Reed’s production (team-leading 45 receptions in 2012) even spread amongst a group that includes Clay Burton, Colin Thompson and Kent Taylor. Burton and Thompson are blocking-oriented tight ends, while Taylor has potential as an athletic flex-option but the staff has openly questioned his toughness.

4. Backup quarterback – Florida’s uninspiring group of quarterbacks face a unique opportunity with Driskel sidelined for the first couple weeks of camp. Tyler Murphy (RSJR) seems content in his role as a career backup, but it’s not a given he will beat out freshmen Skyler Morhinweg and/or Max Staver. Also entering the group is former Ole Miss signee and San Diego Padres pro prospect, Chris Wilkes. With heralded recruit Will Grier entering the fray in 2014, it’s not exactly a loser leaves town battle, but it’s pretty close.

5. Kicker – Caleb Sturgis was the best kicker in UF history, a lifesaver for UF’s offense in 2012 and an All-American. Austin Hardin, a redshirt freshman, and Brad Phillips, a walk-on senior, won’t win any awards in 2013.

FIVE NEWCOMERS TO MONITOR

1. WR Marqui Hawkins – Robinson aside, fellow freshmen receivers Alvin Bailey and Ahmad Fulwood have received the majority of preseason hype, but Hawkins may be the most polished of the three.

2. LB Daniel McMillian – An early enrollee and potential weakside linebacker starter by midseason.    

3. RB Kelvin Taylor – The state’s all-time leading rusher and son of former Florida great Fred Taylor.

4. CB Vernon Hargreaves III UF’s most heralded recruit in the 2013 class. An instant impact performer.

5. TE Trevon Young – A late addition to UF’s most recent recruiting class. He’s a monster (6’6, 270) who can move well for his size, but he’s raw. Really raw.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

 


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