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2 posts from August 3, 2014

August 03, 2014

Gators confident, ready to move on from abysmal 2013

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


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