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.  

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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.

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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.    

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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. 

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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.

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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. 

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 2.17.36 PM

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. 

Screen Shot 2014-08-02 at 2.15.50 PM

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

July 31, 2014

About that summer optimism: Gators unranked in preseason coaches' poll

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GAINESVILLE -- For the first time since 1991, Florida will open the season unranked in the USA TODAY preseason Amway coaches' poll. 

The poll, released Thursday, included seven Southeastern Conference teams -- four (No. 2 Alabama, No. 9 South Carolina, No. 12 Georgia, No. 13 LSU) on UF's schedule. 

In all, the Gators will square off against five teams in the top 15, most notably a year-end trip to No. 1 Florida State, the defending national champions. 

Florida received the second-most "others" votes (tallying 122), just barely missing being named a ranked team despite coming off its worst season since 1979. 

Also: Miami received 45 "others" votes, while Central Florida, fresh off a 12-1 year, tallied 102 votes. For the complete poll, including the coaches who participate, click the link

For those unaware: The coaches poll is merely for entertainment purposes only this season, as the poll will not be (at least officially) utilized by the new playoff selection committee. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

July 30, 2014

UConn, Kansas highlight UF's non-conference hoops schedule

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida released its 2014-15 men’s basketball non-conference schedule Wednesday, with a rematch against reigning national champion Connecticut highlighting the strong slate. 

The Gators close out their non-conference schedule hosting the Huskies on Jan. 3. UConn ended UF’s season with a 63-53 victory in the Final Four, snapping Florida’s school-record 30-game winning streak. 

"You learn a lot about yourselves as a team when you are challenged early in the season," coach Billy Donovan said in a statement. 

"Those experiences have really helped us in the NCAA Tournament the past several seasons."

The Gators, who will play at least three games against 2014 NCAA Tournament teams, open at home against a stout William & Mary squad (Nov. 14) before hosting in-state rival Miami later in the week (Nov. 17). Florida will also play at Florida State a day before New Years Eve (Dec. 30). 

As previously announced, UF is participating in the Battle 4 Atlantis, a Thanksgiving week trip to the Bahamas with potential matchups against powerhouses North Carolina, Georgetown, UCLA, Wisconsin and others. 

UF will also visit Kansas on Dec. 5 as part of a return trip in the SEC/BIG 12 Challenge. 

FLORIDA'S 2014-15 NON-CONFERENCE SCHEDULE 

Nov. 6 - Barry (exhibition)

Nov. 14 - William & Mary

Nov. 17 - Miami 

Nov. 21 - Louisiana-Monroe

Nov. 26-28 - Battle 4 Atlantis (UCLA, UAB, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Georgetown, Wisconsin, Butler), Paradise Island, Bahamas

Dec. 5 - at Kansas 

Dec. 8 - Yale

Dec. 12 - Texas Southern 

Dec. 14 - Jacksonville 

Dec. 20 - Wake Forest (Orange Bowl Classic), Sunrise, Fla. 

Dec. 30 - at Florida State

Jan. 3 - Connecticut 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

July 29, 2014

Gators nab three-star standout

GAINESVILLE -- A day after a fourth verbal pledge decommitted and four-star tailback prospect Ray-Ray McCloud III spurned Florida's interest, an unheralded Jacksonville wideout finally delivered the Gators some positive recruiting news. 

Three-star receiver/hybrid tight end Kalif Jackson (Duncan U. Fletcher) verbally committed to Florida on Tuesday, becoming the eighth member of UF's 2015 class. 

According to Rivals, Jackson -- who projects as a fit in offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's 'B' position -- starred at Florida's Friday Night Lights showcase, quickly receiving an offer. Within days, the wiry 6-foot-4, 202-pounder committed, telling Rivals he is "solid to Florida." 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

July 28, 2014

UF recruiting update: No forward progress

GAINESVILLE -- Friday Night Lights came and went this past weekend, and at least for the moment, Florida’s recruiting momentum seems to be heading in the reverse direction. 

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

This post became dated in less than an hour, as four-star cornerback Marcus Lewis offically decommitted from the Gators on Monday afternoon. 

Lewis, Florida's second-highest rated verbal pledge, tweeted today:

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 1.00.09 PM

According to Rivals, Lewis visted Michigan over the weekend. 

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

For the third time in nine days, the Gators lost a 2015 prospect to a public decommitment on Twitter. 

Orlando West Orange athlete Jalen Julius, who attended UF’s weekend showcase, reopened his options a mere two days later. 

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 11.17.51 AMAccording to recruiting experts, the three-star prospect hopes to play receiver in college but was recruited by Florida as a defensive back. 

A week ago, Tristan Payton, a three-star wideout from First Coast, announced his decommitment from the Gators -- also on Twitter.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 11.20.53 AM
The Gators, with just eight seven prospects verbally pledged for 2015, have plummeted in Rivals’ team rankings, checking in at No. 35 nationally. However, Florida is ranked 10th in the country in average star rating (3.5). 

While July has been a turbulent month on the recruiting trail, Florida is reasonably optimistic for the near future. 

First, four-star tailback Ray-Ray McCloud III (Tampa Sickles) is set to announce his decision later tonight.

McCloud -- the nation’s No. 26 overall prospect according to Rivals -- attended Friday Night Lights and is considered a Florida lean  committed to Clemson. 

On Friday, four-star linebacker Adonis Thomas (Central Gwinnett, Ga.) will announce his decision -- a dogfight between Florida and Alabama according to most recruitniks. 

Meanwhile, the Gators are reportedly in the lead (or near the top) for Rivals100 prospects Byron Cowart (five-star defensive end/Armwood), CeCe Jefferson (five-star defensive end/Bake County), George Campbell (four-star wideout/East Lake) and Martez Ivey (four-star tackle/Apopka), but with enough uncertainty surrounding coach Will Muschamp this fall, Florida’s on-field success in 2014 will ultimately determine the ceiling of its 2015 class.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

July 25, 2014

Brown commits using live prop, Friday Night Lights set to start

Friday_Night_Lights_Camp_Florida_Gator_Recruiting-940-wplok(Courtesy gatorcountry.com)

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s annual recruiting extravaganza Friday Night Lights kicks off later today, but before the festivities even begin the Gators received some early good news. 

Cincinnati (OH) offensive lineman George Brown, Jr. verbally pledged his commitment to Florida -- and I’ve purposely buried the lede here -- announcing his decision by taking out a live baby gator during a ceremony at his high school. 

 

Brown, a four-star prospect according to Rivals, chose UF over finalists Kentucky and Alabama and is the Gators' ninth commit in their 2015 class. 

Screen Shot 2014-07-25 at 3.27.31 PMMeanwhile, Florida could receive a flurry of other commitments tonight, as (according to multiple reports) the Gators will host top prospects from the 2015 and 2016 classes including 2015 notables four-star wideout George Campbell (East Lake), four-star tailback Dexter Williams (West Orange; also a Miami commit), four-star tailback Ray-Ray McCloud III (Sickles) and four-star linebacker Jeffery Holland (Trinity Christian). Five-star defensive end Byron Cowart (Armwood) is among others rumored to attend. 

********** Again, I am not a recruiting expert/analyst/writer, but I will update the blog anytime news breaks of a new Gators commit. ********** 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

July 21, 2014

An examination: Most complete team?

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GAINESVILLE -- A week ago, Boom went bold.

Last Monday at SEC Media Days, Florida coach Will Muschamp made headlines when he confidently stated, “This is the most complete team we’ve had since I’ve been at UF.”

It was hardly a push the chips to the center of the table moment -- this is July after all and the annual circus event in Hoover ups the ante on any traditional customary bloviating by 400 percent. 

But the comment sparked turned heads because the Gators were so dreadful last season.  Muschamp, who embraced the hot-seat scuttle in Hoover, wasn’t haranguing delusions of grandeur but he wasn’t projecting false hope, either.

Florida’s roster is loaded with quality. According to Rivals’ rankings, the Gators have 49 players who entered college as four-stars or better.

But stockpiling prospects doesn’t necessarily equate to “the most complete team.”

The Gators need help today. Not tomorrow. 

There’s little doubt if Muschamp should be replaced at season’s end, whoever inherits Florida’s roster will be giddy about the immediate future. Gators fans have long shared ambivalent feelings towards Coach Boom, and a comment even slightly raising the stakes (or hope) strike at the heart of their contradictory thoughts.

I joked on Twitter Muschamp’s statement was incorrect. Case closed. 

Screen Shot 2014-07-21 at 11.20.29 AMWas it though?

An examination… 

QUARTERBACK

ADV: 2014

On the surface it’s Jeff Driskel’s potential versus Jeff Driskel’s linear development, but the talent behind Florida’s starting signal caller this fall is much stronger (Will Grier, Treon Harris). The fact Driskel is finally in an offense that can maximize his skills is another benefit.

RUNNING BACK

ADV: 2014 (if ever so slightly)

The Gators are super deep at tailback this fall, but in 2012, Mike Gillislee rushed for over 1,000 yards averaging 4.72 yards per attempt. Ultimately, the stable of tailbacks (Kelvin Taylor, Mack Brown, Adam Lane, Matt Jones) + the (theoretical) eradication of Murderball (cc: Bill Connelly) top a lone wolf. 

WIDE RECEIVER 

ADV: 2014 

The wideout position is easily Florida’s biggest strength compared to two years ago. Sophomores Demarcus Robinson, Chris Thompson and Ahmad Fulwood stand as emerging playmakers, while senior wideout Quinton Dunbar is the same ho-hum possession receiver he was two years ago -- when he was Florida’s top option at the position. 

TIGHT END 

ADV: PUSH

Jordan Reed was a second-team All-SEC performer in 2012 and standout rookie in the NFL last year. Although Virginia transfer Jake McGee could reasonably replicate Reed’s stats (45 rec., 559 yrds) in Kurt Roper’s spread attack, the promising talent behind the former Cavalier (C’yontai Lewis, DeAndre Goolsby) is eerily similar to the hyped outlook for former freshmen Kent Taylor and Colin Thompson. 

OFFENSIVE LINE

ADV: PUNT (or 2012)

It’s the difficult choice between a pair of pu-pu platters, but Florida’s line this fall is scary thin and starts a center who’s never played center, a pair of tackles who can’t stay healthy and a guard who’s 6-9, 350-pounds. Two seasons ago, the Gators’ line barely mitigated disaster; so again, this is like comparing the best Adam Sandler flicks since 1999.

DEFENSIVE LINE 

ADV: 2012

Florida started three former five-star recruits (Dominique Easley, Omar Hunter, Sharrif Floyd) and brought a pair of freshmen five-star studs (Dante Fowler Jr., Jon Bullard) off the bench. The Gators’ youthful front this fall could be stout, but UF’s 2012 contingent was a menacing, seasoned group.

LINEBACKERS

ADV: PUSH

2012 had the vets (Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins, Lerentee McCray) and 2014 has all the promise (Jarrad Davis, Daniel McMillian, Matt Rolin). Bostic was a steady force, but Davis is a natural breakout candidate this fall. How well Antonio Morrison rebounds from a rough 2013 will go a long way in determining the actual upside of the unit.

DEFENSIVE BACKS

ADV: 2012

Vernon Hargreaves III is possibly the best corner in the nation, but he can’t cover the entire field solo. Florida’s secondary is a gluttonous group (Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson, Duke Dawson, J.C. Jackson) but the 2012 unit was ridiculous also. To wit: Matt Elam, Josh Evans, (a mentally engaged) Loucheiz Purifoy, Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins and De’Ante Saunders.

SPECIALISTS

ADV: 2012

Caleb Sturgis and Kyle Christy were All-Americans in 2012. The Gators’ kickers were so dreadful last season they replaced their special teams coach after just one year in Gainesville. Really, enough said. Sixth-year senior Andre Debose should reprise his ‘12 role as UF’s electric return man, but Solomon Patton actually averaged more yards per return last season than Debose ever has in his career.

FINAL SCORECARD 

2012: 3 (DL, DB, SPEC.)

2014: 3 (QB, RB, WR)

2 pushes (TE, LB); 1 punt (OL).

Ultimately, Muschamp believes this is his most complete team because he believes he’s actually found a functional offense. The purely (unscientific) prospect talent base in 2012 versus 2014 is almost negligible (48 four-stars or better in 2012; 49 in 2014), but two years ago the Gators knew they had a rock-star defense and this year they simply hope they do.

Offensively, UF’s talent pool is better now and in a LOST-like alternate universe its attack could actually be more consistent than its defense. But Florida’s margins remain thin. Although the ceiling on this year’s team could be higher than a group that went 11-2, its floor is definitely lower.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

July 17, 2014

Gators picked third in East, place four on All-SEC teams

29906170001_3674908922001_USATSI-7988975(Will Muschamp | usatoday.com)

GAINESVILLE -- While Will Muschamp & Co. are openly confident heading into the 2014 campaign, members of the conference media remain unconvinced of a dramatic turnaround in Gainesville. 

The Southeastern Conference media picked Florida to finish third in the Eastern Division, the league announced Thursday.  UF was one of six schools in the league that did not receive a single vote to win the conference. 

The Gators had just four players named to the preseason All-SEC teams, led by first-team standouts Dante Fowler Jr. (defensive end) and Vernon Hargreaves III (cornerback).

Sixth-year senior wideout Andre Debose was named a preseason second-team return specialist, while senior right tackle Chaz Green was named to the third team. 

PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH

EAST

1. South Carolina

2. Georgia

3. Florida

4. Missouri

5. Tennessee

6. Vanderbilt

7. Kentucky

WEST

1. Alabama

2. Auburn

3. LSU

4. Ole Miss

5. Mississippi State

6. Texas A&M

7. Arkansas

OFFENSE

First-Team

QB       Nick Marshall, Auburn (241)          

RB        T.J. Yeldon, Alabama (281)        

RB        Todd Gurley, Georgia (280)         

WR      Amari Cooper, Alabama (282)       

WR      Sammie Coates, Auburn (207)                    

TE        O.J. Howard, Alabama (188)                 

OL        La'el Collins, LSU (231)              

OL        Arie Kouandjio, Alabama (188)      

OL        Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss (183)       

OL        Cedric Ogbuehi, Texas A&M (174)      

C          Reese Dismukes, Auburn (226)           

Second-Team

QB       Dak Prescott, Mississippi State (118)      

RB        Mike Davis, South Carolina (240)        

RB        Alex Collins, Arkansas (126)     

WR      Laquon Treadwell, Ole Miss (182)        

WR      Malcolm Mitchell, Georgia (71)       

TE        C.J. Uzomah, Auburn (141)       

OL        A.J. Cann, South Carolina (166)       

OL        Vadal Alexander, LSU (112)     

OL        Alex Kozan, Auburn (112)     

OL        Corey Robinson, South Carolina (107)     

C          Ryan Kelly, Alabama (126)                  

Third-Team

QB       Bo Wallace, Ole Miss (94)                  

RB        Corey Grant, Auburn (52)       

RB        Keith Marshall, Georgia (44)    

WR      Jameon Lewis, Mississippi State (67)         

WR      Marquez North, Tennessee (66)     

TE        Hunter Henry, Arkansas (72)          

OL        Austin Shepherd, Alabama (106)

OL        Chad Slade, Auburn (101)

OL        John Theus, Georgia (96)

OL        Chaz Green, Florida (94)    

C          Evan Boehm, Missouri (77)        

DEFENSE

First-Team

DL        Robert Nkemdiche, Ole Miss (239)         

DL        Dante Fowler, Jr., Florida (212)      

DL        A'Shawn Robinson, Alabama (208)      

DL        Gabe Wright, Auburn (192)    

LB        Trey DePriest, Alabama (253)       

LB        A.J. Johnson, Tennessee (186)         

LB        Ramik Wilson, Georgia (147)        

DB       Landon Collins, Alabama (274)      

DB       Vernon Hargreaves, III, Florida (243)       

DB       Cody Prewitt, Ole Miss (210)      

DB       Deshazor Everett, Texas A&M (183)

Second-Team

DL        Trey Flowers, Arkansas (181)              

DL        Chris Jones, Mississippi State (150)      

DL        Alvin "Bud" Dupree, Kentucky (134)    

DL        Markus Golden, Missouri (125)   

LB        Benardrick McKinney, Mississippi State (143)     

LB        Jordan Jenkins, Georgia (137)       

LB        Denzel Nkemdiche, Ole Miss (116)       

DB       Robenson Therezie, Auburn (144)      

DB       Tre'Davious White, LSU (141)       

DB       Damian Swann, Georgia (127)      

DB       Tony Conner, Ole Miss (116)       

Third-Team

DL        Ray Drew, Georgia (102)                

DL        Montravius Adams, Auburn (94)      

DL        Carl Lawson, Auburn (87)      

DL        Jermauria Rasco, LSU (79)         

LB        Kwon Alexander, LSU (112)         

LB        Cassanova McKinzy, Auburn (82)      

LB        Serderius Bryant, Ole Miss (76)      

DB       Jon Mincy, Auburn (99)    

DB       Corey Thompson, LSU (86)        

DB       Rashard Robinson, LSU (84)   

DB       Brison Williams, South Carolina (81)      

SPECIALISTS

First-Team

P          Drew Kaser, Texas A&M (221)      

PK        Marshall Morgan, Georgia (224)               

RS        Christion Jones, Alabama (262)                

AP        Christion Jones, Alabama (130)              

Second-Team

P          Sam Irwin-Hill, Arkansas (136)        

PK        Colby Delahoussaye, LSU (142)                    

RS        Andre Debose, Florida (97)        

AP        Terrence Magee, LSU (111)       

Third-Team

P          Jamie Keehn, LSU (81)         

PK        Andrew Baggett, Missouri (103)                  

RS        Marcus Murphy, Missouri (72)        

AP        Trey Williams, Texas A&M (89)   

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July 15, 2014

Fall camp starts Aug. 4, eight practices open to fans

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s fan-friendly reboot will continue this fall. 

After increasing transparency this spring, Florida coach Will Muschamp announced UF will open eight preseason practices in August -- including one event designed exclusively for 2014 season ticket holders. 

The Gators report for camp Sunday, Aug. 3, and will begin practice the next day. Florida’s first open session will take place Aug. 7 at the Dizney Lacrosse Stadium. The Gators will hold their final open practice inside The Swamp (Aug. 14), coinciding with their annual Fan Day to follow (3 p.m., O’Connell Center). 

The complete rundown of open practices:

Aug. 7 (Dizney Lacrosse Stadium)

Aug. 8 (Dizney Lacrosse Stadium)

Aug. 9 (Dizney Lacrosse Stadium, season ticket holders only)

Aug. 11 (Dizney Lacrosse Stadium) 

Aug. 12 (Dizney Lacrosse Stadium)

Aug. 13 (Dizney Lacrosse Stadium) 

Aug. 14 (Dizney Lacrosse Stadium)

Aug. 16 (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

* Dates and times are subject to change.

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Freshman DB cited for marijuana possession

Rn_jalentabor_ms_600x400(Jalen Tabor | espn.com)

GAINESVILLE -- Florida five-star freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor was cited May 27 for misdemeanor maijuana possession of less than 20 grams, as first reported by 247 Sports’ Thomas Goldkamp. 

Tabor, an early enrollee and UF’s top-rated prospect in 2014, reached a deferred prosecution agreement on June 3.  

“Jalen has faced the consequences for his actions and is very remorseful,” coach Will Muschamp said in  a statement to reporters in Hoover, Alabama. 

“He is aware that this is not how we represent [the University of Florida.]"

Tabor’s mom, Merri, tweeted out her support late Monday evening. 

Screen Shot 2014-07-15 at 7.25.33 AMAccording to the Gainesville Police Department report, Tabor was in a parked car in the University House apartment complex when an officer smelled marijuana emanating from the vehicle. A “probable cause search” yielded possession of less than 20 grams. 

The Under Armour All-American has already been disciplined by the team and school, and will not face any additional punishment, per The Gainesville Sun. 

Tabor’s arrest is Florida’s first run-in with the law since junior linebacker Antonio Morrison’s infamous barking-dog incident last July 21.

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July 14, 2014

Florida '14: Five Toughest Games

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GAINESVILLE -- A college football preseason summer series! A yearly tradition like The Masters, a Kardashian wedding or an Emmy snub for Jon Hamm. 

Today: Florida's five toughest games in 2014. The Gators' upcoming schedule is ranked among the toughest in the nation, with six preseason Top 25 matchups on the slate -- including five games against Top 15 foes. 

1. @ Florida State (Nov. 29) -- The Seminoles crushed the Gators by 30 points in The Swamp last season, as Jameis Winston eviscerated the nation’s No. 8th ranked defense for 327 yards and three touchdowns. While UF stands to be an improved squad in 2014, FSU returns a loaded defense (eight starters), an all-senior starting offensive line and the nation’s No. 4 recruiting class. 

2. @ Alabama (Sept. 20) -- Florida’s last trek into Bryant-Denny Stadium was an embarrassing bloodbath: a 31-6 shellacking in 2010. This fall’s return to Tuscaloosa could be deja vu. The Gators should again have some early momentum thanks to three home cupcakes to open the year. But Bama remains the class of college football, and the game’s finest coach (Nick Saban) has lost just a single home tilt against an Eastern Division foe (Georgia, 2007) in his career with the Tide. 

3. vs. Georgia (Nov. 1) -- For years, Georgia was the team that found ways to lose in Jacksonville (see: turnovers, penalties), but Florida has not-so-gleefully accepted that role of late. The Gators have dropped three straight against their bitter border rival, as coach Will Muschamp remains winless on both sides of the series. Heisman hopeful tailback Todd Gurley shredded Florida in 2013 (187 total yards, two touchdowns) and stands as UF’s toughest individual challenge this year.  

4. vs. LSU (Oct. 11) -- The Tigers lost a ridiculous amount of talent this offseason (nation-leading nine NFL draftees), but Les Miles simply reloads every year. Despite a preseason quarterback competition, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron has seemingly stabilized the Tigers’ attack and the introduction of top recruit Leonard Fournette (RB) should only help. 

5. vs. South Carolina (Nov. 15) -- Steve Spurrier’s bunch returns eight starters on offense and a former backup quarterback (Dylan Thompson) with plenty of experience. UF has lost three of the last four against the Gamecocks — its lone victory a turnover-riddled 44-11 smashing where it gained just 183 yards but won by four touchdowns. Although Jadeveon Clowney is gone, USC's defense should remain cagey with a deep front-seven. 

Thoughts? 

Your rankings. Proceed. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

July 10, 2014

2014 SEC Media Days: UF to send its three most notable players

130716_secmd_052(Jeff Driskel | Courtesy tnsportsradio.com)

GAINESVILLE -- The 2014 SEC Media Days begin Monday, and Florida will send its three most marquee -- and important -- student-athletes to Hoover, Alabama. 

Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel, sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and junior defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. will all join coach Will Muschamp at the circus event, representing Florida on a frenzied Day 1.

The Gators are one of just two schools to not bring a senior, but Hargreaves III (first-team) and Fowler Jr. (second-team) were All-SEC standouts in 2013, while Driskel enters this season as starter for the third straight year. 

Last summer, Driskel attended Media Days, joined by Dominique Easley and Jon Halapio. 

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July 09, 2014

SEC Network coming to Cox Communications

Former-Gator-star-and-Heisman-Trophy-QB-Tim-Tebow-will-play-a-big-role-in-the-new-SEC-Network(Tim Tebow | Courtesy sportstalkflorida.com)

GAINESVILLE -- Florida fans can rest easy. 

Cox Communications, the major cable provider in Gainesville and much of North Central Florida, will carry the new SEC Network upon its launch on Aug. 14, ESPN and Cox announced Wednesday. 

“Cox is home to some of the biggest fans with five SEC schools in our markets,” Jill Campbell, executive vice president and chief operating officer, Cox Communications said in a release.  

“This is great news for alumni and fans across our footprint who will enjoy all the action and rivalries that have become synonymous with SEC sports.” 

SEC Commissioner Mike Slive added: “The addition of Cox is another very important step in the development of the SEC Network, bringing millions more viewers nationwide to the network when it launches on August 14.  As one of the largest cable television distributors in the U.S., including five states in the SEC footprint, this agreement with Cox has a significant impact on exposure for the SEC.”

The SEC Network will air 45 football games next season, including two of Florida's first three games (Eastern Michigan, Sept. 6; Kentucky, Sept. 13). 

Former Gators legend Tim Tebow will appear on the network as co-host of SEC Nation, a travelling pre-game show similar to College Gameday. 

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July 07, 2014

Names, Names, Names: Watch List month is here

GAINESVILLE -- It is time. 

 

We’ve officially reached the tipping point of the summer, where half (not exactly a scientific approximation) the players in college football are named to random preseason watch lists.

These lists are absurd, only relevant due to the fact there’s minimal college football content in early July.

But alas, we must note even what isn’t particularly noteworthy.

Florida’s top two standouts -- defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III -- were named to the 2014 Bednarik Award watch list Monday, honoring the nation’s best defensive player.

Fowler Jr., a rising junior who led the Gators in tackles for loss (10.5) last season, and Hargreaves III, one of the country’s top defensive backs as just a freshman, join 74 other players on the list.

Both defensive studs were also named to the Nagurski watch list, another award given to the nation's best defensive player (Football Writers Association of America). 

Meanwhile, UF quarterback Jeff Driskel was tabbed to the Maxwell Award watch list for the nation’s best offensive player. Nearly every notable quarterback, tailback and receiver from the power conferences were named. 

Fifth-year senior Max Garcia, a 12-game starter for the Gators in 2013, was named to the 2014 Rimington Trophy watch list -- this despite never starting a single career game at center. Last season, Garcia mainly played left guard and left tackle but is transitioning to center following the graduation of Jon Harrison. 

In a bit of a suprise, Virginia transfer tight end Jake McGee was not named to the Mackey Award watch list. McGee led all Cavaliers in receptions (43) and yards (395) in 2013 and is considered an ideal fit (and upgrade) for offensive coordinator Kurt Roper's spread system. 

D.J. Humphries, Florida's left tackle who endured an injury-riddled 2013, was named to the preseason watch list for the 2014 Outland Trophy, an award given to the nation's best (offensive or defensive) lineman. Humphries is a former five-star prospect who hopes this season is his breakout campaign. 

MON., JULY 7

Bednarik Award -- DE/LB Dante Fowler Jr., CB Vernon Hargreaves III

Maxwell Award -- QB Jeff Driskel

TUES., JULY 8 

Mackey Award -- ______

Rimgington Trophy -- C Max Garcia 

WED., JULY 9

Lou Groza Award -- ____

Ray Guy Award -- _____

THURS., JULY 10

Bronko Nagurski Trophy -- DE/LB Dante Fowler Jr., CB Vernon Hargreaves III 

Outland Trophy -- OT D.J. Humphries

FRI., JULY 11

Jim Thorpe Award -- CB Vernon Hargreaves III

*** This post will be updated daily, as the NCAA will release watch lists for the next two weeks.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

July 01, 2014

Gators-Hurricans renew rivalry

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GAINESVILLE -- The Gators and Hurricanes will square off after all in 2014 -- just on the hardwood.

Florida and Miami will play on Nov. 17 in Gainesville to kickstart a home-and-home series with its in-state rival, UF announced Tuesday.

Although a return date in Coral Gables has yet to be scheduled, the two schools are likely to square off again in South Florida sometime in November 2015. 

The last time to two teams met, the Gators trumped the Hurricanes 74-60 at home in the second round of the 2009 NIT. 

Florida leads the all-time series 45-22, winning 15 of the last 17 showdowns. 

Meanwhile, Florida also announced official plans for renovating the O’Connell Center, with Davis Architects, CPPI Construction Management and TLC Engineering green lighting the $45-50 million project.  

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June 11, 2014

Phillips resigns, Leak to take over WRs

14-03-26_Gators Spring Practice_015-L

GAINESVILLE -- For the fourth time in as many years, Florida will have a new wide receivers coach.

In a shocking announcement, Joker Phillips, a 26-year coaching veteran who joined the Gators’ staff in December 2012, resigned for “personal reasons,” the school announced Wednesday.

ESPN, citing anonymous sources, reported Phillips was forced to resign due to potential NCAA recruiting violations.

"I'm thankful for the opportunity that the University of Florida and Will Muschamp provided to me and my family, but at this time I have decided to step down from my position on the UF coaching staff for personal reasons," Phillips said in a statement.

"I appreciate Joker's contributions to our program and wish him and his wife, Leslie, nothing but the best in the future," head coach Will Muschamp added.

Phillips was also Florida’s recruiting coordinator, but the more pressing concern is UF’s merry-go-round coaching position.

Former Gators quarterback Chris Leak, a graduate assistant and quality control coach at Florida in 2013, was promoted and will replace Phillips as the wide receivers coach.

While Muschamp touted Leak as a “bright young coach,” the former national champion starting quarterback has minimal coaching experience and is the second graduate assistant in three seasons to either be promoted or coach the receivers despite the lack of coaching acumen.

"He is one of the all-time Gator greats and being at Florida is very important to him,” Muschamp said.

“He has been working with Coach [Kurt] Roper and our offensive staff and is very familiar with our players and new system."

Leak was a four-year starter at Florida (2003-06), amassing school records in yards (11, 213), completions (895) and attempts (1,458) while leading the Gators to their second school national championship in 2006.

"I appreciate the opportunity that Coach Muschamp has given me and my family," he said.

"It's an honor to be coaching at my alma mater where I have so many fond memories both on and off the field. We have a tremendous coaching staff, a great group of players and a support system in place and I'm excited to be a part of it."

More to come. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

May 30, 2014

Friday Fodder: Game times set, recruiting news, UF-UM update

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GAINESVILLE -- Florida fans will receive a brief reprieve from the heat this fall, as the Southeastern Conference announced the Gators’ season opener against Idaho (Aug. 30) will be a 7 p.m. kickoff on ESPNU. 

Earlier in the week, CBS announced the annual Florida-Georgia game in Jacksonville (Nov. 1) will be televised on the network for the 12th straight year with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. 

The Gators now have four game times set, as UF’s home tilts against Eastern Michigan (Sept. 6) and Kentucky (Sept. 13) are scheduled for 4 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., respectively, with both games airing on the SEC Network. 

FAMILY CONNECTION

Three-star defensive tackle Andrew Ivie, younger brother of Florida sophomore defensive end Joey, committed to the Gators Thursday, per multiple recruiting services. 

The 6-foot-3, 288-pound Pasco product chose Florida over Ole Miss, Mississippi State and UCF. 

Ivie is the eighth prospect verbally pledged to UF’s 2015 class. 

UF-UM UPDATE

The SEC Spring Meetings concluded Friday, and while league commission Mike Slive announced several major tidbits from the week’s worth of discussions, the Florida-Miami series was a minor noteworthy topic early in the week. 

According to Associated Press reporter Mark Long, Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley said there’s “mutual interest” in renewing the Miami-Florida football series, but only as a “one-game deal at a neutral site.”

Foley’s quote on the matter hardly makes a potential showdown a reality (in the near or distant future), but it does clear up exactly how “receptive” Florida is in “renewing the series.”

The rub moving forward is how much cash can/will a neutral contest generate and what exactly constitutes a neutral site?

FILTHY RICH

The league announced record revenue in 2013, as $309.6 million will be distributed amongst the 14 schools -- an average of $20.9 million per university. With the league introducing its own TV network this summer, that number could double next season. 

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May 22, 2014

Donovan courted by NBA

Billy-donovan

GAINESVILLE -- Following another Final Four run, Florida coach Billy Donovan has been contacted by multiple NBA teams this offseason, he said Thursday.

Donovan stressed the conversations have been "brief," and he “fully plans on being back [in Gainesville] next season.”

“It’s always flattering, but at the same time, I’ve always said that I’m very happy here and like it here,” Donovan explained. 

“Jeremy [Foley] has been great here. I like where our program’s at and the direction we’re going.”

Florida’s coach, always guarded when speaking on the NBA following his flip-flop commitment on the Orlando Magic in 2007, didn’t disclose which NBA teams he talked to, but various media reports from league insiders said the Cleveland Cavilers and the Minnesota Timberwolves were among those interested.

“I got a few calls from a couple NBA teams. I’m going to leave it at that. After the Orlando situation, that’s all I’m saying. That’s it. So I’m not going to get into, ‘He’s lying, he’s not being truthful.’ I got a couple of calls, that’s all it is.”

Donovan has led the Gators to four Final Fours in 18 seasons and recently signed a contract extension to keep him at Florida through the 2018-19 season.

NOTHING CHANGED

Damontre Harris, officially removed from UF's roster Wednesday, did not “earn his way back” on the team this offseason, Donovan said.

“Damontre is not a bad kid, he’s a good kid, but really undisciplined and unreliable in a lot of ways. … The things we were talking about is like going to class, being on time, being in the weight room, lifting, showing up to practice, those kind of things. Basically we evaluated him over that two and a half, three months over that second semester and clearly nothing had changed at all.”

Donovan has not spoken with Harris face-to-face since the end of the season, with Harris skipping a meeting on his future sometime in recent weeks. 

INJURY UPDATES

Rutgers transfer guard Eli Carter is “80-85 percent” after missing most of the 2013-14 season recovering from a gruesome leg injury sustained with the Scarlet Knights in February 2013. Donovan said trainers expect Carter to be 100 percent by fall camp in October.

Meanwhile, guard Dillion Graham, another medical redshirt last season, continues a slow, painful recovery from bone spurs in both hips and is not expected to be cleared for any contact until September-October.

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May 21, 2014

Harris officially done

Orl-gators1520121010150914(Courtesy Gatorzone.com)

GAINESVILLE -- Damontre Harris ran out of chances. 

As first reported by Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com, Florida’s 6-foot-10 center is no longer with the team -- a permanent move following multiple disciplinary issues and second chances. 

UF later confirmed Rothstein’s report, and coach Billy Donovan is likely to speak on the issue Thursday at his post-spring wrap-up press conference. 

But Wednesday officially ended a rollercoaster ride for the troubled transfer from South Carolina. Harris, a member of the All-SEC Defensive team in 2011-12, never played a minute for the Gators -- this despite being eligible during Florida’s Final Four run last season. 

Donovan suspended Harris indefinitely before the start of the 2013-14 season, later dismissing the big-man from the team during Christmas break. However, Harris pleaded for another chance -- a request Donovan granted.

Harris practiced with the Gators during their NCAA Tournament run, but Donovan refused to allow Harris to play citing chemistry, values and respect. 

Like former embattled guard Scottie Wilbekin, Harris was given conditions follow before ever seeing the court again -- stipulations likely not completed this spring/summer. 

Harris’ loss is hardly a surprise considering Florida recently landed 7-foot shot blocking sensation John Egbunu from South Florida

While Egbunu, with three years of eligibility remaining, must sit out the 2014-15 season due to transfer rules, he will be on scholarship -- an issue resolved with Harris’ dismissal. 

With Egbunu’s addition, the Gators were one over the NCAA scholarship limit (13) before Harris was released. 

More to come. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

May 19, 2014

Scheduling: SEC rotation set; UM-UF to renew rivalry???

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GAINESVILLE -- The Southeastern Conference announced a 12-year rotation (2014-2025) of non-divisional opponents Monday, as the Gators now know their league schedule for the next dozen seasons. 

Earlier this month, league presidents voted to stick with the status quo -- maintaining its eight-game conference schedule under the 6 (division games) – 1 (one permanent cross-division opponent) – 1 (a rotating cross-division opponent) format. 

The 12-year rotation starts this fall, as Florida travels to Alabama in late September. 

The Gators won’t see the Crimson Tide again until 2021 and coach Will Muschamp can only hope to still be around to see one of his favorite non-traditional rivalries: Florida-Auburn (2019).

With Texas A&M on the docket in 2017, the Gators will travel to Texas to play Michigan to open the season and host the Aggies later in the year. 

Florida's future cross-division foes...

YEAR

OPPONENT

2014

at Alabama

2015

Ole Miss

2016

at Arkansas

2017

Texas A&M

2018

at Mississippi State

2019

Auburn

2020

at Ole Miss

2021

Alabama

2022

at Texas A&M

2023

Arkansas

2024

at Auburn

2025

Mississippi State

Meanwhile…

UM-UF RIVALRY BACK ON?

Possibly.

According to the Miami Herald’s own Barry Jackson, UM athletic director Blake James said Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley was “receptive” when recently discussing renewing the in-state series.

Due to financial reasons (see: seven home games), Florida has stipulated the series must continue at neutral-sites only -- an idea James is currently juggling.

“I would have to think about Orlando,” James said. “That’s not real neutral but it’s an easy distance to our campus.”

Not two days after the Hurricanes’ upset victory over the Gators last fall -- a game many presumed would be the final game in the series for the foreseeable futures -- James made a brilliant PR move suggesting the two teams continue the rivalry. It was empty posturing, but now UM appears to be open to a neutral site contest.

So what say you: Do you want the two schools to renew a rich rivalry -- even solely at neutral sites Thoughts on Florida's future SEC schedule?

Pop off.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

May 11, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: Four Gators selected, several others signs UFA contracts

New-England-Patriots-Waste-First-Round-Draft-Pick-on-Dominique-Easley-

GAINESVILLE -- The 2014 NFL Draft is over, with four former Florida Gators drafted -- half as many as last season. 

Defensive tackle Dominique Easley was selected No. 29 overall by the New England Patriots, the second straight season a Gators defensive lineman was nabbed in the first round. 

Following a quiet Friday evening (rounds 2-3), cornerback Jaylen Watkins didn’t have to wait long on Saturday, going No. 101 to the Philadelphia Eagles with the first pick in the fourth round. Later, linebacker Ronald Powell was selected by the New Orleans Saints and guard Jon Halpio joined Easley in New England. 

Below is a recap of Florida’s draftees (as well as a number of undrafted free agents). Conspicuously absent: cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, who both saw their stock’s crash to rock bottom. After failing to find a professional home Saturday, both prospects are free agents, waiting to join a team sometime in the near future.  

DRAFTEES

DT Dominique Easley, Round 1, New England Patriots (No. 29)

CB Jaylen Watkins, Round 4, Philadelphia Eagles (No. 101)

LB Ronald Powell, Round 5, New Orleans Saints (No. 169)

OG Jon Halapio, Round 6, New England Patriots (No. 179)

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS

DT Damien Jacobs, Buffalo Bills

LB Darrien Kitchens, Buffalo Bills

WR Trey Burton, Philadelphia Eagles

WR/KR Solomon Patton, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

C Jon Harrison, Indianapolis Colts

Meanwhile, versatile offensive lineman Kyle Koehne earned a rookie-camp tryout with the Atlanta Falcons. 

UPDATE

Monday, Roberson signed a free agent deal with the St. Louis Rams and Purifoy agreed to a contract with the Indianapolis Colts. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton 

May 08, 2014

2014 NFL Draft: Gators, anyone?

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GAINESVILLE -- Following weeks (or months) of over-analyzation, endless mock drafts and the psychoanalysis of 10,000 wannabe Dr. Frazier Crane's, the 2014 NFL Draft is finally upon us. 

The frustratingly-fascinating three-day event kicks off tonight (8 p.m., ESPN/NFL Network), only the first round figures to be an uneventful evening for the Gators. 

But anything can happen.

For the second time in three years, Florida is unlikely to see a former player selected in the first round, as talented defensive tackle Dominique Easley -- a former top 10 overall prospect before a second non-contact knee injury -- stands as the lone semi-possible late-first round pick. 

Easley is a dominant three-technique defender who continues to climb teams’ draft boards following an impressive private pro day and a purported clean bill of health, but he figures to be a mid-second round pick and the first former Florida player off the board. 

In all, the Gators could have as many as eight players drafted, but the majority of ex-Gators are likely to wait until Saturday (rounds 4-7) to hear their names called. 

Enigmatic cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy were once touted as possible first rounders, but both prospects could be drafted after fellow UF cornerback Jaylen Watkins. 

Former No. 1 overall recruit Ronald Powell, a player with durability concerns but potential as a pass rushing specialist, could be selected anywhere between rounds 4-6, while wideout Solomon Patton and offensive guard Jon Halapio figure to be Florida’s lone offensive players drafted. 

Below are my Gators draft projections. They’re surely to be wrong. 

Make your own picks in the comments section and use this blog as a thread for the next couple of days. 

I’ll update the piece as Gators start to come off the board. 

DRAFTEES 

DT Dominique Easley - 2nd Round  1st Round - No. 29 overall, New England Patriots  

* The Miami Herald's story on Easley's selection... 

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 10.57.40 AM

 

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 10.57.00 AM

CB Jaylen Watkins - 3rd Round  4th Round - No. 101, Philadelphia Eagles 

CB Marcus Roberson - 4th Round

CB Loucheiz Purifoy - 5th Round

LB/DE Ronald Powell - 5th Round  5th Round - No. 169, New Orleans Saints

OG Jon Halapio - 6th Round  6th Round - No. 179, New England Patriots 

WR Solomon Patton - 7th Round

UNDRAFTED FREE AGENTS

C Jon Harrison

WR Trey Burton

DT Damien Jacobs

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UF-KU rematch date set

Ku_bkc_uf_07_t960(Courtesy kusports.com)

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will travel to Kansas on December 5 for a non-conference showdown against the Jayhawks as part of the 2014 SEC/BIG 12 Challenge, the leagues announced Wednesday. 

The marquee matchup, a rematch of last season’s inaugural SEC/BIG 12 Challenge when UF trumped KU 67-61 in Gainesviile, is one of 10 games between the two conferences in 10 days. 

ESPN’s family of networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNU, WatchESPN) will televise the event.

“The ability to showcase SEC basketball in this kind of inter-conference competition makes this a unique and exciting event for our coaches, student-athletes and fans,” SEC Commissioner Mike Slive said in a statement.   

ACADEMIC SUCCESS 

Florida’s men’s basketball team was publicly honored by the NCAA for its “outstanding academic performance,” scoring in the top 10 percent nationally in the Academic Progress Rate. 

The Gators were the only SEC basketball team to be recognized, as Florida set a conference record with eight players named to the academic honor roll. 

According to the university, the APR “provides a real-time look a the team’s academic success each semester by tracking the progress of each student-athlete on scholarship.”

Last weekend, six players participated in UF’s spring commencement ceremonies, as Billy Donovan, Jacob Kurt, Patric Young, Casey Prather, Scottie Wilbekin and Will Yeguete all graduated. 

YOUNG TO ATTEND COMBINE

Florida's former senior center has accepted an invite to this month's NBA Draft combine in Chicago (May 14-18), according to draftexpress.com.

The 6-foot-9, 245-pound frontcourt freak averaged 11 points and 6.2 rebounds this past season, anchoring one of the stingiest defenses in the country and earning defensive player of the year honors in the process. 

Per multiple mock drafts, Young projects as a late second round selection. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

May 01, 2014

Gators debut on SEC Network in Week 2

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GAINESVILLE -- Two of Florida’s first three games in 2014 will be broadcast on the new SEC Network, ESPN announced Thursday. 

The Gators’ Sept. 6 game against Eastern Michigan (4 p.m.) and Sept. 13 SEC opener against Kentucky (7:30 p.m.) will air on the network. 

According to the release, all 14 league teams will appear on the SEC Network within the first four weeks of the season.  

INJURY REPORT

During the conference’s spring teleconference Wednesday, Florida coach Will Muschamp updated the status of several sidelined players set to be cleared this week. 

Tailback Matt Jones, who missed spring practice recovering from a serious knee injury, is “on target,” Muschamp said. 

Also “on track” are linebackers Alex Anzalone (shoulder) and Matt Rolin (knee), as well as sixth-year senior wideout Andre Debose. 

“I think we’re in pretty good shape,” Muschamp said. 

QUOTABLE 

“It’s fine with me. I was for eight games. It isn’t all fair all the time, that’s part of it. Whatever format they went with eight games I was good with it. … There’s no perfect answer to please everybody. We did what is best for our league. We all have hidden agendas whatever university we represent.”

-- Muschamp on the finalization of the future SEC schedule

2015 CLASS ADDS ANOTHER

West Orange cornerback/tailback/athlete Jalen Julius committed to Florida late Wednesday night, according to multiple recruiting services. 

Later, Julius, a three-star prospect, confirmed his verbal pledge on Twitter. 

Screen Shot 2014-05-01 at 3.43.00 PMJulius is Florida’s seventh commit in its 2015 class.  

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April 27, 2014

Status Quo: SEC announces future schedule format

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The Southeastern Conference opted to stick with what was working.

Following a purported 10-4 vote by league presidents, the SEC announced Sunday it is maintaining its eight-game football scheduling format, adding a strength-of-schedule component requiring schools to play at least one non-conference foe from the ACC, Big 12, Big 10 or Pac-12 annually starting in 2016.

Since Texas A&M and Missouri joined the league in 2012, the league has flirted with the idea of adding a ninth conference game, but Sunday’s overwhelming vote favored retaining the recent 6-1-1 format.

"This has been a thoughtful and deliberative process that has resulted in maintaining the current format and adds a provision that will bolster our collective annual non-conference schedule," said Commissioner Mike Slive in a statement. 

“Critical to maintaining this format is the non-conference opponent factor which gives us the added strength-of-schedule we were seeking while allowing continued scheduling flexibility for institutional preferences, and acknowledges that many of our institutions already play these opponents.

“The concept of strength-of-schedule is based on an entire 12-game schedule, a combination of both conference games together with non-conference games.  Given the strength of our conference schedule supplemented by at least one major non-conference game, our teams will boast of a strong resume’ of opponents each and every year.”

Sunday’s announcement changes nothing for Florida.

The Gators play Florida State every November, while they also remain “permanent” rivals with LSU. 

While UF athletic director Jeremy Foley has voiced his support for the permanent crossover opponents (i.e. LSU), Tigers AD Joe Alleva adamantly disapproved with the SEC’s decision Sunday night.

"Since 2000 LSU has played Florida and Georgia 19 times and Alabama has played them eight times. That is a competitive disadvantage. There are a lot of other examples,” Alleva told Jim Kleinpeter of the Times-Picayune.

"If I'm Ole Miss and I'm playing Vanderbilt, I'll vote to play Vanderbilt," Alleva said. "If I'm Mississippi State and I'm playing Kentucky, I'm going to vote to play Kentucky. People voted their own self interest instead of what is in the best interest of competitive balance.

"I understand Alabama-Tennessee and Auburn-Georgia for the history, but that's only four schools. The rest were voting in their own self-interest. They could have kept those games and the rest of us rotated. That was brought up but voted down. I’m not pushing for the self-interest of LSU. I'm pushing for the equity.”

Florida and LSU have played every season since 1971.

More to come, but thoughts? Are you pleased the Gators are locked into a series with LSU?

Pull.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 24, 2014

Thursday Tidbits: An afternoon buffet of Gators nuggets & links

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GAINESVILLE -- It’s snack time, so eat up.

Former Florida center Jon Harrison, an outspoken team leader for several seasons in Gainesville, recently made waves with comments regarding the Gators’ dumpster-fire 2013 season.

In an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Tuesday, Harrison, who started 39 games at Florida from 2009-13, created a firestorm when he said “the crumbling” Gators were derailed by infighting and poor off-the-field behavior -- leading to UF’s first losing season in 35 years.

The NFL Draft hopeful specifically mentioned a locker room fight, upsetting several former teammates on Twitter. 

Screen Shot 2014-04-24 at 3.29.38 PMScreen Shot 2014-04-24 at 3.26.13 PM

A day later, Harrison clarified his comments in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel, saying he was “misinterpreted.”

Harrison was adamant he was not “misquoted nor did he dispute the facts,” but rather his true feelings about coach Will Muschamp and the program were “read out of context.”

My take: First, read both links. Now, as I tweeted, a predictable outcome is predictable. Harrison’s dirt wasn’t particularly revelatory (specifically, the post Georgia Southern-fight was previously reported, but the pregame partying was new information) but you knew the messenger (i.e. Harrison) would be ripped for breaking the locker room omerta and deviating from the traditional platitudes and coaching speak.

What’s most humorous to me though, is this was written just 18 months ago following the end of Florida’s 11-2 campaign.   

MOVING ON

Redshirt freshman safety Marqui Hawkins is transferring, the school announced Thursday.

Hawkins, a three-star wideout from Columbus, Ga., was one of five receivers signed in Florida’s 2013 recruiting class, but the 6-foot-1, 213-pounder was redshirted last fall and moved to safety during spring practice.

“Marqui came to me and expressed an interest in getting a fresh start on the football field,” Muschamp said in a statement to school website Gatorzone.com.

“He was never in trouble off the field and was attentive in the classroom. We appreciate the way he carried himself and represented the program and wish him nothing but the best of luck in the future.”

MOVING ON PART DEUX

Longtime Florida men’s golf coach Buddy Alexander, a staple at UF for 27 years, announced his retirement — effective after the 2013-14 season — Tuesday.

Alexander, the 1986 U.S. Amateur Champion and second-longest tenured coach ever at Florida, led the Gators to a pair of national titles (1993, 2001) and 11 top-10 finishes at the NCAA Championships.

The men’s golf team has struggled of late, finishing 10th at the SEC Championships in 2012-13, and Alexander, 61, called coaching “a young man’s game” Tuesday.

“It’s simply time for me to turn the reins over to someone else and allow this great university, athletic department and golf program to be everything it should be,” Alexander penned in a statement.

Despite the program’s recent woes, Alexander leaves a legacy of excellence and a legitimate springboard for aspiring professional golfers (current PGA Tour pros include Billy Horschel, Matt Every, Chris DiMarco and others).

THIS & THAT

In a conference call with media members Wednesday, ESPN Draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said former UF cornerbacks Loucheiz Purifoy and Marcus Roberson are likely Day 3 selections following poor workouts (at both the NFL Combine and Florida’s Pro Day) -- citing slow 40-yard dash times, specifically. Both enigmatic defensive backs were once considered first round talents, but after each clocked around 4.62 seconds 40-yard dash -- coupled with lackluster junior seasons and off-the-field concerns -- their stock(s) plummeted. The NFL Draft starts May 8-10.  … New York Giants safety Will Hill, an embattled defensive back at Florida from 2008-10, reportedly failed a drug test for the third straight year and faces a suspension of six games to a year depending on what tests show. In 2013, Hill started 10 games for the Giants, recording 77 tackles and two interceptions.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 22, 2014

Chomp, Chomp, Chomp: 'Take It All In'

GAINESVILLE -- The SEC Network released its "14 Schools, 14 Stories" ad campaign Tuesday, 40-second promo clips from ESPN capturing the essence of each league school.  

Florida's spot focuses on the genesis of the "Gator Chomp," featuring school historian Norm Carlson. 

Check it out, and take it all in. 

 

April 21, 2014

Crowned: Gators earn repeat title (and win a bunch of other games too)

Espnw_a_oklahoma-florida_mb_600x400(Courtesy AP Photo | Butch Dill)

GAINESVILLE -- Normally, I don’t scribe about Florida’s secondary sports, but I’d be remiss if I failed to mention the hardware (and wins) the Gators collected over a profitable weekend. 

Somewhere, Jeremy Foley is stoked. 

To wit:

* Florida’s women’s gymnastics team clinched back-to-back national titles Saturday night, tying Oklahoma for the first-ever co-champs in the NCAA Super Six. The Gators, who’s team score of 198.175 was the highest score in the history of the NCAA Championships, rallied with a dominating floor rotation and capped a remarkable comeback to share the stage with the Sooners.  

* No. 4 UF’s women’s lacrosse team topped No. 5 Northwestern 13-12 on the road, winning its fourth straight American Lacrosse Conference title.  

* The fifth-ranked Gators women’s softball team swept No. 21 Texas A&M in Gainesville, as coach Tim Walton earned his 600th career victory with Sunday’s 8-0 shutout. 

* Kevin O’Sullivan’s pesky baseball team, ranked No. 18 nationally, swept Georgia at home with a 10-3 win on Easter. Following a rainout Friday evening, the Gators played a double-header Saturday and won three games in roughly 24 hours. 

And while we’re here, some other news and notes over the past week...

PIPELINE CONTINUES

Rivals100 cornerback Marcus Lewis verbally committed to the Gators last Thursday, continuing Florida’s tradition of landing top-flight defensive backs under head coach Will Muschamp. 

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The 2015 four-star corner, originally out of Washington D.C.’s Gonzaga High, is planning on transferring to IMG Academy in Bradenton this summer -- according to multiple recruiting outlets. 

Lewis is the sixth prospect verbally pledged to Florida’s 2015 recruiting class. 

THIS & THAT

On Friday, former Florida point guard Nick Calathes, a backup guard with the Memphis Grizzlies, was suspended 20 games for violating the NBA’s anti-drug policy. 

According to a release, Calathes tested positive for Tamoxifen, however, lab results showed no traces of testosterone or performance-enhancing drugs. Calathes is set to appeal/fight the suspension. …  According to 247Sports, Florida tops all colleges with the most former players (10) in the 2014 NBA playoffs.

*****UPDATE*****

According to multiple reports, Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah will be named the 2014 NBA Defensive Player of the Year, the most prestigious individual honor ever earned in the NBA by a former Gator. Noah anchored one of the league's top defensive teams, averaging 11.3 rebounds, 1.5 blocks and 1.2 steals. 

Finally, Editor’s note: I understand the Herald blogs haven’t worked properly lately and the higher-ups are aware of the issue. Thanks. Now you all may proceed and spit about how much you don't care about Florida's secondary sports.

Go. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 17, 2014

Easley impresses, proves to NFL he's healthy

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GAINESVILLE -- Former Gators defensive tackle Dominique Easley wowed NFL scouts Thursday during a private pro day, dismissing concerns over his health following multiple knee surgeries during his four-year career in Gainesville.

Easley -- who tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee in a practice late last September -- worked out yards from the same place he sustained the non-contact knee injury in The Swamp, impressing dozens of league representatives with his quickness, power, agility, fluidity and competitive fire.

“I felt great,” said Easley, all-smiles following his workout.

“That’s just me. I like to work past expectations. I don’t like being down. That’s just who I am as a person. [I showed scouts] that I can move. That I still got the quickness. That I still got the get-off and I still got my tenacity.”

Representatives from the Baltimore Ravens, San Diego Chargers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos and Cleveland Browns were among those in attendance, while Chicago Bears defensive line coach Paul Pasqualoni led the workout alongside Florida head coach Will Muschamp.

“Outstanding five months out of surgery,” Muschamp said of Easley’s half-hour session.

“I was shocked how quick he was, his lateral change of direction, all the stuff he’s able to do. It doesn’t shock me in terms of his work ethic and what he’s willing to do to get himself ready.”

Easley, who rehabbed three times a day, everyday with trainer Tony Villani in Boca Raton, pegged his current knee strength at “about 80 percent” but expects to be 100 percent by July mini-camps.

The former All-SEC standout also noted he trained with ex-Gators and current Miami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey in South Florida.

Charged with a relentless motor and explosive first-step, the undersized tackle (6-2, 285 pounds) was tabbed as the nation’s ninth-best overall prospect just six months ago, according to ESPN draft guru Todd McShay.

But following a second ACL tear in three years, the dominant interior lineman saw his stock plummet.

After a long road to recovery, Easley isn’t concerned with draft projections and is simply ready to prove he’s worth the risk whenever he’s selected.

“I don’t really pay any attention to [the projections],” Easley said. “Everybody know how I play. Everybody seen my passion for the game, my love for it. That stuff don’t matter to me.”

Meanwhile, his former college coach believes teams would be foolish to pass on such a talent.

"You want him in your locker room,” Muschamp said, emphatically.

“He's a really good player, but I think his competitive edge is a huge talent. It's probably his No. 1 talent. A bunch of the coaches and scouts came to me afterward and said, 'We understand what you're talking about.' We got out there and we put him through a tough workout. … We made it difficult on purpose. It was good for them to see that because when it gets tough, that's when he's at his best."

Easley acknowledged the mental hurdle of a second knee injury was rough, but motivated by his 18-month-old son, Dominique Easley Jr., he decided quickly he didn’t have time to feel sorry for himself.

“I don't expect sympathy from anybody,” Easley said. “Life isn't about sympathy. You got to get through what you got to get through. Ain't no time to be crying about something. You've got mouths to feed. That's how I look at life. I've got a mouth to feed. If I cry, he's going to cry for not having food. I can't let that happen."

Easley, who won’t participate in any private workouts, starts seven straight days of team visits Sunday before May’s (8-10) NFL Draft. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 14, 2014

10 observations, lessons learned as Gators head into offseason

20130406_jla_sv7_078.0_standard_730.0(Jeff Driskel, left; Will Muschamp, right | http://cdn1.vox-cdn.com)

GAINESVILLE -- Spring practice is finito.

Florida couldn’t win its own spring game, but a comical finish didn’t spoil an otherwise productive 15-practice camp.

Here’s 10 rapid reactions, observations, lessons learned -- Twitter style (140 characters or less, or something close) -- as the Gators head into an important offseason.

1. The offense MAY no longer be the laughing stock of college football. Comfort + confidence + coaching = PROGRESS. 

2. Florida has a fleet of talented, shifty and hungry tailbacks, an intriguing group of promising wideouts and a solid starting offensive line, BUT…

3. BIG DUMB WILL MUSCHAMP FOOTBALL could reemerge FAST if just a single injury occurs along the offense line. Quality depth is a major concern heading into the fall. 

4. Jeff Driskel appears healthy and happy, but Kurt Roper's tailor-made scheme doesn't suddenly erase the quarterback's deficiencies -- namely telegraphed throws, inconsistent accuracy and indecisiveness.

5. Dante Fowler Jr., Vernon Hargreaves III and Jon Bullard are studs, while Keanu Neal, Jarrad Davis and Marcell Harris proved potential standouts-in-waiting.      

6. Florida’s youth movement along the defensive line and in the secondary will experience plenty of growing pains, especially…

7. Up front. Bullard better love DT, while Leon Orr and Darious Cummings best be prepared to play plenty of snaps because Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley and others appear no where near ready to play.

8. The Gators are still searching for a consistent -- Alex McCalister and/or Bryan Cox Jr., perhaps? -- pass rushing option opposite of Fowler Jr. to emerge. 

9. Specialists remain suspect. Kicker Austin Hardin rebounded from a rough fall (4-4 FG), but punter Kyle Christy was still shaky while long-snapping was an issue as well.

10. The Gators will be a better team in 2014, but pronouncing them East Champs after a solid spring is silly (and stupid and short-sided and senseless and shall I continue?)

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April 12, 2014

VIDEO: Muschamp, Driskel talk Orange & Blue Debut

GAINESVILLE -- Florida head coach Will Muschamp and quarterback Jeff Driskel talk the 2014 Orange & Blue Debut. 

Saturday's spring scrimmage hilariously ended in a tie (23-23), but UF's revamped offense (amazingly) wasn't a complete joke.

Driskel talked the offense's tempo, efficiency, the instillation process and adjustment period, while Muschamp dished out kudos to coordinator Kurt Roper and Florida's entire offensive staff. 

 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 11, 2014

Fantasy Draft: Recapping Florida's selection show

Header_5(Courtesy Gatorzone.com)

GAINESVILLE -- Fun and fancy are two words rarely (if ever) associated with Will Muschamp, but Florida’s coach -- or PR department -- is dabbling with some different ideas to up the team’s entertainment value during a critical 2014.

On Thursday, Florida held a live stream “Orange & Blue Debut Selection Show,” as “Gator Great” captains -- Josh Evans and Shane Matthews for the Orange Team, and Jelani Jenkins and Chris Doering for the Blue team -- selected a dozen players each to build preliminary rosters for Saturday’s spring game (1:30 p.m., PPV).

The “fantasy draft” was essentially an innovative way for Florida to unveil its depth chart (thereby avoiding a repeat of Muschamp’s LSU disaster) -- with the Orange team serving as the No. 1 defense and the Blue team as the No. 1 offense.

The selection results are below, but first a couple interesting notes...

The first team offense was predictable -- although Brown at guard seems more like an experiment than a guarantee at this point -- but defensively Maye, Neal and Cox Jr. were all notable selections. 

Despite missing much of the spring with a bum hamstring, Neal, an explosive and cerebral sophomore, appears to be a starter at safety. Meanwhile, Maye looks to be in position to start as Florida’s (all-important) nickel cornerback and Cox Jr. has (seemingly) earned an initial nod at defensive end (opposite of Fowler Jr. at BUCK).

All three are worth keeping an eye on Saturday. 

ROUND

ORANGE TEAM

BLUE TEAM

1

Vernon Hargreaves III, CB

Jeff Driskel, QB

2

Dante Fowler Jr., BUCK

Quinton Dunbar, WR

3

Antonio Morrison, LB

Michael Taylor, LB

4

Valdez Showers, WR

Kelvin Taylor, RB

5

Jonathan Bullard, DL

Chaz Green, RT

6

Mack Brown, RB

Jalen Tabor, CB

7

Keanu Neal, S

D.J. Humphries, LT

8

Latroy Pittman, WR

Demarcus Robinson, WR

9

Marcus Maye, S

Duke Dawson, CB

10

Jarrad Davis, LB

Trenton Brown, OL

11

Hunter Joyer, FB

Max Garcia, C

12

Bryan Cox Jr., DE

Alex McCalister, DE

 

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April 10, 2014

VIDEO: "It's not his first rodeo"

GAINESVILLE -- Kurt Roper met with the media for the final time before fall camp, and Florida's offensive coordinator dished on a number of topics including his Orange & Blue Debut expectations, the offense's installation progress and quarterback Jeff Driskel's development and comfort within Roper's up-tempo scheme. 

 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 09, 2014

Grounded: 'Sky' returns to Gators

140203091108-chris-walker-ap2-single-image-cut(Courtesy sportsillustrated.com) 

GAINESVILLE — Former McDonald’s All-American Chris 'Sky' Walker is returning to Florida for “one more year.”

The five-star freshman announced his decision Wednesday via Twitter, with the school quickly confirming the news. 

  Screen Shot 2014-04-09 at 9.00.47 PMWalker missed the first three months of Florida’s historic 2013-14 season — first delayed by academic issues then serving an NCAA-mandated 12-game suspension for accepting impermissible benefits. 

In 18 games, the freshman was a little-used role player during UF’s Final Four run, but with a full offseason of strength and conditioning he’s expected to be a breakout contributor next season. 

Walker flashed his elite athleticism for small stretches for the Gators (see: Three minutes of brillance against UCLA in the Sweet 16), but the freshman mostly struggled understanding the nuances of coach Billy Donovan’s system — offensively and defensively. 

The 6-foot-10 power forward averaged just 1.9 points and 1.3 rebounds in 4.8 minutes per game, but according to numerous mock drafts he projected as a first-rounder in the upcoming NBA Draft based largely on his limitless potential. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

Driskel earns praise

Trbimg.com(Courtesy trbimg.com)

GAINESVILLE — Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel continues to shine during spring practice, according to coach Will Muschamp. 

Driskel, a redshirt junior, is quickly mastering Kurt Roper’s no-huddle system, flashing the offense’s (professed) explosive potential in last weekend’s scrimmage. 

“He’s throwing the ball extremely well,” said Muschamp, who delayed the start date of Florida’s spring camp so that Driskel’s broken leg would be fully-healed. 

“I think he had three dropped on Saturday on a bubble, slant and dig. The [one] interception should’ve been caught. I think he’s throwing the ball very accurately.”

Driskel, much-maligned for two years at UF, played in just three games in 2013 before sustaining a gruesome leg-fracture in the first quarter against Tennessee.  

Florida’s offense was the laugh-stocking of college football last season, but Muschamp (reluctantly at first) embraced a philosophical shift and hired Roper and a system suited to Driskel's skill-set. 

So far, so good. 

While Roper's offensive instillation is not complete, Driskel has steadily improved this spring, Muschamp said.

Florida's coach also commented on the offense's ability to avoiding bad plays under Roper's easy audible system -- something strikingly missing in 2013.  

“We create a lot of run-pass issues, run-pass conflicts I would say for a defense with what we’re doing in the run game and off the passing game off,” Muschamp explained. 

“If we get a bad run box, we’re able to get out of it with a quick game, whether it’s a slant or a bubble or a quicks outside. Jeff has done a really good job because that takes quick hands to get the ball from a play action situation up and out. I think he’s doing extremely well.”

NO SEPARATION 

Muschamp remains mum on naming a backup quarterback, opting to blanket redshirt-sophomore Skyler Morhinweg and early enrollee Will Grier with universal (albeit generic) praise. 

“No [separation],” Muschamp said. “Both guys have done some nice things. Will made a really nice adjustment off a corner pressure and hotted the ball to Andre Debose in the red zone. It was a really nice throw. Skyler does some nice things. Both of those guys will continue to get reps with that group.”   

ORANGE & BLUE DETAILS

Florida’s annual spring scrimmage will kickoff Saturday at 1:30 p.m. from The Swamp, and the spring game will be televised on tape delay on Sun Sports (statewide) starting at 5:00 p.m.

The Orange & Blue Debut will be available live for GatorVision subscribers or for purchase ($3.99) on pay-per-view. 

INJURY UPDATE

Former walk-on tailback Mark Herndon, a spring standout to date, sustained a high-ankle sprain during Saturday’s scrimmmage and will miss the remainder of camp. 

According to Muschamp, the injury isn’t serious and will not require surgery. 

Sophomore linebacker Daniel McMillian missed the scrimmage with an ankle injury, while safety Marcus Maye pulled a hamstring during the scrimmage -- both players are questionable for Saturday’s Orange & Blue Debut. 

Meanwhile, offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (concussion) remains sidelined and is unlikely to play Saturday.   

QUOTABLE 

“In a perfect world you like to have four guys inside and four guys outside. If you're able to play with between eight and 10 players in this league, which normally in my experience is what it's going to take. Now, you can survive with three inside and three outside, but you're living a dangerous life with injuries. … I think all of those guys have the ability to be in that group. I really do. Now will they take that next step from a maturity standpoint and understand to battle through pain and mental and physical toughness to have it for the position? Because I think they have the ability. I think that's there. It's just a matter of how quickly it's going to come for them at a championship level."

-- Muschamp, on Florida’s youth along the defensive line and finding a consistent rotation. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton