April 05, 2015

The comical musings of DL coach Chris Rumph

GAINESVILLE -- Chris Rumph keeps it 100.

Florida’s new defensive line coach, formally at Texas, didn’t shy away from speaking bluntly about his unit earlier this spring. 

Rumph inherited a nice collection of depth and talent, but he said senior Jon Bullard -- the line's most versatile player and someone who opted to return to school instead of leaving for the NFL -- must play better and that the group as a whole remains a work in progress.  

On his initial impression of the defensive line...

"It's just so young. It's early. They flash, they fool you. I tell them it's just like a girl I dated in high school. She told me she was going to take me to the prom. I'm getting my haircut, getting my brother's car, washing it, cleaning it, all that stuff. I'm all excited about it then all of a sudden she calls and says, 'I'm going to go with your best friend.' So that's how they are. They flash. They tell me they're going to take me to the prom but we haven't gotten there yet." 

On redshirt freshman DT Taven Bryan's untapped potential...

"That’s my big Wyoming wild man. He’s a big old cave man and wants to use all his brute strength. But he’s athletic for a big guy. His football IQ is really, really low because he hasn’t played a lot of football. I don’t know how many great players have come out of the state of Wyoming, but he could be up there. If there is one, he could be just as good as those guys once he learns the game. Everything right now is just new for him. I got him on Gerber, baby food. I can’t even feed him table food yet, he would choke. But once he learns, his teeth are starting to come in, maybe we will feed him off the table before long." 

On redshirt sophomore DT Caleb Brantley's mindset...  

"Caleb has to push himself. He's a very, very talented young man. Very, very talented. But right now, mentally, he's playing like a freshman. Sometimes he's relying on his talent and his athletic ability to do things. As a coach, one of the hardest things to do is to coach a guy up after he's done something wrong, but yet he's had success. He's so result oriented that's all he sees. When I tell him, 'Hey look at your footwork here. Look where your eyes and your hands were on this particular play.' He blocks that out and the only thing he's saying right now is 'Coach you're crazy. I just made a sack. I just made a tackle for a loss, that's what you want.' So I have to tell him yeah you get away with that against this guy but what if it's LSU? What if it's Georgia? What if it's that other school? You may not have that success, so when you're going against just as talented as you are it comes down to technique and fundamentals. So trying to get him to buy into it, which he is, he's trying, all those guys are trying to do that, but him in particular because he's so talented."

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April 03, 2015

Return Fire: Muschamp snipes back at McElwain

GAINESVILLE — Ka…

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Screen Shot 2015-04-03 at 1.46.52 PM. ...Boom.

Muschamp -- Florida’s head coach from 2011-14 -- said he hadn’t heard McElwain’s “insufficient” quip that UF’s offensive cupboard (particularly the offensive line) was rather empty. 

And yet, Auburn’s defensive coordinator was well aware of McElwain’s statement in December that he could win with his dog Claire-a-Belle at quarterback.

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April 02, 2015

Donovan's contract extended but NBA rumors persist

GAINESVILLE -- Florida basketball coach Billy Donovan signed an amended, one-year contract extension through the 2020 season, the Gainesville Sun reported Wednesday

The contract -- signed in December -- pushes Donovan’s annual salary to $4 million, as he remains the sixth-highest paid coach in college basketball.   

The Gators are fresh of a disappointing 2014-15 season (16-17), missing the postseason for the first time since Donovan’s inaugural year at Florida. 

Still, Donovan, who turns 50 on May 30, has built Florida into a national powerhouse, winning a pair of NCAA Championships in 20 seasons in Gainesville. He’s led UF to four Final Fours, six SEC Championships and 14 NCAA Tournament appearances. 

According to the finalized deal -- initially agreed upon last summer -- Donovan’s bonus structure remains the same and his buyout is only $500,000. 

Meanwhile, the Donovan-to-NBA rumors won’t go away. Two weeks after reporting Donovan will “give renewed consideration” to the NBA, ESPN’s Marc Stein wrote Thursday that Donovan is now “looking to make the jump to the NBA more than ever before.”

Earlier Thursday morning, Louisville coach Rick Pitino -- Donovan’s former college coach and trusted mentor -- seemingly legitimized the rumors by bringing up Donovan's name on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike" during a conversation on college coaches transitioning to the NBA 

“I don't recommend it for college coaches to do that unless they know what it's all about," Pitino said. 

"I take someone like Billy Donovan. I think Billy has looked at it, I think he has an urge to coach in the NBA -- a strong desire to coach in the NBA -- and would like to try it, very similar to Brad Stevens, who is doing a wonderful job with the Celtics. I think people like that with that type of personality will do very well."

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March 31, 2015

Gators QB Treon Harris returns to practice

GAINESVILLE -- Florida sophomore quarterback Treon Harris returned to action Monday after missing three practices due to the death of his 16-year-old cousin Richard Hallman.

“It was great to have Treon back with us today,” coach Jim McElwain said. 

“That was good. Obviously, he was a little rusty. We need to give him time as quickly as possible.”

Hallman, a student at Miami Booker T. Washington, was shot and killed Tuesday in Overtown. 

Harris was absent from a pair of midweek workouts and missed Saturday’s scrimmage, too, but McElwain explained his pleasure in having Harris back on the gridiron among teammates and coaches. 

“He’s as good as he can be,” McElwain said. 

“He felt good being back. His family knows that this is where he should be and focus on this. As in any situation of loss, you never get it back. So it's really at that point, you know, focus on the positives, focus on the good things that you had. And I think that's part of it."

New UF linebackers coach Randy Shannon -- the former local standout and Miami Hurricanes head coach -- is close with Harris’ family and has been a shoulder for Treon to lean on. 

“We talked a lot,” Shannon said. 

“Knowing Treon’s family, personally, knowing what he’s been through and you talk to them, communicate to them but you also don’t make him do anything but you try to make him feel more relief than just the anger. … You get him to understand that certain things in life are tough, but you’ve got to always keep moving forward because you have goals in life. He has goals in life that he’s shared with me and things that he shared with the coaching staff. ... We’re there for him. We’re his family, extended family up in Gainesville and he’s got his family back down in Miami. We’re happy that he’s back, but like any process we’re going to get him through this process being away from home.”

THIS & THAT

Sophomore wideout Brandon Powell (Deerfield Beach) will be shutdown the rest of spring due to a nagging foot injury. Meanwhile, backup tailback Adam Lane remains sidelined with an undisclosed leg injury. … Shannon has instituted mandatory tests -- twice a week -- for every player on Florida’s roster. Shannon explained the written exams are simply a learning tool and not a punishment prop. “There is no pass or fail,” he said. “There’s no such thing as pass or fail in coaching. It’s correcting the mistakes and not making the same mistakes. You want to know what they know.” … McElwain mentioned walk-on quarterback Jacob Guy, a 6-5 gunslinger from Dade City Pasco, has quietly worked his way into the quarterback competition and is getting extensive reps. 

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March 30, 2015

Insufficient: McElwain takes shot at Muschamp

GAINESVILLE -- Florida will not be a very good football team next season, and its flawed roster is a major reason why. 

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The transitional era under new coach Jim McElwain will undoubtably take time, so Florida’s next program-builder is already tempering expectations with some not-so-veiled comments aimed at former coach Will Muschamp. 

“You’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt,” McElwain said on the team’s lack of depth.

“And right now, quite honestly, the hand we’re dealt is really insufficient at some of the areas.”

Zing!

McElwain inherited a dangerously thin roster, as UF has struggled to practice this spring with just seven healthy scholarship offensive linemen, four linebackers and only a handful of tailbacks.

This is not the foundation of a championship team.

But five months ago, Muschamp painted a different picture during his farewell press conference.  

“They’ve got a deep and talented roster, so don’t let that new guy tell you he ain’t got any players,” he said.  

“I can tell you right now, there are some good football players in that locker room.”

There are some good football players in UF’s locker room.

They all play the same in the same two units (secondary, defensive line), but still! Some good players!

Muschamp’s comments ring hollow, but you can understand why he would say such a thing. 

There’s no downside for him. Either he’s praised like Ron Zook for leaving the next coach with a deep coffer of talent, or he continues to be blamed for everything this side of the sun anyways. 

Florida is no longer “a broken program,” and Muschamp deserves credit for changing the program's culture, but the irony is he left McElwain a roster similar to the one he inherited.

Urban Meyer ignored the offensive line too, leaving Muschamp with minimal numbers up front (on both lines of scrimmage actually) and few playmakers. 

Now, the program is again in its current state because Muschamp didn’t practice what he preached. 

Muschamp famously railed against “stars” and “recruiting rankings” -- his own veiled shots at his predecessor -- yet UF’s roster is inherently flawed because Muschamp ignored signing offensive linemen in favor of hoarding stars in the secondary or front-seven. 

Muschamp’s final three classes ranked in the top-9 nationally, but on the surface those “rankings” tell as much as Xaro Xhan Daxos’ sealed vault. 

The truth lies in what’s actually inside.  

“There’s nothing we can do about it [now],” McElwain said. 

“It’s no excuse. It’s what we have.”

And right now, Florida doesn't have a whole lot. 

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March 27, 2015

Reports: Frazier to skip senior year, enter NBA Draft

GAINESVILLE -- Florida sharpshooter Michael Frazier II declared for the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports. 

The 6-foot-4 guard opted (somewhat surprisingly) to bypass his senior season after a junior campaign marred by injuries and inconsistencies. 

Neither Frazier or Florida has confirmed the purported decision, but Frazier’s father spoke with the Orlando Sentinel and said the report is true. 

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

Frazier tweeted his official decision late Friday afternoon. 

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Frazier, a two-year starter, averaged 12.1 points and 4.1 rebounds this past season, but his shooting numbers dipped as defenses keyed on UF’s top scoring option.

He labored through an ankle injury, missing seven games and he struggled rounding out other aspects of his game.

Frazier shot a SEC-best 47 and 45 percent from behind the arc as a freshman and sophomore, but he hit 38 percent of his 3-point attempts in 2014-15. 

As a sophomore, Frazier nailed a school-record 118 treys during Florida’s run to the Final Four. He is the first underclassmen to leave UF since Bradley Beal in 2012-13. 

Frazier is considered a fringe draftable prospect, ranking just 84th on ESPN Chad Ford’s Top 100. 

“Frazier began drawing serious interest from NBA scouts during his sophomore season when he averaged 12 points per game and shot a terrific 45 percent from three,” Ford wrote.

“However, his game stagnated a bit as a junior. His scoring averaged dipped slightly and his 3-point percentage slipped to 38 percent. Not terrible numbers, but not the normal progression scouts typically want to see either. He lacks elite size for his position and is a bit one-dimensional, but his 3-point shooting will get him serious looks in the second round. Look for him to land in the 40 to 60 range in the draft.”

Frazier may be simply the first shoe to drop, too, as junior forward Dorian Finney-Smith and sophomore big-man Chris Walker could go pro as well. 

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March 26, 2015

Adam Lane embraces 'accident,' eyes breakout season

GAINESVILLE -- Adam Lane was mainly a scout team reserve his first two seasons at Florida.

But in the Gators’ Jan. 3 Birmingham Bowl victory, the redshirt freshman tailback finally left a mark. 

Twice. 

Lane earned MVP honors after rushing for 109 yards and a touchdown against East Carolina, but he also soiled his pants on national television and became the butt of jokes across the Internet. 

Lane says it was the greatest thing that ever happened to him. 

“It got a lot of attention and just put me in a place where I was out there publicly and people knew who I was,” said Lane, truly embracing an embarrassing moment for most. 

“I really didn't get a lot of grief from it. A lot of people were really more focused on how well I did in the game than anything. I feel like it was that way because I embraced it."

Lane wasn’t sure how or exactly when the ‘accident’ occurred, but following his two-yard score he hustled to the locker room and changed pants. 

“That's actually the first time something like that has ever happened,” he said. 

"Even running off the field after it happened, I waved at the crowd after I ran off to go change. And I waved when I came back. … I really don't think it dawned on them until after it happened, after I got back in the game."

The 5-foot-7, 215-pound battering ram is happy for the notoriety (even considering the circumstances) and now he’s competing for a legitimate role new coach Jim McElwain’s offense.

Lane, who missed Wednesday’s practice with a minor leg injury, is battling junior Kelvin Taylor for carries. He believes his breakout bowl performance is simply the first of many showcases. 

“I’m just glad the new coaches are giving me an opportunity and I’m ready to start the season off right,” he said.    

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March 25, 2015

Notebook: Celebrating together, Jackson praised

GAINESVILLE -- The Gators haven't had a lot of reasons to celebrate last couple seasons, but even when they did it was often done individually. 

New defensive coordinator Geoff Collins wants to change that. 

“We kind of went back and watched some of last season, there would be a lot of great plays being made defensively, but then you would see at times, celebrations being kind of individualized, kind of running away from each other,” Collins explained.  

No more. 

Florida's new staff is emphasizing reveling with teammates, and it's working. 

“The big focus for us this spring, is coming together and celebrating together," Collins said. 

"Not necessarily just ‘look at me, look at me,’ but ‘look at my buddy who just made a play, let’s go get excited about that.’ You start seeing that every single day and get a little bit better, whether it’s 10 or 11 off the sideline to celebrate with each other.”  

TEAM’S BEST ATH?

A year ago, J.C. Jackson was expected to compete for a starting cornerback spot as a true freshman, but a shoulder injury forced a redshirt season. 

Now, the former Immokalee standout is healthy and making waves as a playmaking defensive back in camp. 

“J.C. is probably one of the most athletic kids, possibly, that I’ve ever been around,” Collins said. 

“He’s done a good job for us, playing corner, playing some nickel. [He's] very fast, very physical and very athletic. Technique, he gets better every day. Sometimes some of the technical things that he might not be 100-percent on he can make up for with sheer athletic ability.”

With Jackson’s explosive physical skills, many wondered if the former two-way star would play wideout on a team desperate for playmaking talent. But Collins sidestepped the question Tuesday, saying, “That’s for the head coach, and coach [Jim McElwain] does a great job.”

QUOTABLE

“We went over there and it was awfully muddy.” 

-- McElwain, on checking out the indoor practice facility site during Monday’s inclement weather. 

THIS & THAT

Collins singled out defensive linemen Alex McCalister and Taven Bryan as two players who have “really come on” this spring. … Ideally, McElwain wants to utilize nine wideouts in the rotation come fall. … The Gators will hold a few full contact sessions Wednesday and scrimmage some Saturday.  

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March 24, 2015

Basketball weight room set for $1.2 million expansion

GAINESVILLE -- The weight room at Florida’s basketball facility will be upgraded, the University Athletic Associated announced Tuesday. 

The weight room -- used by both basketball teams and the men’s and women’s golf and tennis teams --will undergo a $1.2 million renovation and nearly double in size (1,525 square feet to 3,056 square feet). 

The project, which includes expanded office space and a nutritional bar, is scheduled to start in April and finish sometime in August. 

“This project will enhance the top-tier training space for our men’s and women’s programs in that facility,” UAA executive associate director for internal affairs Chip Howard said in a release. 

“When completed, it’ll ensure our coaches can continue to recruit, retain and empower our student-athletes to perform at the highest possible level.” 

Last month, UF athletics director Jeremy Foley indicated coach Billy Donovan was satisfied with Florida’s facilities but that the weight room was likely to be bulked up in the near future. 

“I think the thing people don’t understand is you don’t have coaches banging on doors -- Billy Donovan he’s worried about coaching and recruiting,” Foley explained. 

“It’s just you walk in that facility and it has served us well for a while, but you have four teams lifting in there, well really more. You have men’s and women’s golf, men’s and women’s tennis and men’s and women’s basketball. It’s just not big enough right now. So we are going to expand that and maybe even start that this summer.”

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March 21, 2015

No longer offensive? UF's offense "embracing" change

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s offense the last four seasons -- ranked No. 96, No. 115, No. 104 and No. 105 -- was a joke that needed no punchline. 

Former coach Will Muschamp juggled through three different offense coordinators, never figuring out how to revamp a toothless attack. It cost him his job.  

Now, Jim McEwain, UF’s new coach, believes he can resurrect an inept attack and he’s going to do it his way. 

How different will the offense be compared to a year ago?

“Quite a bit,” McElwain said, emphatically. 

“No doubt about it.”

Considering the uncertainty at quarterback and the roster's limitations, solving Florida's own Sphinx stands as a daunting challenge.

Still, Doug Nussmeier -- the Gators’ fifth offensive coordinator in six years -- has been impressed with the players’ eagerness early this spring to put their past struggles in the rear view mirror. 

"The biggest thing that jumps out to me is how hard our kids compete and how eager and willing they are,” he said. 

“Change is inevitable in life. You can either resist it or you can embrace it. They've done an outstanding job of that, couldn't be happier."

Nussmeier said the offense's transition requires a "steep" learning curve and that "it's going to take a little time," but the former Alabama and Michigan OC feels positive about the early progress. 

“Anytime you install a new offense, there’s a large transition," he said.

"The idea is to give them a lot of information, put them in a situation where they’re forced to think and try to play fast. Then you go back and reteach and they’ll get it. You continue to build from there.”

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Report: Donovan to give NBA "renewed consideration"

GAINESVILLE -- Could Billy Donovan leave Florida?

Maybe. 

According to ESPN’s insider Marc Stein, “there’s a growing sense in NBA coaching circles that Florida’s Billy Donovan will give renewed consideration to making a move to the pros.”

The Gators missed the postseason for the first time in 17 years, finishing a disappointing 16-17 after opening the season ranked seventh nationally. 

The rumors -- in a vacuum -- are not shocking. I’ve heard similar whispers, too. 

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However, Donovan leaving the Gators is possible but unlikely.

Stein listed Orlando as a potential fit, while Oklahoma City (Scott Brooks has underwhelmed) and Chicago (Tom Thibodeau has clashed with management) could be openings to watch as well.

Should the Bulls make a move though, Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg is considered the frontrunner for the opening. 

Donovan infamously accepted the Magic job in 2007 before a change of heart quickly brought him back to UF. The future Hall of Fame coach won his 500th game during the 2014-15 season, and has led the Gators to a pair of national titles, six SEC Championships and 14 NCAA Tournament appearances.  

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March 18, 2015

Notebook: McElwain impressed with secondary, Bullard's second thoughts & more

GAINESVILLE -- Led by All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, Florida’s secondary is the deepest and most talent-rich unit on the team’s roster. 

The Gators ranked just 42nd nationally in pass defense in 2014, but a position group stacked with stars, many underclassmen, finished the season tied for second in the SEC in interceptions.

Now, just two days into spring practice, Hargreaves & Co. are garnering the attention of new coach Jim McElwain.

“I am really impressed with the amount of talent they have collected at the position,” he said.

“Those guys are really good players and they compete. I really like the way they take every down and every play and try to get better. They push each other. That’s definitely something that’s great to see, just that competition among all of them. They communicate and help each other get better. It’s fun to watch those guys play.”

Hargreaves headlines a group that includes three playmaking sophomores -- Jalen Tabor (a freshman All-SEC performer), Duke Dawson and Quincy Wilson -- and a trio of upperclassmen -- Keanu Neal, Marcus Maye and Brian Poole. Added to the mix this season is J.C. Jackson, who many expected to compete for a starting job last year but was forced to redshirt as a freshman after injuring his shoulder in the offseason.

“They all [have great size] and they can cover,” McElwain said.

“They're not afraid. They're really a good veteran group, obviously guys that have played that way. We're going to have to rely on them a lot to make a lot of plays.” 

SECOND THOUGHTS

Senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bullard admitted he’s had second thoughts on returning to school for one final season after seeing teammate D.J. Humphries’ draft stock soar following an impressive performance at the NFL Combine.

Bullard, a former five-star recruit who was second on the Gators with 8.5 tackles for loss in 2014, opted to return for his senior season after not receiving a first round grade.

“I would be lying if I said I didn’t [have any regrets] because I see the Combine can do a lot,” he said.

“You're going to have second thoughts and think, but I made my decision and I’m happy with it. I’m going to make the most of it." 

QUOTABLE 

“We’ll be able to see how some guys react. There are guys sometimes that are no-pad All-Americans. When you the pads on [them] they slow down a little bit or something. We’ll find out about all that on Friday.”

-- McElwain on the Gators practicing in full pads starting Friday. 

THIS & THAT

Redshirt freshman defensive lineman Thomas Holley, a five star prospect who missed all of 2014 after undergoing hip surgery in late August, said he’s still experiencing some pain but is eager to prove to a new staff he can work his way into the rotation. … Several players switched numbers this offseason, including wideout Brandon Powell (No. 15 to No. 4), cornerbacks Quincy Wilson (No. 12 to No. 6) and Jalen Tabor (No. 5 to No. 31) and linebacker Matt Rolin (No. 9 to No. 25). … With just seven scholarship offensive linemen in camp, the Gators’ M*A*S*H unit will be a fluid group all spring. Thus far, the first-team unit (L-R) was David Sharpe, Antonio Riles, Cam Dillard, Andrew Mike and Roderick Johnson. … Hargreaves, Jackson and wideouts Brandon Powell and Demarcus Robinson are UF’s primary return men to start of camp.

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March 16, 2015

Spring six-pack: Camp starts with lots of questions

GAINESVILLE -- Florida kicks-off spring practice Monday, with 15 practices scheduled between today and April 11’s Orange and Blue Debut. 

All practices are closed to the public, but there’s a laundry list of questions and storylines to follow from afar. 

It’s an important month for UF, as the Gators take the field for the first time under new coach Jim McElwain and hope to resurrect a stagnating program. 

There’s sure to be the usual platitudes of “the strength and conditioning program has never been better!”

And “I’ve never seen a closer group of guys. Everyone has really bought in,” but ideally some meaningful information will be gleaned over the next month. Here's a six-pack of questions as the Gators' transitional era officially starts. 

1. Who is going to block?

The Gators open camp with just seven scholarship offensive linemen and have already advertised walk-on spots. With Trip Thurman sidelined (chronic shoulder injury), who will play center? Will Roderick Johnson, a promising tackle, play guard to make room for five-star prospect Martez Ivey? For the second time in three seasons, Florida won’t hold a traditional spring game because of roster management (and injury) issues. Still, the offensive line needs to form some sort of cohesion heading into the summer. 

2. Can McElwain & Co. revamp UF’s bumbling offense? What will its identity be?

McElwain has repeatedly stated he’ll adapt his offensive philosophy to Florida’s personnel. So really, it remains unclear what scheme the Gators will primarily run. Will it be lots of one-back sets with a heavy focus on running the football, or will UF run a pistol spread with a quick passing attack? We don’t know, and Florida’s quarterback quandary only muddles the question more.  

3. The quarterback conundrum. Can anyone separate themselves? 

The battle between Treon Harris and Will Grier will continue past spring camp, but McEwain hopes someone creates some distance so the team has an idea who will be under center (depending on the scheme!) in the fall. Grier (seemingly) is more suited for McElwain’s past offenses, but perhaps Florida’s staff will design an attack tailored to Harris’ playmaking skill-set. Complicating the competition are the issues surrounding the quarterbacks. Aside from the potential offensive line woes,  can tailbacks Kelvin Taylor or Adam Lane develop into consistent threats? Who can catch the ball aside from Demarcus Robinson? 

4. Will the Ministry of Mayhem look different under a new “Master?”

Former Mississippi State defensive coordinator Geoff Collins oversees a unit stocked with talent. Collins runs a hybrid scheme not all that different from former UF coach Will Muschamp. He inherits a secondary that could be among the nation’s best, while the front-seven is littered with promising prospects. But there’s issues at linebacker (no Antonio Morrison or Jarrad Davis this spring) and the Gators must replace three defensive tackles and Dante Fowler’s production. 

5. Can the Gators avoid the injury bug?

Florida’s roster is already low on numbers, so the Gators cannot afford a spring filled with major injuries or even lots of bumps and bruises. The new staff will have to be creative in designing practices due to so few available bodies at offensive line and linebacker. Will there be positional changes because of limited numbers?

6. Spring stars equal fall frauds … so who’s next? Or will someone break the trend?

Spring practice is all about optimism, expectations, hope … and eventual disappointment. Every year, a number of players shine in March only to disappear when the real lights turn on. There’s a litany of candidates to choose from, but Lane, defensive tackle Jay-nard Bostwick, wideout Brandon Powell and cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Quincy Wilson appear poised for breakout camps under the team’s new direction. But will they have any staying power?

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March 11, 2015

Brandon Powell shifting to WR this spring

GAINESVILLE -- Former Deerfield Beach star tailback Brandon Powell will transition to wide receiver this spring, Florida coach Jim McElwain announced Tuesday. 

The sophomore, who lined up at both running back and slot wideout last season, played sparingly as a freshman despite UF’s staff labeling the shifty 5-foot-9 playmaker as one of the team’s most explosive skill guys. 

"Moving forward, probably the biggest one in there is trying to figure out exactly where Brandon Powell is going to kind of fit from a wide receiver/running back," McElwain explained.

"He kind of played both a little bit. We’re going to primarily put him at wideout and give us an opportunity there."

Powell nabbed 15 receptions for 147 yards and a touchdown last year, while also rushing for 70 yards and a score on only 16 carries. 

He flashed in both spots, but appeared more dangerous lined up outside. 

"That obviously makes us thin at running back, but at the same time, you kind of do a guy a disservice when you try to do a little bit of both," McElwain said.

"So we’re going to try and take a look at that first and then we’ll go from there."

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March 10, 2015

Finney-Smith, Robinson earn All-SEC accolades

GAINESVILLE -- Florida forwards Dorian Finney-Smith and freshman Devin Robinson each earned 2015 All-SEC honors, the league announced Tuesday. 

Finney-Smith, the Gators' top all-around player and the 2014 SEC Sixth Man of the Year, was named to the All-SEC second team. 

The redshirt junior leads the Gators in scoring (13.1 ppg) and rebounds (6.0 rpg). 

Meanwhile, Robinson garnered All-Freshman honors, averaging 6.4 points and 2.9 rebounds this season. The 6-foot-9 swingman started 17 games and scored in double-figures in five of his last eight appearances. 

No. 1 Kentucky swept the majority of the postseason awards, as John Calipari took home SEC Coach of the Year, center Willie Cauley-Stein earned SEC Defensive Player of the Year, Karl-Anthony Towns was tabbed the SEC’s Freshman of the Year and freshman guard Devin Booker was voted the SEC’s Sixth Man of the Year.  

In a bit of a surprise, Arkansas’ Bobby Portis was named the league’s Player of the Year. 

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Another blow: OL Trip Thurman OUT for spring

GAINESVILLE -- Florida is extremely low in numbers along the offensive line.

So much so, new coach Jim McElwain wants “cry,” adding,”There’s been some sleepless nights.”

The situation has worsened. 

Fifth-year senior Trip Thurman will miss all of spring practice with a chronic shoulder injury, another blow to an already beleaguered and thin unit. 

“His shoulder is such that if we can get an eight-month cycle off of it, then maybe we’re able to piece some things together with him next fall,” McElwain said Monday. 

“We’re very, very thin at offensive line, to the point that -- we all knew this was coming, so it’s not a shock -- but we’re going to have to adjust how we practice, the amount of reps we get and the different ways in which we do things from a practice structure.”

Thurman, who started 10 games at guard in 2014, was the team’s presumed starter at center next season. Now, Florida has just seven scholarship offensive lineman available this spring -- with a total of three career starts. 

Recently, the Gators released tryout dates for walk-on linemen.  

“That’s the cards we were dealt,” McElwain said. 

“It will be all right. The key is to making sure we get as much work as we can with as many people as we can to kind of establish who we are and what we’re all about and the direction we’re going to head with this football team as we move in from spring ball and into the summer sessions.”

Due to the roster’s low numbers, for the second time in three years the Gators won’t hold a traditional Orange & Blue Debut on April 11. 

Meanwhile, linebackers Antonio Morrison (ACL injury) and Jarrad Davis (meniscus) and defensive end Bryan Cox (hip surgery) will be out this spring, too. Morrison, the Gators’ leading-tackler (101) last year, tore his ACL in the Birmingham Bowl and could miss the start of next season. 

“Things are going well [for Antonio],” McElwain said. 

“He’s really attacking his rehab, and has been a big lift to us. I’ve got to tell you what, here’s a guy, he doesn’t miss a meeting. He’s out there at practice doing everything he can do. That’s really good to see.”

As for the others, McElwain said, “They’re hurt. There’s a pretty good chance they won’t practice much.” 

Lastly, sixth-year senior tight end Jake McGee, who broke his leg Sep. 6 against Eastern Michigan, is running well and expected to participate in drill work. Still, McGee remains non-contact and will not play in any live scrimmages. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 09, 2015

SEC Tourney: UF-Alabama showdown set for Thursday

GAINESVILLE -- Last March, Florida entered the SEC Tournament as the crown jewel of college hoops.

Led by a quartet of seniors, the Gators -- undefeated in conference play -- swept the tournament and became the first team in league history to go 21-0. 

A year later, UF is desperate to simply extend a disappointing season. 

The Gators landed the No. 8 seed in this week’s SEC Tournament in Nashville, with a 1 p.m. Thursday tipoff against 9th-seeded Alabama (18-13, 8-10 SEC).  

The winner earns the pleasure of facing unbeaten Kentucky in the quarterfinals on Friday afternoon.

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Florida (15-16, 8-10 SEC) lost 67-50 at No. 1 UK over the weekend, and may miss the postseason for the first time since Billy Donovan’s inaugural season in Gainesville in 1996-97.  

Donovan is 9-0 all-time against Alabama coach Anthony Grant, a longtime lieutenant under Donovan at Florida. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 06, 2015

Frazier available against top-ranked Kentucky

GAINESVILLE -- Florida faces No. 1 Kentucky as a 15.5-point underdog Saturday (2 p.m., CBS), but the Gators should be boosted by the return of leading scorer Michael Frazier II. 

UF coach Billy Donovan is optimistic the junior sharpshooter will play after missing seven games with a  high-ankle sprain. 

Still, Donovan is unsure how much Frazier will contribute. 

“How much he will play, I don’t know,” Donovan said Friday. 

"I wasn’t really looking at his timing, shooting, rhythm those kinds of things. I was more interested in seeing how he was moving, and I thought he moved pretty well in practice.” 

Frazier has missed seven straight game since sustaining the injury in a Feb. 7 loss against Kentucky. Frazier scored 10 points in the first half versus the Wildcats before exiting the 68-61 defeat early in the second half. 

The Gators (15-15, 8-9 SEC) have won two straight conference games for the first time since late January, but they’ve really missed Frazier’s ability to stretch the defense and space the floor. 

Despite an inconsistent season, Frazier leads UF in scoring (13.2 ppg) and is shooting 40.1 percent from behind the arc. 

The Gators were 3-4 without Frazier in the lineup. 

“How much we’ll be about to get out of him, if anything, I don’t know,” Donovan said. 

“I’m going into the game with him available, but I think for me to go in there and say, ‘Ok, he’s back right now. He’s going to play 30 minutes and he’s going to be back where he was before he got injured,’ I think would be a mistake. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

March 04, 2015

Florida holds on, knocks off Texas A&M in home finale

GAINESVILLE -- Florida squeaked past Texas A&M 66-62 in excruciating fashion, nearly coughing up a 14-point lead in the final 1:58 at home Tuesday evening.

But Eli Carter sank two clutch free throws with 13.4 seconds remaining, sending the Gators to their second consecutive conference victory and a .500 record on the year. 

The Gators (15-15, 8-9) bullied the Aggies -- a potential NCAA Tournament team at 20-9 -- for much of the game before misadventures at the charity stripe nearly proved disastrous. Florida hit just 5-of-14 free throws down the stretch until Carter ended a serious drought. 

UF shot a woeful 52.8 percent (20-for-38) from the free throw line on the night, turning a potential rout in a nail-biter as Texas A&M scored on eight of 11 possessions. 

“It’s happened to our team a lot this season,” UF coach Billy Donovan said. “We’re not a mentally strong team. ... I don’t think there’s any excuse for that.” 

Still, the Gators survived thanks to a balanced scoring effort and a tenacious defense, with four players scoring in double-figures led by forward Dorian Finney-Smith’s 12 points. 

The junior also chipped in seven rebounds, three steals and two assists off the bench. Carter added 11 points with five turnovers. 

UF actually opened the game in a 10-0 hole, failing to get on the scoreboard for the first 5:28 of the opening period. 

Then Finney-Smith entered the contest, and the Gators immediately went on a 17-4 spurt, as the Aggies couldn’t buy a bucket. 

A seesaw affair early in the second half quickly became a blowout, as UF took control with a 14-0 sprint. 

UF’s half court defense was suffocating for the second straight game, holding the Aggies’ top playmaker Danuel House scoreless (0-for-10) for the first time all season.

The Gators frustrated House with traps and aggressive looks, with UF point guard Kasey Hill (eight assists, two steals) doing an excellent job in 1-on-1 situations. 

Texas A&M point guard Alex Caruso led all scorers with 20 points, while swingman Jalen Jones added 15 points and nine boards. 

“There’s times and glimpses where we play at a very, very high level,” said Donovan on Florida’s stingy defense.

“Mentally this was a game where we felt like we did a terrific job sustaining defensive intensity the whole entire time.” 

UF honored walk-ons Lexx Edwards and Jacob Kurtz during a Senior Night ceremony before the game.   

Kurtz, a key glue-guy the last two years, earned the start and scored a nifty hustle layup late in the first half, only to get injured on the play. 

The forward, who finished with two points and two assists, was poked in the right eye and barely played the rest of the night with his eye nearly swollen shut. 

NOTES

Freshmen Chris Chiozza and Devin Robinson both scored 10 points. Florida shot 48 percent from the field, and hit 8-of-20 shots from downtown … Alex Murphy chipped in nine points, including seven straight during a mini-run in the second half. Murphy ignited a sparse crowd with a monstrous two-handed jam during a 12-0 run. … UF also played its seventh straight game without leading scorer Michael Frazier II (high-ankle sprain). 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

February 28, 2015

Donovan nets 500th win, as Florida cruises past UT

GAINESVILLE -- Billy Donovan swears win No. 500 wasn’t on his mind. 

He’s not even sure when Florida's next victory will even come. 

But in a forgettable and frustrating season, Donovan finally reached the elusive milestone, as UF smashed Tennessee 66-49 Saturday night in the O’Connell Center. 

In a special night worth remembering, the man who turned Florida into a national powerhouse became the second-youngest men’s D-1 coach to win 500 games.

“I’ve been part of at least a lot of unbelievable experiences in that building. Tonight was very, very meaningful,” Donovan, 49, said. 

It’s been a tough season for the Gators, but in the rout’s closing seconds the Rowdy Reptiles chanted “Billy D. Billy D. Billy D,” and Florida celebrated Donovan’s achievement with a postgame video montage. 

“I thought there was a great crowd tonight, and obviously our team has struggled this year," he said.

"For the amount of people to come out like they did to watch our team play, I was very, very appreciative and very thankful for that. I thought we had a great environment, a great crowd. Then to be kind of honored like that at the end of the game was extremely touching, and I was very, very thankful for that."

The Gators snapped a two-game skid, as Dorian Finney-Smith returned from a three-game suspension to lead all players with 20 points and 10 rebounds. 

The redshirt junior didn’t start, but recorded his second double-double on the season and his most points since Jan. 7 against South Carolina. 

“I just wanted to come out here and play with a lot of energy,” Finney-Smith said. 

“I owed it to these guys to come and have a good game.”

Florida (14-15, 7-9 SEC) led wire-to-wire, shooting a blistering 57.1 percent from the field.

The Vols’ matchup-zone defense was a sieve, yielding a barrage of dunks and 3-pointers for the Gators’ best offensive performance in over 10 weeks. 

UF point guard Kasey Hill rebounded from a miserable effort in Wednesday’s loss at Missouri, slicing Tennessee’s zone for eight dimes and seven points. Gators center Jon Horford chipped in 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting.   

“We were balanced,” Donovan said. 

“We just weren’t just all 3-point bomb shots, we had some layups, we did some good things. … Overall offensively the thing I was most pleased about was the 21 assists.”

The Gators opened the game on a 15-5 run and never looked back. Tennessee (14-14, 6-10 SEC) trailed 40-22 at halftime, as UF’s red-hot start led to seven treys, seven dunks and an astounding 14 assists on 15 field goals. 

The second half became mainly a perfunctory exercise, as UF’s lead ballooned to 23 points and UT never cut the deficit to single digits.   

Florida’s defensive effort was nearly as impressive, suffocating UT’s halfcourt attack. The Vols’ leading scorer Josh Richardson (15.9 ppg) never found a rhythm, scoring just nine points -- none in the first half. 

The Gators forced 14 turnovers and finished with a 27-19 advantage on the glass. 

Junior forward Armani Moore led Tennessee with 18 points, scoring the team’s first eight points to start the game. 

UF hosts Texas A&M at 9 p.m. Tuesday.  

NOTES

Gators junior guard Eli Carter joined the 1,000-point club with 11, including a trio of first-half 3-pointers. Carter, who missed practice this week with strep throat, also added six assists. … The Vols lost their fifth straight game and seven of eight. … The Gators’ balanced effort led to a 33-18 advantage in bench points.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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