April 30, 2015

Hot Board: Where does Florida turn next?

GAINESVILLE -- Replacing Billy Donovan is an unenviable task, but Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley is charged with finding a coach suitable to fill Donovan’s footsteps. 

Good luck. 

Foley will oversee a second major hire in the last six months, as the Gators will have a new football and basketball coach in the same year for the first time since 1990-91. They’ll be the only Power 5 school in the country with such a duo. 

As is stands, Florida has the lone college basketball opening in the nation. 

Donovan built UF into a national powerhouse, but the program is at a bit of a crossroads with just a decent roster and facilities that need upgrading. Is Florida actually an elite job, or was Donovan what made the Gators an annual contender?

We’ll see.

Here’s a list of candidates Foley may pursue. 

1. Archie Miller, Dayton head coach -- The hottest name potentially linked to Florida. The 36-year-old (and younger brother of Arizona coach Sean Miller) is a considered a rising star after taking the Flyers to the Elite Eight in 2013-14. 

2. John Pelphrey, Florida assistant head coach -- The former South Alabama and Arkansas head coach has been Donovan’s top assistant since 2011. Ideally, Donovan would prefer Pelphrey succeed him. 

3. Chris Mack, Xavier head coach -- An Ohio native, Mack has an impressive résumé (three Sweet 16 births in six seasons) but few ties to the South. 

4. Michael White, Louisiana Tech head coach -- Another rising star and the son of Duke athletic director Kevin White. He played at Ole Miss and is considered a strong recruiter with success in the state of Florida. 

5. Richard Pitino, Minnesota head coach -- A former UF assistant from 2009-11, but Rick Pitino’s son has never made the NCAA Tournament in five seasons as a head coach. 

6. Jay Wright, Villanova head coach -- Easily the most accomplished coach on the list and a longshot candidate. Foley loves him, but Wright is a Northeast native and has coached at Nova for 14 years.  

7. Steve Prohm, Murray State head coach -- Prohm, who went to Alabama, has dominated the Ohio Valley Conference, leading the Racers to a 104-29 record in four seasons. Another longshot candidate.   

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 29, 2015

Reports: Donovan-to-OKC gaining steam

GAINESVILLE -- Florida’s two-time national champion coach Billy Donovan is reportedly “leaning strongly” toward accepting the opening with the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, per multiple reports. 

ESPN’s Marc Stein wrote early Wednesday morning UF’s coach and OKC had formally opened talks, and Yahoo! Sports later reported the Thunder is “preparing an offer” and Donovan is “enthusiastic” about the potential move. 

Barring an impasse over contract negotiations, Donovan’s exit appears imminent following weeks of smoke and speculation.

"He's as good as gone," Stein quoted one source.

Stein also stated Donovan's family is "willing to move" and a decision is expected within 48 hours. 

Donovan, who built Florida basketball into a powerhouse over 19 seasons, recently signed an amended, one-year contract extension through the 2020 season, pushing his annual salary just north of $4 million. His buyout ($500,000) remained unchanged though, and he no longer is tied to a noncompete clause. 

The future Hall of Fame coach would inherit an OKC team with tons of talent (stars Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka) but also inherent risks with Durant and Westbrook’s looming free agency’s.

Still, Donovan’s strong ties to the organization -- including a close relationship with Thunder GM Sam Presti -- are critical influences to the potential move. Yahoo! reported Presti flew to Gainesville on Tuesday. 

Last year, UF assistant Mark Daigneault was hired as the Thunder’s D-League coach, and at the same time, Florida video coordinator Oliver Winterbone left to become a scout/data analyst for OKC. 

Florida hired Donovan in 1996. He was only 31. The former Wall Street wiz had just two years of head coaching experience, but Donovan was charged with building a competitive program -- one that had just five NCAA Tournament appearances in school history. 

Within three seasons, Donovan took Florida to the Sweet Sixteen and the foundation for the future was established. 

Donovan, who turns 50 on May 30, was a relentless recruiter and offensive mastermind, turning the Gators into a powerhouse. He led UF to four Final Fours, six SEC Championships, 14 NCAA Tournament appearances and 16 straight 20-win seasons. He’s the second youngest coach in D-1 history to win 500 games. 

Impervious to distractions, Donovan has yet to comment on OKC’s interest and was recruiting for Florida as recently as Sunday.

The Donovan-to-NBA rumors heated up less than a month ago, with Stein initially reporting Donovan would “give renewed consideration” to the NBA, and later writing, “Donovan is looking to make the jump to the NBA more than ever before.”

Donovan has never been shy about the NBA’s allure, openly admitting last March he was still “intrigued.”

In 2007, Donovan infamously accepted the Orlando Magic job before a change of heart brought him back to UF less than a week later.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 21, 2015

Roderick Johnson releases heartfelt statement

GAINESVILLE -- Roderick Johnson is doing his best to stay positive. 

A week after learning he’d suffered a career-ending injury in practice, the redshirt sophomore spoke publicly Monday about his retirement. 

In a candid statement released by UF, Johnson -- a right tackle who played in all 12 games last season -- discussed overcoming his heartbreaking condition, his pride for the Gator Nation and his goals for the future. 

“Spinal stenosis -- April 3, 2015 -- the day that changed my life,” he said. 

“It’s hard to walk away from this game, and it’s dearly easy to fall in love with when you have the right mindset and the dedication. I enjoyed my time as a Gator from the first day I got that call from Coach [Will] Muschamp. I instantly fell in love with a school I didn’t like since I was a kid (lol).

"I had a tough time trying to enroll due to my grades. I pulled through with the love and support from the UF staff. Taking the redshirt my first year was rough, so going into my freshman redshirt year I took it more serious. Listening to Coach [Mike] Summers coach and trusting his technique made me a great offensive lineman and I always had heart, of course.”

Johnson did, and his mettle was truly tested following a team scrimmage on April 3. The former American Heritage High standout was hit in practice and his life changed almost immediately. Johnson was initially diagnosed with a "stinger," but after he experienced numbness in his fingers and hands doctors soon discovered his career-ending condition. 

In an instant, a potential NFL prospect had his dream ripped away. Still, as Johnson struggles to cope with reality he continues to maintain an optimistic outlook on the future.  

“It’s a tough time as I try to move forward, but I still have some positives on the situation,” he said.

“I get to stand and talk to you instead of being in a wheelchair. I would like to say thanks to the coaching staff from Coach [McElwain] all the way down to the graduate assistants. Being in a highly powered offense, I wanted to prove I was a great athlete even when my knee bothered me sometimes.

“In looking forward to what the future brings, I look to be a great assistant coach and make sure these 2015 offensive linemen know what it takes to be a Gator, and for that, I love Gator Nation. You turned me from a boy to a man. I want to see my teammates be great because it can be taken away from you in just one play.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 19, 2015

J.C. Jackson arrested in connection to armed robbery

GAINESVILLE -- Florida redshirt freshman cornerback J.C. Jackson was arrested Saturday in connection to an armed robbery at a Gainesville apartment complex. 

The former Immokalee star has been charged with first-degree felony robbery with a firearm and remains in custody in Alachua County Jail on a $150,000 bond. 

Jackson, 19, allegedly entered an acquaintance’s apartment at 3:45 p.m. with two other unidentified men. 

According to a Gainesville Police Department report, Jackson reportedly “acted as though he had a phone call" after entering the apartment.

Jackson quickly exited the residence, but he left the two other men inside and almost immediately one subject pulled out a handgun and grabbed marijuana that was on a table. 

Per the GPD report, the gunman then demanded the apartment’s residents “get on the ground and empty their pockets,” pressing the gun on the acquaintance’s face. The suspects later fled with $382, drugs and a pair of video game consoles. 

Jackson never "re-entered the apartment" during the incident, but he allegedly setup the meeting by contacting the acquaintance earlier in the day about “hanging out and smoking cannabis.”

The victims identified Jackson in a photo lineup, and he later turned himself into the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. 

"We are aware of the news involving J.C. Jackson and he is currently dealing with a serious issue," UF coach Jim McElwain said in a release. 

"We don't condone any of his actions and it is not something that reflects on the expectations we have in the program. It is being handled accordingly due to the severity of his actions."

Jackson was competing for a starting job this spring, and new defensive coordinator Geoff Collins called the cornerback "one of top athletes" on the team. 

But Jackson’s days at Florida could be numbered, as Saturday’s arrest isn’t his first run-in with the law at UF. 

In December, Jackson, quarterback Treon Harris and cornerback Jalen Tabor were stopped for speeding on campus. UF officers found two small bags of marijuana in the vehicle but no charges were filed since the car did not belong to the players and none were in possession of the drugs.

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April 14, 2015

RT Rod Johnson retires due to spinal condition

GAINESVILLE -- Promising right tackle Roderick Johnson’s career is over, Florida announced Tuesday. 

The talented redshirt sophomore -- and team’s top offensive linemen -- was diagnosed with congenital cervical stenosis, or narrowing of the spinal canal, and forced to retire from football. 

He was hurt in a team scrimmage on April 3, with coach Jim McElwain originally calling the injury “a stinger.” 

But Johnson, who played in all 12 games in 2014, also experienced numbness in his fingers and hands and underwent further evaluation. An MRI and consults with outside specialists and team doctors ultimately revealed his devastating condition. 

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After Saturday’s Orange and Blue Debut, McElwain hinted Johnson’s prognosis “doesn’t look great,” adding, “One thing I’ll tell you this about any player: I will never, ever put him out there in harm’s way. … Life’s too short, man. Ain’t gonna do it, ain’t gonna do it to a young guy.”

Johnson’s injury ends a potential NFL career and leaves Florida’s offensive line in dire straits. The Gators will enter the fall with just 13 scholarship linemen -- nine true or redshirt freshmen. 

Trip Thurman is UF's only returning linemen to ever start a collegiate game (10), but the senior guard missed all of spring with a serious shoulder injury and is hardly guaranteed to be healthy come fall. 

Johnson is now Florida’s fourth offensive linemen (Octavius Jackson, Nolan Kelleher, Drew Savary) in just over 18 months to quit football due to injuries. 

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April 13, 2015

Rehired: Grant returns to Florida

GAINESVILLE -- While Billy Donovan’s name continues to swirl in NBA circles, Florida’s coach is busy putting the band back together. 

Less than 24 hours after Gators assistant Matt McCall took the head coaching job at UT-Chattanooga, Donovan hired longtime assistant and friend Anthony Grant to fill UF’s vacated position. 

Grant, a Miami native who starred at Miami Senior High, spent a dozen seasons as an assistant under Donovan, including 10 years (1996-2006) at Florida. The move also reunites Donovan, Grant and assistant Jon Pelphrey. 

“We're very excited to have Anthony back on our staff,” Donovan said in a statement.

“He's obviously familiar with our program, and he is an outstanding coach and recruiter, so he adds great value to our staff and our team.”

After Florida’s 2006 national title, Grant was hired by VCU and led the Rams to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances in three seasons.

Following the 2009 season, Grant left VCU for Alabama, where he went 117-85 in six seasons but made the NCAA Tournament just once and was fired in March.

Grant is regarded as a relentless recruiter with strong ties to South Florida. He was credited with signing Miami Heat center and former Miami High standout Udonis Haslem. 

“I’m extremely appreciative of Coach Donovan extending the opportunity to me to return to the University of Florida,” Grant said. 

“It’s a great chance to return a place I love and have fond memories of, and I look forward to helping the staff build on the tradition and success that Coach Donovan has created.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 12, 2015

The hits keep coming: Johnson sidelined indefinitely?

GAINESVILLE -- While Florida’s Orange & Blue Debut was predictably anticlimactic, Saturday’s biggest news was the health of offensive tackle Roderick Johnson. 

The redshirt sophomore was penciled in as the Gators’ starting right tackle, but Johnson exited an April 3rd scrimmage with a “stinger with finger numbness” and now the prognosis could be even worse. 

“We actually should get the final doc probably on Monday,” new UF coach Jim McElwain said. 

“It doesn’t look great.”

McElwain didn’t discuss specifics, but he hinted that Johnson’s injury is potentially career-threatening. 

“The one thing I’ll tell you this about any player: I will never, ever put him out there in harm’s way. And we’ve got a medical staff that looks at everything. We send the things all over the country to specialists. … Life’s too short, man. Ain’t gonna do it, ain’t gonna do it to a young guy.”

 It’s another brutal blow for Florida, as a unit decimated by injuries and attrition continues to get thinner. 

With Johnson sidelined, the Gators have just six healthy scholarship offensive linemen with a combined zero career starts. The group adds six freshmen in the summer, including five-star tackle Martez Ivey. 

“I’ve explained to them, it’s not like you’re going to stand in line at Disney World, you’re in the Fast Pass line,” McElwain said.

“You’re on the ride right now. It’s going to be a huge summer for them … We’ve got to get them schooled-up and ready to roll."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 10, 2015

Chris Thompson faces charge, "excused" from team

GAINESVILLE -- Junior receiver Chris Thompson has been “excused from the team” until his legal issues are resolved, Florida coach Jim McElwain said Friday. 

Thompson, a local product and star at Gainesville High School, faces a sworn complaint for misdemeanor battery after he allegedly scratched and bruised his ex-girlfriend during an argument last week. 

“Chris obviously had an incident here sometime last week,” McElwain said. 

“He’s dealing with that. He’s been excused from what we’re doing right now until it’s resolved. That’s kind of how we deal with it. We’ll find out as it goes forward, find out what goes on.”

The incident occurred on April 1, when Thompson and his former girlfriend began arguing over text messages he received from another female. 

According to the Gainesville Police Department incident report, the alleged victim took Thompson’s phone and “demanded” answers. Shortly thereafter, the junior wideout attempted to “physically retrieve” the cell phone, scratching his ex-girlfriend’s arm and neck. 

Thompson missed Florida’s last three practices.

The little-used junior, with just four career receptions for 30 yards, had performed well this spring and was competing for a starting spot opposite star receiver Demarcus Robinson.  

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April 09, 2015

The Orange & Blue Debut will be a game after all

GAINESVILLE -- Despite just six healthy scholarship offensive linemen and only a handful of tailbacks and linebackers, Florida will play an actual spring game -- sort of -- after all. 

Saturday’s annual Orange & Blue Debut (12:30 p.m., streaming on SEC Network+) will feature two teams and four 12-minute quarters, the Gators announced Thursday.

The scrimmage with have a running clock except for the final two minutes of the second and fourth quarters. 

Regardless of the score, the teams will play an untimed overtime period, too. 

Saturday won't be easy for Florida's players, but the revamped format should be more suitable than a glorified practice to Gator fans. 

"We're going to do everything we can to create some game-like situations, different offense, different defense working as a same unit," UF coach Jim McElwain said. 

Still, the announcement comes as a surprise considering UF’s roster issues (OL, RBs & LBs). Throughout the spring, McElwain stated the difficulty in holding a traditional spring game with Florida's limited depth. 

“There’s going to be live scrimmaging,” he explained last week.

“But we won’t have true two teams necessarily. We’ll do some offense against defense just because we don’t have enough to really have two teams.”

Evidently, they have enough.

Sort of.

"We're still working out some of the details because of the depth and how we're going to have to maybe trade some jerseys as we move along," McElwain said.

"But there again, trying to work as much as we can to get a lot out of Saturday as our last opportunity obviously as a team to get after it. ... We’re still kind of piecemealing those groups together right now. Yet I think we’ll be able to go, we’ll have a good competitive game as much as we can.” 

Following Saturday's scrimmage, Florida players will sign autographs for “approximately 10 minutes” and there will be a concert at 2:30 p.m. on the north lawn of The Swamp.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

April 07, 2015

News & Notes: Fowler, Humphries headline UF Pro Day

GAINESVILLE -- Florida held its annual Pro Day on Tuesday, as 22 former Gators worked out under the scorching sun for NFL scouts, coaches and GM’s from all 32 teams.

Defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. and left tackle D.J. Humphries headlined the event, and both players continued to impress. 

Meanwhile, a number of other former players produced solid workouts included center Max Garcia, tailback Matt Jones and linebacker Neiron Ball. 

Garcia led all performers with 30 reps on the bench press. Jones, who reportedly met with Steelers brass earlier in the week, ran the 40-yard-dash in an unofficial 4.53 at 6-foot-2, 231 pounds. 

Former Miami Booker T. Washington receiver Quinton Dunbar clocked an unofficial 4.44. Wideout/kick returner Andre Debose blazed all competitors with an unofficial 4.38. Debose is unlikely to be drafted, but Mayock called him a priority free agent.

Defensive tackle Leon Orr, infamously kicked off UF in late November, worked out among his former teammates and shined in the 40, running a 5.00 at 325 pounds. 

A number of offensive line scouts and coaches were present as Humphries, Garcia, Tyler Moore, Chaz Green and Trenton Brown did extensive agility and drill work. Green and Moore struggled Tuesday. 

NEWS & NOTES

-- Fowler has interviews scheduled with Jacksonville tonight, Tennessee on Wednesday, Tampa Bay on Friday and then Atlanta on Sunday. He will not workout again for any teams. 

-- Former Gators wideout Trey Burton, a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, was in attendance to watch his younger brother Clay workout.  

-- Little-used fullback Hunter Joyer did not participate in on-field work after tearing his ACL training in South Florida.  

-- Noteworthy NFL personnel included head coaches Mike Tomlin (Pittsburgh) and Todd Bowles (New York Jets). Well-known assistants included Doug Marrone (Jaguars OC/OL), Leslie Frazier (Buccaneers DC), Steelers coaches Mike Munchak (OL) and Joey Porter (LB). 

-- Humorously, former South Carolina Gamecocks quarterback Stephen Garcia threw to UF’s tight ends and wideouts as the Gators didn’t have anyone else available. Garcia, who wore Gators gear, was asked to participate by Clay Burton.  

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“He’s special. I think he and Leonard Williams are the two best defensive players in the draft. I think this kid’s got special abilities.”

--  Mayock on Fowler Jr.  

“It would be great if I stay in Florida. I’m a Florida native. I was born and raised in St. Petersburg. I have family in Jacksonville and things like that. It would be great. The Florida Gators, all the fan base. It would be awesome.” 

-- Fowler Jr. on playing for the Jaguars. 

“I'm going to be honest with you, since I been over 300 pounds I kind of like formed this fat boy mentality nowadays. If I don't eat every three or four hours I get a little irritated. I’ve got to keep myself full these days.”

-- Humphries on his weight “sticking.”

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April 06, 2015

Is Jake McGee the answer to UF's third down woes?

GAINESVILLE -- Jake McGee hasn’t recorded a catch since Nov. 30, 2013, but Florida’s sixth-year senior tight end may solve the Gators’ recent third down troubles.

McGee, the former Virginia transfer, successfully petitioned the NCAA for an extra year of eligibility (a case he didn’t think he’d actually win) after missing all last season with a broken leg.

His UF career appeared over before it ever really began, but the NCAA (surprisingly) did something right and now the 23-year-old college veteran is healthy and ready to contribute.

And Florida desperately needs him.

UF’s offensive ineptitude is well known. In three of the last four years, the Gators’ attack ranked in the bottom-20 nationally in total yards.

Florida has struggled to generate touchdowns, first downs or simply convert third downs at a respectable clip.

According to Football Outsiders, Florida’s First Down Rate never climbed above No. 101 nationally during Will Muschamp’s four-year tenure.  

UF’s third down efficiency was only marginally better, ranking No. 97 (36%), No. 80 (38%), No. 90 (36%) and No. 111 (32%) over the last four seasons.  

Meanwhile, new head coach Jim McElwain’s Colorado State offenses didn’t have any trouble converting third downs the last several seasons, ranking 11th in the country at 49 percent in 2014.  

Enter McGee.

Florida’s 6-foot-6, 245-pound tight end is a vertical threat and mismatch in the middle of the field. He’s an ideal fit for McElwain’s offensive scheme that is designed to maximize quarterback efficiency and get the ball in his best players’ hands.

McGee isn’t just a safety net. He's a third down machine.

The senior has 71 career receptions -- 38 catches for first downs. He has seven career touchdowns -- six on third down.

In two seasons at Virginia, McGee tallied 27 catches for 299 yards and six scores on third down alone.

By comparison, Quinton Dunbar -- Florida’s second-leading wideout three straight seasons -- finished his career with 29 receptions on third down. 

The Gators are still a long way from deciding who will actually be throwing the football this fall. But with a receivers group continuing to underwhelm, McGee stands as the legitimate X-factor jumpstarting UF’s woeful offense next season.

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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.”

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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. 

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 6.23.18 PM

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.  

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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?

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton    

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."

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton

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. 

Follow me on Twitter @JesseReSimonton


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