Coming off of their first losing season since 1979 , the Florida Gators football team will look to get things turned around as soon as possible. Luckily for them, today marks the beginning of spring practice. With the team in a desperate position to succeed, head coach Will Muschamp is feeling more pressure than ever to get things going in the right direction. The good news for the Gators is the spring practices give Muschamp and his new coaching staff an excellent opportunity to evaluate the young talent that they brought in this season; especially on the offensive side of the ball.
The year of change for the Gators will begin on the offensive side of the ball. Last season, Florida’s offense was not only the worst in the Southeastern Conference, but one of the worst in the entire country. In their defense, the team was absolutely decimated by a multitude of injuries throughout the season. Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel was lost for the season in September due to a broken fibula. Starting running back Matt Jones also suffered a season-ending knee injury in October.
In order to improve their 113th ranked offense, Muschamp fired offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis. The two coaches were replaced by Duke’s Kurt Roper and Southern California’s Mike Summers. The hiring of Roper as their offensive coordinator signals the team will switch to more of an up-tempo offense. The switch should bode well for Jeff Driskel as he seems to be more comfortable in the shotgun. Coach Muschamp appears to have a tremendous amount of confidence in Jeff Driskel.
“I think he’s more comfortable in the gun. A lot of the reason why we went to this was because of Jeff,” coach Muschamp stated.
Despite Muschamp hiring coach Roper with the intent of improving Driskel’s game, the Gators brought in two quarterbacks on scholarship. Now, don’t get me wrong; the starting job belongs to Jeff Driskel’s. However, if Driskel comes out of the gate struggling, the Gators can turn to one of these freshman for help. One of these young quarterbacks that will draw a lot of attention this spring is Will Grier. While there aren’t a lot of people who don’t believe Grier is the future of the program, folks in Gainesville will definitely keep a close eye on Grier over the next few weeks. Although Grier could use another season to improve his physical stature, there is no reason to believe that he cannot add some extra pressure to help push Driskel.
Another thing to look forward to during the spring is the group of running backs that the Gators have. The injury to Matt Jones meant one thing – an increased work-load for Kelvin Taylor. In a season that featured a lot of negative events, Taylor was one of the few bright spots on the team. Taylor finished the season second on the team in rushing yards, however, he posted the highest yards per carry average. With Jones coming back from injury (will still miss spring), Mack Brown returning, Adam Lane becoming eligible, and the addition of four-star back Brandon Powell, the Gators have the potential to have a very good group of running backs.
Just because a majority of the focus is on the offensive side, the defense should not be forgotten. Similarly to the offense, the defense was forced to battle through a variety of injuries and setbacks, causing them to be a very inconsistent unit. Not only did the defense lose two of their starting linebackers in Antonio Morrison and Jeremi Powell, but they also lost starting defensive tackle Dominique Easley. On top of that, cornerback Marcus Roberson missed a better part of the season with a knee injury.
Coach Muschamp did not deny that the defense failed to live up to their expectations last season. “Defensively, we just need to be more consistent. Very inconsistent last year. I think it starts up front with playing blocks up front better,” Muschamp said. “We need to be more productive with our front guys, more production from the linebacker position.”
With Muschamp wanting to see better production from his linebackers this season, the defensive coaches definitely have their work cut out for them. The return of Antonio Morrison is a huge boost for the young group of linebackers. Morrison, who is just a junior, is the most experienced linebacker on the team. It is imperative that he can take the next step and help guide some of the other linebackers on this unit.
Also, with the departure of Dominique Easley, players on the defensive line will be fighting to earn some extra playing time. One player to really keep your eyes on moving forward is Jonathan Bullard. When Easley fell to injury last season, Jonathan Bullard stepped up in a big way. Although he is not as naturally gifted at the defensive tackle position, he was able to fill the hole created by Easley quite nicely. With another year of playing time under his belt, Bullard is in store for a break out season. Bullard is a big bodied guy who is very good at the point of contact. While there is obvious room for improvement in terms of pass rushing skills, Bullard, in my opinion, will end up being one of the more productive defensive lineman for the Gators this year.
With the departure of cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy, there is a huge need to fill at the cornerback position. However, as usual, the Gators seem to be extremely confident in their secondary moving forward. The holes give players such as Vernon Hargreaves III and five-star recruit Jalen Tabor the opportunity to earn some serious playing time. It is definitely a good idea to pay attention to the Gators cornerback situation this spring. There is a lot of talent in this secondary and with playing time being scarce, it will turn into a fun battle.
Clearly, there are a lot of things to look forward to this spring practice. Will the moves made within the coaching staff turn out to be a success? What will Jeff Driskel look like heading into his fourth season? Will the defense be able to improve their consistency from a year ago? Tons of question to be asked with a ton of answers waiting to be released. All I know is, I’m glad football season is back.
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