GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- On the eve of my coaching debut at Florida's 2012 Orange & Blue Debut, I had the chance to sit down with Gators coach Will Muschamp to talk shop about his team and tried to get a couple of pointers on how to handle the pressure of being a college coach in the toughest conference in America.
Like most conversations between coaches, I'll choose not to repeat what advice Muschamp shared with me, but I will share that Muschamp appears to be much more comfortable with his team this year than he was at this time last spring. He was new to the head-coaching world and very new to all of his players, meaning there were plenty of bumps along the way.
"More than anything, I know the team better," Muschamp said. "I know the players better. I understand more about how they tick and what we need to do to be successful with them."
It's also easier now that his players have grown up a little. In Muschamp's debut season after leaving Texas as the defensive coordinator, the Gators were primarily made up of freshmen and sophomores -- more than 70 percent to be exact. They had less starts on defense going into the season than any other school in the SEC.
Florida also had to deal with transitioning from a spread offense to a more pro stye, and had different defensive philosophies to understand.
Now, Muschamp heads into Year 2 with reinvention on his mind -- for himself and his team.
Muschamp isn't as tense internally. He's more settled in his approach, making his understanding of his players easier. He's also made sure his guys toughened up, as new strength coach Jeff Dillman ran them through a gauntlet offseaon workout plan.
One area Muschamp sees a lot of positive change is the offensive line. With most of his line returning, Muschamp said there isn't much to teach this group. It's much better than last spring, when Muschamp and his coaches had six scholarship offensive linemen for the spring game. This line really struggled last season and as it declined, so did the offense. Muschamp said he's more comfortable with his guys upfront because they're bigger, stronger and more confident.
Keep an eye on the battle at right tackle. Veteran Matt Patchan is having the best spring of his Florida career, but redshirt freshman Chaz Green is going to make it tough for him to keep his job. Also, true freshman D.J. Humphries is pushing senior-to-be Xavier Nixon at left tackle. Humphries will play this fall and it wouldn't shock anyone if he claimed the left tackle spot.
But who will throw behind that line? No one knows. Honestly, no one is quite sure. Muschamp said Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel are both getting equal reps in practice and he expects that to continue into the fall. They're even and have made significant strides, Muschamp said, because the game has slowed down for both. For Muschamp, he isn't worried about talent. He just wants to get them more reps and as much live action as possible.
"Both of those guys can play and win a championship," he said. "They're both that talented and they also have the off-the-field things you gotta have at that position as far as leadership is concerned."
Muschamp called his team out for being soft last year, but one player who can't be considered soft is safety Matt Elam. People around the program think he was Florida's best player, regardless of position. He ended last season with 78 tackles and led the Gators with 11 for loss. He also played the last part of the season with a sports hernia and had surgery in January.
Muschamp expects him to be fine for the season and the thought is that he'll be a top defensive back in the SEC this fall.
Florida still has a lot of questions as it closes out the spring, but one thing is for sure, Muschamp is much happier with this group now than he was a year ago.