NCF Nation: ahmad fulwood

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ask Florida coach Will Muschamp about rebounding from an atrocious 4-8 2013 season and he’ll nearly bowl you over with an almost immediate answer.

“We gotta get better on offense,” he said.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
AP Photo/John RaouxJeff Driskel, now healed from a broken fibula, is immersing himself in learning a new scheme.
Mushchamp’s straight to the point and doesn’t really have to add much else. The Gators lost seven straight games with the SEC’s worst offense and one that ranked as one of the worst in the entire country, averaging 316.7 yards per game, 4.8 yards per play and 18.8 points per game.

The Gators had the unfortunate task of trying to manage their way through the SEC with a rash of injuries that ended the seasons of starting quarterback Jeff Driskel during the third game of the season and starting running back Matt Jones a few weeks later. Before the season even began, starting right tackle Chaz Green was lost for the year with a torn labrum. Players dropped like flies, and Florida’s offense sputtered to an embarrassing finish.

Muschamp has to be realistic about his evaluation of the 2013 team –- specifically his offense -– but he refuses to lean too heavily on the injury crutch.

“We could have managed it better -- done something differently, changed more,” Muschamp said. “There are a lot of things that I look back and thought we could have done this, but at the end of the day, sometimes it was hard.”

This spring, Muschamp wants to see his offense trend upward with a new offensive coordinator and what should be a more spread attack with much more shotgun sets. And it has to. Florida can’t win any games this spring, but it can lose some if players don’t buy in and meticulously take to the offensive overhaul that spring practice has essentially become in Gainesville.

Former Duke offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and former USC offensive line coach Mike Summers were hired for both a quick and long-term fix for Florida's offense. To Muschamp, the main objective this spring is to install Roper's new offense and immerse players in a new scheme that carries so much weight in terms of getting this program back on track.

Roper helped direct a Duke offense that averaged 100-plus more yards a game than Florida and nearly doubled the Gators in points per contest. The Blue Devils also set a school record for total touchdowns (54) and became the first team in program history to post 20-plus rushing and passing touchdowns in the same season.

“Just from watching Duke last year, they’re going to run inside-zone; that’s the play,” said Driskel, who has successfully returned from a broken fibula. “I don’t think we’re trying to hide that. We’re going to have a lot of quick pass plays to get the ball out of our hand.”

It isn’t exactly what Driskel ran in high school, but it suits him better because he’s a shotgun quarterback. He can see the field better and he can utilize his legs better when he’s farther away from the line of scrimmage to start a play.

During their 11-win 2012 season, the Gators were more successful on offense when Driskel used his feet more on zone-read plays. Driskel hopes that continues under his third offensive coordinator in four springs.

“I’m real excited about going into the no-huddle-type offense,” he said. “It’s really easy to get into a groove as a quarterback when you’re in the no-huddle offense, and we have the players to be successful [with it].

“When you’re under center, you’re not a run threat. When you’re in the gun, the defense has to account for the running back and the quarterback as run threats.”

But Driskel has to have someone -- or two -- to catch his throws. As Driskel continues to develop as a more fluid passer, he’ll have to generate better chemistry with a receiving corps that returns one receiver with 20-plus catches from a year ago in redshirt senior Quinton Dunbar (40) and one with a touchdown reception (Ahmad Fulwood, 1).

Muschamp sees potential in Dunbar and Fulwood, who will be a true sophomore this year, and is waiting to see how guys like Chris Thompson, Andre Debose, Demarcus Robinson and Letroy Pittman improve during a critical spring.

The fourth-year Gators coach also says he has the players in place to be successful and believes that Roper can mold the offense around their abilities. That’s why the offense is different. That’s why the ground-and-pound theme of this offense has been tweaked. That’s why Roper was hired.

“Since he’s been here, the biggest thing I would say [he brings] is a positive energy for the players, a positive energy for the staff,” Muschamp said of Roper.

Now, Muschamp needs that positivity to turn into production.
It's all about numbers for Will Muschamp when it comes to recruiting.

He isn't counting stars or ESPN 300 members he's trying to sign. For Florida's second-year coach, he's always building, and for every position, there's a certain number he wants to reach in order to combat injury and attrition.

“That’s why I have certain numbers,” Muschamp told ESPN.com in a phone interview earlier this week. “It’s not always perfect, but I want to have that at every position and we’re really close to that on the offensive side of the ball.”

Where Muschamp really hopes he struck gold in 2013 was at wide receiver, where glaring holes at that position made the number five so important.

[+] EnlargeDemarcus Robinson
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comThe Gators may need to count on their freshman receivers, such as Demarcus Robinson, to step up in the passing game.
Muschamp hauled in five receivers in his recent class and with the way the passing game struggled in 2012 -- and the shape Florida’s receiving corps is in -- they might all have to play immediately.

“I want them all to contribute. I want them all to start,” Muschamp said. “But they’re going to determine that, not me.”

Muschamp thinks all five give him a good base to work with.

Muschamp doesn’t like to single players out, especially true freshmen, but the star of the group is early enrollee Demarcus Robinson, who was an ESPN 150 member and ranked as the No. 8 receiver nationally in the 2013 class. He’s a dynamic athlete who can stretch the field and is dangerous in space. Being on campus now doesn’t mean he’ll start, Muschamp said, but it will give him a leg up during the installation process in a more relaxed learning environment that is spring practice.

Robinson brings that play-making ability that the Gators desperately need at receiver. Quinton Dunbar led Florida receivers with just 36 catches in 2012. Frankie Hammond Jr. was next for receivers with 22 catches. They were the only receivers with touchdowns and neither reached 400 yards.

As the Gators look to put more emphasis on the passing game this spring, Robinson is expected to be a crucial element in Florida’s offense.

His help arrives this summer, starting with ESPN 150 athlete Alvin Bailey, who played Wildcat quarterback in high school. He resembles a bigger Chris Rainey and is what Muschamp calls “just a play-making guy.”

ESPN 150 member Ahmad Fulwood stretches the field vertically, while ESPN 300 WR Marqui Hawkins is a bigger, more physical receiver who could be moved all around the offense. And Gainesville native Chris Thompson can really run and “take the top off of coverage,” Muschamp said.

“All five guys have been multisport athletes and can do a lot of things, have a big competitive edge, and can hopefully continue to progress forward in a positive way here at Florida at receiver,” Muschamp said.

It’s tough for true freshman receivers to make immediate, positive impacts, but it’s been done. Look at Percy Harvin, Julio Jones, A.J. Green and Malcolm Mitchell in recent years. Do any of these players have that same ability? It’s unknown, but they’ll have to do something this fall for a Florida team that was last in the SEC in passing (146.3 yards per game) and lost its best pass -atcher in tight end Jordan Reed (45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns).

Dunbar is the lone returning receiver with double-digit catches from last fall, so it’s obvious quarterback Jeff Driskel needs a lot of help. Muschamp wants to continue to be a physical, tough offense, and he certainly has the rushing pieces for that, but he understands his team has to throw it more and throw it more efficiently.

The plan is to concentrate more on the passing game this spring and take what he calls a “different approach” to throwing the ball, and that will only improve when these youngsters start working. It’s a lot to ask of freshmen, but without their help, Florida’s offense could be even more one-dimensional this fall.

“Against some of the defenses we’re going to face on our schedule, now, there are going to come some days when you’re going to have to do some different things as opposed to just lining up and running the power and the counter,” Muschamp said. “We understand that we’re going to have to be more multiple on offense.”

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