SEC: Rod Johnson

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Coming off an ignominious 4-8 season that lit a fire under his seat, Florida coach Will Muschamp has reassessed every aspect of his program. Even himself.

"Based on the record last year, I haven't [improved as a coach]," he said on Sunday in addressing the media just hours before the Gators were to open preseason camp. "That's the way you look at it. You are what your record is."

Muschamp has not dodged nor shrunk from talk of the hot seat and the accompanying speculation about his job security. Instead he has steadfastly insisted the Gators will rebound in 2014.

"I think all of the components are there," he said. "... We need to go do it now."

[+] EnlargeFlorida's Will Muschamp
Jeff Barlis/ESPN.comWill Muschamp addresses the media on Sunday before his Gators report for preseason camp.
The first tests take place in camp. Here are five things to watch as the Gators take the field on Monday.

1. The injury bug has been squashed: What difference does a year make? In 2013, Florida started camp without its starting quarterback and starting running back, among several others. QB Jeff Driskel had an emergency appendectomy, while RB Matt Jones came down with a serious viral infection. Those fluky ailments set an ominous tone for a season littered with key injuries.

On Sunday, Muschamp announced no new injuries. In fact, only one scholarship player is out -- true freshman offensive lineman Nolan Kelleher, who had back surgery in the spring and will redshirt.

Muschamp also said the Gators will dramatically cut down on mid-day practices and "go later at night and a little lighter than we had been doing before, so it won't be as taxing for the players."

2. Playmakers returning to offense: Jones, who missed most of the 2013 season with a torn meniscus, pronounced himself "110 percent" and ready to claim a significant role in the offense. He's added 10 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame, which has Muschamp envisioning a role as a late-game battering ram.

"He's a 230-pound back that about midway through the third and fourth quarter you get tired of hitting," the coach said. "He's got extremely good hands, he's very good at protection, very smart player."

Another potential boon for the Gators' hopes of an offensive revival comes with the return of sixth-year senior wide receiver Andre Debose, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL suffered in preseason camp.

"I feel great," he said on Sunday after jumping over the interview table to get to his seat. "I'm feeling real good. ...

"Heading into this last year I just want to be productive. I want to help the team in any way I can. I'm just happy to be back, running around and being a part of the team."

Although Debose's production at UF has never quite matched his prodigious talent, the 6-foot, 190-pound speedster is one of the Gators' most experienced pass-catchers and is a proven weapon as a kickoff returner as well.

3. Depth charge on both lines: Starters on the offensive and defensive lines are well entrenched and well seasoned. Florida's first-team O-line has a combined 67 career starts. The D-line has 37. The problem, which Muschamp harped on throughout spring practice, is that there is a significant drop-off when the second units step in.

"Got to continue to build depth on both lines of scrimmage," he said. "I think the talent level is there."

Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Rod Johnson has always been held in high regard by his coaches, but he missed the entire spring with head and knee injuries. Muschamp also singled out redshirt freshman guard Antonio Riles and true freshmen David Sharpe and Andrew Mike.

On defense, Muschamp listed a host of young players who will get opportunities in camp. The most advanced of them are ends Bryan Cox Jr. and Alex McCalister

4. Backup quarterbacks will battle: Because Driskel missed most of last season with a broken bone in his leg, there is a greater emphasis on quarterbacks.

"We need to find a backup quarterback," Muschamp said. "That's someone that will play in the first ballgame at some point. That's going to be important for us to develop at that position."

There is great anticipation for the long-term QB battle brewing between true freshmen Will Grier and Treon Harris, two of the nation's top prospects in the recruiting Class of 2014. But third-year sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg isn't about to concede the No. 2 job.

The son of New York Jets offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg started the final three games of last season, gaining valuable experience on the road against South Carolina and in facing eventual national champion Florida State.

"I learned a lot last season," Skyler Mornhinweg said. "Being able to get in there and play at this level, in terms of developing, that's the best you can do right there. You can be in the film room, you can practice, but actually getting out there and playing is great experience."

Mornhinweg concedes that Grier and Harris are better at running the ball, which could give them an advantage in Florida's new spread offense. But Mornhinweg's starting experience gives him an air of authority.

"I expect to be the backup in my mind, yeah," he said. "I'm confident. I'm ready to have some fun with it."

5. Last season is history (sort of): Much has been made about Florida's 4-8 record in 2013. The fans, the media and especially opponents have issued reminders throughout the offseason. Eager to move forward and change the subject, the Gators say they've had enough of talking about last year.

But the painful memories do serve a purpose.

"We put that behind us, but we're not going to forget that," Jones said. "We've definitely got a chip on our shoulder that we've got something to prove, but we're not going to keep it over our head that we went 4-8. We just know that we've got to come back strong."

Muschamp: Bigger is better at UF

August, 16, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida fans better get a good look at senior wide receiver Solomon Patton this season because guys like him are going to be hard to find around here from now on.

Small guys.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Patton doesn’t really fit into coach Will Muschamp’s philosophy that bigger is better. Not just on the line of scrimmage, either. Big receivers. Big defensive backs. Big linebackers.

[+] EnlargeJon Halapio
AP Photo/Phelan M. EbenhackGuard Jon Halapio, at 6 feet 3 and 321 pounds, meets Will Muschamp's size criteria to compete in the SEC.
Size does matter at Florida now. Muschamp believes it’s the best way to have success in the Southeastern Conference.

"This is a big man’s league," he said. "When you go pay to watch a boxing match, you don’t go watch the featherweights fight. You go watch heavyweights fight. This is a heavyweight league.

"So we need have a big, physical team. You can still be really fast, but you better be big and physical if you want to win in this league right now."

Muschamp is in his third season and working on his fourth signing class, and he has certainly made the Gators a bigger, more physical team in that short period of time. To see the difference, look at UF’s roster from 2009. The Gators had five starters or key contributors who were 5-9 or shorter: Jeff Demps, Chris Rainey, Ahmad Black, Markihe Anderson and Brandon James.

This year’s team has only one starter that small: 5-9 safety Cody Riggs. Patton is a role player (he’s the jet sweep guy) and the shortest player on scholarship is 5-7 freshman running back Adam Lane -- who weighs 222 pounds.

Muschamp’s philosophy goes further than just the size of the players. He wants the bulk of his 85-man roster to be comprised of what he calls big-skill positions: offensive and defensive linemen, linebackers and tight ends. He wants 50. Right now he has 42 (see breakdown below).

Muschamp wants 15-17 offensive linemen, and the Gators are close to that number. They have five scholarship tight ends, too. The defensive line is where the problem is. The Gators are short on ends, especially speed rushers. There are eight scholarship defensive tackles, but only three have played in a game (Dominique Easley, Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs), and just two bucks (hybrid defensive end/linebacker).

It’ll take at least a couple more signing classes for the Gators to be as stocked along the defensive line as Muschamp would like. Muschamp believes long-term success at Florida -- and therefore the SEC -- depends on beefing up those defensive numbers.

And not just to compete with Alabama and Nick Saban, either.

"When big guys run out of gas, they’re done," Muschamp said. "We don’t ever want our big guys up front to play more than six or eight snaps in a row and have the intensity you’ve got to play with to be successful in this league. So you can’t ever have enough defensive linemen or pass rushers, especially the way the game’s going.

"You look in our league at Missouri and Kentucky and Tennessee, a lot of schools are going to a little bit of a Big 12 model, like Texas A&M, where they’re spreading the field, and you can’t ever have enough guys that can play in space and rush the passer. The most exerting thing in football is rushing the passer. Those guys are battling against a 315-pound guy and trying to push the pocket, so you can’t ever have enough of those guys."

Here’s the breakdown of what Muschamp calls the big-skill players:

Offensive line

Ideal number: 15-17

Number on the roster: 14. Tyler Moore, Quinteze Williams, Rod Johnson, Octavius Jackson, Cameron Dillard, Trip Thurman, Jon Halapio, D.J. Humphries, Jonotthan Harrison, Chaz Green, Max Garcia, Trenton Brown, Ian Silberman, Kyle Koehne.

Comment: The Gators will lose four players to graduation but have four offensive line commits for 2014, three of whom weigh more than 300 pounds. The line has gotten bigger, stronger and more physical since Muschamp called them soft at the end of his first season.

Defensive tackle

Ideal number: 8-10

Number on the roster: 8. Damien Jacobs, Joey Ivie, Leon Orr, Darious Cummings, Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley, Antonio Riles, Dominique Easley.

Comment: Not a lot of experience here, but the four freshmen (Ivie, Bostwick, Brantley and Riles) will gain valuable experience as part of the rotation this season.

Defensive ends

Ideal number: 6-8

Number on roster: 4. Alex McCalister, Jonathan Bullard, Jordan Sherit, Bryan Cox.

Comment: Easley also can play end. This is perhaps the most flexible position, with several players having the ability to play inside on passing downs to get the best pass rushers on the field.


Ideal number: 4-6

Number on roster: 2. Dante Fowler, Ronald Powell.

Comment: This position also needs to be beefed up quickly, with Powell likely leaving after this year if he has a good season. Some flexibility here, too, because Cox and McCalister could spend time here.


Ideal number: 9-12

Number on roster: 9. Michael Taylor, Matt Rolin, Jeremi Powell, Jarrad Davis, Neiron Ball, Darrin Kitchens, Daniel McMillian, Alex Anzalone, Antonio Morrison.

Comment: UF has one bona fide stud (Morrison) and a mix of veteran role players and freshmen. McMillian is a player to watch. He could become a starter by midseason. This is an important position group because it produces a lot of special teams players.

Tight ends

Ideal number: 3-5

Number on roster: 5. Clay Burton, Tevin Westbrook, Kent Taylor, Colin Thompson, Trevon Young.

Comment: A lot of players, but little production so far. Burton, Westbrook and Thompson are mainly blockers, but there’s optimism that Thompson can develop into someone who can work the middle of the field.

GatorNation links: Two decommitments

August, 12, 2012
GatorNation has more coverage of Florida football and recruiting.

Staff report: Florida lost two four-star commitments over the weekend, as offensive lineman Rod Johnson joined cornerback Tre' Bell in leaving the Gators’ class of 2013.

Derek Tyson writes Insider: What do the two decommitments mean for Florida, and what will the Gators do next on the recruiting trail?

Tyson writes Insider: Duke Dawson may be a long way from signing day 2014, but the defensive back is already focused on Florida and Florida State.

Michael DiRocco writes: Florida senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond has what can only be described as a healthy obsession with Krispy Kreme.