SEC: Tim Davis

Muschamp says he can change

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
3:00
PM ET
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Now that offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis have been sacrificed as a way to wash away the sins of Florida's 2013 offense, the spotlight shifts to head coach Will Muschamp.

For such a strong-willed leader, for such a defensive-minded coach, the obvious question in regards to his offensive philosophy is, "Can Muschamp change?"

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesThe Gators' inability to score points became a weekly post-game complaint from Will Muschamp.
After his team was drubbed one last time last Saturday in a 37-7 loss to Florida State that saw his Gators generate just one score, eight first downs and 193 yards, Muschamp was quick to answer that question.

"Perception is not always reality," he said and then repeated himself for emphasis. "Perception is not always reality. So, I'm willing to do what we need to do to score points and win games."

It's doubtful that portends a complete shift to another style of offense, however. Since Muschamp arrived in December 2010, he has recruited for the pro-style offense. He installed it on the heels of Urban Meyer's spread-option, and it has taken years to usher in the personnel required for such a drastic change. It's extremely unlikely a head coach on a hot seat would scrap the base offense and start over.

What is more likely to change is the heavy emphasis on a downhill running game that was designed to shorten games by hogging time of possession.

That approach worked to perfection with Florida's stout defense and strong special teams in 2012. Even with one of the nation's worst passing games that averaged 146.31 yards and ranked 114th out of 123 FBS schools, the Gators won 11 games and defeated four top-1o teams on their way to a BCS bowl.

This year, injuries on defense and new faces on special teams conspired to spotlight the shortcomings of Muschamp's offensive philosophy. The Gators' margin of error had always been small, but without a reliable defense and kicking game, it shrunk to a level of absurdity.

By the end of the dismal 2013 season, one interception, one sack-fumble, one drive that ended in a missed field goal was enough to torpedo the entire team's fragile psyche. Muschamp started calling out his "inept" offense, saying it had "infected" the rest of the team.

The need to change was obvious to Muschamp, the players, the fans and most importantly to Muschamp's boss, athletic director Jeremy Foley.

"Will is going to figure those things out," Foley said to reporters in giving his embattled coach one more vote of confidence before the FSU game. "I do think in this league playing good defense is important, and that's why I hired Will. I think he's done that. But we do have to fix that side of the ball.

"No disrespect to anybody. That's just reality. You look at the stats and some of the scores that have caused us problems. We'll get that fixed. We're going to have to get that fixed, and I think we can."

An offense that was built to do more than run could have pivoted this season, taken on more of the burden to win games and help salvage a passable season instead of the 4-8 quagmire that resulted.

The final outcome -- 112th in the nation and last in the SEC in total offense, 107th in the nation in passing offense, last in the SEC in scoring -- forced Muschamp's hand.

"We need to take a look at ourselves schematically with what we’re doing," Muschamp said. "There have been some things that have happened that are very difficult to overcome, but schematically, there’s no question we need to take a look at ourselves."

Yes, the injuries were difficult to overcome. Any team that loses its top two quarterbacks, top running back and top three offensive tackles is in for a turbulent season. But this is Florida, where quality depth is more than just expected -- it's practically a birthright at a school surrounded by such fertile recruiting turf.

The offensive line was unable to pass-block in 2012 or before it suffered all those injuries this season. And when those injuries struck, there were no sophomores or redshirt freshmen ready to compete for starting jobs. It's no surprise Davis was fired.

The offense's inability to generate points became a weekly complaint from Muschamp in his recent post-game assessments. So much so that it was no surprise Pease was fired.

In replacing him, Florida will need an offensive mind that can devise multiple ways of attacking a defense, employ varying tempos and do a better job of developing skill-position talent.

It starts with Muschamp, who will hire his third offensive coordinator heading into his fourth season.

"I think obviously the first person you look at is yourself," he said. "That’s what you’ve got to be able to do and see where we are. I think as a coach, you’ve got to do what your players can do. That’s something I’m looking at."

No doubt the players will welcome a change. Even Muschamp's defensive players say they want the same thing.

"Right now, whatever they do hopefully is changed for the best," sophomore defensive end Jonathan Bullard said once the season was over. "Give us 21 [points] a game. If they can do that, then I would put the blame on us if they score 21 points or over. Hopefully change for the better, because what we're doing right now just ain't working."

SEC Power Rankings: Week 14

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
9:00
AM ET
We have a new No. 1 in our Power Rankings, and there's a chance that either of the top two teams on this list could back its way into the BCS title game:

1. Auburn (11-1, 7-1 SEC; last week: 3): Call it luck, but don't forget to call the Tigers good. Auburn won the Iron Bowl 34-28 over No. 1 Alabama on a last-second field goal return for a touchdown by Chris Davis. It was another improbable win for the Cardiac Cats, but Auburn also ran for 296 yards on the SEC's best rush defense. Back-to-back thrillers have Auburn No. 3 in the BCS standings and SEC Western Division champions.

2. Missouri (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 2): These Tigers will meet those Tigers in the SEC championship game on Saturday. After beating Texas A&M 28-21 at home, Mizzou completed its own improbable season in its second year in the league. Missouri now has five wins over opponents that were ranked when it played them. Like Auburn, Mizzou is very much in the national championship picture. The Tigers need help, but a win over Auburn would push a team that was left for dead last season a step closer to Pasadena, Calif.

3. Alabama (11-1, 7-1 SEC; LW: 1): The three-peat is likely over after Alabama was bested by its archrival. Why Nick Saban would attempt a 57-yard field goal with a second left without any speedy athletes on the field is mind-blowing. Saban rarely makes mistakes, but this one will sting for a very long time. Alabama is still very much in the hunt for a BCS bowl game, but a return to the title game is a long shot.

4. South Carolina (10-2, 6-2 SEC; LW: 4): Another year, another win over Clemson. That makes five in a row for Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks after his guys walked over the Tigers 31-17. South Carolina forced six turnovers, and quarterback Connor Shaw impressed yet again with 246 yards of offense and two touchdowns. The BCS is out of reach for the Gamecocks, but they have a shot at three straight 11-win seasons.

5. LSU (9-3, 5-3 SEC; LW: 5): This is easily the most confusing team to follow in 2013. The Tigers started hot, hit some bumps and then finished strong with an exciting 31-27 win over Arkansas. LSU was without starting quarterback Zach Mettenberger (knee) late, but it didn't matter, as freshman Anthony Jennings drove the Tigers 99 yards, with a 49-yard go-ahead touchdown pass with 1:15 left. This could be another double-digit-win season for the Tigers.

6. Texas A&M (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 6): Johnny Manziel went from carving up defenses to being smothered in his last two outings. In Saturday's loss to Mizzou, Manziel was held to a season-low 216 total yards and a touchdown. The defense was gutted -- again -- allowing 225 rushing yards, including a 57-yard Henry Josey touchdown run with 3:34 remaining. It's been a long November in College Station, but at least Kevin Sumlin is locked up for the long haul.

7. Vanderbilt (8-4, 4-4 SEC; LW: 8): Coach James Franklin might be near the top of USC's coaching list, but for now, he's doing a heck of a job as Vandy's coach. There's no wonder he's on the Trojans' radar. Vandy has won four straight, will make its third straight bowl game and is in line to win nine in back-to-back seasons. The Commodores didn't make it look easy against Wake Forest, but a Carey Spear field goal with 39 seconds left kept the Dores' winning streak alive.

8. Georgia (8-4, 5-3 SEC; LW: 9): Another team that didn't want things to be easy over the weekend, Georgia needed double overtime to beat rival Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs' defense was pushed around for 495 yards, but the offense was there to bring the Dawgs back from deficits of 20-0 and 27-17. When you have a guy like Todd Gurley (158 total yards and four touchdowns), it doesn't matter who you have at quarterback.

9. Mississippi State (6-6, 3-5 SEC; LW: 10): After being on the outside of the bowl picture just a couple of weeks ago, the Bulldogs rallied to win their last two, including an overtime victory against bitter rival Ole Miss on Thanksgiving. It wasn't the prettiest of games, but injured quarterback Dak Prescott came into the fourth quarter and threw for 115 yards, while running for 29, including the eventual winning 3-yard score. Dan Mullen has Mississippi State in the postseason for the fourth straight season.

10. Ole Miss (7-5, 3-5 SEC; LW: 7): Oh, what could have been for this team. Not only have the Rebels lost two straight, but they allowed their archrivals to make it to the postseason. For a season that started 3-0, some poor play in the red zone -- especially near the goal line -- against Missouri and turnovers against Mississippi State cost Ole Miss in its final two games.

11. Tennessee (5-7, 2-6 SEC; LW: 11): A long first year for Butch Jones ended with a nice 27-14 win over Kentucky. The Vols aren't going bowling, but now is the time when Jones has to ramp up the development phase and keep an already stellar recruiting class together. Remember, this team was a fake Vandy jump pass from a bowl berth.

12. Florida (4-8, 3-5 SEC; LW: 12): The Gators' nightmare of a season ended with a 37-7 rout by rival Florida State inside the Swamp. Florida then fired embattled offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis. Florida lost seven straight to end the season without scoring more than 20 points. And it isn't going bowling for the first time in 22 years and has its first losing season since 1979.

13. Arkansas (3-9, 0-8 SEC; LW: 13): With that heartbreaking loss to LSU, the Razorbacks have dropped a school-record nine straight and went 0-8 in conference play for the first time. This team fought hard in its final act, but it's clear that development and recruiting need to amp up during the offseason if Bret Bielema is going to have a chance at really competing in this league.

14. Kentucky (2-10, 0-8 SEC; LW: 14): The Wildcats have now gone 0-8 in SEC play in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 1941-42 and have lost 16 straight SEC games. Mark Stoops is building a pretty impressive recruiting class right now, but we all know it takes more than recruiting. The Wildcats need more than talent, as they took steps back on both sides of the ball late in the season.

This is where we find out how good of a coach Will Muschamp is and how much pride and heart Florida's players have.

The firing of offensive coordinator Brent Pease and offensive line coach Tim Davis means that the Gators will move in a different direction with their offense in order to attempt to rebound from a disappointing 4-8 (3-5 SEC) season.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsFlorida coach Will Muschamp won't be fired after going 4-8 this season. But he needs to have a great season in 2014 to stick around.
“I think we need to take a look at ourselves schematically,’’ Muschamp said after Saturday's 37-7 home loss to in-state rival Florida State. “There have been some things that have happened that are very difficult to overcome. But schematically there’s no question we need to take a look at ourselves."

It's not like this should come as a surprise. Florida lost its last seven games of the season without scoring more than 20 points in any of those contests and finished the regular season with the SEC's worst offense, averaging just 316.7 yards per game and a league-low 4.8 yards per play. Florida also ranks 112th nationally in total offense.

The Gators suffered their first losing season since 1979 and will miss a bowl game for the first time since 1990.

Injuries on both sides of the football ravaged this team, especially on offense, but with Muschamp stating loud and clear that many things on offense have to change, this is where we will find out just how good he is, because there are no more excuses going forward.

While many in Gator Nation will say that Muschamp should have been a casualty as well today, athletic director Jeremy Foley made the right decision to stick with Muschamp. This season was a disaster, but Florida came off an 11-win season and a BCS appearance. Last season, Muschamp was the SEC Coach of the Year, and you'd be hard-pressed to find another staff that coached better in the second half of games. Also, most of 2013 was taken out of the hands of this staff at times because of devastating injuries.

Florida's injury count went into double digits, and lost four key offensive starters in Jeff Driskel, Matt Jones, Chaz Green and Andre Debose. Eventually, No. 2 quarterback Tyler Murphy, who never quite showed the potential and upside that Driskel possessed, was lost for the season with a shoulder injury, meaning Florida was down to third-stringer Skyler Mornhinweg, who was on the practice squad last year.

The offense certainly went through the wringer, but if Muschamp is going to right the ship in Gainesville, he had to make changes. He had to make changes to an offense that regressed each week and was even near the bottom of the SEC barrel last season (334 yards per game). He had to make changes to an offensive line that gave up 27 sacks on the season, injuries aside. He had to make changes to a staff that didn't develop players well enough.

But by making these moves, Muschamp now has to win big in 2014. Year 3 was unacceptable in Gainesville, so Year 4 likely means that it truly is Atlanta or bust for Muschamp. Foley stood by Muschamp this time, but another fall or stagnation in 2014 will force Foley to have to look in another direction.

It's time for Florida to get over the fact that Urban Meyer left this team with a nearly empty cupboard of talent. It's time to get a more functional offense on the field that can move the ball through the air and on the ground and can actually score points. And it's time to develop the guys on both sides of the ball.

The good thing about Florida's injuries is that they will heal. Driskel, Jones, Green and Debose will be back, but they have to be better, as well. Florida needs legitimate competition at every position, and that's where coaching and recruiting comes in.

There's no question that Florida had some offensive misses in its last couple of recruiting classes. That can't happen in the 2014 class, which also has to keep its ESPN 300 prospects, running back Dalvin Cook, quarterback Will Grier and receiver Ermon Lane, who could all make immediate impacts next season. Finding replacement coaches is the crucial first step; keeping this 2014 class together is the second.

The honeymoon with Muschamp faded this year, but there's still time to turn things around, even if it's going to be a toxic time in Gainesville until Florida wins again. At the first sign of failure, this fan base is going to spit fire at its fervent coach, and players could lose trust.

Muschamp has to guard himself and his team against that. He has to instill some pride back into this program and has to make sure that his players don't lose faith, even if the fans have.

It's not going to be easy for a team that will likely take another hit to its defense with the upcoming NFL draft and now has a trip to Alabama on next season's schedule. It won't be easy for a team that went all "woe is me" late in the year. It won't be easy with Florida State, Georgia, LSU, South Carolina and Tennessee still on the schedule, but improvements have to be made.

This team has to compete, and we're about to find out if Muschamp really is the right man for the job.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Unhappiness has turned out to be a good thing for Florida’s offensive line in 2013.

It’s the reason Tyler Moore and Max Garcia left their respective schools a year ago and transferred to Florida. The addition of those two versatile players gives the Gators their toughest, most physical and best offensive line in coach Will Muschamp’s three seasons.

Now everybody’s happy.

"Oh, man, it’s the greatest decision of my life," Garcia said.

Garcia was one of several Maryland players who transferred after the 2011 season, which was coach Randy Edsall’s first in College Park. Though he started all 12 games at left tackle as a sophomore, Garcia said he had personal, academic and athletic issues during his freshman season.

When it was over, he decided he needed a change.

"I think you come to college just to be happy personally and athletically and academically, just find the right fit for you," Garcia said. "It’s all about being happy. As a player you don’t really get much more than being happy."

[+] EnlargeTyler Moore
Brad Barr/US PresswireTyler Moore set a Nebraska record with four starts on the offensive line as a true freshman before transferring to Florida.
After looking at several schools, Garcia said he believed he could be happy at Florida. It didn’t take him long to realize he was correct.

"I met Coach Muschamp and [offensive line] Coach [Tim] Davis and I met the offensive line here and I just felt at home coming down here to Florida," said Garcia, who is a 6-foot-4, 307-pound redshirt junior. "Aside from football, this is where I found Christ. He came into my life here so since I’ve been here last August my life has just changed forever and it’s for the better."

Moore’s situation was a bit different. He started the first four games and played in nine as a freshman tackle at Nebraska in 2011, but he was unhappy with the amount of playing time he got and he also believed he wasn’t being treated fairly.

He was so disgruntled that when he left school just before practice began in August 2012 he thought he was done with football.

"Little things that I had to deal with at Nebraska made me slowly hate the game after so much time being there," said Moore, whose father, great uncle and cousin played at Nebraska. "Of course everyone wants more playing time, but I believe I should have gotten more playing time throughout the year. I was busting my butt all year practicing and trying to get some playing time and still only got a few plays here and there. It’s just what the coaches want to do."

The 6-5, 315-pound Moore returned to St. Petersburg, Fla., and spent the 2012 academic year at St. Petersburg College. But as time passed, he realized he missed playing football and he considered Florida State before choosing UF.

They took different paths, but Moore and Garcia have one thing in common: Both can play multiple spots on the line. That makes them among the Gators’ most valued players.

Moore, a redshirt sophomore, was expected to battle with redshirt senior Chaz Green for the starting right tackle spot but instead has spent the entire camp working at right guard in place of injured starter Jon Halapio (torn pec). He can play all five positions, although he hasn’t snapped at UF yet.

"He’s very intelligent. He gets it," Muschamp said. "We’ve been able to plug him in across the board. He could play center if he had to. You can’t ever not emphasize enough the intelligence, and [he’s] a guy that can go in and play different spots, different angles, different assignments and different techniques from playing inside as opposed to playing outside.

"He can do a lot of things for us. He’s going to be a huge member of our football team."

Garcia is the starter at left guard and pairs with left tackle D.J. Humphries to instantly upgrade the left side. The staff moved him to left tackle for a practice and Muschamp said he performed well despite not having taken a snap there since he arrived in Gainesville.

"We got rave reviews from some of the assistant coaches there at Maryland about the type young man he was," Muschamp said. "So he was highly endorsed as a football player but more than anything as a person."

Moore and Garcia aren’t the only offensive linemen who can play multiple spots on the roster. Redshirt senior Kyle Koehne, Green and redshirt sophomore Trip Thurman can as well, and Muschamp said that will be a staple of his linemen going forward.

"We always try to recruit guys who can play multiple positions," Muschamp said. "That means they’re smart and they can do some different things for us. You’d like to be two-deep at every position and two guys that can rotate other than that. You better have a bunch [of versatile offensive linemen] and you’ve got to prepare for injuries."

SEC lunchtime links

May, 30, 2013
5/30/13
12:30
PM ET
Scheduling, targeting, drug testing; oh my!
DESTIN, Fla. -- The joking and chances to take shots at opposing coaches is alive and well on the coaching caravan circuit.

Off-the-cuff remarks to get crowds going at booster club meetings bring cheers and applause inside those well-catered rooms, but they can bring controversy once they're made public.

[+] EnlargeNick Saban
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesApparently Alabama's Nick Saban has had it with fellow football coaches taking shots at him.
The SEC isn't a stranger to such incidents, but a recent devil-related comment from Florida offensive line coach Tim Davis directed at Alabama's Nick Saban has created a little more awkwardness than expected.

Here's the rundown: Davis, who coached under Saban while with the NFL's Miami Dolphins, called Saban "the devil himself" while trying to compare his old boss to his new boss, Will Muschamp, at a booster club meeting in mid-May.

"I've always wanted to work with Will [Muschamp]," Davis said. "Will's got a plan. Will coached under the devil himself for seven years. I only did three. He did seven. And his DNA is not any different than Nick."

At the time, it didn't seem that much would come from a comment made to excite a crowd of Gators fans. It was all in fun, and the tongue-in-cheek association of Saban and Satan is nothing new. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin even called Saban "Nicky Satan" during a high school banquet earlier this year.

But even the conference's most focused man is a little fed up with the whole thing. Shortly after Davis' comments hit the Internet, Saban responded by saying he was "disappointed" with his former assistant's comment.

Tuesday, Saban expanded on his disappointment during the first day of the SEC spring meetings:
"I'm disappointed because when guys work for you you have feelings for them and you're hopeful that they don't feel that way, but if somebody did feel that way I just wish they would tell me because I'm not trying to make anybody feel bad.

"When you're in a position of leadership, sometimes you have to make people do things they don't want to do for the betterment of the program and to get them to do their job the way they need to. I'm not directing that to anybody in particular, but somebody may not like that."

Saban added that Muschamp and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley both called to apologize for Davis' comment. Saban isn't mad at Muschamp or Florida, but it's clear that he isn't totally over what Davis said. If he was, he'd make it pretty clear by not discussing the issue. Saban has way more important things to worry about.

That's what makes this all very interesting. Saban usually doesn't care what anyone thinks about him or his program. He goes about his business -- and very well, I might add -- and gets his players and coaches focused on the pigskin. Outside comments rarely make much of an impact on Saban.

But the mudslinging is getting to him:
"If we're in a position of leadership, we should set an example that somebody should want to emulate. … So why do we need to say things like that that's detrimental to somebody else if you're in a position of leadership? Because you don't need to do that. You don't need to tear down somebody else to make yourself look better, or whatever. You need to be focused on what you need to do in your program so that you can be the best that you can be. And that doesn't have anything to do what anybody else is doing."

Saban has a point, but jokes are going to be made at booster clubs. You take shots to generate excitement. This is nothing new, and I don't think Saban cares about jokes being made, but he's not pleased with a former assistant comparing him to the Prince of Darkness.

I get it, and I think most people would be irked by that. It's way more personal when a former employee takes a shot like that, but when you're on top, people will come after you. It's human nature.

Saban has more to worry about than Davis popping off, but I'm sure he won't forget this if the Gators find a way to play Alabama in the near future.

SEC lunch links

May, 22, 2013
5/22/13
12:10
PM ET
Spreading a little "propaganda" in the SEC:

SEC lunchtime links

May, 17, 2013
5/17/13
12:00
PM ET
I'll be hanging out with Passion Pitt in Atlanta this weekend. Don't act like you're not impressed.
After being referred to as the devil in some form or fashion twice in the past few months, Nick Saban sounds a little fed up.

While talking to members of the media in Atlanta on Thursday, he called the recent "devil himself" comments made by Florida offensive line coach Tim Davis "terribly disappointing."

"I try to do right by the people that work for me," Saban said, according to AL.com. "It's a tough, demanding job. And at the same time, if anybody had an issue or problem with me, I would want them to just tell me."

Here's what Davis, who was an assistant under Saban with the NFL's Miami Dolphins, said at a booster club meeting Tuesday:

"I've always wanted to work with Will [Muschamp]," Davis said at a booster club meeting Tuesday. "Will's got a plan. Will coached under the devil himself for seven years. I only did three. He did seven. And his DNA is not any different than Nick."

This spring, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin called Saban "Nicky Satan" while at a high school sports banquet. He later apologized for his remarks.

Still, the choice of words have irked Saban.

"Twice. On two occasions," Saban said. "It's just disappointing. If somebody has a problem with me, I'd appreciate it if they'd tell me. If I'm doing something to offend somebody, I'd certainly like to do whatever I have to do to fix it. It's not our intention. It's not what we try to do.

"We're in a tough business. It's very competitive. Sometimes you've got to demand that people do things that maybe they don't want to do, but it's not personal."

What these coaches have said was truly in jest. They're looking to pump up fans and generate some excitement. It's a little extreme to refer to anyone as the devil, but if it gets fans happy and cheering, coaches will do it.

It's all for a laugh, but Saban isn't amused. It sounds like he understands the deal, but it appears he's getting a little tired of the comments. Even someone who has absolutely no incentive to listen to what others say can only take so much.

But at the end of the day, Saban will keep trucking. He'll brush these comments off and get back to work ... on trying to win his third straight national championship.

That's not devilish. That's admirable.

Nick Saban is getting picked on again.

Alabama's head coach just can't seem to catch a break this spring when it comes to name-calling. First, Vanderbilt coach James Franklin called him "Nicky Satan" during a high school banquet. Now, Florida offensive line coach Tim Davis, who coached under Saban while with the NFL's Miami Dolphins, called Saban "the devil himself" at a booster club meeting Tuesday.

Here's what Davis said about Saban:
"I've always wanted to work with Will [Muschamp]," Davis said. "Will's got a plan. Will coached under the devil himself for seven years. I only did three. He did seven. And his DNA is not any different than Nick."

So, really, he was trying to compliment Muschamp by comparing him to the top coach in college football. Maybe referring to Saban as the Prince of Darkness is a little extreme, but we all know that coaches will say just about anything to get the home crowd going at booster club meetings. It's part of the act. It's all in fun.

Franklin apologized for his remark -- which I really don't think he needed to -- and made it clear that he was joking. When you're on top, everyone is going to take shots. Picking at Saban is harmless because he has no reason to be upset about what's said about him.

He's on top. He's looking down at everyone, and he's too busy preparing his team for a third straight national title run. I'm sure he laughs these kinds of comments off. He may even enjoy them a little bit.

Davis also went after Saban's personality, which is always a topic of conversation:
"[Muschamp]'s like the other guy, but he's got a personality," Davis said. "He'll smile at you. He'll talk to you. You understand? That's what he's all about. That's Will. I'm proud to work for him."

It's all sticks and stones with Saban, and I'm sure he couldn't care less about what any coach playfully says about him.

Lunchtime links

May, 15, 2013
5/15/13
12:00
PM ET
Links on a Wednesday.
Jeff DriskelDerick E. Hingle-USA TODAY SportsImproving protection for quarterback Jeff Driskel was one of Florida's top priorities this spring.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Before Florida’s offensive line strapped on those shiny orange-and-black knee braces and trotted onto the Gators’ practice fields this spring, Tim Davis put them through visual torture.

The Gators’ offensive line had a very schizophrenic identity last season, so Florida’s second-year offensive line coach decided to show them all the horrors of the up-and-down play in pass protection.

Davis showed his linemen every one of the 39 sacks Florida’s line surrendered in 2012. The ugly sack reel was meticulously studied over and over for two or three days, but the torment didn’t stop there.

Once the Gators got on the field, Davis had Florida’s film crew capture video of each lineman’s one-on-one sessions with defenders.

Needless to say, things weren’t pretty for Florida’s big boys.

“Oh man, it was ugly,” left guard Max Garcia said with a laugh. “It was ugly in the beginning.

“We understood that we needed to improve in that area.”

And if this offense, which had a mediocre passing game, was going to improve this spring, the line had to turn things around.

Now, there were factors working against Florida’s line. Seasoned starters Xavier Nixon and James Wilson were gone and the line was so banged up that the Gators finished spring with six healthy linemen.

But that didn’t stop players from learning and evolving. The education started with the sack reel, where blame wasn't the goal but improvement was. Davis showed all of the mistakes, but instead of singling out players, he discussed what to fix and how to fix it.

The biggest thing linemen took from the film sessions was the lack of communication in pass protection last season. Florida ran the ball so well, averaging 188 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry, but were last in the SEC in passing (146.3 yards per game).

Talking just wasn’t there.

When blocking for the run, communication combinations usually take place with a lineman and another player for a certain defender. In pass block, that communication might have to go through four or more players.

To improve communication, linemen simply talked more in and out of the film room, center Jonotthan Harrison said. They also became more vocal with the running backs, tight ends and quarterback Jeff Driskel during practice. Having another spring to digest Brent Pease’s offense also helped.

“Now that we’ve developed this communication,” Harrison said, “our pass protection is going to be much more successful.”

Injuries hurt, but coach Will Muschamp should have 15 scholarship offensive linemen this fall -- eight or nine of which that will be game-ready. And those game-ready bodies have a lot of experience, including new transfer players, like Garcia and tackle Tyler Moore, who started for the injured Chaz Green at right tackle this spring.

Garcia (Maryland) and Moore (Nebraska) have 16 combined starts. Other potential starters -- Green, Harrison, Jon Halapio and D.J. Humphries -- have 81 combined starts.

“We’re much better up front right now,” Muschamp said.

“There are a lot of guys that have had a lot of at-bats. “I really feel comfortable about our depth and talent at the position.”

But it isn’t just the numbers and physical improvement from the line that have people in Gainesville more excited about this front. This crew is fueled by media criticism hurled their way last year.

“It always eats at us because O-Line is one of those positions that’s all work no credit,” Harrison said. “So as we do badly, it’s pointed out, but when we do the good things they really just underplay the efforts that the offensive line gives.

“We’re looking forward to proving everybody wrong, come season time, and prove that we can pass protect and we have worked on it.”

Despite low spring numbers, the coaches and teammates were happy with the line’s play. Obviously, real improvement won’t be made until the games begin, but people seemed convinced that a stronger line will take the field for the Gators this fall.

“They just want to be known as a nasty offensive line that can be able to run and power down your throat and can pass block,” Buck defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “They want to be an offensive line that when a defensive line has to play against team they’re going to be like, ‘Well, we’re going to have a tough day today.’

“They take pride in that.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Four members of the media were chosen to be guest coaches and allowed to go behind the scenes of Florida's Orange and Blue Debut on Saturday. Brady Ackerman of Sun Sports, Pat Dooley of the Gainesville Sun, Andy Staples of SI.com and yours truly were granted access to join the Gators as they prepared for their spring game. We experienced the sights and sounds of the closest thing to a game day for a major college football program; this is what I saw ...

8:00 a.m.: I arrive at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium with a Starbucks Doubleshot and a Snickers Marathon energy bar to start the day. The sun is up and there's a breeze in the air. It's almost the perfect setting to start a long day of running around Florida's football facility.

8:30: We meet with coach Will Muschamp in his spacious office inside the stadium for a casual 15 minutes to talk shop. There are some laughs and some talk about the team, and he warns us that a poor performance by one of the two teams -- Orange or Blue -- will be followed by having the blame placed on the two media members coaching that side. Ackerman and I are placed on the Blue Team, while Dooley and Staples are assigned to the Orange Team.

9:05: A true breakfast of champions. We walk over to one of the dinning halls across from the stadium. The first thing you notice is that the dining area couldn't be big enough to house all these football players, but somehow, it is. The Gators pile in and begin the feast. The basics are there: pancakes, bacon, eggs and grits. And at the end of the buffet line, steaks and grilled chicken breasts sat there ready to be devoured ... and they were. After sipping on some fine, freshly squeezed orange juice, we media members tried to blend in and snag some grub before the carnivores went back for seconds. Linebacker Jelani Jenkins stacked steaks on chicken, while fullback Hunter Joyer went with pretty much everything he could lay eyes on and added some pasta. The fruit was barely touched. I tried to mimic the players, throwing protein and starch together for a yummy, relatively healthy cornucopia of deliciousness. Grilled chicken and pancakes really do work.

[+] EnlargeJeff Dillman, Will Muschamp
AP Photo/Phil SandlinStrength coach Jeff Dillman gives head coach Will Muschamp, right, a thumbs-up during Florida's spring game in April.
9:35: After stuffing our faces, we head back over to the stadium and toward the locker room. We stand around as players, coaches, recruits and staff members wandered the halls. TV screens that surround a massive gator head in the middle of the room show highlights from the 2011 season, mixed with music videos featuring LMFAO, Will.i.am and Drake. Every player touches the gator before he runs out onto the field before games.

9:37: Running backs coach Brian White, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and offensive line coach Tim Davis gig us about coaching. We're asked what our game plan is, and we basically say not getting in the way. Dooley tells Quinn to blitz every down and I tell Davis that he should be glad I'm on his team because my PlayStation skills are unmatched. He laughs, realizing I'd be in over my head if this were real.

10:05: After walking back and forth for a good 10 minutes, rising senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter embraces Quinn and yells "Last time, baby," signaling that his Gators career is coming to an end.

10:20: We leave the locker room to go on the Gator Walk. Last year, the team bussed. This year, it walked, so we walked. The team is dressed in orange shirts and blue shorts -- nothing too flashy. Wide receiver Quinton Dunbar awkwardly raps the words to some song, while the freshmen converse about doing this for the first time.

10:26: I finally hit the official start of the Gator Walk. It's spring break for Alachua County school districts, so the crowd is a little thin, but it's lively. Still, with the smaller crowd there to greet the Gators, kicker Caleb Sturgis utters this gem: "This is what happens when you go 7-6." Defensive lineman Sharrif Floyd looks at me and says that the Gator Walk never gets old, then counts the number of hugs he gave with the exact number of "a lot."

10:40: As the team piles into the locker room, the offense stays on the field for a mini walk-through. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease goes over Xs and Os and formations ... lots of formations. He's pulling, pushing and quizzing guys along the way and even puts on player on the spot with a heap of questions about a certain play and formation. Luckily for the player, he passed Pease's test.

10:49: The offense huddles up, with rising sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel pushing to the middle, before breaking and heading to the locker room.

11:55: After a lot of waiting and people watching, we finally head into the locker room with the players an hour before kickoff. Led by new strength coach Jeff Dillman, the players are going through dynamic stretching, with Dillman leading like a drill instructor with short, loud commands. Players isolate their cores, thoroughly stretch their legs and their backs; Dillman is very technical and very loud. "We're gonna have a great day today!" he yells. "Build that rage! One minute till we prime that engine!"

Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 14, 2012
3/14/12
2:45
PM ET
Schedule: Florida opens spring practice Wednesday afternoon and concludes on April 7 with the Orange & Blue Debut, presented by Sunniland, at 1 p.m. ET in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. In conjunction with Florida Football's Annual Coaches Clinic, practice will open to the public twice -- March 16 and March 17.

What's new: Florida welcomes in new offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who left Boise State, as its new offensive coordinator after Charlie Weis left to become the head coach at Kansas. Florida also hired former Utah offensive line coach Tim Davis to replace Frank Verducci, while Jeff Dillman replaces Mickey Marrotti as the Gators' strength and conditioning coach.

On the mend: Florida will be down a few players this spring. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley is out while he recovers from an ACL injury he suffered at the end of the regular season. Cornerback Jeremy Brown is out with a knee injury that kept him out all of the 2011 season. Offensive linemen Ian Silberman, Tommy Jordan, Kyle Koehne and Cole Gilliam, along with linebacker Lerentee McCray and defensive end Kedric Johnson, are all out with shoulder injuries. Cornerback Marcus Roberson (neck) was cleared for non-contact drills. Linebacker Neiron Ball, who was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation after a blood vessel burst in his head before the 2011 season, has been cleared to resume physical activity, but not for practice.

On the move: Redshirt senior Omarius Hines is moving from wide receiver to cross train at running back and tight end. Hines has always been some sort of a hybrid player, recording 41 career receptions for 559 yards and two touchdowns and carrying the ball 13 times for 164 rushing yards and two more scores. Nick Alajajian is moving from offensive tackle to defensive tackle to provide depth with Easley out.

Questions: The major question on the minds of fans in Gainesville is what will happen at the quarterback spot. Now that John Brantley is gone, Florida will be working with rising sophomores Jacoby Brissett, Jeff Driskel and Tyler Murphy this spring. One of those three will be Florida's starter this fall, and after what people saw last year from Brissett and Driskel, there's a bit of an uneasy feeling in Gainesville. Florida is also looking to replace running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Senior-to-be Mike Gillislee enters the spring No. 1 on the depth chart, with Mack Brown behind him. Gillislee has played some in the past, while Brown has barely seen the field as a running back. Wide receiver and the offense line also have their own issues. Florida returns four starters up front, but this group struggled significantly last season. Keep an eye on early enrollees D.J. Humphries and Jessamen Dunker. Florida has a handful of receivers, but none are proven and none return with more than 16 catches from last season.

Key battle: If Florida's offense wants to take any steps forward, the Gators have to figure out their quarterback situation. Brissett enters spring with the most experience of the trio, but people around Florida believe he and Driskel are pretty even when it comes to physical ability. The difference right now seems to be that Brissett has more of an edge to him and more confidence. And he did pass Driskel on the depth chart last year. Murphy is pretty athletic, but in his two years on campus he has yet to take a collegiate snap, so he is clearly behind the other two. Pease is a quarterbacks coach, so one of his biggest jobs will be improving the play of all three of these players. One needs to step up and separate himself as both a player and a leader heading into summer workouts.

Don't forget about: Safety Matt Elam might be Florida's best defensive player and he's talented enough to put himself in the conversation as one of the top defensive backs in the SEC. In his first year as a starter at strong safety, Elam was second on the team with 78 tackles and was first with 11 tackles for loss. He also had two sacks, broke up seven passes and recorded two interceptions. Elam plays both the run and the deep ball well. He's turning into a true leader of Florida's defense and is primed for a real breakout season in 2012.

Breaking out: Tight end Jordan Reed was supposed to be one of Florida's top offensive weapons last season, but injuries and poor offensive execution hurt him in 2011. Now that he's healthy and he has young quarterbacks lining up, Reed could get a lot of attention this spring. Don't expect these quarterbacks to go deep much, so they'll have to rely on Reed underneath. Gillislee has shown flashes here and there, but has yet to put everything together. One moment he's running over players, the next he's yanked for poor blocking. Now, he enters spring as the guy at running back and with a bulk of the reps coming his way, Gillislee should be able to do a little more this time around.

All eyes on: Pease has a lot to do in such a short amount of time this spring. He'll be adding a few of his own wrinkles to Florida's offense, but don't expect him to change too much of the offensive terminology. Making things easy will be crucial as he attempts to fix Florida's offensive issues, starting with the quarterback position. The good news is that younger players tend to take to coaching a little better than vets. This is a chance for some reinvention on offense for the Gators, but it will start with Pease's coaching. Weis seemed to struggle a lot last season with communicating his messages to Florida's offensive players. Pease can't have that issue this spring. Everything has to clear and concise for Florida's offense.

Lunchtime links

February, 14, 2012
2/14/12
12:30
PM ET
While you're still cramming to find just the right Valentine's Day gift, check out some of these SEC links to calm your nerves.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

SEC SCOREBOARD

Thursday, 9/18
Saturday, 9/20