Gators take field for first practice

Quarterback John Brantley releases a pass in front of UF offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, right, during Florida's practice on Saturday.

Photo courtesy of UF Communications
Published: Saturday, August 6, 2011 at 10:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 6, 2011 at 10:20 p.m.

With that early rift that developed between the seniors and some of the highly rated true freshmen a year ago, the Florida Gators were not always a happy family last season.

New Florida coach Will Muschamp has taken steps that he hopes will help the players bond and become closer this season.

It starts in the locker room, where Muschamp has mixed things up by interspersing the young players among the veterans in terms of locker assignments. In the past, the lockers have been sectioned by position groups.

“We took the locker room and we didn't do it by position or class,” Muschamp said Saturday, after UF's first preseason practice. “We kind of separated it, put young, old, offense, defense … guys that would never interact with each other unless they had to, and we put their lockers toward each other.”

Muschamp and his staff also have had two players' lounges constructed, one in the locker room and one upstairs near the coaches' offices.

“We put the players' lounge back in the locker room. We think that's important,” Muschamp said. “Terry Jackson, our life skills director and spiritual development director, is going to have a lounge upstairs. There will be two different places where (the players) can go and relax.”

Muschamp said that since the NCAA eliminated athletic dorms several years ago, it's been harder for the players to bond like they used to.

“Generally, the class you know is the guys you come in with,” he said. “You don't get to know the other guys as well, especially if they're on the other side of the ball.

“We also tried to create some leadership groups this summer, where guys you would never think would have to interact with each other did.

“Those are different exercises we tried to do to make sure they know each other, they understand each other and know a little background about each other.”

Several players commented at Friday's media day that this team is much closer than last year's and that a good chemistry began developing over the summer.

The plan is to carry it over into preseason practice, which started Saturday with the veterans practicing in the morning and the true freshmen in the afternoon.

Muschamp said it was a good first day.

“It went OK. Everyone was excited,” he said. “We had some very good retention, especially with the older players, some decent retention with some of the younger players. Pleased with the first day, but it's the first day. Lot of teaching and moving around.”

One veteran player who caught Muschamp's eye was senior tailback Jeff Demps, who missed the entire spring to concentrate on track. He recently made the decision to return for his senior season.

“He looked great, actually,” Muschamp said. “He looked really good.”

Muschamp had a chance to see the true freshmen practice as a group for the first time, and he seemed impressed with the two quarterbacks — early enrollee Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett.

“Jacoby is very bright,” Muschamp said. “After just one day, I'm very pleased with where he is. He has a certain command about him. He's a guy that is very well-respected by his teammates. He's an outstanding athlete , but he can really throw the football.

“Both quarterbacks look very good.”

Muschamp said the other freshmen who stood out were tight end A.C. Leonard, wide receiver Ja'Juan Story, fullback Hunter Joyer, offensive lineman Trip Thurman, linebacker Graham Stewart, cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy and safeties Jabari Gorman and Chris Johnson.

“Story looks like a guy who can eventually help us,” Muschamp said. “How quickly that will happen, I don't know. I love guys that play quarterback in high school because they had to make a lot of decisions.

“Thurman has done some nice things. We're pleased with his flexibility, his power and where he is athletically. Both corners we think can be good players. Both safeties look solid. And Graham Stewart has done some things, instinctively making some plays in space. He has some command and leadership about him.”

Overall, though, Muschamp said it's obvious the Gators came up short in terms of signing offensive and defensive linemen last February.

“We need to do a better job,” he said. “We've got to get better up front and deeper up front. We're not where we need to be as far as this class on both lines.”

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