Starting jobs still up for grabs


University of Florida coach Will Muschamp is putting the days before Saturday’s kickoff to good use. (Photo courtesy of UF Communications)

Published: Thursday, September 1, 2011 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, August 31, 2011 at 2:34 p.m.

Unless you're a Florida player, coach or trainer, you're going to have to wait until Saturday to witness Emotional Muschamp, the fiery coach with the steely stare.

Facts

GATOR GAME

What: The University of Florida Gators will face the Florida Atlantic University Owls.

When: 7 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka The Swamp.

TV/Radio: ESPNU, 850 AM and 103.7 FM.

Information: Visit www.gatorsports.com.

It looks like Will Muschamp is going to remain in focused-and-calm-coach mode in the days leading up to his much-anticipated head coaching debut Saturday in The Swamp.

It's too soon — and there's still too much work to be done — for his legendary emotional side to take over.

That appears to be the plan based on his weekly news conference Monday.

Coach Boom was Coach Business.

"We're not there yet," he said. "We still have a week. We have a lot of things we have to accomplish throughout the week. I'm really focused on the task at hand and that's getting our guys ready to play, practicing well this week and finishing Thursday and having a good walk-through Friday and getting ready to play.

"Unfortunately, (the game) is at seven o'clock. I wish we were playing at one (in the afternoon). I'm looking forward (to the game), but understanding we have to practice this week and continue to prepare well."

Later in the news conference, Muschamp was asked if he was nervous.

"Anxious is probably a better word," he said. "We'll be all right."

Before the emotions start flowing Saturday, Muschamp has some unfinished business to take care of on the practice field. The priorities, he said, lie with the secondary and offensive line.

"We're still very unsettled in the offensive line and in the secondary," he said. "The bottom line with me is you have to earn the right to start. If a guy's not doing it in practice, he's not going to start.

"Guys have got to get out there and practice and compete and play the right way in order to start the football game."

The only sure starter in the secondary at this stage appears to be sophomore strong safety Matt Elam.

"He's had a really nice camp and consistent in his performances and how he approaches the game," Muschamp said.

The other three starting roles will be determined this week in practice, Muschamp said.

At the other safety position, true freshman De'Ante "Pop" Saunders is listed ahead of junior Josh Evans, but the two will continue their battle this week for the starting role.

"The consistency we have to play with at (free) safety is not there," Muschamp said. "This week we have to make sure and straighten that out. We probably need to reduce what we're doing and make sure they're getting in the right spot and making the right checks and making the plays that they need to make to be able to play.

"We've had solid production at corner. Again, it goes back to the safety position. In our defense, (the safety) has to get guys aligned and in the right spots. The communication has not always been there to my satisfaction."

Muschamp said at this point, Saunders is the front-runner.

"I'm very pleased with ‘Pop'," he said. "It think he's got all the intangibles to play in the deep part of the field — tackling ability, covering ability, playing the ball. He's a guy I'm excited about playing for the Gators."

Both cornerback jobs also are still being contested. True freshman Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins and Jeremy Brown are even on the depth chart at one corner, while Moses Jenkins and Cody Riggs share the top spot at the other corner.

"The four corners have all done some nice things in camp," Muschamp said. "They are interchangeable."

On the offensive line, the top five on the depth chart are Xavier Nixon at left tackle, Dan Wenger at left guard, Jonotthan Harrison at center, Jon Halapio at right guard and Matt Patchan at right tackle. But other players are still competing for starting roles this week, including Chaz Green at tackle and Kyle Koehne and Nick Alajajian at guard.

"We see (cohesion) in spots, but not enough. We need to be more consistent. I feel the same way in the secondary. At times we do some really nice things.

"Generally, in those two groups (offensive line and secondary) when you have a breakdown it isn't good. You have to be on top of your game all the time in consistency in how you play and how you approach the game."

Muschamp said the fact starting roles are still on the line only a few days before the opener isn't necessarily a bad thing.

"I'm young, but I'm old-fashioned," he said. "Generally, how you play is how you practiced during the week. That's how I view it. No one, in my opinion, has separated themselves to be named the starter here Monday before our first game.

"Does that mean we're playing poorly? I don't think so. That means we have not created enough separation at those positions as we have in other positions."

Obviously, there's still work to be done, and jobs to be won, on the practice field.

Robbie Andreu is a Gainesville Sun staff writer.

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