Muschamp looking for men in the middle
Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 8:06 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 8:06 p.m.
Florida's strength on defense last season was its strength up the middle.
Sharrif Floyd, Omar Hunter and Earl Okine at tackle.
Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins at linebacker.
Matt Elam and Josh Evans at safety.
Well, all those players are gone now, off getting themselves ready for the NFL. As a result, the Florida defense isn't looking all that strong up the middle as the Gators embark on spring practice.
And that is one of the big concerns for UF coach Will Muschamp, he said after Wednesday's first practice.
“I'm young, but I'm old-fashioned,” Muschamp said. “You better be strong up the middle. You look at any sport. Look at basketball, you better have a point guard and you better have a center. You better have a pitcher and a catcher in baseball.
“There is no question we've got to be strong up the middle. That's something that's a question mark. I know Dominique Easley can go in there and play inside (at tackle). Those other guys need a thousand reps, and rep and rep and rep.
“We've got to continue to build depth with the guys we've got. And at linebacker … they're good players. They're talented guys. They've just got to get some experience.”
With Easley, UF's most experienced defensive lineman, opening spring drills at defensive end, the two tackle positions are, at the moment, in the hands of Damien Jacobs, Leon Orr, Darious Cummings and Joey Ivie.
Jacobs and Orr saw playing time behind Floyd and Hunter last season, but both struggled with consistency. Cummings is a junior college transfer, and Ivie is a true freshman.
Easley could end up at tackle. Or he might end up alternating between end and tackle. Whatever his playing role, Muschamp said Easley is now the clear leader of the young defensive front.
“He's a very talented, hard-playing guy, and when the bullets start flying, I'm glad he's in our foxhole,” Muschamp said. “He commands leadership immediately because of the way he plays and the production he brings.
“On top of that, he's a guy that works hard. He works hard in the weight room. He loves the game. A lot of our young players and his peers see that and understand that. That's why he is a good leader for us.”
As young as the Gators are at tackle (especially with Easley working at end), they may be even younger at the two inside linebacker positions.
Starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison is a true sophomore. His backup is true freshman Alex Anzalone. At weakside linebacker, junior Michael Taylor is backed up by true freshman Daniel McMillian.
“I feel comfortable about Mike and Antonio,” Muschamp said. “I have a lot of confidence in both of those guys playing very well. After that, Daniel and Alex and those guys continue to develop at that position.”
At safety, the starters on the depth chart are Cody Riggs, a converted cornerback, and true junior Jabari Gorman, who has played mostly on special teams the past two seasons. The backups are true sophomore Valdez Showers and redshirt freshman Marcus Maye.
“We have some flexibility because of Jaylen (Watkins) and Cody (can play both cornerback and safety). So, we have some flexibility,” Muschamp said.
“But again, at the end of the day, we've got to get our best players on the field whether that's at safety or nickel or corner. It really does matter (being strong up the middle).”
Although the Gators practiced only in shorts Wednesday, Muschamp said some of the early enrollees were impressive, including Anzalone, Ivie and McMillian.
“(Wide receiver) Demarcus Robinson made some nice plays today. I thought he did some good things,” Muschamp said. “(Tailback) Kelvin Taylor got in there and did some nice things.
“Joey ran around in there. Alex and Daniel got a lot of reps because our depth at linebacker is not as good.”
Muschamp said Loucheiz Purifoy, who has made the move from cornerback to wide receiver for the first seven practices, also had a positive first day.
“He made some plays at wideout,” Muschamp said. “Again, he's still in a learning process. Yesterday, I had a long talk with him. He got a little frustrated.
“I said, ‘Listen, remember your first day at corner. I mean, it just doesn't happen overnight. That's why we're doing this, so you can learn the concepts of the offense when you step in.'
“It's very difficult for a guy that's had tremendous success at a position when you're trying to learn another position.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.