Replacements more than fill-ins
Published: Friday, August 9, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 8, 2013 at 11:58 p.m.
Some might say it's fitting to call them Florida's replacement players, career back-ups who have been called on to be fill-ins for three key starters while they are away
But their teammates and coaches certainly do not view quarterback Tyler Murphy, tailback Mack Brown and middle linebacker Michael Taylor as replacement players. To them, they are just players — players who are coming through and making the most of their opportunity filling in for Jeff Driskel, Matt Jones and Antonio Morrison, respectively.
By all accounts, Murphy has been doing an excellent job executing the offense (especially in the passing game), and also has become a team leader in Driskel's absence.
“He's been great,” tight end Clay Burton said Thursday. “He's really stepped up as a leader. He's playing well. He got player of the day in practice a couple days ago. He's doing really well, a really good job with the first-team offense.
“We have confidence in him. I think he could win a game for us if he needed to play. I just think he's doing a really good job.”
Starting fullback Hunter Joyer said Murphy has earned the respect and confidence of his teammates with the way he's handled himself as the No. 1 quarterback.
“He's definitely coming on. He's become a leader,” Joyer said. “He's stepping up and taking control of the offense. He's working hard every day and doing what he can to gain our confidence to lead the team.”
UF coach Will Muschamp said Murphy has taken advantage of this opportunity to be the starter while Driskel continues to recover from appendectomy surgery a few days before the start of camp last week.
“It's huge (for him),” Muschamp said. “Any time you get a situation where you get all the turns and reps and at-bats, it helps you as a player. There's no question it helps him being with the first group and first offensive line and less mistakes and less issues and all of those things.”
Murphy's turn as the starter probably won't last much longer. Driskel has already been cleared to start throwing some passes and it now appears it will only be a matter of days before he's back under center.
Even with Driskel and Jones (viral infection) out for the start of camp, the coaches have had enough faith in Murphy and Brown to install the offense just like they planned to if the starters were present.
“We're not going to change our identity,” offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “They have to change the void on that. I think Tyler has done a really, really good job. He's an athletic kid.”
Brown, finally having a chance to be the every-down tailback, also is having an impressive camp, according to the coaches and players.
“He's doing really well,” Joyer said. “He's been in the playbook and knows the plays and he's making plays.”
Muschamp said Brown has a chance to earn the starting role for the opener even when Jones returns, perhaps next week. Jones established himself as the No. 1 tailback in the spring, but Brown is the one toting the rock for now.
“Absolutely,” Muschamp said when ask if Brown can do enough in Jones' absence to earn the job. “I think Mack Brown's ready for the job, ready for his number to be called, and I'm looking forward to him having that opportunity.”
Brown agrees with his coach. He's ready.
“My confidence is coming back, I'm getting my groove back,” said the redshirt junior who has only 40 career carries at UF. “I'm going to keep doing what I have to do.
“At running back, you need a certain amount of reps to stay in the groove and build your confidence. I didn't get that many reps the last couple years and lost my confidence at times.”
Brown said he's looking forward to Jones' return.
“I want him to come back healthy,” Brown said. “You need two or three backs in the SEC.”
You also need two or three middle linebackers, and that's where Taylor comes in. A projected starter on the outside, Taylor has moved to the middle in the absence of suspended starter Antonio Morrison, who must sit out the first two games.
With two previous starts and appearances in 25 games, the redshirt junior has a little more experience than Murphy and Brown. Like Murphy and Brown, Taylor is having a good camp and feels comfortable in his role as a starter.
“I know what it takes to play inside,” he said. “I've done it before. I know my role.”
Even though Morrison was scheduled to begin practicing with the team again Thursday night, he will not be playing in a game until Sept. 21 (Tennessee). So, Taylor is going to be the guy in the middle of the Florida defense for quite some time.
Like Murphy and Brown, Taylor has been showing in camp that he's not a replacement player — he's a player.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.