2 starters to miss UF opener
Published: Friday, August 23, 2013 at 2:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, August 23, 2013 at 2:20 p.m.
The Florida Gators will open the season next Saturday without their No. 1 tailback and their leader on the offensive line.
Florida coach Will Muschamp announced Friday that sophomore tailback Matt Jones and senior offensive guard Jon Halapio will miss the opener against Toledo. Jones is still recovering from a viral infection, while Halapio continues to nurse a partially torn pectoral muscle. Both missed all of preseason camp.
There is no timetable for Jones' return. Muschamp said he expects Halapio to be back for the third game of the season — Tennessee on Sept. 21. Halapio has been a mainstay on the offensive line, starting 27 consecutive games at right guard over the past two seasons.
“Matt Jones is going to have some more blood work done on Monday,” Muschamp said. “He will be out for Toledo. He's questionable from there on out, but he's doing very well. They're putting more on him each day as far as physical activity and lifting and different things. I've been very pleased with how he's progressed.
“Jon Halapio right now would project for Tennessee. I think that his pec is filling in and we feel really comfortable where he is, but certainly being his senior year we don't want to push it with him. But I would safely project for Tennessee. Possibly before that, but I would certainly say Tennessee.”
The news is better concerning several other injured players. Muschamp said potential starting defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (patella), true freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (shoulder), starting fullback Hunter Joyer (hamstring) and sophomore wide receiver Raphael Andrades (shoulder) are expected to return Monday.
“All those guys we feel like will be back for game week as far as that's concerned,” Muschamp said. “That's kind of where we are as far as the injury front is concerned, and we'll move forward from there.”
Even with the two key starters missing (Jones and Halapio), Muschamp said he feels good about the Gators' ground game heading into the opener. Junior Mack Brown will start at tailback and is backed up by Mark Herndon and Valdez Showers. Nebraska transfer Tyler Moore fills Halapio's right guard spot.
“Certainly, they are huge absences,” Muschamp said. “I don't know how many starts Jon has got the last three years, whatever that is. Obviously I think Matt is an outstanding back and a big back at that. He runs our run game very well.
“But I certainly feel comfortable with the guys we have filling in for them in Mack Brown and Valdez Showers and Mark Herndon. If the young backs get an opportunity, I think they will play well. At right guard you've got Tyler Moore, you have some other guys that can fill in and play well at that position. So I feel comfortable about our run game. Would I say that we're going to miss those guys? I think we'll play well in their absence, but certainly they are good football players and we want them back playing.”
Muschamp said a deeper offensive line should help absorb the loss of Halapio.
“I feel like we have a good mixture of guys (on the offensive line) with (center) Jon Harrison playing really good football right now,” Muschamp said. “Max Garcia can play guard and left tackle. Moore can play right guard and right tackle. Chaz Green is playing right tackle. Trenton Brown is coming along at right tackle. We feel like he's a guy that needs to continue to progress, but has done a nice job.
“Ian Silberman, Kyle Koehne and Trip Thurman are all guys that can play inside at both guard positions. Trip and Kyle are playing center. DJ Humphries has had an outstanding camp at left tackle. If you look at the mixture of eight and nine guys, you get Jon back, and you're looking at 10 guys you're comfortable with playing."
As for replacing Jones at tailback, Brown will be making his first career starter. Next in line behind Brown are Herndon, a former walk-on who was awarded a scholarship Tuesday, and Showers, who moved to offense (running back/slot receiver) from safety about a week ago. Behind those three are true freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane.
“I would say it would be a little more spread out at this time,” Muschamp said. “We've got a lot of confidence in Mark and Mack and Valdez. We'll continue to see how those young guys practice, see how they will figure into that as well.”
Overall, Muschamp seems pretty positive about his team heading into game week.
“I do feel good about this team,” he said. “I met with the seniors and the leaders yesterday and talked about our camp and where we are. I think that some of my issues were a little bit as far as the sense of urgency with the team.
“We have a lot of young guys in some positions we're counting on. I think everyone in the country would say the same thing. But that's part of it. I think that we're experienced in the places you need to be experienced. It's the quarterback position, both lines of scrimmage. We have mature lines of scrimmage.
“We're going to be a little green as far as the running back position and receiver a little bit. And then some situations on defense at linebacker, how we're able to rotate those guys in. But I feel comfortable, very comfortable, about the talent level at those positions, so that's kind of where we are.”
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.