Summer jobs for Gators
Published: Monday, April 28, 2014 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, April 27, 2014 at 11:43 p.m.
Somehow, coming off the football program's first losing season in 33 years, the Florida Gators were able to generate significant momentum in the spring.
With many of the injured players back, including starting quarterback Jeff Driskel, and a new offensive coordinator on board with a new uptempo offense, the vibes were mostly positive as the Gators seemed to distance themselves from 4-8.
Now, comes the tricky part — keeping that momentum going through a long offseason where there is limited contact with the coaches and the players are pretty much on their own.
Here are five things the Gators can do to keep their momentum alive over the long, hot summer:
1. Practice, practice, practice
It's commendable how quickly the Gators picked up Kurt Roper's offense in the spring, but that was just the start of an ongoing learning process. The best way to build on that experience is to hit the film room and the practice field on a regular basis over the next three months. The coaches can't schedule practices or be on the practice field, so it's up to the players to organize practices and make sure everyone shows up. Not only will it help the players get a better command of the offense, it will build team unity, something that was badly shaken during the losing 2013 season. If the players put in the effort on the practice field and spend time in the film room, they'll have a chance to be proficient in the offense right from the start of preseason camp, instead of having to spend some valuable time going back over what they learned in the spring.
2. All in with Dillman
For the next three months, this team basically belongs to Jeff Dillman, and he's going to put the Gators through what promises to be the toughest, most demanding offseason strength and conditioning program they have experienced. With the Gators going to a fastbreak offense, the emphasis is going to be on conditioning this summer on both sides of the ball, so the players need to brace for it — and embrace it. If they buy into Dillman's plan, which is going to include all kinds of running and wind sprints, the Gators will be in the shape they need to be in to do things they want to do this fall. It's going to be a long, hard grind, so they have to be all in with Dillman.
3. Get healthy, stay healthy
Although most of the injured players from the fall returned, the Gators still had some key players miss the spring, including starting defensive tackle Leon Orr and redshirt freshman linebackers Alex Anzalone and Matt Rolin. The Gators need to get everyone off the injury list and keep them off so they can open camp with a full complement of players. Injuries devastated the Gators last fall. If the players can get healthy and pretty much stay healthy through camp, UF has a chance to re-emerge as a contender in the SEC. For this to happen, a lot of it goes back to how well the Gators do in Dillman's offseason program.
4. Leaders have to lead
It's pretty obvious to everyone Florida's leadership among the players wasn't as strong as it needed to be last fall, but that's something that happens when you're going through a 4-8 season. The Gators need some leaders to emerge and take ownership of this team this summer. The guy who really needs to lead is Driskel, because quarterbacks are expected to lead and the QB is the guy the offensive players naturally turn to in tough times. Driskel is not the most vocal guy (although he seems improved in that area, based on the spring), so he's going to have to lead by example this summer. That means he's the guy who needs to make sure the offensive players get to the practice field and the film room and put the necessary work in this summer. The Gators have some potentially strong leaders on defense, including junior defensive end/outside linebacker Dante Fowler Jr., middle linebacker Michael Taylor, true sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III and safety Jabari Gorman.
5. Play it smart
On and off the field (especially off the field), the Gators need to show some maturity this summer. Nothing stalls momentum faster than players getting in trouble and getting cited or arrested. UF's track record over the past year has been good, a sign Muschamp's discipline has taken hold. Whether it's downtown at a nightclub or at a party in an off-campus apartment, the players need to make good decisions if potential trouble is lurking. Some players (and they certainly know who they are) need to lay off the weed and make sure they pass their drug tests this summer. In their hopes of producing a big turnaround season, it will be a huge negative sign if the Gators open the season with three or players suspended for a game or two for a violation of team rules. So, be sensible, be smart this summer. It would send a strong, positive signal to Gator Nation.