Gators Focused on Toughness

The mental and physical maturity needed to take another step forward for the Gators this spring. Florida head coach Will Muschamp saw from the early parts of the season last year that it needed work. Some of that improvement comes naturally as players grow older and stronger. When that happens, Muschamp is also seeing it change how seriously the veteran players approach the game.

"Part of it is guys are getting older," Florida head coach Will Muschamp said Friday about the team's strength and maturity. "We had a much younger team last year. A lot of these guys had never played before, and now they're getting older, more mature and realizing what the weight room can do for you as a football player. They're more serious about it.

"When you get older, you understand more of the big picture—the meeting room, understanding football and scheme. It's not just understanding what I'm doing but what the other guys are doing or the offensive or defensive side."

The physical maturity has come through a change in the weight room. First-year strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman has implemented an Olympic style weightlifting that Muschamp is more comfortable with.

The Gators didn't use it as much last season under Mickey Marotti, so the change gives Muschamp an area he is more familiar with. He also acknowledged that part of the change comes from recruiting bigger players.

"In order to get stronger, you have to push heavy weight," Muschamp said. "That's what we're trying to put more emphasis on. That's what I've been exposed to in my coaching career. We were doing it last year, just not enough."

Once the players add the necessary weight, it's about changing their physical mindsets to implement toughness. The ground attack that Muschamp has wanted to use since getting the job at Florida works together with the added emphasis on stopping the opponent's run game.

Florida struggled at both last season. The Gators were eighth in the SEC in rush offense and fifth in the conference in rush defense.

"I'm not a big stats guy, but the stats pretty much tell the tale," Muschamp said. "When you're middle to last in the pack at the University of Florida at running the football and stopping the run, it ought to tell you an awful lot about where you are from a physicality standpoint. We've got to improve that.

"We've got to run it. It helps the toughness of your organization."

On Wednesday, Muschamp put the Gators through "the most physical practice since I've been here." Friday's practice was moved to 6 a.m. to create extra separation between that and Saturday morning's scrimmage.

The scrimmage will feature all the defensive coaches on the sideline. With ten returning starters from last year's team and all the defensive coaches back, Muschamp will trust the leadership and experience on both ends.

On offense, the coaches will still be on the field to help with players lining up correctly since new offensive coordinator Brent Pease is still installing his offense.

INJURY UPDATE: Solomon Patton (groin), Stephen Alli (groin) and JaJuan Story (ankle) will miss Saturday's scrimmage. Leon Orr (shoulder) is doubtful.

With three receivers out, the depth has taken a hit.

"Aubrey Hill is going to line up," Muschamp said.

"We're a little short there, but with what we're doing—we're creating opportunities for Trey Burton and Omarius Hines is still playing tight end and flexing him in some situations."

The Florida head coach was asked about tight end Kent Taylor, who will be on campus in the summer. Muschamp said he could even line up at wide receiver this fall.

"He's a guy that athletically can stretch the field vertically," Muschamp said. "He came to our camps this summer and did a great job. His body is changing, too. He's really thickening up and putting good weight on."

CREATING PRESSURE AND TURNOVERS: The Florida defense was statistically sound last year, but Muschamp sees more to be gained. The lack of created turnovers was an issue.

To attempt changing that, the Florida defensive players have been going through extra drills to work on their hands.

"We dropped 15 interceptions last year," Muschamp said. "I'm not talking about tipped balls. I'm talking about two hands on it. That's more drops than we had turnovers."

The defensive line isn't up to full strength because of Dominique Easley being held out after tearing his ACL. That does give an opportunity for less experienced players to get more reps. At defensive tackle, that's Leon Orr and Damien Jacobs.

"The one word that scares you is inconsistent," Muschamp said. "Both guys are very inconsistent in their play. Damien shows flashes at times, but he's still learning terminology and different alignments. We want him to play fast and physical. If you ask our offensive linemen, he's a heavy-handed guy inside. He can anchor.

"Leon does some nice things at times, more than anything with his pad level. He gets his pad level up, and it's hard to maintain against guys with good pad level. A lot of times in double teams you're taking on 700 pounds and you'll get knocked back. You've got to have good bad level."

There are players who are impact their impact felt on the defensive line, but they're names that have produced in the past.

"Ronald Powell has rushed the passer better than in the past," Muschamp said. "He has been more consistent. Shariff Floyd is having a good spring. Those two are the ones that jump out at me upfront."

Muschamp hopes that Lerentee McCray and Neiron Ball returning for the fall will also benefit the pass rush.

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