Notebook: Discipline Penalties Addressed

Execution on the field slowed the Gators down during the 2011 season, but the amount of penalties didn't make the year any easier. Florida led the SEC in 59.5 penalty yards per game and 100 penalties against, 14 more than any other team, during the season. Florida head coach Will Muschamp is okay with the aggressive penalties, but there were times when the Gators' lack of discipline hurt them.

"Pulling a guy down is discipline," Will Muschamp said. "A bang-bang play that's a judgment call—that happens. It's part of the game. There is a true division between discipline penalties—jumping offsides, false start or communication errors—those are discipline. We need to do a better job getting the play or substitution in on time. They should not happen.

"The other stuff—I'm not saying it's okay. I'm just saying in judgment situations—was it holding? Was it not holding? Did he get his hands out of the framework or not? The officials have a hard time, too. You have to be mindful of the situation."

Florida was charged with 773 penalty yards last season. No other team in the SEC gave up more than 700. The discipline issues were easy to see. From defensive linemen jumping offside unprompted to formations not being set before the snap on offense, undisciplined penalties plagued the Gators from the beginning of the season to the end.

Muschamp isn't afraid to take the blame. His comments after most games last season usually consisted of multiple times where Muschamp would say, "We've got to coach it better." The players have plenty of responsibility, too. The second year under this coaching staff could help breed familiarity and make things easier on the field.

Either way, Muschamp knows his team can still win if the issues don't correct themselves.

"There's absolutely zero evidence to support that you can't win a championship and be a championship football team," Muschamp said. "It's discipline penalties that are the issue. When you're jumping offsides, that's a problem."

INJURIES HAVE BENEFITTED SOME PLAYERS: There have been some close calls with serious injuries on the defensive side of the ball for the Gators. Marcus Roberson injured his neck and was held out of the final three games last season, while Neiron Ball was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation (AVM) and forced to miss the entire 2011 season. At one point, there were questions whether either would play football again.

It changed their perspective. Ronald Powell tore his ACL in the spring game, but a serious injury that looks small compared to what the others went through changed his perception, too.

"Every injured player has a different appreciation of what they have and what God has blessed them with," Muschamp said. "There's no question that (Powell and Roberson) went through a very difficult time. With Marcus, whether or not he was going to play football game, and Ronald, when he's going to play football again. Neiron Ball—here's a young man that at one point was a bleak outlook on things as far as ever playing football again."

The fear for any coach is how a player reacts when they get back on the field, especially from an injury above the shoulders. Returning to the field is an important hurdle, but the fear is that they do it only to play slow or hesitant because of the injury. Ball and Roberson haven't showed any signs of that.

"You always (worry)," Muschamp said. "Anytime you're dealing with the neck or the head, you always worry about how a player will come back. Both of those guys don't seem like it has slowed them down. They're playing fast and physical.

"Any young man that has that taken away for time or forever, they have an appreciation of what God has blessed them with and playing a great game."

WILSON'S RETURN: A year ago, James Wilson started fall camp on an exercise bike. His weight was up, which only made it harder on his already bad knees. The focus then was to have him drop weight and maybe get onto the football field at some point.

During the season, Wilson was held to scout team duties. That all changed around week "four or five." The Florida coaches started to notice him on the practice film and started to consider ways to get him on the field.

"You keep noticing this guy on scout team creating some run game issues for our defense," Muschamp said. "I'm thinking that we needed to give this guy an opportunity, especially with the way we were struggling to run the football."

The key was his weight. Wilson got that down and the rest of his health fell in line behind it.

"He did a really good job in the latter part of the season after he got his weight down and we were able to manage him much better in practice with his knees," Muschamp said.

Wilson came to Florida as a five-star recruit that was seen as a ‘can't miss' offensive guard that would move on and be a road grader in the NFL. He'll start his sixth season in Gainesville when the Gators open the year against Bowling Green on September 1.

It reiterates how tough of a position it is to recruit.

"You don't ever know," Muschamp said. "Football is a developmental game, but it's really a developmental game on the offensive line. The natural progression for an offensive lineman is slower because the game happens so fast and in our league, it's some of the fronts you have to block.

"That's why recruiting is not an exact science. It's a lot of guesswork involved. The mental side of it and maturity, all over those things are hard to figure, especially with a young man coming from high school to college."

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