Scrimmage Notebook: Offensive Line Improved

The compliments can get old after practices. It's not that Florida coach Will Muschamp wants to downplay the units on the team that are impressing this fall, but he wants to see it on a Saturday in September. The offensive line is a big part of that. After the group struggled during 2011, the offseason praise has come from coaches and players, but the coach wants to see it against another team.

"We need to see it on game day," Will Muschamp said on Monday. "I'm kind of tired about complementing and talking about them until they do it on game day, but there's no question we are night and day better."

The first team offensive line in Saturday's scrimmage featured Chaz Green at right tackle, Jon Halapio at right guard, Jonotthan Harrison at center, James Wilson and Kyle Koehne at left guard, and Xavier Nixon at left tackle.

Muschamp said that D.J. Humphries and Matt Patchan got reps at tackle. Jessamen Dunker got time at right guard, Sam Robey played at center and Trip Thurman got time at right tackle.

The offensive line got the necessary push off the ball for Florida to create a running game in Saturday's scrimmage. Muschamp complimented Mike Gillislee, Matt Jones and Mack Brown, who had his "best scrimmage" in his time in Gainesville, for their tough running.

That wouldn't have happened without the improved offensive line.

"We averaged five yards a carry for the scrimmage," Muschamp said. "From that standpoint, I'm very pleased. We were blocking some pretty good front guys. Across the board, from a protection standpoint, it was solid. It was a little inconsistent at times, but it was solid.

"It's about consistency as much as anything and being able to run the ball. We became one-dimensional last year. Anytime in this league that you're that way, you're going to struggle. You can't survive, week in and week out. We're a little more creative in the run game."

PUNT RETURNER: Florida split time with multiple punt returners in 2011, but that doesn't seem to be the case as the Gators are weeks away from opening the 2012 season. Muschamp said on Monday that there's one punt returner standing out above the rest.

"Marcus Roberson would be the guy," Muschamp said. "Andre Debose has been back there and done some nice things. We feel comfortable with him. Pop Saunders would be a guy. Marcus would probably be the starter."

Roberson will have a chance to make plays with the ball

The Gators might not use just one punt returner. Multiple teams are starting to run a rugby punt system that bounces the ball to the return specialist. Sometimes this produces unpredictable hops that can bounce past the returner.

Because of that, Muschamp said the Gators could elect to use two punt returners.

"With all the directional kicking we face nowadays, we've gone to where we'll probably have two back there a lot," Muschamp said. "You've got to be able to not let vertical position change when the ball is bouncing—field the ball."

CORNERBACK BATTLE: Marcus Roberson seems locked into starting at one cornerback position after a strong freshman season. It ended with Roberson missing the final three games of the year with a neck injury. He's back and fully healthy in fall camp.

However, Muschamp doesn't lock him in as a starter. He sees a four-way battle—between Loucheiz Purifoy, Cody Riggs, Roberson and Jaylen Watkins— for the two cornerback jobs.

"Those guys are all competing," Muschamp said. "It's making our team better. It has been a good competition for them all. They've all had the opportunities where they made big plays for us. I'm very comfortable with where we are at that position now. It's where you should be at Florida at corner."

Purifoy can play a big role at cornerback this fall

Freshman Brian Poole joined Roberson and Purifoy as the three players that recorded interceptions in Saturday's scrimmage.

Muschamp also said that Cody Riggs is playing some "nickel safety" for the Gators. Pop Saunders is the third safety on the depth chart and would likely be listed as the fifth cornerback, too.

PASS CATCHERS: The wide receiver position continues to search for a go-to receiver, but there are positive signs for Florida going into 2012.

Muschamp said on Monday that Frankie Hammond is the most consistent of the receivers, while Andre Debose, Quinton Dunbar and Latroy Pittman are all "doing nice things."

Freshman Raphael Andrades has started to make his mark, too, as the head coach has complimented his hands, routes and called him "very reliable for the quarterback."

Andrades has been impressive early in camp

It isn't only about the receivers, though. Muschamp always enjoyed first-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease's offense because he can get multiple players involved.

Trey Burton and Omarius Hines are starting to get touches in a versatile role that lines up all over the field.

Hines got the ball some in 2011 but could see an increase this fall.

"He plays very well in the slot," Muschamp said. "He's a guy you can get the ball to on the edge and he can create some things down the field. He's an explosive athlete. He catches the ball well. He runs the perimeter runs well.

"There's certainly a place and a package for him. He will have one."

The tight end position will also have an impact this fall. Muschamp has complimented Jordan Reed for his improvements this fall, as the junior is becoming more comfortable at the position.

There are also two freshmen that could contribute. Colin Thompson was expected to be the attached tight end that would help improve the blocking, but a foot injury could slow that down.

"I'm not sure on Colin," Muschamp said. "We've been very careful with that, dealing with the foot. He has been doing some walk throughs with us, but that's really been about it."

Fellow freshman Kent Taylor is a compliment to Thompson. He won't see as much time as a tight end attached to the line of scrimmage because he is over 30 pounds lighter than Thompson.

Taylor's specialty comes in the passing game.

Taylor can be a threat in the pass game this fall

"Kent, athletically in the throwing game, is a really good athlete that catches the ball well," Muschamp said. "We need to get better at some point of attack things, but we knew that coming in and he did, too. He's just got to get stronger, and it takes some time to play on the line of scrimmage in this league.

"He will play in the slot some. As we continue to move through camp, he's a guy that needs to continue to get better and progress on special teams. He needs to help us on teams. He's a really good athlete."

FOWLER IMPRESSING EARLY: Ronald Powell's torn ACL made Dante Fowler's emergence important for Florida. Even if he doesn't earn the starting job at the BUCK linebacker position, Fowler can provide valuable depth for the defense.

The physical impression has drawn exciting reviews from coaches and players this fall, but Muschamp is equally as impressed with what Fowler has done in the meeting room.

Fowler has been working hard off the field

"He has done a nice job," Muschamp said. "He is a guy that has produced well and been very productive. He's very attentive in meetings and asks questions. He asks the right kind of questions. He plays hard.

"It's hard for a young man to come in during the summer and understand the tempo and mental gymnastics in playing the game. He is working very hard at it."


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