Developing Vets & Youth Is Creating Depth

It still isn't a full roster for the Florida Gators football squad. With only 79 spots filled on an 85 man roster it would be prudent to take advantage of the players you do have. The Florida staff headed by second year coach Will Muschamp seems to be setting the tone in terms of youth being served in 2012. They are also getting some older reserves involved to build some quality depth.

In year two of the Will Muschamp era, the staff has a better idea of what their squad is all about. Excellent recruiting in last year's class that followed a transition recruiting class that included the top two guys playing quarterback right now for Florida.

During the Saturday 38-0 thrashing of Kentucky in Gainesville, the Gators started three true freshmen (Jonathan Bullard, Antonio Morrison, and Raph Andrades) and played another six members (Damien Jacobs, Dante Fowler, Latroy Pittman, Kent Taylor, Matt Jones, D.J. Humphries) of the 2012 recruiting class. Most of these are getting in when everything is still up in the air and it has been like that for most of this season.

What has happened is the young guys have been thrown into the fire as a starter or are providing early game depth and by the end of the game, the Gators are fresh and finishing games tough.

A year ago Florida was outscored 72-22 in the fourth quarter in their eight SEC contests. That was a team without direction and a staff that didn't know their squad.

So far this season, the Gators have reversed the trend in scoring late in the game. Florida has outscored its opponents, 64-13, in the second half this season, including 34-0 in the fourth quarter.

Developing the youth on the team will not only pay off down the road, but also in this season. These guys are already making plays, but they will be ready to make many more as they grow with the experiences they are gaining every time they step on the field.

"We are going to let our young guys scrimmage Tuesday night that haven't been playing as much," Muschamp told the media following the game. "Get those guys turns and reps and continue to develop our younger guys. We continue to work with those guys for 15-20 minutes after every Monday practice to make sure they are getting coached. That is how you develop your team and your roster."

So far, Muschamp really likes what his freshman class has brought to the table. He doesn't care if they were lining up against high school players a year ago. He has a couple of defensive ends in Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler that have played a lot and played well in this early first season.

"They practice well," he said. "They prepare themselves well. I don't care what year they are, we are going to play the best guys. We are going to play the guys that when I go to bed at night I have complete confidence they are going to play hard for Florida. Those guys will do that. They are talented guys.

"They deserve the opportunity. You earn the right to play and start and given the opportunity. When Easley goes down, ‘man-down, man-up'. (Bullard) earned the right to go in there and play. I know there are some things on the perimeter and we lost the edges. A lot of that goes to our ends. He will make some mistakes."

Bullard did start Saturday and a big part of that is because starter Dominique Easley was injured and missed the contest. However, with older guys on the roster, Muschamp could have turned elsewhere.

It really is out of the norm for college coaches to rely on young players and especially freshmen, but Muschamp is absolutely proving to not fall in the norm. he also knows he has a couple of talents up front.

"Again, it is the same old process when you play a young player," Muschamp said. "Is it worth the mistakes he is making right now when we get to game seven, game eight, and game nine. It certainly is in my opinion because (Bullard) is going to be a really good player.

Senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter knows what kind of talents Bullard and Fowler are as well.

"They are special," Hunter said of the two ends. "Any time defensive linemen come in and play like that as freshmen… it is unbelievable. We have had a lot of defensive linemen come in as freshmen and even JuCo and they couldn't do the things these guys can do right now. They really try and get better every day. They stay (after practice) with Coach Quinn and try and learn the plays and different schemes and it's really working for them."

Even with Bullard starting, senior defensive end Earl Okine has also been playing well and making noise at the same position as Bullard. He along with sophomore nose tackle Leon Orr are two guys that have been around the program for three or more years and are finally starting to see some of their potential realized.

Muschamp has been counting on these two guys as well and it has helped in the late game condition of the defensive front.

"They have to continue to come on with what they are trying to do," the head coach said of Orr and Okine. "They are guys we have a lot of confidence in. They did a nice job of getting stronger in the offseason and everything we have asked of them, they have responded.

With Easley out Okine and Bullard stepped up

"We (let them play) because we can count on them. Last year I couldn't sit here and tell you that. Sometimes we were playing guys out of necessity.

"Those guys know they will get their opportunities and that makes them a more motivated player at practice. When they know they are going to play in the game they are more tuned in, more dialed in, more focused to playing well and to understand the play and what we are trying to do. You look at our first four games and in the second half, we have played pretty good because we have a pretty fresh football team."

Highly recruited five-star offensive tackle D.J. Humphries saw his first extended action of the season when he was inserted in at the left tackle spot for the entire second half. The tackle position has taken a couple of hits with injuries with sophomore Chaz Green and junior Matt Patchan both sidelined with injuries. Finding some depth in the offensive trenches is critical.

"He played well, we just felt like we needed to pick up the tempo a little bit and getting in and out," Muschamp said of inserting Humphries. "D.J. deserves to play. I don't care what year he is. He plays well, he practices well, he prepares himself well. He deserves the opportunity."

Muschamp was asked if Humphries could start in two weeks when the gators take on second ranked LSU.

"We will see how practices go," the head coach responded.

The talented youth has created more spirited and viable competition in practice and the fact that this group of youngsters has a strong work habit makes it that much easier for the staff to push the older guys.

"The guys understand you have to practice to play now," he said. "You have to practice well and you have to perform. In order to play, that is what will happen."

Freshman receiver Raph Andrades got the start Saturday and played a lot making his first catch of his career in the second half. He and fellow true freshman Latroy Pittman found themselves on the field in the first series after halftime last week on the road against Tennessee. The Gators were even trailing in the game when the young guys were asked to produce. Pittman drew a 15 yard personal foul in that series against Tennessee Florida moved down the field to score a field goal.

Meanwhile, five-star high school prospect and talented junior receiver Andre Debose sat out the first half of the game Saturday, for seemingly not living up to his end of the deal when it comes to putting out the right effort.

"He just needs to practice better," Muschamp said of Debose not wanting to go any further in chastising him publicly.

We shall see if this is an eye opener for Debose, but if not, Andrades and Pittman look like they are going to bust their tails to make something happen for this Gator offense. And players like senior receiver Frankie Hammond and sophomore Quinton Dunbar will have to continue to push in order to keep pace with the young guys.

"It helps you because you have guys playing better," Muschamp said. "They are dialed in on what they have to do to be successful. They know their job can be taken tomorrow if a guy doesn't perform. Competition is my best motivator. My stuff falls on deaf ears after a while.

"They know when they walk on that field they better compete and play. They know at the end of the day we will play the guy that practices the best and have confidence in. They know that and we don't care where you are from, what grade you are, what you've done before, or how many stars you (had)."

It is getting a little tricky to use the bench persuasion at the linebacker position right now. It is all hands on deck while they get through a myriad of minor type injuries in the middle of the defense.

"Our depth at linebacker is being tested," Muschamp said with a weary look. "We have Jelani Jenkins out. Neiron Ball has been banged up. Darrin Kitchens has been banged up. Depth is not exactly the word I am thinking of when I am thinking of our linebackers right now.

Someone that has helped fill the void at linebacker and maybe more so than expected is true freshman Antonio Morrison. He started the last two weeks. Omar Hunter believes Morrison is cut from a different breed.

"He's a tough hard-nosed kid," Hunter said while shaking his head. "I say he is from the soft side of Chicago (with a laugh), but he's not scared of anything. That is what I like about him most."

Jelani Jenkins should return soon

Games like Kentucky, when the score gets lopsided, allow for even more playing time to guys that need it and deserve it. A lot got into the game in the fourth quarter on Saturday.

"We had the game in hand and felt comfortable about that," Muschamp said. "Jacoby Brissett deserves the opportunity to play as well as any other position. You have the game in hand and Mike Gillislee has played very well for us this year and I am not overly concerned with stats. Mack Brown deserves to play. Matt Jones deserves to pla., Chris Johnson deserves to play.

"When you are able to have guys to step in those situations and perform at a high level. That is a good luxury to have and Jacoby deserves the right to play."

And them playing at a high level, just makes everyone play at a high level.

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