Muschamp notebook: Ball emerging on edge

Neiron Ball was limited in the weight room during the offseason, but as he continues to get increased time on the field this season, Florida coach Will Muschamp still thinks there is a higher ceiling for the linebacker. Ball missed the 2011 season after having brain surgery. After getting healthy and being cleared to return to the team, Ball has shown the potential of his talent this season.

"It's a developmental game," Will Muschamp said on Monday morning. "When you miss that much time, it doesn't come back as easily as it does for others. It's come back very quickly for him. He can continue to help us in pass rush. He's doing a good job for us at SAM linebacker. He's an integral part of our special teams."

Neiron Ball has spent the season around the ball carrier. He's 15th on the team with eight tackles this season, including half of a tackle for a loss. Ball has added one pass break up and two fumble recoveries.

One of the fumble recoveries came to secure a win over LSU on the Tigers' last offensive play of the game. The other came on Saturday night in Nashville, as he recovered Jordan Rodgers' fumble that was caused on a Jon Bostic sack.

"Neiron's just a great young man," Muschamp said. "He's been through an awful lot, not just with the injury last year, but he's had some tough things happen in his life, some setbacks.

"Any time you're able to see something like that, it makes you feel good about where you are and what you're doing and to be able to coach guys like him because he's such a wonderful young man. But he's a really good player, too."

The best news for the Florida defense is that Ball could still be improving. He was limited in the offseason and wasn't medically cleared to return to football activities until mid-June. He missed valuable time in the weight room and an entire spring practice while recovering from the injury.

As he returned this fall and continues to get back in the groove with football, Muschamp thinks there is still plenty of improvement for Ball on the field.

"I think he's a guy that, because of the injury he had a year ago, didn't lift for about 4-6 months," Muschamp said. "Here's a guy that's going to get in our weight program after this season, and we're going to make him live in the weight room for about six months.

"He's a guy that's going to continue to develop. He's got a great flexibility. He's a very explosive athlete. He's a guy that can change direction. He's got great initial quickness in a short area. I think he's got a promising career in front of him."

BACKUP LINEMEN IMPROVED: The Gators were down three starting offensive linemen by the midway point of the first half. Muschamp said on Monday that he expects left tackle Xavier Nixon (upper body), left guard James Wilson (eye) and center Jonotthan Harrison (arm) to be healthy and play this Saturday against South Carolina.

If that doesn't happen, the backups got plenty of time on the field Saturday at Vanderbilt. Ian Silberman earned his first start at left guard in Nashville, and Sam Robey was quick to fill in at center. With Nixon out, Freshman D.J. Humphries continued to get more playing time at left tackle.

"They did a nice job," Muschamp said of the lineman, adding the depth that Kyle Koehne gives by playing multiple positions. "Vanderbilt gave us a lot of looks and a lot of movement up front, and I'm very pleased with how those guys progressed in the game. It certainly makes you have a better comfort level as you move forward that they've played in those situations and they've played on the road.

"They've had to make adjustments in the game and play against good people, and that's what they did. I'm certainly pleased with how they played."

JOYER EARNING PRAISE: His name doesn't show up much on highlights or in the box score, but his teammates and coaches know how valuable fullback Hunter Joyer is to the team. The sophomore continues to play a big role in the Florida offense as it attempts to be more of a ground attack.

"That's a very, not a very glamorous position," Muschamp said. "The fullback position is a lost art in college football. Everybody is going to all this spread stuff, nobody plays with a fullback anymore. But we will.

"We really challenged him in the offseason to become a more physical blocker at the point of attack. He's done that. He's extremely bright, extremely intelligent on and off the field. He throws a shot for our track team, he just does a lot of things for Florida. He's a very unselfish player and epitomizes what we want here at Florida."

He played a big role in some of the long touchdown runs for quarterback Jeff Driskel on Saturday. The offensive players already knew what he could do, but it was a good showcase of Joyer's skillset.

"He definitely doesn't get near enough credit as he deserves," Driskel said. "He doesn't want the credit. Fullbacks get two or three touches a year and that's it, but he springs big plays all the time and he's always sticking his nose in the middle of it. He's definitely the one that springs big plays and he's definitely a big part of our offense."

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