Teaching the targeting rule

Before stepping foot on the practice field this fall, the Gators did work in the film room, but it wasn't focused on what Florida does schematically on either side of the ball. Instead, the Gators watched film to learn the specifics of the NCAA's new targeting rule that will be implemented this season, potentially earning an ejection for players.

The new rule earns an automatic ejection and 15-yard penalty for any player that targets and contacts a defenseless player above the shoulders. If the ejection comes in the first half, the player will miss the rest of the game. If it comes in the second half, he will miss the remainder of the game and the first half of the team's next game.

On the practice field Sunday night, Will Muschamp walked through the definition of a targeting penalty with the entire Florida defense. The NCAA also sent a video out to each team with examples. The Gators will host SEC Coordinator of Officials Steve Shaw on Monday at practice, lending more information to the players about the call.

"Based on the information that I've gotten, they're going to err on throwing the flag," Muschamp said.

If the referee on the field calls for a player to be ejected, it will be sent through a replay official in the booth who can overturn that decision if there is clear evidence against the call. Following the game, each conference can review tape of the incident to add extra time to a suspension or shorten it if necessary.

The rule is clear to the Florida coaching staff, but Muschamp just wants to make sure it's called correctly and isn't limiting aggressiveness on the defensive side of the ball.

"To me, if a guy is maliciously trying to take a shot, then yeah, he needs to be ejected from the game, I've got no problem with that," Muschamp said. "But some of these plays are bang-bang plays. It's a receiver going across the middle, he gets low, we're trying to lower our target and all of a sudden there's helmet-to-helmet contact. Well, whose fault is that? Those are the situations to me that are a little bit grey."

INJURY UPDATE: Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel (appendectomy) has been at practice but isn't participating in any drills. He'll meet with a doctor Wednesday or Thursday to determine when he can return to action on the field.

Running back Matt Jones (viral infection) has been around the football facility this week and is "moving around a little bit." Muschamp said the goal is to try getting him active next week.

"He's fine," Muschamp said of Jones. "I think he lost about 8-10 pounds or something like that. He looks good. He's moving around a little bit and was on the bike the other day. We're just trying to get him back in the swing of things."

Offensive guard Jon Halapio (partially torn pec) is "doing well" and will meet with a doctor Friday to see when he can return. Offensive lineman Max Garcia (back) meets with a doctor on Tuesday to see if he can be cleared. Freshman offensive lineman Rod Johnson is dealing with a knee injury from high school but could return to practice on Monday. Defensive tackle Leon Orr sprained his thumb but could practice on Monday.

ONE SAFETY STANDING OUT: Cody Riggs is practicing exclusively at safety this fall and has emerged as the best player at the position through the first three days at camp. Behind him, the Gators need improvement. Jaylen Watkins is practicing at cornerback so far to allow the young safeties to get more reps at the position, but through three practices, the young players haven't taken advantage of it.

"We've got to be more consistent," Muschamp said. "Past (Riggs), we've got to get better. We need more consistent communication, playmaking ability, leveraging the ball in the run game and directing some traffic on the back end. We've thrown a lot at them purposely. We need to improve."

Riggs isn't the ideal safety on paper. The 5-9, 184-pound redshirt junior is playing the position because of Florida's depth at cornerback and desperate need at safety. Muschamp said the Gators played in nickel or dime packages around 80 percent of the time last season, allowing them to use a more untraditional safety.

"He's instinctive, plays the ball really well down the field," Muschamp said. "We don't face many two-back run teams that are true two-back teams like we. You need to be able to have a guy that can cover in the slot and cover and play man-to-man, and he does that well.

"We've got some flexibility back there. We'll continue to put those guys and strain those guys in the positions they're in."

TIGHT END IMPROVING: Muschamp spent the offseason questioning the play of his tight ends. The loss of Jordan Reed left an obvious hole in the middle of the Florida passing game, and there wasn't a clear candidate to replace him.

In only three practices, Muschamp has started to chance his tune. He praised Colin Thompson for doing "some nice things" with blocking and catching. Muschamp also said Kent Taylor has improved and Tevin Westbrook had a strong first day. Clay Burton, who was trusted last year, was called "a very dependable guy." The position is starting to improve.

"We've improved where we were in spring and that's what you want to do is take a step forward from where you were," Muschamp said. "I certainly believe we've taken some positive steps from spring at this point."

The other player in the mix is true freshman Trevon Young. He isn't expected to play much this year and is likely to redshirt, but the Gators think he can be a factor in the future. He's playing at 6-4, 270 pounds this fall and is still learning how to play football. Young's dream was to play Division 1 basketball, but he turned down some smaller schools to take up an offer from the Gators at the end of the recruiting process.

The Florida staff knew about Young for years, even though their interest in him grew serious at the end of the process for the 2013 class. When the Gators had an opening in the class, they were quick to convince Young to play at Florida.

"I always believe you add size and speed late (in the recruiting class), girth and guys that are good athletes -- you don't add little guys late," Muschamp said.

It's similar to what Florida did with Tevin Westbrook at the end of the 2011 recruting class. They were intrigued by his size and athleticism, and when an opening in the class popped up, they made the offer.

Westbrook is now playing tight end after playing defensive tackle when he first got to campus, but that's the intrigue or adding someone like Westbrook or Young. Some players in the locker room even joked with Young recently that there's no way a player with his size and athleticism stayed at tight end, but that's what the Gators are hoping for. They want Young's body to keep growing and dictate which position he ends up at.

"(Young) is a really good athlete, very flexible, he can bend and change direction," Muschamp said. "Those guys can do something for your football team. We want to be a big, fast, physical team and that's why you add guys like that in your recruiting class late. We knew about him. We followed his progress throughout his year, a couple years, actually. That's why you've got to have the deep recruiting board and you get in those situations and you have a scholarship. That's why you go on a guy like that."

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