Notebook: Getting to Atlanta

The losses on both sides of the ball haven't deterred the Gators from their annual goal. They want to be in Atlanta on December 7 for the Southeastern Conference Championship. Will Muschamp said in his opening press conference that ending the year in Atlanta was the goal, and the belief this year is that the roster is built for Florida's first trip to the Georgia Dome since 2009.

"I think so -- we have a really good team," Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "We're a close knit bunch of guys. We were so close last year that we could taste it. We really want to get there this year. I think we have a good chance to get there."

The roster took hits last season, but now heading into the third season under Will Muschamp, the depth has been built at most positions. There are concerns about replacing the middle of the defense and finding new playmakers on offense after running back Mike Gillislee and tight end Jordan Reed left for the NFL. The improvement of Driskel should help the offense improve.

The defense isn't as clear. Florida lost both starting defensive tackle, both inside linebackers and both safeties, leaving openings for inexperienced players to take over. The good news for Florida is that it has recruited well, but they'll still have to trust players that haven't been put through the grind of an SEC season.

That hasn't lowered expectations. The players believe a run to Atlanta will happen, and Muschamp is ready to see them prove it on the field.

"Talk is cheap," the Florida head coach said. "You've got to do it on the field. I'm glad that our guys have confidence that that's going to happen, and I feel like we have a deep roster. We've got some depth in some positions, but anytime you want to talk about a run to Atlanta, you've got to have things fall your way."

Injuries are a big part of things falling a team's way. The Gators haven't had luck with them so far, but none of the injuries seem too serious. Both offensive guards -- Max Garcia and Jon Halapio -- are limited or not practicing, while an ACL tear took receiver Andre Debose out for the year. Quarterback Jeff Driskel recently returned to practice after an appendectomy. The focus now turns to a return of running back Matt Jones after a viral infection, but there's no timetable on when that will happen.

The defensive side is missing defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (sprained knee) and defensive back Jaylen Watkins (sprained foot), and the Florida coaches are still monitoring the suspension of linebacker Antonio Morrison.

"I look at it as what a great opportunity to continue to build your roster and build depth on your football team, prepare for injuries, which are going to happen during the season," Muschamp said. "The other part of it is the continuity of some of the guys you'd love to be a part of what we're doing right now. There's nothing you can do about it. I try to control the things I can control and that's the guys that are practicing."

TAYLOR EARNING RESPECT: With Matt Jones (viral infection) still not at practice, Mack Brown has become the starting running back on the practice field, but freshman running back Kelvin Taylor is earning the respect of the veterans.

Fullback Hunter Joyer worked with Taylor during the spring and saw closely what kind of ability he has.

"His ability to make cuts," Joyer said about what stands out with Taylor the most. "His feet are really fast, different than most running backs. He has a little extra something to him."

Joyer talked about plays at practice when Taylor's primary hole on the offensive line is filled, but he has the ability to see it quick, change direction and head to the other side of the line.

"Making cutbacks and everything," Joyer said about what stands out. "Plays designed to go one way and he just has the ability to cutback and go the other way and break loose."

Even with Brown and Taylor playing well along with freshman Adam Lane, the goal is still to get Matt Jones healthy for the season opener against Toledo on August 31. Joyer recently saw Jones in the team facility and didn't see much of a difference than before the infection, even though Muschamp said he lost 8-10 pounds.

"When you look at him, he looks the same to me," Joyer said. "I couldn't really tell. You couldn't see that for a couple of weeks something was really wrong with him. He looks good, healthy. He should be back soon."

BROWN'S SIZE TURNS HEADS: Trenton Brown is learning the speed and expectations of playing at Florida, but he already has the size to get on the field this fall. The 6-8, 363-pound junior college transfer is hard to miss on the practice field.

"Big guy," Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease said with a laugh. "That kid has created frustration a lot with the guys he has to go against. He's got a lot of ability. He's done a good job. He's kind of in that same sense a lot of the kids were last year. ‘Oh, gosh, there's a new call. This one's a new call.' But he's getting it. He's understanding it. When he's in a one-on-one situation, he's very talented. He's big, he's strong, and he can move, so he's going to be a real good football player."

"He's the biggest kid I've ever seen out there."

The issue for Brown is the same as it is for any lineman with his size. He has to work on his pad level and staying low, which can be hard for someone that's 6-8, 363 pounds. The other parts of his game are as good as the Florida coaches expected when they recruited Brown.

"The kid's got tremendous feet for a guy that big," Pease said. "He moves really well. He can get away with technique sometimes but you're obviously stressing that so you are a good fundamental player."


Fightin Gators Top Stories