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Wednesday September 18, 2013Former Gators receiver Wes Chandler's special place in the 'Karate Kid' and NFL Draft

Updated: 9:21am, September 19

Wes Chandler

Former Gators receiver Wes Chandler's No. 89 Chargers jersey was featured in the "Karate Kid."

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The announcement on Wednesday that former Gators receiver Wes Chandler will represent UF as an SEC Legend at the conference championship game in December should surprise no one.

Especially the "more experienced" Gator fans who remember Chandler's exploits from 1974-77 at Florida.

Chandler was electric each time he touched the ball and was a first-team All-American his final two seasons as a dynamic receiver playing in a run-oriented offense.

Chandler caught 92 passes for 1,963 yards and a then-school-record 22 touchdowns in his college career. He also scored six more times on kick returns.

Chandler was the third overall pick in the 1978 NFL Draft by New Orleans, where he played four seasons before being traded to San Diego and becoming part of the Chargers' Air Coryell offense.

Wes Chandler

I wondered how many other college receivers since 1978 have gone in the top three picks of the NFL Draft. Very few. Eight to be exact.

That's how good Chandler was.

Here is a list of the other receivers to go third or higher in the last 36 years:

Lam Jones (Texas), No. 2 overall to the Jets in 1980; Irving Friar (Nebraska), No. 1 overall to the Patriots in 1984; Keyshawn Johnson (USC), No. 1 overall to the Jets in 1996; Charles Rogers (Michigan State), No. 2 overall to the Lions in 2003; Andre Johnson (Miami), No. 3 overall to the Texans in 2003; Larry Fitzgerald (Pittsburgh), No. 3 overall to the Cardinals in 2004; Braylon Edwards (Michigan), No. 3 overall to the Browns in 2005; and Calvin Johnson (Georgia Tech), No. 2 overall to the Lions in 2007.

Meanwhile, Chandler also has a special place in pop culture history.

If you've seen the "Karate Kid," Ralph Macchio's character wears a Chargers No. 89 jersey in several scenes in the movie. That was a replica of Chandler's jersey.

Chandler will be honored at the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta on Dec. 7.

Dominique Easley

Gators defensive tackle Dominique Easley makes a tackle in last year's win at Tennessee.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – They say their favorite place to go eat as a unit is the Mandarin Palace, a Chinese buffet located in a Knoxville mall.

When Tennessee coach Butch Jones took over the program, he recommended a few more salads for his oversized offensive line.

The Vols’ starting offensive linemen have dropped some weight under Jones, but Gators coach Will Muschamp said they still present an enormous road block for those trying to get to the buffet line or opposing quarterbacks.

“This will be the best offensive line we will face this year,” Muschamp said. “Our guys felt that way last year after we played them.”

Tennessee’s veteran line has nearly 150 career starts and impressed 6-foot-7 Oregon defensive lineman DeForest Buckner on Saturday despite the Ducks’ rolling to a 59-14 victory.

“The biggest I’ve gone against in my college career,’’ Buckner told the Eugene (Ore.) Register-Guard.

How big are they?

Left tackle Antonio ‘Tiny’ Richardson is 6-foot-6, 327 pounds, left guard Alex Bullard (6-2, 302), center James Stone (6-3, 291), right guard Zach Fulton (6-5, 323) and right tackle Ja’Wuan James (6-6, 318). If the Texas Instruments-1726 calculator (circa 1994) on my desk still works correctly, that’s 1,561 pounds of humanity.

Or as Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease might say, a 1,561-pound “mosh pit of humanity.”

With four seniors and a junior (Richardson) up front, the offensive line was the most experienced and talented unit on the team Jones inherited.

The Vols led the SEC in fewest sacks allowed last season and ranked fifth nationally. Through three games the Vols have allowed only two sacks, tied for fewest in the conference.

Tennessee’s massive offensive line against Florida’s SEC-leading defense will be an interesting battle to watch Saturday.

“Our goal is not to let an offense score, period,” Gators defensive tackle Dominique Easley said. “Once we manage to get that stat, we could say we have one of the best defenses.”

If that happens Saturday versus the Vols, you know Easley and Co. will have earned it.

Monday September 16, 2013Former Gators, NFL star Rick Casares passes away at 82

Updated: 1:28pm, September 16

Rick Casares

Former Gators star Rick Casares and UF coach Bob Woodruff in 1950s (Tampa Bay History Center).

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Rick Casares arrived at UF around the same time as Norm Carlson in the early 1950s.

Carlson had never seen an athlete quite like the 6-foot-3, 230-pound Casares, huge by the standards of that era.

"No other like him,'' Carlson said. "He was a man among men."

Sixty years after his final season at UF, Casares passed away over the weekend at home in Tampa. He was 82.

As Carlson sat in the office he maintains at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as UF's historian on Monday morning, he was flooded by memories of Casares, who starred for the Gators from 1951-53.

"He was the best to ever play here in my opinion,'' Carlson said. "He was an incredible athlete. If they needed him to play quarterback, he would play quarterback. If they asked him to play linebacker, he would do that and knock somebody's head off. He was a great fullback. He could do anything on the football field and look so good doing it."

There were times when former Florida track coach Percy Beard might need some extra points in a big meet. He would ask Casares, who also played basketball and track at Jefferson High in Tampa, to come out and compete in the shot put.

"He would go over there and win the shot put against guys who were trained to do it,'' Carlson said. "He was just a phenomenal athlete."

Casares was an All-Southeastern Conference player in football and basketball at Florida, and in the Gators' inaugural bowl game -- a 14-13 win over Tulsa in the 1953 Gator Bowl -- Casares scored the first touchdown and then kicked the extra point.

He was drafted by the Chicago Bears and led the team in rushing for six consecutive seasons. He spent 10 seasons with Chicago (1955-64) and when he retired Casares was the franchise's all-time leading rusher (5,675 yards). Cesares remains third on the Bears' career rushing list behind Walter Payton and another former Gator, Neal Anderson.

His wife, Polly, whom Casares met while at UF, told The Tampa Tribune that he received autograph requests in the mail regularly from fans who remembered him bruising over tacklers as one of the best fullbacks to play the game.

"Our mailbox was full every day,'' she said. "He sent every one back. He was so flattered to be remembered."

Former Bears teammate and Chicago head coach Mike Ditka had this to say about Casares:

"He was the toughest guy I ever played with,'' Ditka told The Tribune.

 A memorial service is scheduled for Wednesday morning at 11 at Gonzalez Funeral Home, 7209 N. Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa. The burial is private.

Dante Fowler

Gators BUCK Dante Fowler Jr. puts pressure on Miami QB Stephen Morris.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators wrapped up their off-week preparations in the weight room on Friday.

Following their workout sessions, players began to scatter in various directions for a rare early season bye week.

Offensive lineman Jon Halapio tweeted he was headed home to St. Petersburg. Receiver Quinton Dunbar posted he was off to Baltimore. Whatever plans they have for the weekend, the Gators return to practice Monday to start preparing for Tennessee.

Following their 21-16 loss at Miami, the bye week came at a good time based on Florida coach Will Muschamp’s injury report this week.

Several players came away from the Miami game hobbled by injuries, the most serious a season-ending shoulder injury suffered by freshman defensive back Nick Washington. He is scheduled to have surgery Monday.

“He was reaching in for a ball in a non-contact injury,’’ Muschamp said, adding that Washington had a previous shoulder in jury in high school. “It's unfortunate that happened. He was really progressing well at defensive back and on special teams.”

Quarterback Jeff Driskel (sprained knee), right tackle Tyler Moore (sprained ankle), left tackle D.J. Humphries (sprained knee), safety Marcus Maye (shoulder), and defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. (hip) also suffered injuries at Miami.

Meanwhile, starting right guard Halapio, who missed the first two games of the season due to a torn pectoral muscle, was expected to return to contact drills at practice Wednesday and Muschamp is hopeful Halapio can make his season debut against the Volunteers. The status of linebacker Darrin Kitchens (strained oblique muscle) remains uncertain. Kitchens did not play at Miami after getting hurt in the season opener.

Driskel, who passed for a career-high 291 yards at Miami, was on crutches in class this week as a precautionary move.

“He'll be fine for Tennessee,” Muschamp said on this week’s SEC media teleconference. “It's precautionary. We're trying to get him off his knee a little bit. We have a long season ahead of us.”

The open week not only gave Driskel’s knee time to heal, but provided the junior time to study film of his three turnovers at Miami and make corrections in practice. Driskel finished 22-for-33 against the Hurricanes but threw two interceptions in the red zone and had a fumble that led to a Miami touchdown.

“We’re going to have to respond from this and not hang our heads,’’ Driskel said. “It is frustrating right now but we’ve got a lot of football to play this year.”

Muschamp was straight forward when asked what the Gators worked on early in the week at practice.

“Ball security. Take care of the football,” he said. “Scoring in the red zone and end every possession with a kick. If you do that, you win the game. We just need to take care of the football.

“Give [Miami] credit. They took advantage of our mistakes.”

Note: Muschamp said that true freshman offensive tackle Roderick Johnson, listed at 6-foot-6, 316 pounds from American Heritage High in Delray Beach, will likely redshirt this season. Johnson returned to practice this week after missing fall camp with a knee injury.

Wednesday September 11, 2013A few miles from UF on Thursday, it's 'Chloe Mann Night'

Updated: 10:36pm, September 11

Chloe Mann

Gators senior Chloe Mann is returning to Eastside High on Thursday for her own night.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- She wanted the familiar No. 10 she wears for the Gators.

Instead, Florida senior Chloe Mann wore No. 8 as a volleyball standout at Gainesville's Eastside High. One of her best friends on the team had No. 10.

No. 8 treated Mann well.

So well that on Thursday night prior to Eastside's match against crosstown rival Buchholz, Mann's No. 8 Rams jersey will be retired.

"I was definitely not expecting it at all,'' Mann said Wednesday night. "I'm very honored."

Several weeks ago at church Eastside principal Jeff Charbonnet approached Mann to tell her about a "Chloe Mann Night."

At first she didn't know what to think other than she sure seemed young to have her jersey retired.

"It's not just for my volleyball accomplishments,'' she said. "I think he is also trying to push the fact of me succeeding in sports but also in school."

Mann's work in the classroom has been as impressive as her play on the court. The 2012 SEC Player of the Year was named The Gainesville Sun's 2009 Scholar-Athlete of the Year.

She opted to stay home and sign with Gators. In her final season she is considered one of the nation's top players and has already earned her undergraduate degree.

She is currently in graduate school and focused on leading the Gators to another trip to the NCAA Tournament.

But on Thursday night, she'll be back at Eastside.

It's her night.

"My whole family is coming and a couple of my really close friends,'' she said. "So it will be really nice."

UF Plaza of Americas

UF climbed three spots in the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings of top public universities.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – University of Florida President Bernie Machen and Florida Gov. Rick Scott held a joint press conference in February to announce UF’s quest to become one of the country’s Top 10 public universities.

They learned Tuesday that UF is headed in the right direction according to the latest U.S. News & World Report rankings.

UF jumped three spots to No. 14 on the list of the top public universities in the country. In the overall rankings of the top colleges and universities in the nation, UF climbed five spots to No. 49 – returning to the Top 50 for the first time since 2009.

“Having this university become a Top 10 public university will enable Floridians to have access to the highest-quality educational degrees and programs, while at the same time providing economic development to our state,’’ Machen said at the press conference to launch UF’s Top 10 quest.

Machen, who planned to retire earlier this year, postponed his departure in part to help UF reach its goal of joining the nation’s elite public universities.

Reaching Top 10 status and maintaining a Top 50 overall ranking in the U.S. News & World Report’s Guide to Best Colleges is a primary goal of UF’s administration.

The U.S. News rankings are monitored closely in academia.

For more on UF’s climb in the latest rankings, click here to read more from UF’s official website.

In addition, here are the complete rankings in several categories from U.S. News & World Report.

To watch President Machen’s and Gov. Scott’s press conference and learn more about UF’s initiative, check out the YouTube video below:

Tuesday September 10, 2013Floyd's NFL debut, Gators' title hopes, Pouncey's injury, more tidbits

Updated: 12:19pm, September 10

Sharrif Floyd

Former Gators defensive tackle at UF's 2012 Media Day.

Here are some fresh links covering the Gators for your perusal on this Tuesday afternoon.

--Sharrif Floyd talks about his NFL debut with the Minnesota Vikings.

--Louisville coach Rick Pitino recently became fourth active college coach inducted into Naismith Hall of Fame. RantSports.com asks if Gators coach Billy Donovan is next to get inducted while still an active coach.

--Florida’s loss to Miami doesn’t deter Gators’ title hopes writes Jesse Simonton of The Miami Herald.

--ESPN.com’s Ed Aschoff writes about UF’s struggles inside the red zone Saturday at Miami.

--ESPN.com’s Chris Low wonders if the SEC has lost a few steps, although it is early in season.

--Sounds like former Gators catcher Brian Jeroloman is improving after that violent collision in a minor-league game last week. That’s worst baseball collision I’ve ever seen.

--Former Gators offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey, now with the Steelers, returned to the team facility in high spirits Monday despite a season-ending knee injury writes the AP via TheLedger.com.

--Former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was offered a three-year contract Monday by the Arena Football League’s LA KISS, but as Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi writes, Jaguars must sign Tebow immediately.

Loucheiz Purifoy

Loucheiz Purifoy's blocked punt Saturday was one of the highlights in Florida's loss at Miami.

Anytime the Gators and Hurricanes meet up there is always a large national and state media presence.

No different Saturday.

Miami's 21-16 was a tough one to swallow for the Gators considering all their opportunities to seize control.

Instead, the Gators dropped to 1-1 and now have two weeks to prepare for the SEC opener against Tennessee on Sept. 21 at The Swamp.

Here's a look at some of the national and state columnists' coverage of Saturday's game:

--Those final numbers on the scoreboard are ones the Gators will have to live with for a while with no future games against Miami scheduled writes Andy Staples of Sports Illustrated.

--Miami seized a huge moment with plenty of motivation to spare writes Jeremy Fowler of CBSSports.com.

--The Hurricanes made a strong statement for the ACC with a win over SEC rival Florida writes Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com.

--ESPN.com's David Hale offers his instant analysis of Miami's win over the Gators.

--Gators' mistakes leave them seeing red writes Gary Shelton of The Tampa Bay Times.

--The blame is aplenty for the Gators writes Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley.

--While Gators get backlash, don't forget to credit Miami writes Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union.

--The Gators pull off another 'Florida Flop' in loss to Canes writes Orlando Sentinel columnist Mike Bianchi.

--UM gets signature win of Al Golden era writes South Florida Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde.

--Miami Herald columnist Linda Robertson writes Canes shine bright in college football spotlight.

--For Miami coach Al Golden, the win over the Gators was almost cathartic writes Dave George of the Palm Beach Post.

Thursday September 5, 2013UF-Miami a hot ticket, Canes have a white-out planned, more tidbits on Hurricanes

Updated: 11:17am, September 5

Miami Hurricanes

The Gators-Hurricanes game is big news in Miami this week. (Illustration: TheMiamiHurricane.com).

Check out GatorZone.com later today for more on Florida’s outlook heading into Saturday’s showdown at Miami.

I’m writing a story around Florida’s defense heading into Week 2 with the additions of cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, linebacker Antonio Morrison and defensive tackle Darious Cummings.

Meanwhile, colleague Chris Harry is taking a look at some of the classic games in this rivalry that dates back to 1938.

For now, here is a glance at some stories covering the Canes:

--The loss to Florida that turned Miami into a dynasty writes Andrea Adelson of ESPN.com.

--The Gators are concerned about slowing Miami’s running game, and the Canes are focused on Florida’s rushing attack writes Susan Miller Degnan of The Miami Herald.

--This is a hot ticket in South Florida writes the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

--Gators-Canes renew contentious rivalry writes Kristen Spillane of The Miami Hurricane.

--Miami has a white-out planned – or “White-Out the Gators – for Saturday’s game writes USA Today.

--Hurricanes running back Duke Johnson is ready to go to work writes Christy Cabrera Chirinos of the Sun-Sentinel.

--Miami coach Al Golden says Florida’s passing attack is dangerous and can’t be overlooked writes the Sun-Sentinel.

--Miami Herald columnist Linda Robertson writes about the empty future of the Miami-Florida rivalry.

--SBNation.com writer Bill Connelly previews the 2013 Hurricanes.

Tuesday September 3, 2013Photo Blog: Errict Rhett as Mr. Two Bits

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Gators head coach Will Muschamp's announcement last week to honor Florida's 'Mr. Two Bits' tradition by inviting a celebrity Gator back to campus for each home game was popular among fans.

The new tradition got off to a rousing start thanks to former Gators running back Errict Rhett's lively effort on Saturday prior to the season opener against Toledo.

Rhett, as they say, came to play. He even dressed in the familiar yellow shirt and orange-and-blue tie worn by the original 'Mr. Two Bits,' retired Tampa insurance man George Edmondson.

If you didn't see Rhett's performance, here are some images that capture him in action:

Mr. Two Bits

Rhett set to lead the Gators onto the field...

Mr. Two Bits

Rhett preparing to start the cheer...

Mr. Two Bits

He is heating up in this photo...

Mr. Two Bits

Now Rhett is really into it...

Mr. Two Bits

It has been a while since Mr. Two Bits got this much air...

Mr. Two Bits

Rhett as he prepares to exit center stage.

Gideon Ajagbe

Gators fullback Gideon Ajagbe scored his first career touchdown Saturday.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators updated their depth chart heading into the Miami game on Monday afternoon.

The most notable additions are running back Matt Jones and middle linebacker Antonio Morrison.

Jones, who missed all of fall camp with a viral infection, is set to return to the lineup against the Hurricanes. He is listed as the first-team tailback but how much Jones will play on Saturday remains uncertain.

“Matt will play this week,’’ Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “Feel pretty good about his progress. I think, you know, as we work through the week, we'll be able to know how much he will be able to contribute, but he certainly will play.”

Meanwhile, Morrison returns from a suspension that forced him to sit out Saturday’s season-opening 24-6 win over Toledo.

Morrison is listed on the two-deep depth chart behind Michael Taylor at middle linebacker.

Taylor played well in Saturday’s win, finishing second on the team with five tackles, including one for loss.

Here is a look at the updated depth chart:

OFFENSE

LT

70

D.J. Humphries

6-5

285

So

 

76

Max Garcia

6-4

311

R-Jr

           

LG

76

Max Garcia

6-4

311

R-Jr

 

63

Trip Thurman

6-5

315

R-So

           

C

72

Jonotthan Harrison

6-3

310

R-Sr

 

64

Kyle Koehne

6-5

315

R-Sr

           

RG

64

Kyle Koehne

6-5

315

R-Sr

 

77

Ian Silberman

6-5

306

R-Jr

           

RT

73

Tyler Moore

6-5

320

R-So

 

74

Trenton Brown

6-8

361

Jr

           

 TE

88

Clay Burton

6-4

257

Jr

            

87

Tevin Westbrook

6-5

255

Jr

 

84

Colin Thompson

6-4

258

R-Fr

           

RB

24

Matt Jones

6-2

226

So

 

33

Mack Brown

5-11

215

R-Jr

 

10

Valdez Showers

6-0

190

R-So

or

37

Mark Herndon

5-9

198

So

           

QB

6

Jeff Driskel

6-4

239

Jr

 

3

Tyler Murphy

6-2

210

R-Jr

           

FB

41

Hunter Joyer

5-11

240

Jr

 

25

Gideon Ajagbe

6-2

244

R-Jr

           

X

1

Quinton Dunbar

6-2

194

R-Jr

 

11

Demarcus Robinson

6-2

201

Fr

           

Z

83

Solomon Patton

5-9

177

Sr

 

5

Ahmad Fulwood

6-5

196

Fr

 

85

Chris Thompson

6-0

167

Fr

           

F

8

Trey Burton

6-2

225

Sr

 

30

Mike McNeely

5-8

175

R-Jr

           

DEFENSE

End

90

Jonathan Bullard

6-3

270

So

 

94

Bryan Cox, Jr.

6-3

260

R-Fr

           

Nose

44

Leon Orr

6-5

302

R-Jr

 

4

Damien Jacobs

6-3

300

Sr

Tackle

2

Dominique Easley

6-2

285

Sr

 

55

Darious Cummings

6-1

305

Jr

           

Buck

6

Dante Fowler, Jr.

6-3

266

So

 

95

Alex McCalister

6-6

238

R-Fr

           

Sam

7

Ronald Powell

6-4

240

R-Jr

 

13

Daniel McMillian

6-1

225

Fr

           

Mike

51

Michael Taylor

6-0

233

R-Jr

 

3

Antonio Morrison

6-1

230

So

           

Will

11

Neiron Ball

6-3

235

R-Jr

 

49

Darrin Kitchens

6-2

237

Sr

           

RCB

14

Jaylen Watkins

6-0

188

Sr

or

15

Loucheiz Purifoy

6-0

190

Jr

           

SAF

20

Marcus Maye

6-0

206

R-Fr

 

42

Keanu Neal

6-1

206

Fr

           

SAF

31

Cody Riggs

5-9

190

R-Jr

 

21

Jabari Gorman

5-10

184

Jr

           

LCB

5

Marcus Roberson

6-0

195

Jr

 

16

Vernon Hargreaves III

5-11

192

Fr

           

Nickel

24

Brian Poole

5-10

205

So

 

16

Vernon Hargreaves III

5-11

192

Fr

           

Dime

20

Marcus Maye

6-0

206

R-Fr

 

31

Cody Riggs

5-9

190

R-Jr

           

SPECIAL TEAMS

KOR

83

Solomon Patton

5-9

177

Sr

 

10

Valdez Showers

6-0

190

R-So

           

K

16

Austin Hardin

5-10

208

R-Fr

 

97

Brad Phillips

5-10

195

Sr

           

H

3

Tyler Murphy

6-2

210

R-Jr

 

43

Kyle Crofoot

6-4

220

R-So

           

P

4

Kyle Christy

6-3

198

Jr

 

40

Justin Vogel

6-4

211

R-Fr

           

PR

5

Marcus Roberson

6-0

195

Jr

 

8

Trey Burton

6-2

225

Sr

 

24

Brian Poole

5-10

205

So

           

LS

46

Drew Ferris

6-0

205

R-Jr

 

43

Kyle Crofoot

6-4

220

R-So

Thursday August 29, 2013Jordan Reed is gone, that much is known at tight end

Updated: 8:18pm, August 29

Clay Burton

Junior Clay Burton opens the season atop the depth chart at tight end.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel is going to drop back and pass at some point Saturday. When he does, it won’t take Driskel long to realize his favorite security blanket a year ago, tight end Jordan Reed, is nowhere to be found.

In Driskel’s first season as Florida’s starting quarterback, he looked Reed’s way more than any other receiver. Reed led the Gators with 45 catches for 559 yards. Reed left a year early and was taken by the Redskins in the NFL Draft.

“Jordan Reed was a big-time player for us; he’s a great athlete,” Driskel said. “You don’t really find a player like him too much, but we do have a couple of guys who have stepped up over the summer, and I’m excited to see them moving forward.”

The tight end depth chart looks like this entering the season opener against Toledo: 1. Clay Burton, 2. Tevin Westbrook, 3. Colin Thompson, 4. Kent Taylor.

Depending on your point of view, it could be a good omen or bad one that Taylor, the only member of the foursome with a touchdown catch, is buried deepest.

Burton and Westbrook are former defensive players still learning the position.

“I’ve never really ran routes and had to go out [for passes],’’ Westbrook said this week. “To have to step up and be able to run 20-yard routes and get down the field, if anything [I’ve had to do] more cardio work and footwork and knowing your breaks and how to get out and get off a defender.”

Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease was asked Tuesday about Burton earning the starting job. Pease’s answer makes you think the position battle will remain open early into the season.

“I don't know if he really did distance himself,’’ Pease said. “I think that he's established himself that he's consistent with especially blocking. I think he's grown in that tremendously, size and strength. He's a smart kid. I think he understands the passing game because in the passing game you've got to understand distribution and how you're affecting the defense.

“I think he's grown with that, too. I mean we're happy with what Colin and Tevin have done also, and Kent's still progressing. Like I tell kids, that’s where it’s at. It doesn’t mean it can’t change tomorrow or after this game.”

Burton and Taylor each have two career receptions – Taylor’s touchdown grab coming in the Sugar Bowl loss to Louisville – while Westbrook and Thompson have yet to catch a college pass. Thompson missed last season after foot surgery but is healthy entering his second year in the program.

Gators coach Will Muschamp said the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Westbrook is raw but that he is making the adjustments necessary to play the position.

“Tevin is a guy that gives you multiple things at the position as far as blocking at the point of attack, gives you some things as far as receiving,’’ Muschamp said. “His length creates some things in the run game that we really like and his length creates some things in the pass game that we like. He’s developed himself to not mind sticking his face in the fan a little bit and blocking the point of attack, which was an issue before -- his buy-in for that.”

As the Gators prepare to open the 2013 season, they are settled at certain positions more than others.

Tight end appears a position that remains fluid. What we do know is that when Driskel drops back, he won’t find Reed. If he throws No. 11’s way, it will be to freshman receiver Demarcus Robinson, and that’s a story for another blog.

Jeff Driskel

Quarterback Jeff Driskel opens his second season as the starter Saturday vs. Toledo.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – College football is back.

Those four words look good splashed across the computer screen.

The 2013 college football season officially kicks off tonight when No. 6-ranked South Carolina, which along with the Gators and Georgia is expected to contend for the SEC East title, hosts North Carolina (6 p.m., ESPN).

The No. 10-ranked Gators open on Saturday at home against Toledo.

Check out GatorZone.com the next two days for much more on the game.

Meanwhile, let’s surf around the Web for some of the latest links covering the Gators:

--ESPN.com bloggers Chris Low and Ed Aschoff offer their SEC predictions for Week 1.

--David Jones of Florida Today on Brevard Pride: Wearing No. 20 at the University of Florida. Safety Marcus Maye is the latest No. 20 for the Gators.

--Gators sophomore linebacker Antonio Morrison remorseful, apologizes for behavior that led to two arrests writes Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.

--Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley writes about a third-year jinx that has plagued some UF coaches.

--All kidding aside, Florida’s Dominique Easley wants to be remembered as a ‘Gator Great’ writes Jason Lieser of The Palm Beach Post.

--Toledo’s inexperienced line prepares to wrestle with Gators writes Ryan Autullo of The Toledo Blade.

--USA Today explores the topic of how schools are trying to improve the ‘game experience’ to keep fans coming to games.

--A look at the Gators position by position by Antonya English of The Tampa Bay Times.

--Gators plan to add pass attack to powerful run game writes Nick Williams of The Tampa Tribune.

--Ex-Gator Jelani Jenkins competing for roster spot with Miami Dolphins writes Brian Biggane of The Palm Beach Post.

Wednesday August 28, 2013Operation Urgent Impact: UF, UAA team with local agencies to keep Swamp safe

Updated: 4:52pm, August 28

Game day at The Swamp

The UAA and UF teamed with local agencies recently to keep The Swamp a safe and fun place.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Ben Hill Griffin Stadium is the largest sports venue in Florida and transforms into one of the state’s most populated zip codes on Saturdays each fall.

The Swamp awakens from its quiet offseason on Saturday when the Gators host Toledo in the season opener.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks 12 years ago, the world of sports has increased security measures like the world beyond the stadium gates.

Another reminder of why -- and how security must always be a high priority at large sports events -- occurred April 15 at the Boston Marathon. A pair of bombs exploded seconds apart near the finish line, killing three people and seriously wounding dozens more.

The bombs and their aftermath gridlocked one of America’s most famous cities for several days until the perpetrators were caught and fears of another attack were alleviated

What if an incident involving casualties and mass injuries happened outside The Swamp on a gorgeous fall Saturday afternoon?

In conjunction with more than a dozen law-enforcement and public-safety agencies, the University Athletic Association and University of Florida Police conducted Operation Urgent Impact in late May. The event included more than 500 people, 100 of them volunteers who served as actors during the exercise.

The exercise’s focus was to determine how the UAA and other local agencies would perform in an emergency situation outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on game day.

“We’ve always looked at the stadium as a potential target we want to protect,” said Chip Howard, executive associate athletics director for internal affairs. “But what Boston did was give us a better idea of what we needed to look for.

“The threats are changing, communication techniques are changing, the people change, so we’re always looking for ways to keep our procedures state of the art and to keep all our folks informed and engaged.”

The four-hour drill was based on the premise that a media helicopter hovering above the stadium crashed at the intersection of Gale Lemerand Drive and Stadium Road two hours prior to kickoff of a sold-out game and with more than 150,000 people in the general vicinity of the stadium.

The exercise was conducted as if the helicopter crash caused mass casualties and other injuries to spectators. Both the North Florida Regional Medical Center and UF Health participated and prepared as if they would be accepting an influx of patients.

Once the exercise was completed, the drill was reviewed and all participating agencies prepared follow-up reports that focused on ways to improve operations.

Howard said it is important for the UAA and other local organizations to work together to make a game at The Swamp – in and outside the stadium – as safe as possible.

“Boston illustrated that you need to be aware of what’s going on outside your stadium, too,” Howard said. “And have the people in place, obviously to watch what’s going on, but then respond to what’s going on. Our response to Boston is Operation Urgent Impact. That’s what we were focused on with the exercise.

“I think you will see some increased presence and a heightened awareness outside the stadium. I think that is based on intelligence we have gathered from our law enforcement partners as well as what happened at Operation Urgent Impact to better serve our fans and make sure we provide the safest environment we can.”

OPERATION URGENT IMPACT

When: May 30, 2013

Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, UF Health, North Florida Regional Medical Center, VA Hospital

Agencies: UAA, UF Police Department, UF Environmental and Safety, Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Alachua County Fire Rescue, Alachua County Emergency Management, Gainesville Police Department, Gainesville Fire Rescue, North Florida Regional Medical Center, UF Health (formerly Shands at UF), Alachua County Health Department, Veterans Health Systems (VA Hospital), Select Specialty Hospital, Regional Transit System, Florida State University Police (four officers sent to observe and provide outside evaluation)

Participants: 500

Purpose: To evaluate UF’s and the UAA’s mass casualty plans in support of medical surge operations at area hospitals and other public health agencies in Alachua County and Gainesville

Wednesday August 28, 2013Move to offense has come naturally for Valdez Showers

Updated: 9:41am, August 28

Valdez Showers

Redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers is back on offense after spending his first two seasons on defense.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Michigan wanted him. So did Michigan State.

One of the state’s most high-profile recruits his senior season in 2010, Gators redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers was named Michigan Gatorade Player of the Year at Madison Heights High, located 15 minutes north of downtown Detroit.

He surprised some in his home state when he chose to sign with Florida – as a defensive back. Showers was primarily a running back in high school until playing the secondary his senior season.

“It’s a long way from Detroit, but I didn’t really want to stay in-state, so that influenced my decision,” Showers told the Detroit Free-Press at the time. “Even though Michigan and Michigan State came at me, I had to do what I had to do.”

Showers did what he had to do this fall, too. He moved back to offense.

Showers didn’t mind when coaches asked if he wanted to convert back to offense with sophomore running back Matt Jones, the projected starter at tailback, came down with a serious viral infection right before fall camp opened.

“It’s always a good thing to have the ball in your hands,’’ a relaxed Showers said Tuesday as he took questions from a group of reporters in the visiting locker room at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. “It’s not a bad move at all.”

Showers served on the scout team in 2011 as a freshman redshirt, and last season he appeared in 11 games primarily on special teams. However, with the Gators short-handed in camp, Showers made the transition into a role similar to the one occupied by Omarius Hines in Florida coach Will Muschamp’s first two seasons.

Hines was used at receiver and running back and effective in the short passing game and on misdirection runs. Showers (5-foot-11, 190 pounds) lacks Hines’ bulk but is quicker and more elusive.

His teammates were impressed by Showers’ easy transition back to offense. Showers enters the season opener Saturday against Toledo as the third-team tailback.

As a senior at Madison Heights, Showers intercepted three passes and rushed for 2,024 yards and 29 touchdowns. Madison Heights reached the regional finals both seasons and Showers the Detroit News named Showers its Player of the Year.

“I think it’s a real good move,” said starting running back Mack Brown, one of the players Showers will compete for carries with on Saturday. “I think it’ll help out the offense a lot. He’s a real fast back. He can catch, [is] real smart. So this is a big opportunity for Valdez.”

One Showers is ready for – and in some ways, has waited on.

“The way I pictured things [playing offense] probably never went away, to score a touchdown,’’ he said. “That’s something you can’t let go. Offense comes natural to me, so it wasn’t hard at all. It’s easier than defense.”

If his number is called on Saturday, will Showers be edgy? Will he hesitate when taking a handoff?

“I’m not nervous at all. It’s football,’’ he said. “I’ve been playing it all my life.”

Marcus Maye

Redshirt freshman Marcus Maye (No. 20) has impressed coaches during fall camp.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- He was the student and Matt Elam and Josh Evans were the teachers.

Marcus Maye tried to absorb all he could in their classroom.

Maye redshirted due to a knee injury suffered playing basketball his senior season at Holy Trinity Episcopal School in Melbourne. Meanwhile, Elam and Evans formed one of the best safety combos in the country a year ago.

Elam was a first-round pick of the Ravens and Evans went to Jacksonville in the sixth round.

"I got to watch a lot. I got to learn a lot,'' Maye said. "I watched two great guys. I watched a great team defense, see how it's done."

Based on what others are saying during fall camp, Maye is an A student.

Florida coach Will Muschamp has tossed compliments toward Maye more than once since camp opened, and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin did the same Wednesday.

"He is a very productive player,'' Durkin said. "He's always around the ball. He's got a great skill-set for the position. That's a guy we would take over and over again at the safety position. He is long, he's rangy and he's physical."

Maye's strong camp has him in line to start at strong safety, a spot Elam manned last season as a first-team All-American.

The 6-foot, 200-pound Maye was highly coveted coming out of Holy Trinity. He chose the Gators over offers from Alabama, Auburn, FSU and LSU.

He is looking to step into the lineup and add his own unique flavor to the position the way Elam and Evans did. Maye, Cody Riggs, Jabari Gorman and Brian Poole have taken most of the reps at safety.

"Just always around the ball making plays,'' he said of his style. "Those two guys were great. Definitely big shoes to fill."

As a senior at Holy Trinity, Maye had four interceptions and recorded 45 tackles. He also played running back, racking up 712 yards rushing and nine touchdowns.

Durkin is confident Maye has the tools to succeed and help Florida fans overcome any concerns with the loss of Elam and Evans.

"He has done a great job of getting better and better with all the snaps he had this spring as well as this fall,'' Durkin said. "We're looking for a great year out of him. A lot falls on the safeties in our defense."

Brent Pease

Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease seeks an improved passing game in his second season.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No one has to remind Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease of the struggles in the downfield passing game in his first season.

Fresh off a stint calling plays for one of the nation's most prolific offenses at Boise State, led by quarterback Kellen Moore, Pease inherited a Florida offense last season with a first-year starting quarterback and a lack of proven playmakers at receiver.

The formula Pease used was much different than his time at Boise State.

Still, the Gators finished 11-2 and soared to No. 2 in the polls late in the season primarily because of a ball-control offense featuring running back Mike Gillislee, excellent ball security and an occasional long ball from quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Gillislee became the first Gators runner in eight years to crack the 1,000-yard barrier. Meanwhile, Driskel's legs proved as dangerous as his right arm. He finished second on the team in rushing while Florida ranked last in the SEC in passing.

"That needs to be better," Pease said Wednesday. "I don't want to be last. Nobody wants to be last in that."

Determined to improve the options in the passing game, the Gators eyed a large group of receivers on the recruiting trail and hauled in five true freshmen.

The one who arrived first has stood out the most.

Demarcus Robinson enrolled in January, had a strong spring practice, and since fall camp started, has drawn favorable reviews from coaches and teammates.

Demarcus Robinson

"He's a good freshman,'' junior cornerback Marcus Roberson said. "He's the best I've seen so far. He's a guy who can get better as well as get you better. As camp went on, his game elevated a lot."

Robinson (photo, left) chose the Gators over Clemson and at 6-foot-2, 201 pounds he provides a difficult cover for opposing defensive backs. He was an all-state selection at Peach County (Ga.) High.

Robinson is strong enough to outmuscle defenders and fast enough to run by them.

While only time will tell if Robinson develops into a go-to receiver for Driskel, Pease considers him capable of the job physically.

"He's gotten a lot better,'' Pease said. "The kid's a phenomenal athlete. I think he is one of the guys who have got to fill that role. I don't think he's the only guy because I think we've got probably three or four kids that can do that."

Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar is the team's leading returning receiver. Dunbar caught 36 passes and a team-high four touchdowns last season.

Robinson will start the season as Dunbar's backup at the X receiver spot (updated with release of depth chart on Monday).

Four other true freshmen receivers -- Alvin Bailey, Marqui Hawkins, Chris Thompson and Ahmad Fulwood -- are also vying to make a difference in the Gators' passing attack.

Their progress varies.

"Marqui has been slowed by an ankle. He has been really slowed by the ankle and he’s trying to push through it, but again, not able to run full speed,'' Gators head coach Will Muschamp said. "Alvin’s a guy that we think is talented and can play in the slot. If he continues to progress, certainly can help us. Ahmad and Demarcus have distanced themselves.

"Chris Thompson would be the third guy that can help us because he’s going to help us on special teams. He has a knack for blocking kicks. He’s done a really nice job of showing up on special teams. He’s got great vertical speed. He’s a guy we’ll continue to look at."

The Gators recently converted defensive back Valdez Showers to receiver/running back. Showers was a prominent playmaker in high school and was named Michigan's Gatorade Player of the Year as a senior.

Pease plans to use Showers in a role similar to the one filled by Omarius Hines last year.

"For us, here's a kid that played [offense] in high school, natural,'' Pease said. "He's got that foot speed. He's a little different than Omarius because he's probably got a lot more quickness and he's a little bit more elusive because of his size. Omarius was so strong."

Among the veteran receivers in the mix for more passes their way are Trey Burton, Ralph Andrades, Solomon Patton and Latroy Pittman.

But there is little doubt that if Florida's passing game is to improve significantly, the freshmen must play a factor.

Robinson is leading that charge.

"He's got great hands. Size-wise, he is really what you want,'' Pease said. "For a young kid that faces [that] much man coverage and has to get off of that, has the body to do it, you don't see a lot.

"Every repetition you can see him get better. One thing he does have, he can get knocked off at times on a re-route, but he has the ability to explode to go get the ball. He has a lot of range."

Robinson's strong camp has allowed the Gators to leave cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy on defense for the most part.

Still, Pease said not to rule out Purifoy playing receiver during the season.

"We repped him in the spring,'' Pease said. "He still gives us a body that is explosive. Anytime you can put the ball in his hands he's got the potential to do great things with it. He's a guy that will still figure into the plans when we go along."

Bottom line: Pease is keeping all his options open as the Gators try to improve in the passing game in the second year of his offense and second season with Driskel at quarterback.

Finishing last in the league in passing is not something Pease wants to repeat.

"I'm not always going to get caught up in numbers, but I do think our production has got to be better,'' he said. "That production has to occur when our opportunities are there. I know we didn't have great numbers but we had high percentage of throwing the ball, so we're taking advantage of what we could with what we had.

"It's not perfected, but we expect it's more of a threat to our offense this year than where we were last year."


Former Gators linebacker Jon Bostic's hit in a preseason game was a hot topic Wednesday.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- In his final game for the Gators, linebacker Jon Bostic delivered the most memorable hit of his college career when he drilled Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater so hard that Bridgewater's helmet went flying.

Bostic was penalized on a play that only Louisville fans probably viewed as dirty. ESPN color commentator Chris Spielman, a former NFL linebacker who was working the game with play-by-play man Sean McDonough, praised Bostic's hit as clean when it happened.

In days gone by, Bostic's hit might not have drawn a flag, but with extra emphasis on player safety -- especially protecting the quarterback -- the Gators were flagged 15 yards.

Bostic's hard-hitting style is already a hot topic in the NFL.

The NFL fined Bostic $21,000 Wednesday for his hit on San Diego receiver Mike Willie in a preseason game last week. Adding to the surprise Wednesday is that officials did not flag Bostic during the game.

The fine drew instant criticism from fans, media commentators and Bostic's Chicago teammates.

"You have to continue to play the best way you know how and that’s what he was doing,'' Bostic's teammate, Lance Briggs, told The Chicago Tribune. "None of the referees seemed to think there was anything wrong with the play. He could have allowed the receiver to run him over — that’s another technique. We could play the catch technique, we could take a charge, I don’t know, you have to play football."

A tweet earlier in the day by Briggs sparked the conversation about Bostic's hit.

Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, Bostic's position coach last season, was asked about his former pupil's hit on Wednesday.

Jon Bostic

"I think that was such a bang-bang play,'' Durkin said. "Obviously I don't think he was intending to do anything with it. I was just texting with him a little bit ago, 'you just got fined ... the good news is you've got money now you can go pay that."

With new NCAA targeting rules going into effect this season, Florida's coaching staff has spent time in fall camp stressing the importance of making wise decisions to avoid penalties and potential ejections.

The NFL's decision to fine Bostic (photo, left) has blurred the line even more of what is acceptable and what's not on plays that take a split second to unfold.

Durkin said the play resonated with Bostic's former Florida teammates.

"It was pretty popular," Durkin said. "Coaches, players — everyone looked at it. Obviously we’re all really proud of him. You can’t find a better guy than Jon Bostic to represent our program. All the guys feel strongly about that, so everyone was talking about it."

Bostic told reporters Wednesday that he simply reacted and was not trying to hurt Willie.

"It’s really just trying to get the ball back to the offense," Bostic said. "It’s more about taking the ball off ball carriers. It’s not so much sending a message. We’re just doing what we can do create as many turnovers as we can."

Monday August 19, 2013Gators RB Matt Jones putting weight back on, showing signs of improvement

Updated: 4:23pm, August 19

Matt Jones

Photo: Matt Jones running the ball during spring practice.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Gators running back Matt Jones is making progress on his road to recovery from a serious viral infection according to Gators coach Will Muschamp.

Jones is scheduled for blood work on Monday and Muschamp said that Jones continues to work out and is back up to 223 pounds, only three pounds less than his listed playing weight of 226 pounds.

“I’ll know a little bit more as we move through the week, but he’s been jogging and moving around a little bit more, which is good,’’ Muschamp said Monday morning. “All I know is he is progressing very well. He feels good. He’s doing more and more every day from a workout standpoint.”

Jones has not participated in fall camp after coming down with a viral infection that required Jones to spend time in the hospital right before camp started. He has slowly regained his strength and in recent days Jones has been more prominent, watching practices and scrimmages f

Projected as the starter to replace Mike Gillislee, Jones rushed for 275 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry as a freshman.

Muschamp said Monday that redshirt junior Mack Brown, redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers and walk-on Mark Herndon are the primary benefactors of Jones’ absence.

Brown is expected to open the season as the starter if Jones isn’t back, which appears unlikely.

“We’ve planned that way the whole time,’’ Muschamp said of the possibility of opening the season without Jones.

The Gators open the season Aug. 31 against Toledo.

Meanwhile, Showers is getting reps in the backfield after moving from defensive back this fall, and Herndon, a walk-on from Ocala who has worked on special teams, continues to impress coaches as true freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane make the transition from high school to college.

Other injury updates Muschamp provided Monday:

--Defensive back Jaylen Watkins, who was out with a foot injury for more than a week, has rejoined the team in full-contact drills.

--Fullback Hunter Joyer (hamstring), defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (shoulder), defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (knee), receiver Raphael Andrades (turf toe) and guard Jon Halapio (pectoral tear) remain sidelined.

2013 Gators Fan Day

Gators Fan Day on Saturday drew a big crowd at the O'Connell Center.

Hey folks, hope everyone is having a good weekend. I met several of you at Gators Fan Day on Saturday and would like to say thanks for stopping by the GatorZone.com table at the O'Connell Center.

Meanwhile, the Gators held their second open practice of fall camp on Saturday at The Swamp. They have two more open practices this week: Monday and Tuesday (each scheduled to start at 12:21 p.m.).

Check out GatorZone later today for a feature story on the defensive line tandem of Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard. Also, on Monday I'll have a look at sophomore offensive lineman D.J. Humphries, considered one of the top left tackle prospects in the nation.

I'll tell you how Humphries went from someone who resisted the move in high school to someone who now realizes what playing left tackle could mean to his future.

Here are some fresh links from around the Internet this morning for your perusal:

--Alabama is No. 1 and the Gators check in at No. 10 on the AP Top 25 preseason poll writes Antonya English of the Tampa Bay Times.

--Gators offensive lineman Tyler Moore thought about quitting football but has restarted his career at UF writes Gainesville Sun columnist Pat Dooley.

--Gators lineup taking shape writes David Jones of Florida Today.

--Florida's offense wasn't as crisp at Saturday's open scrimmage as on Thursday night writes Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel.

--Gators rebuilding linebackers corps after losing starters Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins to NFL writes Jason Lieser of Palm Beach Post.

--ESPN.com offers its NCAA Bucket List and the Florida-Georgia game is on the map. On personal note, that's always my favorite game of year.

--Former Gators G Kenny Boynton, UF's second all-time leading scorer, will start his professional career in Israel writes the Independent Florida Alligator.

--Game has slowed down for Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel writes Michael DiRocco of ESPN.com's GatorNation.

--In case you missed it, UF ahead in autograph-rules trend writes Brett McMurphy of ESPN.com.

--Miami Herald UF beat writer Jesse Simonton offers his take on Saturday's open practice at The Swamp.

--Gators senior Chloe Mann is ready for her final act with Gators volleyball team writes Jim Harvin of the Gainesville Sun.

--Former Gators forward Sydney Moss is transferring to Division III Thomas More College writes the Louisville Courier-Journal.

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