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The Gators are at the SEC Football Media Days today in Hoover, Ala.

Tuesday July 16, 2013Live Blog: Gators at SEC Football Media Days (Updated at 6:25 p.m.)

The Gators are at the SEC Football Media Days today in Hoover, Ala.

EASLEY RESPECTS WAY JONES TAKES ON TACKLERS

HOOVER, Ala. -- Early in running back Matt Jones' freshman season last year, Gators coach Will Muschamp chided Jones for dancing too much instead of turning up field like the 6-foot-2, 228-pound bulldozer he is.

Jones got the message and by season's end was a regular contributor who enters his sophomore season as the Gators' starting tailback.

Senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley views Jones' physicality as a huge advantage for Florida.

"He's big, he can run, he's fast, and he wants to hit you before you hit him,'' Easley said. "That's a problem when an offensive player wants to hit you before you want to hit them. I think he is going to put a little bit of fear in peoples' heart."

Jones rushed for 275 yards and averaged 5.3 yards per carry as a freshman and learned as Mike Gillislee's backup. He started the season slow coming off a knee injury his senior season at Armwood High in 2011 but racked up 146 yards in 16 carries in the two final regular-season games -- wins over Jacksonville State and Florida State.

Jones' run-over-the-tackler mindset is what impresses Easley most.

"Very rare,'' Easley said. "All they [offensive players] usually want to do is just score,'' he said.

--Scott Carter

 EASLEY AND THE BEAR

HOOVER, Ala. -- A question, an answer and a tweet is all it took for Easley to temporarily take over Twitter.

OK, that's probably stretching it -- the Twittersphere in Alabama.

The question concerned legendary Alabama coach Bear Bryant. Easley, who grew up in Staten Island, N.Y., said he was unfamiliar with Bryant.

Bryant died a decade before Easley was born. A reporter Tweeted Easley's response, and, well, you can guess what happened next.

Tweets started going off like fireworks.

Easley responded with a statement released on the UF Football Twitter account.

"I'm sorry, Alabama fans,'' Easley said. "I'm from New York and didn't watch football growing up."

Welcome to 2013 and SEC Football Media Days.

--Scott Carter

WELCOME BACK, NO. 7 


HOOVER, Ala. -- Two seasons ago, sophomore defensive end Ronald Powell led the Florida defense with six sacks and was fourth in tackles for loss with nine.

Powell missed last season due to a knee injury suffered in the spring game.

This season, Powell is back.

Ronald Powell (No. 7) is cleared to return after missing last season to injury.

Ronald Powell (No. 7) returns after missing the 2012 season because of a knee injury.

The way fellow UF defensive lineman Dominique Easley sees it, Powell is like a bonus for a unit that ranked second only to national champion Alabama in total defense and thrived on its ability to create turnovers during the 2012 season.

"I'm stoked," said Easley, who arrived at Florida as part of the same acclaimed freshman class as Powell. "I can't wait to see the man play."

Powell was merely the No. 1-ranked recruit in the nation when he signed with the Gators in 2010. He started 12 of 13 games in 2011, the first season under Will Muschamp, and was drawing raves from the coaching staff the following spring when he blew out his left knee in the Orange & Blue Game.

Now, two surgeries later, the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Powell finally has medical clearance to resume playing football and will be on the field when the Gators open fall practice Aug. 2.

Should be an emotional return for everyone.

"Here is a guy who's been through a lot of adversity," Muschamp said. "A guy who's been through an awful lot and never complained, never got down about anything. He's truly a great individual and excited that he's a leader of our football team as well."

How anxious is Powell to get back out there?

"You ever not eaten for a long time and your stomach is hitting back at you," Easley asked with a grin. "It'll be like that first piece of food."

-- Chris Harry

DRISKEL ACCEPTS SCRUTINY THAT COMES WITH HIS ROLE (Updated, 4:32 p.m.)

HOOVER, Ala. -- Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel arrived at SEC Media Days fresh off a stint last weekend at the Manning Passing Academy.

Driskel was one of several SEC starting quarterbacks at the event hosted annually by former NFL quarterback Archie Manning and his sons, NFL stars Peyton Manning and Eli Manning.

The biggest name among college quarterbacks at the camp was Texas A&M starter Johnny Manziel, the Heisman winner who made more offseason headlines by leaving early.

Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel understands the extra scrutiny that comes his way as Florida's starting QB.

In the age of social media, Manziel has faced more scrutiny this offseason perhaps more than any college football player in history.

Driskel can relate in some ways to the intense coverage Manziel receivers from media, fans and anyone with a smartphone as Florida's starting quarterback.

UF is one of only two schools along with Notre Dame to produce three Heisman-winning quarterbacks.

"Definitely not near what he goes through,'' Driskel said of the interest in his life on social media. "He won the Heisman and everything like that, but I'd say on a small scale, we kind of get the same thing."

While Manziel voiced some discontent this summer on his Twitter feed over being scrutinized so much by the public, Driskel enjoys his role as the face of the Gators.

"I don't think it's difficult,'' Driskel said. "You try to do the right things whether or not people are watching me or not. That comes with the territory of playing quarterback at Florida. I've enjoyed it and I've got a couple of years left." 

--Scott Carter   

DRISKEL, HALAPIO GIVE PHILLIPS A HIGH APPROVAL RATING (Updated, 3:48 p.m.)

HOOVER, Ala. -- Fifth-year senior offensive lineman Jon Halapio is Florida's veteran right guard and more in tune with the grunt work done along the line of scrimmage than the routes the receivers are running.

But he couldn't help but notice first-year receivers coach Joker Phillips during spring practice.

Halapio would watch Phillips run drills to see what the fuss was about when Phillips, after three years as Kentucky's head coach, joined Gators coach Will Muschamp's staff last spring.

"It's a real good addition,'' Halapio said. "Seeing the intensity and aggressiveness of the wide receivers is an eye opener for me. His thing is if you can catch the ball, you can block, too."

Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel later echoed Halapio's observations about Phillips.

"He has made a difference at that position,'' Driskel said. "I see a lot of fire in the receivers and the way they are preparing for the season."

--Scott Carter

RUNNING TOWARD 1,000 GOALS (updated 2:38 p.m.)

HOOVER, Ala. -- Last year, Gators running back Mike Gillislee rushed for 1,187 yards and 10 touchdowns and in doing so became the first UF back to reach the 1,000-yard milestone since Ciatrick Fason in the 2004 season. 

Muschamp wants the UF offense to field an improved passing game this season, but he has no intention of changing the unit's downhill-running identity. 

Gillislee's 1,000-yard season was no accident. 

"That's going to be the norm, rather than the exception," Muschamp said. 

Sophomore Matt Jones, a big, bruising 228-pound north-south runner will get the first crack at being the team's primary ballcarrier this season. 

Worth noting: the Gators have NEVER had back-to-back seasons with a 1,000-yard rusher. No, not with Emmitt Smith (3,928 yards from 1987-89). And, no, not with Errict Rhett (4,163 yards from 1990-93).

--Chris Harry

FIRST TWO GAMES, LIKELY BRUTAL CONDITIONS (Updated 2:25 p.m.)

HOOVER, Ala. -- With the announcement Tuesday that Florida's Aug. 31 season opener against Toledo at Florida Field will start at 12:21 p.m., that means UF's first two games will be played in what figures to be unforgiving heat. 

In Week 2, the Gators play Miami, with kickoff set for noon.

"That's something we need to prepare our guys in camp for," Muschamp said. "We have to continue to recruit well and have a lot of depth on our football team. You have to be fresh going into your first game. We'll need to have a hard, tough training camp, which we will have."

--Chris Harry

SEC COMMISSIONER MIKE SLIVE ON LEAGUE ISSUES -- 2:15 p.m.

HOOVER, Ala. -- SEC Commissioner Mike Slive just wrapped up his state-of-the-league address here at a packed ballroom at The Wynfrey Hotel.

Slive touched on several topics:

--When the SEC Network launches in 2014, it will broadcast 450 live events and stream an additional 550 events online.

--The SEC Network will feature a two-hour pregame show from a campus site each week during football season, a show likely to be very similar to the popular "ESPN College GameDay."

--Slive said the conference is continuing to review the current 6-1-1 format for football scheduling and that no changes are in store currently.

--The commissioner touched on the recent negative news of some former and current SEC student-athletes facing off-the-field trouble. Slive stressed that the vast majority of the league's student-athletes do things right and that the league will continue to look at ways to prevent others from making costly life mistakes.

"It is a crushing disappointment when despite all of these efforts a young person throws away an opportunity for a promising future."

--Scott Carter

HOOVER, Ala. -- The lobby of the Wynfrey Hotel here this morning is probably as quiet as it will be over the next three days.

The SEC Football Media Days kick off this afternoon when SEC Commissioner Mike Slive gives his state-of-league address at 1:30 ET.

Gators coach Will Muschamp, quarterback Jeff Driskel, defensive tackle Dominique Easley and offensive lineman Jon Halapio are scheduled to arrive later this morning.

Muschamp is the first coach who will meet with the large throng of media starting at 2 ET.

Florida fans have several options to follow GatorZone.com's coverage today.

First, you can check out this live blog throughout the day for continuous updates.

Senior writers Scott Carter and Chris Harry will be reporting from Hoover. You can follow them on Twitter @GatorZoneScott and @GatorZoneChris.

In addition, you can follow @CoachWMuschamp and @GatorZoneFB for tweets and photos as the Florida contingent travels from Gainesville to Hoover.

You can send questions to @GatorZoneFB for Muschamp and the players to answer this afternoon from 1:30 to 2 ET.

If you really want to stay plugged in throughout the event as all 14 schools come and go, AL.com has this extensive list of Twitter accounts for the coaches, players and media members here in Hoover.

Finally, you can watch the coaches' press conferences online and other coverage at WatchESPN.

Check back when Slive opens his address for more coverage here from Hoover.

--Scott Carter

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