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Junior defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. is a player to watch in Saturday's Orange & Blue Debut.

Friday April 11, 2014An Orange & Blue Debut Primer

Junior defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr. is a player to watch in Saturday's Orange & Blue Debut.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Orange & Blue Debut has had a familiar narrative in Will Muschamp’s three-plus years at Florida.

The first one, in 2011, everyone wanted to see the unveiling of the new-look Gators under Muschamp, who made his name in coaching as a successful SEC defensive coordinator, after he replaced the offensive-minded Urban Meyer and brought in former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator.

In 2012, after Weis departed to become head coach at Kansas, the predominant storyline focused on new offensive coordinator Brent Pease and the quarterback battle between Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett.

Roper and Driskel

A year ago, following an 11-2 season in which the defense set the tone as one of the nation’s most physical units, the emphasis once again remained, well, on the offense in Year 2 under Pease.

At Florida, and at most spring games around the country in general, fans like to stretch out, catch some rays and see a few touchdowns as they develop tan lines.

That will be the case once again on Saturday when the Gators cap spring camp with the Orange & Blue Debut at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

And once more, Florida’s offense has generated most of the chatter this spring with first-year offensive coordinator Kurt Roper taking over for Pease.

Muschamp has been pleased with what he’s seen on offense during camp, saying earlier this week the installation of Roper’s system is ahead of where he thought it would be at this point.

There is much work ahead over the summer months and in fall camp, but Muschamp’s goal Saturday is to get the players in a competitive game environment and see how they respond.

“I think it’s important for those guys to get out in front of a crowd, the coaches off the field, and make them make calls and communicate and produce,’’ Muschamp said.

As for the much-publicized shift to Roper’s up-tempo spread offense, the new guy calling the plays isn’t changing his approach for his UF debut.

“What you want to see from the offense is really, ‘Hey, let’s get the right personnel on the field, let’s get lined up, let’s get set with motion. Get the ball snapped before the play clock runs out and let’s have possession of the ball at the end of the play,’ ’’ Roper said. “If we’ll do those things and look like a well-coached offense and guys are locked in, we’re going to make plays in this offense. The biggest thing is not beating ourselves, so going out there and looking like a well-coached team.”

Here is a primer for Saturday’s game, scheduled to kick off at 1:30 p.m.:


--Quarterback Jeff Driskel: He missed all but nine quarters last season due to season-ending broken leg but is healthy and has looked sharp as spring progressed.

“I think Jeff is probably comfortable in this scheme,’’ Gators defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin said. “We can see it from our end playing against them. He’s got great confidence back there.”

--Defensive lineman Dante Fowler Jr.: Fowler has all the tools to be an elite pass rusher. The coaching staff has stressed more consistency to Fowler. Meanwhile, Fowler has cut out McDonald’s from his diet to get leaner and build muscle.

“I haven’t ate it since my New Year’s resolution,’’ he said. “It was very hard, but now I don’t even like it no more.”

--Center Max Garcia: He played guard and tackle last season but has moved to center with the loss of Jonotthan Harrison. Garcia has had some ups and downs with snaps in Roper’s shotgun-heavy offense, but Muschamp has seen improvement.

“We feel like we’ve remedied the issue,’’ he said.

--Kicker Austin Hardin: He made only 4 of 12 attempts and lost his job in the middle of last season. Hardin arrived at UF as one of the top prep kickers in the country and has shown signs of improvement. Kicking in front of a crowd in game-like conditions will be a test for Hardin that coaches will watch closely Saturday.

--Receiver Demarcus Robinson: He was one of Florida’s most hyped recruits a year ago but did not live up to the billing. He missed three games due to suspension and finished with only five catches for 23 yards. By all accounts, Robinson has played well this spring and could be an X-factor in Roper’s offense if he can produce as a sophomore.

Kelvin Taylor

--Running back Kelvin Taylor (photo): As a true freshman, Taylor showed big-play ability and natural running instincts. With junior Matt Jones sidelined this spring, Taylor and fifth-year senior Mack Brown received the bulk of the carries. Taylor could be a dangerous weapon next season if Roper can find ways to get him the ball consistently in open space.

--Defensive lineman Jon Bullard: He played primarily at end his first two seasons but has moved inside to tackle. The early returns have the Gators excited about the possibilities.

“Bullard is having a great spring,’’ Durkin said. “He’s a guy who can help us both inside and outside. He’s playing his best football.”

--Tight end Tevin Westbrook: He has worked mostly with the No. 1 offense this spring and continues to improve. A former defensive lineman, Westbrook moved to tight end last year. This is a position Roper likes to get involved in the passing game and if thrown to, Westbrook needs to show he can produce as a receiver.

--Linebacker Antonio Morrison: He was hurt late last season and was inconsistent at times when on the field following a strong season in 2012. The Gators need Morrison to show more consistency and be a reliable leader in the middle of the defense. Both Muschamp and Durkin have said Morrison has been solid during camp in preparation for his junior season.

--Receiver Latroy Pittman: A member of Florida’s 2012 recruiting class, Pittman has played in 20 games the past two seasons and hauled in four catches. The Gators had more production in mind.

However, based on reports from camp, Pittman is moving in the right direction. Roper has used him at slot receiver and is pleased at his production.


Q: What do you take away from your first season?


A: My first year was kind of fast. I had to learn quick because they told me I was going to play early. I enjoyed it. It was fun, had a lot of good guys behind me showing me the ropes.”

Q: What do you want to improve on as a sophomore?

A: Personally, I felt like I did OK. I felt like there were some things I needed to improve on. I just need to be a better leader. A lot of guys are looking up to me now, a lot of freshmen corners we have now. Just being a better leader and staying on top of my game.”

Q: As the only starting cornerback who returned from last season, what have you seen at other cornerback position?

A: It’s very competitive between Jalen [Tabor], Duke [Dawson]. They’re going at it. It’s kind of fun to watch. I’m not sure how that’ll play out or how the coaches are looking at it, but from what I can see, it’s up in the air.

Q: Did you take a moment to appreciate your personal accomplishments as a freshman?

A: All that stuff was good. I’m proud of myself for it. I’d still rather win games than have all that for myself.

Q: What do you hope the team shows fans on Saturday?

A: Coach Muschamp is kind of emphasizing on first impressions. We're just gonna go out there, have fun, show a lot of effort, a lot of enthusiasm, try to execute as best as we can.


--Nickel: Tabor and Dawson – a pair of true freshmen early enrollees – have primarily battled at this position during the spring. Muschamp said safety Marcus Maye is another player that might get a look. Maye has battled a hamstring injury late in camp.

“We don’t have a starting nickel right now,’’ Muschamp said. “We need to get better at that position. It’s a position that has been very productive for us over the years.”


--Defensive lineman Taven Bryan: He signed with the Gators out of Casper, Wyo., not exactly an SEC recruiting hotbed. However, Muschamp has mentioned Bryan’s progress more than once lately.

He has worked primarily behind Bryan Cox Jr. at defensive end. The 6-foot-5, 260-pound Bryan was one of nine early enrollees and the head start in Florida’s offseason conditioning program appears to have paid off.


FB Gideon Ajagbe (shoulder), LB Matt Rolin (knee), LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder), LB Neiron Ball (knee), RB Matt Jones (knee), P Johnny Townsend (wrist), OL Nolan Kelleher (back), RB Mark Herndon (ankle), DT Leon Orr (wrist), LB Jeremi Powell (knee), RB Brandon Powell (foot), WR Ryan Parrish (n/a) and DB Michael Iorio (n/a). In addition, WR Andre Debose (knee) is back but not expected to participate in contact drills.


“We want to get out there and find out exactly who can do what and where we’re comfortable with them playing, where they’re comfortable. I don’t think by any means we’ve penciled in an answer by the end of spring camp.” – Durkin on battles in the secondary


“It’s definitely raised my football IQ exponentially.’’ – Garcia on move to center


“My concern going into this spring with Jeff was, ‘what was his movement going to be like altogether coming off the surgery?’ He hasn’t shown any limp or any favoring of the leg.” – Roper on Driskel


What former Gators running back set a record for most rushing yards in the spring game in 2004? Ciatrick Fason rushed for 141 yards in Team Blue’s 41-13 win over Team Orange that year.


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