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Gators standouts such as defensive end Dante Fowler (6) are optimistic they'll bounce back from last season's 4-8 record.

Friday August 1, 2014Preseason Primer: Need-to-Know Info About Gators Football Practice

Gators standouts such as defensive end Dante Fowler (6) are optimistic they'll bounce back from last season's 4-8 record.

Chris Harry
By Chris Harry
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Welcome to your last football-less Friday.

OK, so you’ll have to wait another 30 days before the Florida Gators play a game, but the real run-up to the 2014 college football season starts Sunday when Coach Will Muschamp’s team reports for preseason camp that will last for nearly three weeks and feature four full-squad two-a-day practices.

UF will open practice Monday with split-squad workouts. The first is set for 6:15 a.m., with upperclassmen; the second practice will be almost exclusively newcomers and some second-year players, and start at 6 p.m.  

And off we go.

Here’s a Gators preseason primer to kick off the weekend. Come Monday, they’ll be kicking footballs.

Gideon MEDIA DAY
On Sunday, print, web and broadcast reporters from around the state will converge on the Touchdown Terrace for UF’s media day. Muschamp will address the masses at 2 p.m. -- and you can watch it live on GatorVision -- and then the bulk of the team’s upperclassmen will be available (offense in one room, defense in another) for cluster interviews. Check your favorite newspapers, Internet sites and local television station for features. We’ll have plenty of content (both written and video) on GatorZone.com.


IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Optimism for the Gators bouncing back from last year’s disappointing 4-8 season is running high -- inside the program, as well as out. At SEC Media Days last month, UF was picked to finish third in the league’s Eastern Division (behind South Carolina and Georgia). Muschamp, meanwhile, is on record as saying this team is the most talented across the board of any in his four UF seasons. It helps to have a bunch of healthy bodies back from that ridiculously long injury list of a year ago, but just as key to the upbeat feeling for this season is Muschamp’s commitment to a new, up-tempo offense that figures to fling it around as much as pound away behind a stable of talented tailbacks. Anyway, here’s three elements (two guys, one entity) that will command lots of attention over the next few weeks.

Roper * Kurt Roper -- UF’s new offensive coordinator comes by way of Duke, where he called plays for a unit that set school records for touchdowns in a season (54) and became the first team in Blue Devils history to amass 20 touchdowns passing and 20 touchdowns rushing. The tempo at which the Gators intend to play will be rapid-fire, with the quarterback almost exclusively in the shotgun. For it all to work, some young players (namely receivers such as Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood) will need to make significant developmental strides, but that’s why Roper is here. The players love the new look. Better yet, they believe in it. That wasn’t always the case the past few years.

* Jeff Driskel -- A broken leg in the first quarter of the third game ended his 2013 season and the UF offense struggled the rest of the way, finishing 12th in the 14-team SEC in yards per game. Driskel's rehab was difficult, but he was ready for spring and thoroughly impressed Roper not only with his grasp of the new offense, but his overall skills set in the pocket. Though the fourth-year junior is often pigeon-holed as a running quarterback (he’s pretty good in the open field), Driskel’s arm and accuracy have never really been put on display. That won’t be the case under Roper. Driskel is going downfield this year.

* The defense -- Though the unit finished second in the SEC (behind only Alabama) in yards per game, the Florida defense didn’t have a lot of game-changing plays (namely, turnovers and sacks), the likes of which were omnipresent in 2012 and served as the backbone for that 11-2, BCS campaign. The defensive emphasis will be on “affecting” opposing quarterbacks. That doesn’t necessarily mean sacks, as much as it means pressure in the pocket and forcing decisions when they’re not ready to be made. That’s not all on Dante Fowler Jr., and the d-line, either. UF’s linebacking corps, led by Mike Taylor, needs to be heard from this season. A front seven that plays in tandem and with purpose will help a talented by youthful secondary come into its own.

OPEN PRACTICES
There were four last year. This year, fans will get twice the chances to see the Gators doing their practice thing. Seven of the eight open practices will be held at the Dizney Lacrosse Stadium (on the southwest side of campus), with the lone exception the final one Aug. 16, which is scheduled for Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. And, yes, select players will sign autographs after each open practice. Dates and times below (subject to change, of course).

* Aug. 7, 7:40-9:40 p.m. (at Dizney Lacrosse Stadium)
* Aug. 8, 7:40-9;40 p.m. (at Dizney Lacrosse Stadium)  
* Aug. 9, 10:45 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. Open to season-ticket holders only (at Dizney Lacrosse Stadium)
* Aug. 11, 8:50-11 a.m. (Dizney Lacrosse Stadium)
* Aug. 12, 8:50-11 a.m. (Dizney Lacrosse Stadium)  
* Aug. 13, 8:50-11 a.m. (Dizney Lacrosse Stadium)
* Aug. 14, 8:50-11 a.m. (Dizney Lacrosse Stadium)
* Aug. 16, 9-11 a.m. (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

Fan Day FAN DAY
UF’s annual Fan Day once again will be shared with the volleyball team. It's set for Aug. 16, beginning at 3 p.m., at the O’Connell Center, following the open practice at the stadium. Fans will have a chance to get autographs from coaches and players on a University Athletic Association-provided poster, as NCAA rules prohibit outside items to be brought into the event for signing. The volleyball team will hold its annual Orange & Blue scrimmage from 3:30-4:30 p.m. and sign autographs from 5-6.

THE END GAME
Camp, in essence, will break Aug. 20 when the team checks out of its hotel. The Gators, though, will start their game preparation schedule Aug. 21 as a run-up to the season opener. Fall semester classes begin Aug. 25.


THE FIRST GAME
The Gators open the 2014 season Aug. 30 against Idaho at “The Swamp.” The Vandals went 1-11 last season, with their lone victory coming in a 26-24 defeat of Temple. In nine of its losses, Idaho surrendered at least 37 points and four times gave up at least 59 points, including an 80-14 thrashing at Florida State.

 

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