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Gators coach Will Muschamp and his staff are finalizing depth chart heading into Monday's prep for Idaho.

Saturday August 23, 2014Gators Eager to Shift Focus To Idaho after Healthy Camp

Gators coach Will Muschamp and his staff are finalizing depth chart heading into Monday's prep for Idaho.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The scene outside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday morning was relatively calm.

A couple of fans posed for photos in front of the Heisman statues, a group of students danced as part of an exercise class, and Sting’s voice could be heard over the speakers from inside the stadium while patches of brave folks climbed stairs.

Come next Saturday night, The Swamp officially returns when the Gators host Idaho in the 2014 season opener. The Gators broke camp Friday and have the weekend off.

For a program coming off its first losing season since 1979 – one marred by injuries to key players – the Gators have already cleared one major hurdle: a healthy camp.

“We only had two soft-tissue issues in all of camp,’’ Gators head coach Will Muschamp said. “That's outstanding. That's the best I've been around, as opposed to last year.”

In retrospect, last year’s fall camp foretold using a bullhorn what was to come in regard to injuries.

Receiver Andre Debose and linebacker Matt Rolin suffered season-ending knee injuries the first week. Meanwhile, starting offensive lineman Jon Halapio endured a pectoral muscle tear that limited him much of the season and starting right tackle Chaz Green was lost for the season due to shoulder surgery.

And don’t forget, starting quarterback Jeff Driskel missed time after an emergency appendectomy and running back Matt Jones missed camp due to a serious viral infection.

And of course, it only got worse from there as Florida limped to a 4-8 record.

Frankie Velez

However, continuing the positive tone Muschamp and Co. took into camp, the Gators open preparation for Idaho on Monday healthy. The only major scare in camp came when sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III suffered a bone bruise to his left knee the second week. Hargreaves missed time but quickly recovered and along with safety Keanu Neal is one of two starters set in the secondary.

“I think we only had three [injuries] as far as hamstrings, groins, those sort of things and hernias,” Muschamp said. “That tells you we're training the right way.”

Freshman offensive lineman David Sharpe (ankle) and defensive back Marcus Maye (hamstring) are the two biggest question marks entering the first week of the season. Muschamp expects both back soon.

With a full allotment of players, the primary job for Florida’s coaching staff over the weekend is narrowing the depth chart.

The biggest decision looms at quarterback, where true freshmen Treon Harris and Will Grier are competing with redshirt sophomore Skyler Mornhinweg to back up Driskel.

Harris and Grier took significant snaps during camp, as did Mornhinweg. Regardless, Muschamp said to expect the second-string quarterback to play against the Vandals a week from today.

“We'd like to [script him in], by the second quarter, whoever ends up being the guy and go from there," Muschamp said. "I think that, again, giving [him a] game situation, kind of like we did our first year.”

The other position battles that remain open are both offensive guard spots, three secondary positions (safety, cornerback and nickel) and the place-kicking job.

Muschamp awarded fifth-year senior kicker Frankie Velez (photo, above) a scholarship Friday. Velez has competed throughout camp with redshirt sophomore Austin Hardin. The Florida kicking game struggled mightily in 2013, making 12 of 22 attempts while opponents connected on 22 of 23 field goals.

At punter, senior Kyle Christy appears to have an advantage over sophomore Johnny Townsend.

Muschamp’s next scheduled media availability is Tuesday, at which time he is expected to announce the staff’s decisions following a weekend spent reviewing film and critiquing the roster.

“We’ll release a depth chart next week,’’ Muschamp said Friday. “We'll give the staff off Saturday and get back Sunday and have lengthy discussions again moving forward on what's best for our football program.”

One advantage the Gators have coming out of camp is a deeper roster thanks to an influx of freshmen who competed well at practice over the last three weeks.

True freshmen J.C. Jackson, Jalen Tabor and Quincy Wilson are in the mix in the secondary. While the starters remain uncertain, you can expect a lot of rotation in the secondary like the Gators have done in the past under Muschamp.

“I’m very much up in the air on where we will go right now because I do think it’s very close,’’ Muschamp said. “I do think those guys all do some nice things for us and we certainly can function and win with all of them.”

Redshirt sophomore defensive lineman Alex McAlister is ready to start the season. He summed up what most players – at least those on defense – felt as camp came to a close.

“Getting into Idaho, getting into the first game, you start seeing stuff start to condense and slow down,’’ he said. “We’re starting to focus on schemes, what their people do. So it’s better just to focus on them and not having to worry about not hitting Driskel every play.”

 

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