Florida Gators: D.J. Durkin

SEC's lunchtime links

April, 4, 2014
LSU and Ole Miss will hold their spring games on Saturday, with six more teams set to play their games next Saturday. As spring practice winds to a close at many of the schools around the conference, let's take a look at some of today's headlines.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Ask Will Muschamp a simple question and most often you'll get a simple answer.

Like, what are you looking for in the early days of spring practice?

"Just effort," the head coach said last week as Florida held its first three practices.

Trying to turn the page from a nightmarish 2013 season, it's especially important to keep things as simple as possible this spring. Like all teams getting back onto the field, they're putting a lot of work into fundamentals, but Florida also has the complicated task of introducing a new offense.

[+] EnlargeDJ Humphries
AP Photo/John RaouxWith a new offensive line coach, D.J. Humphries and the Gators linemen are changing lineups.
"That's the balance," Muschamp said. "If you have priorities 1 and 1A, it would be the installation and the confidence of our offense, and then field goal kicking. Right now, those are priorities for me."

With Week 1 in the books, it’s clear that the coaching staff will take its time and gradually unveil the new offense. For now, practice is much more about the basics of technique, tempo and lining up properly.

"I wouldn't get too involved with where people are," Muschamp said. "We're trying to install the offense. I've been through it defensively. You don't want to get too dialed in personnel-wise right now. You're really kind of just trying to teach the offense. As we move through it then we will start narrowing down positionally what we're trying to do with certain guys at certain positions and what fits them best.

"I think the best coaches I've been around, they put their guys in situations to be successful. Don't ask a guy to do something he can't do or he's not as accomplished maybe that somebody else can do. …"

The fact of the matter is that Florida still has to do a lot of evaluations. This is the first opportunity for new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper to see what he's got, see players' strengths and weaknesses and see which players have been able to translate their work from offseason meetings into something positive on the field.

For instance, in the early days of spring practice Florida quarterbacks have thrown a lot of passes to the tight ends. But with one true freshman seeing his first action and two seniors who combined for four catches last season, it's likely that Roper is trying to figure out how much they can handle. It's not necessarily a true indication of what fans can expect in the finished product this fall.

The same goes for new offensive line coach Mike Summers, who watched film to assess his players before practice began and is now trying various combinations to find out what works best. Florida's first team has most often been junior left tackle D.J. Humphries, junior left guard Trip Thurman, senior center Max Garcia, junior right guard Tyler Moore and senior right tackle Chaz Green. But senior right tackle Trenton Brown, who started the last five games in 2013, has gotten his chances with that unit as well.

It's a work in progress, and on both sides of the ball there are constant evaluations being made by the coaching staff.

"You've got to take it from the meeting room to the field," Muschamp said. "That's part of our evaluation. And then we're going to have to make game day adjustments. We have to make practice adjustments. If you can't make the adjustment out there, you're not going to make it in front of 90,000 people. That's part of the evaluation, and I tell our coaches all the time to make some adjustments. I'll walk up to [defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin] and say, 'Let's switch how we're doing this' in the middle of practice. And if kids can't handle it, that's part of our evaluation."

The Gators expect to have a whole new look on offense this fall, but there's a very different feel to this spring for UF's well-established defense. That gap between the two sides of the ball is one of the big challenges for Florida's coaching staff this spring.

"When you get into spring, you want to install together, which we do offensively and defensively," Muschamp said. "But there's a lot of give and take on what we can and can't do, because what we don't want to do is get too far ahead of the offense. We're in the third year of our [defensive] scheme, and our older kids have a very good understanding of what we are and who we're going to be. ...

"Our number one priority -- and [Durkin] understands that and our defensive players understand that -- is the installation of the offense. I've explained that to our entire football team. They understand that."

Ask Muschamp the simple question of what he's evaluating at this point, and his expectations are clearly much higher for the defense.

"Always from the guys that are back on the defensive side of the ball [it's] retention," he said. "The guys on the offensive side of the ball, with what we've been able to give them, did a good job of taking it to the field for the most part. But good enthusiasm, and guys are excited about what we're doing. We're pleased with that."
The Early Offer is RecruitingNation's regular feature, giving you a dose of recruiting in the mornings. Today’s offerings: As the center of an intense recruiting battle between Florida, Georgia, Ohio State, Texas and Texas A&M, a four-star linebacker will lean on those close to him when it comes time to make a decision; and two future SEC opponents took turns testing each other at Sunday’s Atlanta Nike Training Camp.

SEC lunchtime links

November, 7, 2013
We've got football tonight. In fact, there are a couple of pretty big games. That means we're almost to what could be an important weekend in the SEC.

Here are some links from around the league:
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- D.J. Durkin enjoys being able to roam.

During his first three seasons at Florida, Durkin coached the Gators’ linebackers. All day. Every day. Jon Bostic, Jelani Jenkins, Neiron Ball, Darrin Kitchens, Antonio Morrison. The same faces every day in meetings and on the field.

He was happy doing it, though. Loved it, in fact.

But now that he’s Florida’s defensive coordinator, he’s finding out that he likes moving around the practice field and spending some time with each position group just as much.

"It has been an adjustment," Durkin said. "As a position coach you’re always so locked into your position. Sometimes you have blinders on because you have your concerns about what you need to get corrected and work on in practice.

"I’m really enjoying it. It’s great."

[+] EnlargeD.J. Durkin
Kim Klement/US PresswireNew defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is enjoying his expanded responsibilities.
Durkin is making his debut as a defensive coordinator after being promoted in January when Dan Quinn left for the Seattle Seahawks. Being able to wander the practice field and spend time with defensive linemen and defensive backs is way for the other players to get to know him better, but also for him to become familiar with the players, too.

It’s also allowing Durkin to get a better feel for the defense. As the linebackers coach, he knew the strengths and weaknesses of each of his players. He knew what they could do, how to motivate them, and the roles they could play. Now he’s finding that out about guys such as cornerback Marcus Roberson, defensive end Jonathan Bullard and defensive tackle Leon Orr.

"We’ll do individual drills and we’ll be broken up and I can move a little bit and see some different things," Durkin said. "I’ll see it on tape later but it’s always good to see it on the field and coach guys while we’re out there."

Durkin has been handed a defense that lost five key players in Bostic, Jenkins, safeties Matt Elam and Josh Evans, and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd from a unit that finished fifth nationally in scoring and total defense and fourth in rushing defense. Add in a first-year defensive coordinator and there’s certainly some doubt if the Gators will be able to have similar success in 2013.

"Our biggest thing, our focus, is you start camp right now and you’re a new team," Durkin said. "It’s not about what we did last year or how we did it. It’s what are we going to do and how are we going to do it? I feel really good about the guys we have that are replacing those spots. Although those might be starting positions that are gone, we have a lot of guys that have played a lot of football here. We’re not an inexperienced unit.

"We have guys that played a lot of football that we believe in and I feel really good about how we’ve recruited here the past couple years. Some guys get their chance now."

UF does have one of the country’s better secondaries -- led by projected first-round NFL draft picks Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy -- and should have an improved pass rush thanks to the return of buck Ronald Powell from a torn ACL. Powell was the nation’s No. 1 recruit in 2010.

That’s a good base upon which to build. But it comes back on the linebackers -- the position that Durkin coaches -- to make significant improvements or the defense could struggle. The Gators won’t have Morrison (suspension) for the first two games UF has only three other true linebackers who have appeared in a game: Ball, Michael Taylor and Kitchens. Powell and Dante Fowler Jr. are hybrid ends/linebackers and will line up at strongside linebacker.

But the group isn’t hurt by Durkin taking the time to roam the field to work with the rest of the defense. Special teams coordinator Jeff Choate also works with the outside linebackers and former Gators and NFL linebacker Mike Peterson is working as an undergraduate student assistant.

"Jeff Choate, who is a great addition for us as a special teams coordinator, also is a great addition for us defensively," Durkin said. "He has a great knowledge of defense and coaching linebackers so at times we can break off the linebackers and he can work with them and that allows me to do other things. That’s been huge for me personally and for our defense I think it’ll make us better."
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp didn’t need to consult motivational speaker Tony Robbins last summer to figure out the message he wanted to convey to his players.

The Gators had just come off a 7-6 season and only avoided the program’s first losing season in more than 30 years by beating Ohio State in the Taxslayer.com Gator Bowl. Muschamp had a locker room full of irritated players, so his message was pretty simple: Play angry.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Chris Trotman/Getty ImagesJeff Driskel enters the summer as Florida's clear-cut starting QB, but has some work to do.
But now, as the Gators begin the summer semester and the incoming freshmen get ready to report in early July, Muschamp’s message has changed. The one he used last year no longer applies.

Now he’s preaching about not settling.

"Last year, going into the year, you have a little chip on your shoulder about how the season before went," Muschamp said. "Whatever motivational tactic that we used obviously was good for us at times. We’re now a team that’s faced a little bit of success here and there. My constant reminder throughout the offseason is, 'Are you better?'

"You either get better or worse every day, whether it’s in the classroom, whether it’s in the meeting room as far as football is concerned, [whether] it’s in the weight room or it’s on the practice field. You can improve yourself every day to be a positive member of the football team."

UF went 11-2 in 2012 and stayed in the hunt for the national championship until the final weeks of the regular season, but it certainly wasn’t easy. The Gators didn’t name a starting quarterback until Week 2, finished the season ranked 114th nationally in passing, and had to come from behind in eight victories.

That showed just how well the players embraced the preseason message.

"When you come from behind eight times, it means you've got character on your football team and you've got guys believing what they're doing," Muschamp said. "I mean, those are two things that are hard to find, especially in today's age. When you get behind, most everybody wants to point the finger at somebody else and blame somebody for something."

Things are much different his summer. This is the second season for offensive coordinator Brent Pease, there’s a new defensive coordinator (D.J. Durkin was promoted when Dan Quinn left), and the Gators have to replace nine players who were drafted into the NFL -- including their leading rusher, receiver and tackler.

Florida is a contender for the Eastern Division title and therefore the SEC title, which is almost an automatic entry into the BCS National Championship. Just playing angry won’t cut it, Muschamp said.

He has made sure the players understand that maintaining the status quo will actually result in a step backward. He told them that during his annual post-spring individual meetings and it will be reinforced by the conditioning staff throughout the summer.

"A lot of kids nowadays, especially in our society, they take that as a negative," Muschamp said. "They only want to talk about the positive things. Well, the good things take care of themselves. You’ve got to go after and attack the negative things and the things you’ve got to improve to help our football team be better. I think our kids, more than anything, have bought into the process of winning football games and what that does for each individual and each player."

He’ll know if the message was received when the Gators return to the practice field in early August.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida’s pass rush pretty much disappeared when Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham left the program after the 2009 season.

[+] EnlargeRonald Powell
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsDoctors are expected to clear Ronald Powell to resume football activities in August.
Production dipped the following season by nearly half. UF had 21 sacks in 2010, 28 in 2011, and 30 last season -- well below the 40 the Gators had in 2009. Though the numbers have climbed in the past two years, the Gators haven’t been able to consistently generate pressure on the quarterback.

That’s about to change -- theoretically, anyway.

With the expected return of buck Ronald Powell and the development of sophomore buck Dante Fowler Jr., and defensive end Jonathan Bullard, the Gators should have their best pass-rushing group since '09.

“We’re going to get our best rushers out there,” UF coach Will Muschamp said. “Big guys that run out of gas are done. You’ve got to get as much speed on the field as you can.”

That begins with Powell, who missed the 2012 season after tearing the ACL in his left knee in the spring game. His attempt to return by October was thwarted when he suffered a second tear during his rehab in September. Muschamp had raved about Powell throughout the spring before his injury and said he appeared ready to become an elite player.

The 6-foot-4, 240-pound Powell, who had 6.0 sacks as a sophomore, did not participate in spring practice but is expected to be cleared for full-contact work in August. If he returns to the level at which he was before his injury it’s not unreasonable to expect 8 to 10 sacks out of the redshirt junior, who will be the starter at strongside linebacker.

With Powell out of the lineup in 2012, the Gators were forced to rely on freshmen Fowler and Bullard. They combined for four sacks and eight quarterback hurries, including Bullard’s team-high seven -- not bad for freshmen, but neither was anywhere close to being an elite rusher.

However, the experience they gained was invaluable. The 6-3, 270-pound Bullard and the 6-3, 265-pound Fowler followed that up with a solid offseason in the weight room and on the practice field.

As a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, Fowler has multiple rushing and coverage responsibilities, and Muschamp said he has made strides in each area.

“Dante’s had a really good spring,” Muschamp said. “He’s a guy that really worked hard in the pass rush. Brad has done a really nice job of developing a solid move and a counter off of that. That’s something he needs to continue to refine over the summer. Played the runs well, strong at the point of attack. He’s got good initial quickness. He’s a really good athlete.”

Fowler sometimes didn’t play that way last season, mainly because he felt overwhelmed at times.

“There was a point when I first started playing where I was a little slow, because I didn’t know all the plays,” Fowler said. “I was scared for Coach Muschamp to get on me and things like that. I really wasn’t able to play fast, and then toward the South Carolina game, I started to go in and watch a lot of film trying to get better. That’s when I was able to play fast, because I knew everything and I had no worries or doubts.

“I just want to be able to play fast and shed some of that baby fat that I had. Just being able to be in shape, so I can play almost every down. I feel like I’ve got more acceleration. I have more wind, so I’m not getting as tired as I used to.”

He has certainly impressed left tackle D.J. Humphries, who had the job of blocking Fowler every day in spring practice.

“Dante, he’s a freak now,” Humphries said. “He’s getting better every day.”

Bullard dealt with a minor hamstring injury in the spring, but showed when he was healthy that he was going to have no problem getting to the quarterback.

“[Bullard] had a great offseason,” Muschamp said. “He’s changed his body. He’s gotten a lot stronger.”

A wild card in the Gators’ pass rush is Dominique Easley. The 6-2, 285-pound senior was supposed to be the starting defensive end, but a lack of depth at tackle -- as well as Bullard’s development -- has him starting the season at tackle. He has 5.5 career sacks.

Muschamp and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin have more options now than last season and can tinker with the lineup. Powell can play buck and strongside linebacker. Fowler can play both, too, as well as defensive end. If needed, Bullard could play inside.

Redshirt junior linebacker Neiron Ball also can play the buck.

“To get our best guys on the field is a lengthy discussion we’ve had as a defensive staff,” Muschamp said. “Certainly Ronald, we feel like’s going to be one of those guys. Neiron Ball is another guy who has done some really nice things for us and played well. Darrin Kitchens’ development as an inside linebacker enables that move to happen and he played extremely well throughout the spring for us.

“All of those kind of mingled together, you feel comfortable how [the pass rush] is shaping up at this time.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It didn’t take long for Florida linebackers coach D.J. Durkin to figure out that the Gators potentially had something special in a skinny freshman named Antonio Morrison.

Roughly about two hours, in fact. That’s how long the Gators’ first full-pads practice lasted in August.

Antonio Morrison
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesAntonio Morrison has already grabbed a reputation for delivering big hits.
“He made it very clear that he likes hitting people,” Durkin said. “We like people who like hitting people on defense. He made that statement very clear early on. The players recognized it. The coaches recognized it. We knew we had something there.

“It was very clear walking off the field after that first day of pads: That guy can help us.”

And Morrison did, starting three games at weakside linebacker in place of injured starter Jelani Jenkins and making one of the biggest plays of the season when he caused Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel to fumble and help put away the game. Now he’ll be the Gators’ starting middle linebacker.

With the graduation of starter Jon Bostic and Jenkins’ surprising decision to leave early for the NFL draft, the Gators never hesitated in naming Morrison the starter, despite the fact that he’s not exactly built like a typical middle linebacker. At 6-foot-1 and 229 pounds he is solidly built but smaller than the last three starters: Bostic (6-1, 246), Brandon Spikes (6-3, 240) and Brandon Siler (6-2, 235).

Yet the coaching staff has no concerns about Morrison being able to handle the pounding that comes with playing middle linebacker in the SEC, and neither does he.

“I’m pretty sure I can,” Morrison said. “I started [three] games last year and nothing really was too overwhelming for me.”

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida's new approach on special teams was on display during the Gators' final open practice of the spring.

[+] EnlargeRoberson
Courtesy of UF CommunicationsMarcus Roberson was one of four Florida punt returners that struggled with the sun while catching punts Saturday.
D.J. Durkin has been UF's special teams coordinator since he was hired by former coach Urban Meyer in 2010, but Will Muschamp promoted him to defensive coordinator in January after Dan Quinn left to become the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. Being in charge of the defense and special teams is too much, so the Gators have split things up.

Running backs coach Brian White will coach the punt team. Defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson will coach the kickoff team, punt block and punt return teams. Receivers coach Joker Phillips will coach the kickoff return team. Durkin and Muschamp will assist as needed.

"Really, all of us worked in those sections last year when D.J. kind of headed it up," Muschamp said. "We will all contribute as far as that’s concerned with special teams."

Robinson appears to have a lot of work ahead of him in regards to the punt return team. He was working with Trey Burton, Marcus Roberson, Demarcus Robinson, and Andre Debose on fielding punts on Saturday. All three were having trouble dealing with the bright sun. Several times the players had balls bounce off their helmets. Robinson, in particular, had trouble getting into position to catch the ball and had several go over his head.

Bright sunshine is obviously something the players are going to have to deal with, and the players that had the most trouble with it (Burton and Robinson) are ones who haven't had much work as a returner. Roberson and Burton are the top two returners on the depth chart.

Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 13, 2013
Schedule: The Gators open spring practice today at 4:30 p.m. ET and will conclude the spring with their annual Orange & Blue Debut on April 6 at 1 p.m. ET inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

What's new: Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn left to become the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks. Will Muschamp then promoted D.J. Durkin from linebackers/special teams coach to defensive coordinator. Brad Lawing was hired away from South Carolina to help coach Florida's defensive line and was given the title of assistant head coach. Interim wide receivers coach Bush Hamdan was replaced by former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips.

On the mend: Redshirt junior offensive lineman Chaz Green will miss all of spring after undergoing ankle surgery following Florida's bowl game. Redshirt junior defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell will also miss the spring while he continues to rehab his ACL injury that he suffered last spring. Redshirt junior offensive lineman Ian Silberman is out for the spring, as he recovers from shoulder surgery that he had before the bowl game. Freshman linebacker Matt Rolin is also out, recovering from ACL surgery. Senior offensive lineman Jon Halapio (knee scope), senior wide receiver Solomon Patton (broken arm), redshirt junior linebacker Neiron Ball (ankle) and punter Kyle Christy (shoulder) will all be limited this spring.

On the move: Junior cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy will start the first seven practices at the "Z" receiver spot. Redshirt freshman Quinteze Williams moved from defensive tackle to offensive tackle. Sophomore Antonio Morrison moved from Will to Mike linebacker, while redshirt junior linebacker Michael Taylor has moved from Mike to Will. Redshirt freshman Rhaheim Ledbetter moved from safety to fullback. Redshirt junior Gideon Ajagbe also moved from linebacker to fullback. Redshirt junior Cody Riggs has moved from cornerback to safety, where he's listed as a starter.

Question marks: Heading into the spring, the biggest questions remain on offense, where the Gators were incredibly inconsistent last year. Workhorse running back Mike Gillislee is gone, and while the Gators should feature a stable of running backs this fall, throwing the ball has to improve or this offense will go in reverse. Quarterback Jeff Driskel says he's more confident and offensive coordinator Brent Pease expects to open things up more in the passing game, but the Gators also have to get better protection up front and develop some more reliable receivers and replace top target, tight end Jordan Reed. Florida's defense has a lot of experienced youngsters, but it won't be easy to replace the production that guys like Sharrif Floyd, Matt Elam and Jon Bostic had last year. Florida is also looking for someone to replace kicker Caleb Sturgis. Redshirt freshman Austin Hardin and senior Brad Phillips will compete for that spot.

New faces: Rolin, running back Kelvin Taylor, linebackers Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian, defensive lineman Joey Ivie, and wide receiver Demarcus Robinson all enrolled early as true freshmen. Florida also welcomed Nebraska offensive lineman transfer Tyler Moore (sophomore) and junior college transfer Darius Cummings (DT). Offensive lineman Max Garica also transferred from Maryland and sat out last season.

Key battle: Florida has to find a reliable receiving target at either tight end or receiver. The athletic Kent Taylor figures to be the favorite at tight end, but he'll have to compete with Colin Thompson, Clay Burton and Tevin Westbrook. At receiver, it's a free-for-all, and there isn't a ton of experience. Purifoy will certainly get his shot, but vets Quinton Dunbar and Andre Debose have to make significant strides. So does rising sophomore Latroy Pittman, who fell off last year after a successful spring. Sophomore Raphael Andrades will be back and forth between football and baseball, while Patton will be limited. Keep an eye on Robinson, who was the top receiver in the Gators' 2013 class and is a downfield threat and someone who can be elusive through the middle of the field.

Breaking out: Florida needs to replace Gillislee, and sophomore Matt Jones has already had a solid offseason, according to coaches. He progressed as last season went on and has both speed and strength to work with. The plan is for him to be a 20-plus-carry player this fall. Morrison's role now expands, and after having a very solid freshman year, even more is expected from him now that he's at the Mike. If he improves his coverage ability, he could be a big-time player for the Gators. Also, keep an eye on junior safety Jabari Gorman. He covers a lot of ground and isn't afraid to play in the box.

Don't forget about: Ball and Riggs have dealt with injuries in the past, but as they get healthy, Florida's coaches are excited about what they could do in 2013. Ball will play some Buck and provides Florida with another solid third-down pass-rusher and should help the Gators put more pressure on opposing backfields this fall. Riggs played in just two games last year before fracturing his foot, but he's a very physical defensive back. With his speed, moving to safety should provide him a chance to make more plays in Florida's secondary. He was also the starter at safety when Elam went to nickel last year.

Jeff Driskel can sense the mounting pressure in Gainesville.

All eyes are on Florida’s football team after an unexpected 11-2 season that included a trip to the Allstate Sugar Bowl -- the first BCS bowl for the Gators since 2009 -- and Florida’s rising junior quarterback understands that expectations are at their highest level of the Will Muschamp era.

“We’re no longer the underdog, like we were a little bit last year,” Driskel told ESPN.com in a phone interview earlier this week. “We’re going to have a bigger target on us this year, but we like that role. That’s where we should be at the University of Florida.”

Driskel is right on a couple of levels. A program like Florida’s should have lofty expectations each year, and an 11-win season certainly should grab people’s attention.

But if the Gators are going to take the next step and finally make it back to the SEC championship game in Atlanta for the first time since 2009, a lot has to get fixed, and holes have to be filled.

And when you think about fixing Florida, that inconsistent offense immediately comes to mind. While a complete overhaul is off the table, repairing and a little renovation aren’t.

“Luckily, we do have a great defense, so we don’t have to force anything, but we know we have to make more plays,” Driskel said. “We have to make more vertical plays down the field, because you can’t just drive the ball down and score every time, you gotta hit big plays.”

For big plays to happen, Florida has to generate a respectable passing game. Driskel has to have more comfort and confidence, reliable receiving threats have to emerge and the offensive line has to protect better.

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Stephen M. Dowell/Getty ImagesIf Florida hopes to meet its lofty expectations, QB Jeff Driskel and the offense must improve.
Muschamp doesn’t want to get away from the blue-collar running game, which averaged 187.7 rushing yards per game last fall (third in the SEC), but he knows that his offense can’t operate with the inconsistency and low margin for error it had in 2012.

The Gators averaged an SEC-worst 146.3 passing yards per game, and when they had to throw in critical situations, they usually failed, causing double-digit deficits to Georgia and Louisville to doom this offense.

Getting things on track will require a balancing act of blending power with flight.

“We’re going to be a physical football team. I really believe in order to win this league, you’ve got to be physical,” Muschamp said Tuesday. “You’ve got to be able to win on the line of scrimmage. You can’t get away from that.

“But I do want to make sure that we’ve got to improve some things in the throwing game. We’ve got to work on that, but not get away from being a physical football team.”

More emphasis will be put on throwing this spring, and offensive coordinator Brent Pease is even having people come in to visit and bounce some ideas around.

Then, it’s all about becoming a more situational offense. Sacks have to decrease, red zone efficiency has to increase (Florida scored touchdowns on just 52 percent of its red zone visits) and third downs have to be converted (36 percent in 2012).

“That's something as we hit spring, we're going to be working on a little bit more as far as throwing the football is concerned,” Muschamp said. “We're going to be a little thin up front with some injuries, so we've got to be more efficient throwing it, and that's going to be a big part of it in spring.”

He also wants to hit quality control.

Last season, Florida had a league-high 105 penalties (8.1 per game), so silly self-inflicted wounds, like drive-killing false starts, jumping offside and unsportsmanlike conduct, have to be considerably cut down.

“We created a lot of issues for ourselves as far as down and distance is concerned,” Muschamp said.

The defense has some bruises of its own, but the Gators should mask some issues, even with seven starters and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn gone.

This is still Muschamp’s defense, and Quinn’s replacement, former linebackers/special-teams coach D.J. Durkin, is very familiar with this personnel and isn’t changing any old terminology.

A major advantage he’ll have is that Florida rotated in about 20 players per game on defense last season, so these youngsters aren’t exactly green.

“I think one of the great things about this place and what we’ve been able to do is we play a lot of guys on defense,” Durkin said.

“We have a good nucleus of guys coming back that have played a lot for us already in games, and then we’ve got the next group coming up.”

In the end, it all comes back to Florida's offense, and Muschamp knows his team has as much work to do as maybe any team in the SEC, but he embraces the challenge. He also understands that offensive excuses won't fly in 2013 -- it's time for this team to make another jump.

“We totally embrace the expectation that Florida has to go to Atlanta,” Muschamp said.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There will be some new faces at several positions when Florida begins spring practice Wednesday.

Loucheiz Purifoy
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsFlorida cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, who will be a junior this fall, is ready to take on the challenge of learning the wide receiver position.
The biggest change, which has previously been reported, is that junior CB Loucheiz Purifoy will spend the first half of spring practice working exclusively at receiver. He won’t be able to absorb the entire offense in that time, but he will have a better understanding than he did last season and will be able to run something other than a deep sideline pattern.

"I think up to this point what he's done has been very specific," offensive coordinator Brent Pease said. “Get him over for a few plays, here's what you’re doing and there's no adjustments. You can't adjust to anything and play off anything that defense is doing. Now you're getting into a set position and you're seeing how teams play against you. You play maybe a couple different spots in there and we can move you around."

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida has announced coach Will Muschamp’s spring speaking schedule at various Gator Clubs throughout the state and in Atlanta. The school also announced that assistant coaches Joker Phillips, D.J. Durkin, Tim Davis and Bryant Young will speak at three clubs.

Here’s the schedule:

Will Muschamp

April 2: Gainesville Quarterback Club

May 1: Titletown Gator Club, Gainesville

May 2: Tampa Gator Club/Pinellas County Gator Club

May 7: Polk County Gator Club, Lakeland

May 8: Central Florida Gator Club, Orlando

May 14: Gator Club of Jacksonville

May 15: Atlanta Gator Club

May 20: Jacksonville Quarterback Club

May 23: Fighting Gator Touchdown Club, Gainesville

TBA: Daytona Quarterback Club

D.J. Durkin

May 6: Southwest Florida Gator Club, Fort Myers

Bryant Young

May 7: Panhandle Gator Club, Panama City

Joker Phillips

May 7: Palm Beach County Gator Club, Palm Beach

Tim Davis

May 14: Space Coast Gator Club, Melbourne

Gators DL coach hire now official

January, 20, 2013
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida has officially announced the hiring of Brad Lawing to coach the Gators’ defensive line and serve as the assistant head coach. The move was reported by various outlets on Sunday evening and freshman LB Matt Rolin tweeted that Lawing was joining the staff as well.

"We are excited to have Brad Lawing join our coaching staff," UF coach Will Muschamp said in a statement. "His track record speaks for itself. His nearly three decades of experience coaching defensive linemen, his familiarity with the SEC, and our shared philosophical beliefs make him a perfect fit for our program."

Lawing will work with current defensive line coach Bryant Young. Lawing has spent 17 years at South Carolina in two different stints, from 1989-98 and 2006-2012, and is regarded as a good recruiter.

"I’m excited to have the opportunity to work with Coach Muschamp and the entire Gator coaching staff," Lawing said. "Coach Muschamp and I share the same philosophical beliefs defensively. I’ve enjoyed the many years I’ve had in South Carolina and I’m grateful for the opportunities coach [Steve] Spurrier provided to me."

Lawing is filling the spot made vacant when defensive coordinator Dan Quinn left to become the defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks. Muschamp promoted linebackers coach/special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin to defensive coordinator.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The one constant in Florida’s 2012 season -- until the Allstate Sugar Bowl, anyway -- was the Gators’ defense.

The unit was one of the nation’s best, ranking in the top five nationally in rushing, pass efficiency, and scoring, and it kept the Gators in games while the offense struggled.

Heading into the 2013 season, however, the defense has become as big an uncertainty as the offense in the wake of the departure of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the inexperience of replacement D.J. Durkin, and the loss of seven starters.

There were already significant questions about the unit because of the loss of those starters, which include All-American S Matt Elam, potential first-round NFL draft pick DT Sharrif Floyd, and a pair of players who played the best football of their careers during 2012 (NT Omar Hunter and S Josh Evans). Also gone is MLB Jon Bostic, who started 32 games in his career, including every game in 2011 and 2012.

But Quinn’s departure on Thursday to become the defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks muddies things even more. Quinn’s defenses ranked among the top 10 nationally in his two seasons at Florida. The Gators were fifth nationally in scoring (15.4 ppg), second in pass efficiency defense, and fourth in rush defense (94.9 ypg), and gave up only seven passing touchdowns, which was second only to Boise State (four), in 2012. In 2011, the Gators ranked eighth nationally in total defense, seventh nationally in passing defense, and second nationally in third-down defense.

His replacement, Durkin, has been UF’s linebackers coach and special teams coordinator since 2010. He has never been a coordinator before. Quinn had only been one for one year (Hofstra in 2000), but he had spent the previous 10 seasons in the NFL before joining Muschamp’s inaugural staff. However, Durkin has done a good job coordinating UF’s special teams (the Gators rank 11th or better in three statistical categories) and after watching him for two seasons, Muschamp quickly promoted him to succeed Quinn.

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