Florida Gators: Jeff Dillman

Antonio MorrisonCourtesy of UF Communications
Editor’s note: Each day between now and Florida’s Allstate Sugar Bowl date with Louisville, GatorNation will review the season for a key Gators player and attempt to project what’s next. Today we’ll look at LB Antonio Morrison.

LB Antonio Morrison
31 tackles, 1 sack, 1 QB hurry, 1 forced fumble

Role in 2012: Morrison enrolled in January and was impressive enough to earn time on special teams and be the primary backup for WLB Jelani Jenkins. He made two starts because of injuries.

The good: Morrison isn’t that big (6-foot-1, 218 pounds) but he is a hitter. UF coach Will Muschamp called him a "violent, physical football player," and there’s no better evidence than what Morrison did to Florida State QB EJ Manuel. He hammered the 6-5, 240-pound Manuel and caused a fumble, a play that proved to be the turning point in the Gators’ victory and one of the key plays of the entire season. Morrison has pretty good football IQ, too, or the staff wouldn’t have trusted him to make those two starts as well as start against Louisville in the Sugar Bowl.

The bad: While it’s a good story that Morrison is such a big hitter despite his size, he’s got to get bigger and stronger. He won’t be able to last an entire season in the SEC at linebacker if he doesn’t add some bulk. Another offseason with strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman will help, but if he’s one of those guys who just can’t gain weight, he could eventually end up moving to safety.

Crystal ball: Morrison will be starting somewhere next season. It looks like Jenkins will return for his senior season, so Morrison might move to strongside linebacker or possibly even middle linebacker, although he would certainly be undersized there unless he puts on about 20 pounds. Regardless of where he plays, the bottom line is that he has to be on the field somewhere. He’s too talented to be on the sideline, playing as a reserve or mainly on special teams.

Gators' offseason plan paying dividends

October, 11, 2012
A big part of Florida’s success in the fourth quarter this season can be traced to an old-school approach in the strength and conditioning program.

The No. 4 Gators, who travel to Vanderbilt on Saturday, have given up just 13 second-half points in five games and haven’t allowed any points in the fourth quarter. That’s after being outscored 72-22 last season in the fourth quarter against SEC foes.

Coach Will Muschamp said first-year strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman and his staff deserve a lot of credit for the way the Gators have played in the fourth quarter.

“As much as anything, when we went back to some of the old-core lifting, some of the things I was accustomed to, the transformation in their bodies began to build confidence in what they were doing,” Muschamp said. “They saw themselves getting stronger and understood that they were a more physical team and saw themselves improving as football players.

“Like anything else, when you invest in something and start realizing that it’s working for you, it motivates you to do it more.”

When Muschamp hired Dillman, there were no gray areas in terms of what Muschamp was looking for in a strength program.

“I was at LSU with Tommy Moffitt and saw the success we had doing the core lifts like squats and power clean and the development of those players in those programs,” Muschamp said. “Look at the success Scott Cochran has had at Alabama, and when Jeff and I talked, I said, ‘We’re going back to what we know and what I know,’ and that’s what we did with Tommy.”

Muschamp also pointed out that this team is a year older than a year ago, which has no doubt factored into the Gators’ second-half success. They’ve outscored opponents 78-13 after the break.

“We’re more mature and able to handle some circumstances much better and able to handle adversity much better, which again is a credit to Jeff and his staff because they’re with them a lot more than we are,” Muschamp said. “We inherited a very young, talented team last year that had a hard time handling those situations.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Geno Smith. Collin Klein. De’Anthony Thomas. Braxton Miller.

Mike Gillislee?

Absolutely, say Gillislee’s Florida teammates. The senior running back deserves to be on the list of Heisman Trophy candidates after what he did against one of the nation’s top defenses Saturday afternoon at Florida Field.
As soon as Jeff Driskel kneeled down in the victory formation inside Neyland Stadium Saturday, you could see an enormous weight just fall off of Will Muschamp’s shoulders.

His body drenched, shirt untucked and hair tangled, Muschamp couldn’t find enough people to hug, as the clock ticked down to zero and Florida grabbed its eighth straight victory over rival Tennessee with a 37-20 rout on Rocky Top.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
John Sommers II/Getty ImagesFlorida's win over rival Tennessee on Saturday was a huge win for Will Muschamp's squad.
Muschamp had been counted out -- by his own fans no less -- and fielded a team that entered the season with so many questions and so much uncertainty. But for the second straight week, he was the one raising his fists victoriously. He was the one emphatically signing his school’s fight song after the game.

He was the one with the tougher team.

Think about that last sentence for a second. That’s not something you could say about Florida since Tim Tebow barreled his way through opponents for the orange-and-blue. For the past two seasons, the Gators have looked more mushy than mighty. Even Muschamp called his team soft after that ugly 21-7 loss to Florida State to conclude the 2011 regular season.

But the 2012 Gators actually have some bite, and have become true contenders in the SEC East.

Sure, it’s only been three games, but unlike the last two seasons, the Gators have improved each week. They went from stumbling through a 27-14 win against overmatched Bowling Green to pulling off back-to-back, come-from-behind victories in hostile environments on the road.

After trailing at halftime against the Texas A&M and Tennessee, the Gators combined to outscore both teams 37-6. Against Tennessee, the Gators out-gained the Vols 379-120, including gaining 227 yards in the third and allowing just five in the fourth, in the second half.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It’s no surprise that Florida’s Andre Debose is not a fan of the rule changes the NCAA made on kickoffs.

Debose is one of the nation’s top kick returners, but his impact on the game will be minimized by kickoffs moving up to the 35-yard line from the 30-yard line. Those extra five yards likely mean more touchbacks, which means Debose won’t have as many opportunities to make a play.

[+] EnlargeAndre Debose
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida redshirt junior Andre Debose has a school-record three career kickoff returns for touchdowns.
"I do not like the new kickoff rule," Debose said Thursday during UF’s annual media day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. "I had thoughts in my head about (a reduced role), but I feel like I still will get a couple opportunities. Maybe not as many as previous years."

Debose averaged 26.1 yards on 19 kickoff returns last season and took one back for a touchdown against Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. The 5-foot-11, 186-pound redshirt junior already has a school-record three career kickoff returns for touchdowns.

UF coach Will Muschamp is also not a fan of the new rule -- which also states that touchbacks on kickoffs will come out to the 25-yard line -- and said he and special teams coordinator D.J. Durkin have already begun adjusting their plans for kickoff returns.

"We need to get on the field and rep through it and see how it works," Muschamp said. "He (Debose) is a guy that's certainly been a game-changer for us and needs to continue to be, so we need to continue to find ways for that to happen.

"D.J. and I have talked about that, and we are going to look in camp early to figure out how we can get the ball in his hands and gain some returns."

Uneventful offseason

No news was good news this summer for the football program. The Gators didn’t have a single player arrested or get into trouble since defensive tackle Leon Orr was cited on May 14 for knowingly driving with a suspended license.

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ESPN’s GatorNation brings you the 30 things you need to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. For 30 weekdays we’ll preview games, talk about trends, spotlight players and positions, and give you pretty much everything you need to know to be ready for the season before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Whether the 2012 season goes any better than the 2011 season will depend mainly on the play of the quarterback -- whether it’s Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett.

Dominique Easley
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida hopes to get a big boost this fall from the return of defensive tackle Dominique Easley from a torn ACL.
That’s a lot of pressure on a couple of players who didn’t fare so well in limited playing time last season. It’s not fair or unfair. It’s just the way it is now. If your team doesn’t have a good quarterback, it’s not going to be any good. Gone are the days in college football where teams can ride a big-time running back to a national championship.

That’s why we skipped the quarterbacks when we came up with our list of the top five UF players who are under the most pressure to perform in 2012. QBs are always in that situation. Here is the list, in alphabetical order:

DT Dominique Easley -- Easley is coming off a torn ACL but should be ready by the season opener. It’s a big year for him. He has to prove he has become more disciplined and cut down on his offside penalties. UF needs some pass-rush because of the absence of Ronald Powell (torn ACL), and Easley is good enough to provide it both inside and at defensive end.

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- There's no question that Florida coach Will Muschamp feels much better about his team now compared to a year ago. But there's still work to be done. Here are a few extra notes Muschamp covered with ESPN.com before he spoke to the Atlanta Gator Club last week:

QB battle: At this point, flipping a coin might be the best way to determine this race. While it might seem that Jacoby Brissett holds a tiny advantage over Jeff Driskel because of his experience, Muschamp insisted they are still even, and finding the better leader during summer workouts could determine everything. But even that will be tough, he added. Right now, he said, both have the intangibles and the natural leadership skills to be successful, and he thinks players respect and respond to each equally.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Al Messerschmidt/Getty ImagesGators coach Will Muschamp says the quarterback battle between Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel is even entering the fall.
"Their competition is going to make each other better, and that's going to make our offense better, which will make our football team better," Muschamp said.

So if summer doesn't push one ahead of the other and fall camp still doesn't create separation, what then?

"I'll take both of them," he said with a laugh. "I may just put them in at the same time and make everybody mad."

To be continued ...

Powell and Easley: Coaches and players were devastated about the news of defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell's ACL tear during the spring game, especially after the solid spring he had, but Muschamp said there has been optimism surrounding his injury. Powell is expected to miss four to six months, as he recovers from surgery, but Muschamp said Powell has progressed quite quickly. He's off crutches and walking fine. There's still a long way to go in his rehab, but there's increasing hope that he'll still play this fall. I'm skeptical about how effective he'll be after such a short amount of recovery, but we're seeing athletes come back faster and faster from ACL injuries.

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Gators make preseason top 25

May, 18, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach sees brighter days ahead for the Florida football team, which is why he has the Gators ranked No. 20 in his latest top 25 that was released today.

In his explanation on why UF is No. 20, Schlabach says the Gators "might not be too far away from contending for another SEC East championship" because of the improved offensive line, the work new offensive coordinator Brent Pease has done with the quarterbacks, and the projected emergence of running back Mike Gillislee and receiver Latroy Pittman.

There are still a lot of questions about UF heading into the 2012 season, specifically about quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett and whether the receivers will finally become a productive unit. The addition of new offensive line coach Tim Davis and new strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman has already made a difference with the offensive line.

You can see Schlabach's top 25 here, but below is a quick breakdown:

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ALPHARETTA, Ga. -- When Florida defensive tackle Leon Orr violated the terms of his deferred prosecution agreement for his misdemeanor marijuana possession charge by being cited for knowingly driving with a suspended license on Monday, he became the ninth Florida player arrested and the 11th overall arrest during Will Muschamp's short coaching tenure.

Though Orr wasn't taken into custody, his citation did count as an official arrest.

With that, there's a growing perception that Florida has an off-field discipline problem. The numbers are hard to ignore, but Muschamp isn't convinced there's a problem. He acknowledges the run-ins that have taken place since he officially took over for Urban Meyer in January of 2011, but insists that perception isn't his reality.

While he wouldn't comment on Orr's situation, he did say that increased media outlets have placed the microscope closer to college athletes.

[+] EnlargeWill Muschamp
Rob Foldy/Icon SMIWill Muschamp insists discipline in his program is better now than it was when he first arrived.
"When you're dealing with young people, it's an ongoing educational process, especially in this day and age," Muschamp told ESPN.com shortly before he greeted the Atlanta Gator Club at The Metropolitan Club in Alpharetta Wednesday. "I'm not taking a shot at anyone in the media. It's your job to report and more things are being reported now than 15, 12, eight, five years ago. There's more social media outlets now where there's more information. There's a lot of misinformation out there, too."

Of the 11 arrests, only three have occurred during this calendar year, while five occurred during Muschamp's first spring.

You can read a summary of the arrests here.

The overall number is high for less than two years, but it's obvious the off-field incidents have steadily decreased and Muschamp said there's "no question" the discipline is better now than it was when he first arrived ... and he's right.

It hasn't been an overnight transformation, but the improvement is there. Muschamp took over a team that experienced 32 arrests during Meyer's six-year tenure and feels things are turning around. He especially sees it in the fact that during his first five months on the job he had five arrests on his hands. Since September, he's had three.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Some extra thoughts and notes on my time in Gainesville from last weekend:
  • I'll start things off by talking about defensive end/Buck Ronald Powell, who will be out four to six months after tearing his ACL in the Orange and Blue Debut. Before the injury, most around Florida's program felt Powell was having the best spring of any of the defenders. After two seasons in which people expected more from Powell, he really turned it up this spring. He was more aggressive, tougher and caused more headaches for Florida's offense than he had during any other time. Coach Will Muschamp might have found that dangerous pass rushers he needs in his defense. Now, Muschamp must turn elsewhere and things will start with OLB Lerentee McCray. He was out with an injury this spring, but played the Buck in place of Powell at times last fall. He made his biggest jump as a player last season and is one player Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are especially excited about.
  • True freshmen Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard will get chances to play at the Buck, too, but keep an eye on Neiron Ball. He didn't play last season because of the arteriovenous malformation found in his brain in February of 2011. There has been no word yet if Ball could resume playing for the Gators, but if he remains healthy and the SEC clears him, Ball could get a shot at play at the Buck.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At the beginning of spring practice, GatorNation brought readers' attention to five questions, five guys under pressure and five players to watch.

With 15 spring practices behind the Gators, including Saturday’s spring game, let’s re-examine those questions and decide whether they were answered as well as take another look at those guys to see whether they handled the pressure and made any improvements.


Will there be a clear-cut starter at quarterback by the time spring practice ends?

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Phil Sears/US PresswireMike Gillislee (left) made a case during the spring to be Florida's top running back.
Nope. Coach Will Muschamp said the competition between Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will continue into the offseason -- and likely into fall practice, as well. The two played pretty well in the spring game -- Driskel completed 12 of 14 passes for 147 yards and Brissett completed 9 of 16 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns -- but neither has been able to gain separation.

What will UF's new offense look like?

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10 thoughts from UF's open practice 

March, 16, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here are some observations/thoughts from Florida's open spring practice on Friday afternoon:

[+] EnlargeJacoby Brissett
Courtesy UF CommunicationsFlorida quarterback Jacoby Brissett found Omarius Hines for a long TD pass on Friday.
• Neither quarterback looked particularly impressive on Friday. Both had several good throws -- Jeff Driskel hooked up with Ja'Juan Story on a deep pass, Jacoby Brissett and running back/tight end Omarius Hines combined for a long TD pass -- and both had several poor throws. Brissett did throw two interceptions, including and overthrown ball that cornerback Jaylen Watkins grabbed. The other was a nice play by safety Valdez Showers.

Chris Johnson has been moved from safety to running back. He spent some time there at Ocala (Fla.) Trinity Catholic but was supposed to be a full-time safety at UF. He played mainly on special teams last season as a freshman. The move was made to create depth at the running back spot behind Mike Gillislee and Mack Brown. Hines also is working there, and he had a few nice runs Friday.

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Opening spring camp: Florida

March, 14, 2012
Schedule: Florida opens spring practice Wednesday afternoon and concludes on April 7 with the Orange & Blue Debut, presented by Sunniland, at 1 p.m. ET in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. In conjunction with Florida Football's Annual Coaches Clinic, practice will open to the public twice -- March 16 and March 17.

What's new: Florida welcomes in new offensive coordinator Brent Pease, who left Boise State, as its new offensive coordinator after Charlie Weis left to become the head coach at Kansas. Florida also hired former Utah offensive line coach Tim Davis to replace Frank Verducci, while Jeff Dillman replaces Mickey Marrotti as the Gators' strength and conditioning coach.

On the mend: Florida will be down a few players this spring. Defensive tackle Dominique Easley is out while he recovers from an ACL injury he suffered at the end of the regular season. Cornerback Jeremy Brown is out with a knee injury that kept him out all of the 2011 season. Offensive linemen Ian Silberman, Tommy Jordan, Kyle Koehne and Cole Gilliam, along with linebacker Lerentee McCray and defensive end Kedric Johnson, are all out with shoulder injuries. Cornerback Marcus Roberson (neck) was cleared for non-contact drills. Linebacker Neiron Ball, who was diagnosed with arteriovenous malformation after a blood vessel burst in his head before the 2011 season, has been cleared to resume physical activity, but not for practice.

On the move: Redshirt senior Omarius Hines is moving from wide receiver to cross train at running back and tight end. Hines has always been some sort of a hybrid player, recording 41 career receptions for 559 yards and two touchdowns and carrying the ball 13 times for 164 rushing yards and two more scores. Nick Alajajian is moving from offensive tackle to defensive tackle to provide depth with Easley out.

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[+] EnlargeFlorida weightroom
UF CommunicationsFlorida football players' offseason home is the Griffin-Oakley Strength & Conditioning Complex.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Jeff Dillman is the man tasked with fixing what head coach Will Muschamp said was the Florida football team’s lack of physical and mental toughness.

Florida's new director of strength and conditioning believes the best way to do that is by using an Olympic-style program. It was what he used when he played and when he was coaching at Appalachian State, LSU and IMG Academies. It's a change from the philosophy that former coordinator Mickey Marotti used in his six seasons at Florida.

"We do more things that are functional to the sport that I feel have helped me in the past develop explosive, more powerful athletes," Dillman said Thursday during a tour of Florida’s weight room facilities. "That’s what I’m used to. This is what works for me. Mickey has a philosophy that’s worked for him and he’s been very successful at it."

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida assistant strength coach Scott Holsopple has been hired as Kansas' director of strength and conditioning, the school announced in a release on Wednesday.

Holsopple spent five seasons at Florida under former strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti, who recently left the school for the same position at Ohio State under good friend Urban Meyer. Before joining UF, Holsopple worked with the Kentucky men's basketball program for one season.

Kansas head coach Charlie Weis spent less than one season as Florida's offensive coordinator, leaving in early December to coach the Jayhawks.

UF hired Jeff Dillman as its strength and conditioning coordinator on Tuesday.


McElwain discusses new Florida football
SEC Network's Greg McElory and Booger McFarland sit down to discuss the future of Florida football with head coach Jim McElwain.