Florida Gators: Xavier Nixon

Florida Gators spring wrap

May, 6, 2013
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FLORIDA GATORS
2012 overall record: 11-2

2012 overall record: 11-2
2012 conference record: 7-1 (2nd Eastern Division)
Returning starters: Offense: 6; defense: 4; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners

QB Jeff Driskel, C Jonotthan Harrison, RG Jon Halapio, RB/WR Trey Burton, DE/DT Dominique Easley, CB Loucheiz Purifoy, CB Marcus Roberson, S Jaylen Watkins, P Kyle Christy

Key losses

RB Mike Gillislee, TE Jordan Reed, DT Sharrif Floyd, S Matt Elam, S Josh Evans, LB Jon Bostic, LB Jelani Jenkins

2012 statistical leaders (*returners)

Rushing: Mike Gillislee (1,152 yards)
Passing: Jeff Driskel* (1,646 yards)
Receiving: Jordan Reed (559 yards)
Tackles: Josh Evans (83)
Sacks: Dominique Easley* (4.0)
Interceptions: Matt Elam (4)

Spring answers

1. Back in business: Sophomore Matt Jones running back had a fantastic spring and the coaching staff is convinced he’ll be a more than capable replacement for Gillislee. The 6-foot-2, 228-pound Jones is a perfect fit for Will Muschamp’s power-run offense. He’s a straight-ahead, downhill runner, who runs through contact and gets tough yards. The offense will be built around him, especially with the questions surrounding the passing game. Redshirt junior Mack Brown and freshman Kelvin Taylor, the son of former UF standout running back Fred Taylor, give the Gators solid depth at the position.

2. Lined up: UF’s offensive line made strides in 2012 and it will be even better in 2013. The addition of transfers -- Max Garcia (Maryland) and Tyler Moore (Nebraska) -- gives the Gators a pair of former starters to add to an already solid base with Harrison and Halapio. Plus, sophomore D.J. Humphries is an immediate upgrade from Xavier Nixon at left tackle. Garcia will start at left guard and pair with Humphries to give Driskel better blind-side protection than he had a year ago.

3. The middle is settled: With the loss of Bostic and Jenkins, the Gators needed a middle linebacker. The staff moved sophomore Antonio Morrison from weakside linebacker, and Morrison showed pretty quickly he was up to the task. He’s not the biggest middle linebacker the Gators have had (6-foot-1, 230 pounds), but he is certainly one of the most physical. Morrison hits like he weighs 260 pounds -- just ask 245-pound former FSU quarterback EJ Manuel, whom Morrison leveled last season. Morrison proved he could handle making the defensive calls and he should easily step into the role Bostic held for the past two seasons.

Fall questions

1. Receiver issues ... again: The Gators have problems at wide receiver and must get better at the position or the offense will again struggle. That’s been the case since the 2009 season ended. The latest attempted solution is former Kentucky head coach Joker Phillips. He has coached receivers for 18 seasons at Kentucky (1991-96 and 2003-2009), Cincinnati (1997), Minnesota (1999-2000), Notre Dame (2001) and South Carolina (2002). NFL players Steve Johnson (Buffalo) and Randall Cobb (Green Bay) are among the receivers Phillips worked with during his tenure at Kentucky. He also coached Craig Yeast, Keenan Burton, Dicky Lyons Jr. and Derek Abney, all of whom rank in the top five in school history in career receptions or career receiving yardage. Can Phillips get consistent production out of Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose, Raphael Andrades, Latroy Pittman, Burton or Solomon Patton? Can he turn one of the five freshmen -- notably Demarcus Robinson or Ahmad Fulwood -- into the big-time playmaker the Gators have lacked since Riley Cooper? Zach Azzani, Aubrey Hill and Bush Hamdan have tried and failed.

2. Safety dance: There’s some concern about the Gators’ safeties because some of the younger and less experienced players haven’t developed as the staff had hoped. Cody Riggs and Watkins, who started at corner early last season, will begin August practices as UF’s two starting safeties. They have both played there during their UF careers and there are no concerns about those two players, but there are some about Valdez Showers, Marcus Maye and Jabari Gorman. Realistically, the Gators are better off with Riggs and Watkins starting because that gives UF the chance to get its top four defensive backs on the field at the same time instead of working Watkins, Riggs, Roberson, Purifoy and Brian Poole in a rotation at cornerback. Still, those other three need to earn more trust from the coaching staff.

3. Just for kicks: Kickers Austin Hardin and Brad Phillips struggled throughout the spring. Neither is as reliable or as good from long range as Caleb Sturgis was, but it’s the first part that’s more important. The offense, especially if the receivers don’t get any better, will continue to have a hard time consistently moving the ball. Sturgis was able to bail the Gators out because they needed only to get to the 35-yard line to be in range for a makeable field goal. That mark may have to be the 20 in 2013. Unless Hardin or Phillips makes a major leap this summer, expect the Gators to go with the kicker who practices the best each week.
As part of our spring practice preview, each day this week GatorNation will address the five biggest questions facing the Gators. Today we’ll look at whether the offense can make a jump in the second year under Brent Pease similar to what the defense did last season in its second year under Dan Quinn. On Friday we’ll look at the tight ends.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida’s defense was much better in its second season under coordinator Dan Quinn than it was in its first.

The Gators are hoping the offense can make similar improvements in the second year under coordinator Brent Pease. Spring practice will be the first chance to find out.

OLs from SEC can thrive at combine

February, 20, 2013
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Several of RecruitingNation's SEC sites will look this week at the players headed to the NFL combine, which begins Friday in Indianapolis, and other predraft camps. Today: Offensive linemen.

Florida Gators


The Gators are represented by a player who never reached his potential (offensive tackle Xavier Nixon) and another who is just scratching the surface of what he could become (tight end Jordan Reed). Nixon started the last five games at left tackle as a freshman in 2009 and appeared ready to become a mainstay at that spot, but he spent time at right tackle in 2010 and then suffered through a mysterious illness after the season that caused him to lose about 55 pounds. Doctors were unable to diagnose his problem and he recovered before the 2011 season and was able to gain back most of the weight but was never quite the player he was as a freshman. Reed came to UF as a quarterback, starred in a wildcat role in 2010, but was moved to tight end in 2011. He's still learning the position but caught 73 passes for 866 yards and five touchdowns in the past two seasons.

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Florida Class of 2009 review 

January, 24, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There is very little middle ground when it comes to evaluating Florida’s 2009 17-member signing class.

Eight became starters, seven turned into busts and two others are role players -- including one who has driven two separate coaching staffs crazy. Seven of those starters have done so for multiple seasons.

That’s not a bad ratio. Most coaches would be ecstatic if 50 percent of every signing class developed into starters, even if it also meant half weren’t going to make much impact, if any, on the program.

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Signing day primer: Florida 

January, 23, 2013
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There are just a couple of short weeks remaining until national signing day, and the Florida Gators have met a majority of their recruiting needs. With graduation, transfers and players leaving for the NFL draft, there are a few areas Florida head coach Will Muschamp would still like to shore up.

Key holes to fill

The Gators lost key personnel along the offensive line, wide receiver, linebacker, running back and secondary and are hoping to replenish their talent with junior college transfers and incoming freshmen.

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GatorNation position breakdown: OT 

January, 8, 2013
1/08/13
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Editor’s note: Every Tuesday and Thursday through Jan. 31, GatorNation will break down each position. We’ll look at 2013, of course, but also try and give you a peek beyond next season, too. Today is offensive tackle. We will profile center/guard on Jan. 10.

OFFENSIVE TACKLE

[+] EnlargeTyler Moore
Brad Barr/US PresswireTyler Moore, who set a Nebraska record with four starts on the offensive line as a true freshman, is expected to compete for a starting tackle position as a sophomore transfer.
Two-deep: With the graduation of Xavier Nixon, sophomore D.J. Humphries will step into the starting spot at left tackle. He’ll be pushed by junior college behemoth Trenton Brown (6-foot-8, 350 pounds), who is scheduled to enroll early. Chaz Green likely will hold on to his starting job at right tackle, but he’ll have to hold off Nebraska transfer Tyler Moore, who sat out the 2012 season and also is scheduled to enroll early.

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Florida commits look to get early start 

December, 24, 2012
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Florida Gators could have as many eight players enroll early and be eligible for for spring football. Three players -- Tyler Moore (Clearwater, Fla./Countryside), Darious Cummings (Titusville, Fla./East Mississippi Community College) and Trenton Brown (Albany, Ga./Georgia Military College) -- have already signed their letters of intent with Florida.

After losing offensive linemen James Wilson and Xavier Nixon to graduation, Florida will get immediate help from Brown and Moore. Brown is expected to compete with D.J. Humphries for playing time at left tackle, while Moore is likely to start off competing with right tackle Chaz Green for playing time.

Defensive tackle Omar Hunter graduates, and Florida could potentially lose Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley to the NFL draft in April. Cummings will likely work his way in to Florida's defensive tackle rotation early on next season. He'll battle with Leon Orr, Damien Jacobs, Quinteze Williams and Florida verbal commit Caleb Brantley for playing time next season.

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Jonotthan HarrisonMark LoMoglio/Icon SMIDurable lineman Jonotthan Harrison started every game this season.
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 C Jonotthan Harrison.

C Jonotthan Harrison
Redshirt junior

Role in 2012: Harrison started every game at center this season despite suffering an elbow injury against Vanderbilt. Harrison started every game at either guard or center in 2011. UF is averaging 194.5 yards per game rushing, 338.4 yards per game of total offense and has given up 36 sacks.

The good: Harrison is the definition of durability. He has started 26 consecutive games dating to the 2011 Outback Bowl against Penn State. He played the season’s final six games with a brace on his arm after suffering a sprained elbow against the Commodores. He has had very little trouble with shotgun snaps, which is something that plagued Mike Pouncey at the beginning of his first season as the starting center. Harrison is a physical player with good size (6-foot-3, 309 pounds) and is a solid run-blocker.

The bad: Harrison sometimes has trouble in pass protection. The Gators have been hurt by delayed blitzes or overloads up the middle. As the center, Harrison has the responsibility for picking up those blitzers, whether he’s free already or if he has to come off a double-team block. UF quarterbacks have been sacked 36 times this season, and while all that blame doesn’t belong to the offensive line, a good portion of it does.

Crystal ball: Harrison should return as the starter in 2013. He’s really the only experienced center on the roster, although Kyle Koehne has worked at the spot as well as guard and tackle. He’ll have to deal with a whole new left side because left guard James Wilson and left tackle Xavier Nixon graduate, but the offensive line should be better and deeper than it was this season.
Jeff Driskel, Garrison SmithAP Photo/John RaouxJeff Driskel will start for Florida on Saturday at Florida State, but his ankle is a question mark.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 4 Florida plays at No. 10 Florida State on Saturday, with a BCS bowl (and possibly a shot at the national championship) on the line. If the Gators beat the Seminoles they’re likely headed to the Sugar Bowl. If they beat the Seminoles and No. 1 Notre Dame loses to Southern California, the Gators could end up in the national title game.

Here's five storylines for the game:

1. How effective will Jeff Driskel be? Driskel will start against Florida State and UF coach Will Muschamp said the sophomore looked fine during practices, but that could be a little gamesmanship. Driskel’s sprained right ankle might not be 100 percent and that would have a huge impact on how effective he can be against the Seminoles. His mobility is a key part of the offense, and not just because of the designed quarterback runs or the read option. The pass protection has been inconsistent and Driskel has been able to keep plays alive by scrambling, either to run or to pass. If he’s got limited mobility, that pretty much paints a target on his back for FSU’s pass rushers -- and makes it almost impossible for the Gators to win the game.

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Rivalry week Roundtable: UF vs. FSU 

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 4 Florida and No. 10 Florida State meet Saturday in Tallahassee, Fla. The Seminoles (10-1) have won two in a row in the series, after the Gators (10-1) won six in a row.

NoleNation’s Corey Dowlar and David Hale and GatorNation’s Michael DiRocco and Derek Tyson break down this weekend's game in a roundtable discussion:

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Here’s an analysis of three key plays in Florida’s 23-0 victory over Jacksonville State on Saturday -- and what they mean for the Gators moving forward.


Poor tackling



Kim Klement/US Presswire

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GAINESVILE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp took to the SEC's weekly teleconference on Wednesday morning to talk about the Gators’ game against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday. He touched on injuries, the passing offense, and what he remembers about telling QB Jacoby Brissett that Jeff Driskel had won the starting job.

1. Three guys are out

The Gators will be without two reserves and their top kickoff returner against the Ragin’ Cajuns, Muschamp said.

Mack Brown probably will be out with an ankle. He’s not been able to do anything thus far this week.

"Andre Debose hyperextended his knee last Thursday and has been unable to get back in action so far, so definitely those two guys [won’t play]. Expecting everybody else back.

"Leon Orr, who’s missed time with an illness, right now is working his way back in shape. Probably will not play Saturday.”

The Gators’ other injured players -- LT Xavier Nixon (undisclosed), LG James Wilson (knee), RG Jon Halapio (ankle), FB Hunter Joyer (thigh bruise), K Caleb Sturgis (ankle) -- will play.

2. Airing it out

UF has thrown the ball 52 times in the last two games, including a season-high 29 times against Georgia. Not by design, though.

“I think it’s a little bit how the game played out. We realized we need to do a little bit more vertically throwing the football. It’s been a little bit of a conscious effort but more than anything what the defense is giving us. People are loading the box. We’ve got to create some opportunities for us down the field.”

3. A smooth conversation

Muschamp has commented several times this season about how well Brissett has handled himself after losing out on the starting job. Muschamp was asked what the meeting was like when he told Brissett that Driskel had won the job and what his message to Brissett was.

“Jacoby is a competitor and a guy that has handled this as good as anybody can handle it. But [the meeting went] very well. ... [Muschamp told him] that I thought he had done a great job preparing and working and we decided to go with Jeff. That meeting is between Jacoby and I. He was very professional.”
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The next two weeks might not result in much excitement among Florida fans or even players, but there’s no doubt that two upcoming games against weak nonconference opponents are just what the Gators need right now.

Six starters and two key special teams players are among nine players who either missed Saturday’s victory over Missouri or suffered injuries during the game. None of the injuries appear to be particularly serious, and there’s plenty of time for those players to rest in the next two weeks so they can be completely healthy for the Nov. 24 regular-season finale at rival Florida State.

But if some can't play against the Seminoles, UF coach Will Muschamp isn’t worried. He has watched his team overcome injuries all season, and do it well enough to be 8-1 overall and 7-1 in the Southeastern Conference.

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3 Up, 3 Down: Florida 14, Missouri 7 

November, 4, 2012
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida finished its SEC schedule with a 7-1 record, a significant improvement over last season’s 3-5 mark, by beating Missouri on Saturday at Florida Field. The Gators weren’t pretty on offense but made two big plays to score both touchdowns.

Here are the good and bad from the 14-7 victory:

THREE UP

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Game preview: Florida vs. Missouri

November, 2, 2012
11/02/12
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Missouri (4-4, 1-4 SEC) at No. 7 Florida (7-1, 6-1 SEC)
Saturday, noon ET
Florida Field, Gainesville, Fla.
ESPN2

Gators to watch

QB Jeff Driskel: How does Driskel respond after committing four of the Gators’ six turnovers in their 17-9 loss to Georgia last week? He admitted he held the ball too long and didn’t make quick decisions, and those are issues that are certainly correctable in one week. Driskel probably put too much pressure on himself to make plays against Georgia. He needs to just run the offense and not force things.

[+] EnlargeRichardson
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMissouri defensive lineman Sheldon Richardson leads the Tigers in tackles with 57.
LB Neiron Ball: Buck LB Lerentee McCray is battling an ankle injury and my not be able to play against Missouri. If he can’t go, the Gators will turn to Ball, who had his first career interception last week. Ball has played well in his return from the bleeding in his brain that cost him the entire 2011 season (nine tackles, two fumble recoveries) and he will get a chance to play a lot against the Tigers because the Gators will be in nickel defense for most of the game.

RB Omarius Hines: Somebody has to take over for the injured Solomon Patton (broken left arm) and run the jet sweep, and Hines is one of two candidates. The other is WR Andre Debose, but the coaching staff has more trust in Hines than Debose. Hines isn’t as fast as Patton, but he’s bigger, more physical and pretty good with the ball in his hands.

Tigers to watch

QB James Franklin: Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said that Franklin would start against the Gators. Franklin has been hampered by shoulder and knee injuries all season and that has kept him from being the dynamic player he was last season (3,847 all-purpose yards). But he’s still dangerous, especially if he’s healthy. He came on in the second half of last week’s game against Kentucky and looked pretty good in turning a close game into a rout.

DT Sheldon Richardson: Richardson leads the Tigers in tackles (57) and sacks (4.0), which is highly unusual for an interior defensive lineman. What it says is that Richardson is talented enough to make tackles down the field and anywhere along the line of scrimmage, plus quick and strong enough to get to the quarterback.

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