Muschamp expects more defensive success

Muschamp expects more defensive success

Florida’s backbone has been its defense since Will Muschamp took over in 2011. Despite losing trusted members of the secondary and an elite defensive lineman in Dominique Easley, Muschamp doesn’t expect the standard to be lowered this year.

At defensive tackle and linebacker, the Gators will count on veterans. Darious Cummings and Leon Orr are seniors starting at defensive tackle, and the depth has improved this fall. At linebacker, there’s a top four that the coaches know will contribute -- Neiron Ball, Jarrad Davis, Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor.

The safety position is younger than the two positions in front of it, but Will Muschamp likes the talent level. Keanu Neal will start at one safety, and the other is still up for grabs.

“I think that you need to be strong up the middle,” Muschamp said. “We have two senior defensive tackles that I think will play well. I think we have four linebackers that are very strong. I think we have the ability at the safety position to be fine.”

Behind the top four linebackers, Muschamp mentioned sophomores Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian again on Friday. McMillian saw limited time on the field last season because he didn’t know the defense well enough, and Anzalone was limited because of injuries. They could both be important depth pieces this season and in the future since Ball and Taylor will graduate after this year.

“(Anzalone and McMillian) guys can be dependable guys for us,” Muschamp said.

Behind Cummings and Orr, Muschamp again pointed to how happy he is with the improved depth of Jay-nard Bostwick, Caleb Brantley and Joey Ivie. Alex McCalister is also the backup at BUCK and will get on the field in pass rush situations.

“What was maybe a question mark going into camp, those guys lined up and tried to play and communicate on the field,” Muschamp said. “They’ve been in our program, they understand the expectation how we need to play on defense here. I feel good about us continuing to build that depth, along with the young guys.”

Muschamp also said three freshmen could play on the defensive line. Taven Bryan and Gerald Willis will both be on the field this fall, and defensive tackle Khairi Clark still has a chance to get on the field.

TEAM RESPECTS DRISKEL: The Gators suffered through a four-win season last year, and to make it even worse, the injury room was often filled to max capacity. It’s where starting quarterback Jeff Driskel lived after breaking his leg against Tennessee in the third game last year.

Despite that, Muschamp never felt like he had to take care of Driskel on his own. They talked about the injury and how it felt to have something so important taken away, but Driskel was able to keep his head up and work hard through the rehab process.

“Jeff’s not a guy that you have to sit and babysit,” Muschamp said. “Jeff’s a grown man, and he’s as tough a competitor that I’ve been around as far as just from an athlete’s standpoint. To have him walk off the field with what happened to him, he’s a lot tougher than me. And it just says something about his toughness, his mental edge and what he’s got about him. That’s why he’s got great respect, in my opinion, from the locker room. It’s because of his competitive edge.

“At the end of the day guys respect competitors. Guys respect tough guys. And he is one.”

Florida fans grew frustrated with Driskel’s turnovers early last season, but Muschamp is confident that will change this season. His ball security was a strength during Florida’s 2012 run to the Sugar Bowl, and that has returned this fall.

In team periods of practice, Driskel hasn’t turned the ball over once. Muschamp recalled one interception he threw during one-on-one portions of practices, but it came on a deflected pass.

“He’s been very good with the ball and making good decisions,” Muschamp said.

GARCIA TO CENTER: The Gators needed to replace Jonotthan Harrison at center in the offseason, and the first choice worked out. The Florida coaches believed Max Garcia was the best option because of the intangibles he brings to a position that demands leadership.

“You need somebody that's really smart, somebody's that very decisive in their decision-making,” Muschamp said. “They need to be able to make a call, have confidence in the call and they need to be right. Then they need to be able to snap the ball, so I didn't know about the snapping, both those first four, there's no question he was the right guy for the job.

“He's very decisive in his decision-making. He is off the charts intelligent and a guy that is really done a nice job through camp snapping it.”

Snapping was an issue in the spring. Garcia had never played center before, so he worked hard to correct it. This fall, the issues are a distant memory.

“I think he's done a fantastic job,” Muschamp said. “We've purposely lined up a zero nose on him about every day to make sure that he knows he's got to snap and get the protection set."

REED WILL TAKE A REDSHIRT: Muschamp said on Friday that freshman defensive lineman Justus Reed is likely going to redshirt this season, but they remain high on him as a pass rusher. He needs to add weight this year and will be ready to play in a year or two.

"He’s going to be a good player," Muschamp said. "He’s probably heading for a redshirt this year, but he’s a guy who needs some girth. He probably weighs about 218, but he’s going to be a 235-pound guy that’s got really good pass rush skill."

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