“Seven days.”, he said with a big smile.
The words caught me off guard. My head was elsewhere. Focused on covering Florida’s press conference, my first assignment at Gator Country, I looked blankly at Dylan.
A second later, it hit me: The start of the 2014 Florida Gators football season. The excitement in my friend’s eyes was memorable. He’s a diehard fan who’s waited months for this moment and soon his patience will pay off.
I wondered if the team, its coaches and staff would share this fans’ exuberance.
The offseason can be a rollercoaster of emotions for a team. Initial excitement with the return of practice can wash away as the drills drag on.The defense can’t hit the quarterback, and the days seem to get longer and hotter. Preparing for an opponent is a welcome addition for the players as much as it is for the fans.But defensive coordinator DJ Durkin said he noticed a shift in the team’s excitement with the first game near.
“You saw it in the meetings last night and that was kind of when we were starting to talk about opponents,” he said. “We’ve got guys perked up a little morein their seats. There’s kind of a light at the end of the tunnel.”
Defensive end Alex McCalister, lit up when asked about having a fresh opponent to set their sights — and hits — on after beating each other up during the summer.
“Getting into Idaho, getting into the first game you start seeing stuff starting 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 not having to worry about not hitting [Jeff] Driskel every play.”
As the Gators get ready for Idaho, the team practiced some of the looks the Vandals will show. In addition to the game prep, Florida’s offense and defense continued to practice against each other. The Vandals face Florida next Saturday at 7 pm, the second night opener for the Gators in five seasons.
The defense may not be allowed to touch their own quarterback, but there is an emphasis getting to others this season as well as staying rested late in games, according to Durkin.
“We kind of hang our hat on how we’re going to finish games and play in the fourth quarter,” he said. “It sure helps when you haven’t played the whole game to play a great fourth quarter. You’ve had some guys spelling you and getting out.”
Throughout the offseason, a big focus for the Gators has been on the offensive side of the ball — namely new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s up-tempo offense. The change in offensive styles is apparent in practice, as safety Nick Washington noted, an improvement in accuracy as well as an increased amount of deep balls thrown.
Driskel has also appeared more fluid in the new scheme, getting the ball out faster and making plays, according to wide receiver Valdez Showers.
“I mean I feel like this offense fits him more,” said Showers. “His skillset, being able to run and being able to throw, he’s definitely made some strides in getting more of a feel for the game and not being as robotic in going through his reads.”
Eight days — the time in which the fans will rejoice in a new season and the players revel in a new challenge, much different from the ones they faced on the practice field. New game plans are to be installed, new opponents are to be scouted for.
It is, indeed, great to be a Florida Gator and even greater to know the team feels the same.
“When you get to camp, it’s kind of like the dog days of summer, but now, as of lately, we’re preparing,” Durkin said. “They love to compete. They love to play in front of our fans in the Swamp. So there’s a little glimmer in their eyes.”
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