A few thoughts to jump start your Wednesday morning.
SPRING REVIEW: THE FINAL ANALYSIS
Back up one year. The Gators were coming off an 11-2 season and optimism was the highest that it had been for a Florida football season since 2009 when Tim Tebow was a senior. All the preseason prognosticators came away from the spring thinking Will Muschamp was going to follow up that outstanding 2012 with an even better 2013. We know what happened after that. A good portion of the slippage from 11-2 to 4-8 can be blamed on a string of injuries like nothing we’ve seen in 30 years, but injuries tell only a part of a story that doesn’t have to be rehashed. Just say 2013 was a disaster and leave it there. No sense in trying to analyze it again.
Now it’s spring 2014 and the Gators are nearly three weeks removed from the Orange and Blue game. The good news is the Gators made it through the 15 practices without a single debilitating injury. Unless there are some freaky offseason injuries, the Gators will go into August healthier than they’ve been in years.
There is reason for optimism about the offense because Will Muschamp jettisoned coordinator Brent Pease and line coach Tim Davis, replacing them with Kurt Roper, who pulled rabbits out of his hat at Duke, and Mike Summers, who has a solid track record of player development and sending his linemen to the next level. It was evident throughout the 15 days of spring practice that Roper knows how to get through to quarterbacks as veterans Jeff Driskel and Skyler Mornhinweg showed a good bit of improvement and freshman Will Grier didn’t seem fazed by the move to the next level. It was encouraging to see the ball spread around to so many receivers and to see production at running back from Kelvin Taylor, Mack Brown and Adam Lane behind a reworked offensive line that committed only two 5-yard penalties in the spring game.
Defensively, the Gators didn’t exactly overwhelm in the spring game, but spring was all about offense and generating excitement so don’t read anything into that. Muschamp is a defense first coach and history tells us he will have the personnel adapted fully to his scheme. He’s got holes at tackle and inexperience in the secondary and that’s a concern, but there isn’t a shortage of capable athletes to fill the bill. Dante Fowler Jr. and Vernon Hargreaves III will probably make a lot of preseason All-America teams when the magazines starting hitting the racks in three weeks.
Special teams looked much better under new coordinator Coleman Hutzler. If Austin Hardin can hit 40-yard field goals and Kyle Christy can once again flip the field with his punts, the Gators will have advantages they didn’t have last year. Getting Andre Debose back as the kickoff returner is also a very good sign.
So there is reason for optimism and there should be. It’s going to be a long and very hot summer before fall practice begins in August. Optimism will spur motivation and if there is one thing the Gators have to have in this offseason, it is a motivated team. The Gators have to improve this year. Another 4-8 record won’t cut it.
TYLER MURPHY EARNS STARTING QB JOB AT BOSTON COLLEGE
Former Gator offensive coordinator/line coach Steve Addazio has found his man at Boston College. Tyler Murphy, who started six games at quarterback last season for the Gators, had an outstanding spring and distanced himself from two players already in the BC system. “Tyler established himself as the starter,” Addazio said in his post spring remarks. “He’s a veteran guy. He’s a guy that has been in the heat of the battle. He has a lot of experience and has tremendous pocket presence. He throws the ball well. He’s obviously very dynamic with his feet, and we felt great about his spring.” Murphy was recruited to Florida as a spread option quarterback by Addazio and he spent 2010 learning the same offense he will run in 2014 at BC. Also, Ian Silberman emerged from BC’s spring as the starting right tackle after spending three years at Florida playing guard. He’s the latest reclamation project for Addazio. Matt Patchan, who spent his years at Florida mostly on the injury list, transferred to BC last year and made All-ACC at tackle.
LIFETIME BAN FOR DONALD STERLING
Adam Silver has only been on the job as NBA commissioner for three months but he may never have a tougher or more impactful decision than the one he made Tuesday when he came down hard on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling. By handing out a lifetime ban on Sterling and letting the NBA Board of Governors do the nasty work of removing him as an owner, Silver showed that he’s a commissioner who will move quickly and decisively to handle tough situations, earned the respect of the players and made a statement to advertisers and sponsors who were disassociating themselves from the Clippers in droves, the kind of negative movement that could have spread leaguewide. He probably scored some points with the players association that he will be able to use later on when he tries to impose a two-year college requirement before a kid can be eligible for the draft.
CHARGES AGAINST JAMES FRANKLIN RAISE ETHICAL QUESTION
A report in The (Nashville) Tennesseean claims that former Vanderbilt coach James Franklin contacted the alleged victim of a rape by four of his players shortly after the incident. Defense attorneys for Brandon Vandeburg, one of the four players charged in the case, assert that Franklin and strength coach Dwight Galt visited the alleged victim four days after the incident occurred and then later met with her again, this time asking her to form a team to help with recruiting. If all Franklin and Galt did was visit a victim of a sexual assault by their players, then it raises serious ethical questions. If they offered some sort of job later on, that would seem to push the envelope way too far. Franklin, now the coach at Penn State, has denied the assertion by the defense attorneys and then said he cannot comment any more on the case since it is ongoing. If there is a shred of truth to these allegations, then Penn State is going to have another mess on its hands.
WHERE DOES JOHNNY FOOTBALL GO IN THE DRAFT?
The juicy rumor is that the Dallas Cowboys are going to figure a way to land Johnny Manziel when the NFL Drafts in nine days. Giving credence to the rumor is Jim Nantz, the lead announcer for CBS on its NFL Broadcasts. Nantz isn’t prone to throw something against a wall and hope it sticks, so there is probably something going on in the Cowboys front office. The Cleveland Browns are projected by both Todd McShay and Mel Kiper of ESPN to take Manziel with the fourth pick. The Browns desperately need a quarterback but would they take Manziel over Blake Bortles, who has NFL measurables? And right behind the Browns are the Oakland Raiders, also in need of a quarterback. Both teams might be willing to take a deal from the Cowboys – who will have to trade up from #16 – if they thought they could get veteran help and still have a shot at a quality quarterback. Dallas might be the right fit for Manziel since he wouldn’t have to play right away unless Tony Romo can’t come back from this back surgery. Given his recent health history, it’s doubtful Romo has more than a couple of years left as a starter so Manziel could learn from a veteran while waiting his turn.
QUESTION FOR TODAY
The question for today comes from Gary Davis, who asks, “I don’t want to be one of those gloom and doom Gators because we’ve got way too many, but I got to admit I’m holding my breath about 2014. Is Muschamp the coach who needed a bowl game to have a winning record in 2011, the one who coached the Gators to 11 wins in 2012 or the one who went 4-8 last year? I understand about the injuries last year, but we’ve had three seasons with three very different results. So, which coach is he? You tell me. I don’t know.
You ask some tough questions and raise an interesting point. Muschamp’s three seasons have gone from mediocre to spectacular to disappointing and he’s on his third offensive coordinator and line coach so there are reasons to ask what next? The tendency is to write off 2011 as a transition season, so that leaves 2012 and last year. Considering the offensive deficiencies of 2012, I tend to think Muschamp did a brilliant coaching job to get 11 wins. Even though the injuries make last season a bit easier to understand, they did expose a lack of player development. I think Muschamp made good hires in Kurt Roper and Mike Summers to improve the offensive situation, but the jury is still out on player development. Muschamp even mentioned that in his post-spring analysis when he talked about the gap between the first and second teamers on both sides of the line. Somehow, someway, that gap has to narrow considerably in the offseason if the Gators are to get back into the thick of the SEC East championship race. While you don’t expect injuries of the magnitude and frequency of 2013, there are no guarantees and this is the SEC which is an eight-week grind, so the second team guys better be ready to play. And here is a final thought to ponder: Muschamp could do a brilliant coaching job and seriously improve the Gators on both sides of the ball and STILL go 6-6 next year. The schedule is that tough.
MUSIC FOR TODAY
One of the things I have always appreciated about Boz Scaggs is that he always remembers an appreciative audience. Through the years he’s found that the folks in Florida love and appreciate his music, which is why he keeps coming back. He played Clearwater last night and will be in Coral Springs Friday, Fort Pierce (Sunrise Theatre) Saturday and the Hard Rock Café in Orlando on Sunday. If you’ve never heard him do a concert and have a chance to catch one of these shows, it’s well worth the money and effort. This is “You Can Have Me Anytime” from his still popular “Middle Man” album that was released in 1980 that also featured “JoJo” and “Breakdown Dead Ahead.”