Gators begin final preparation for 2011

The Florida Gators will regroup today after having Monday off following the conclusion of fall camp and an extra day or two to rest.

With the start of the 2011 season less than two weeks away as the Gators get set for their Sept. 3 kickoff against Florida Atlantic, Will Muschamp’s plan for the team’s preparation is already in place.

“We’ll have a good prep day Tuesday as far as things that maybe we didn’t see on either side of the ball in camp,” Muschamp said. “Wednesday we will have another scrimmage. I think we need to go out and be functional, again offensively, defensively, get things in and out. Then Thursday and Friday we’ll start on Florida Atlantic so we’ve got two extra days to prepare for our first ball-game.”

So far, the first-year head coach has been “very pleased” with his team’s performance since the team began practice on Aug. 6.

Now, as the season draws closer, Muschamp is making sure to emphasize one key thing to his team: He wants turnovers.

Muschamp wants a ball-hawking defense that will give the ball back to the offense on a short field and make other teams think twice about throwing the ball around on the Gators.

“What you emphasize is what’s important to them,” Muschamp said. “We talk about it every day … We do everything we can do to emphasize to them, to let them understand the game is football. It’s all about the ball.”

Florida has a young and inexperienced secondary, and all four starters could be new this season if Jeremy Brown isn’t able to start in the season opener due to a knee injury he’s supposed to recover from in the next few days.

Muschamp won’t let youth be an excuse for his team, though.

One thing that’ll be equally as important as strong play in the secondary is a good push up front from the defensive line. Muschamp hasn’t been overly thrilled with the play as a whole there.

While he’s pleased with the push up front that his defensive tackles are getting, the head coach said he wants to see his defensive ends get better at taking on one-on-ones on the outside and beating the tackles to get to the quarterback.

If they can start to do that on a more consistent basis, Muschamp’s team could be the turnover machine he wants it to be.

“Getting possession of the ball is the most important thing,” he said. “I think we’ve done a nice job with creating some turnovers in camp.”

The Gators have also done a good job coming together as a team in fall camp, Muschamp said.

The Gators were plagued by team chemistry issues a year ago when Florida suffered through one of its worst seasons in the past two decades, and this year’s group is trying to make sure the Gators don’t have the same problem.

Still, Muschamp said he doesn’t put a whole lot of stock into the early chemistry, since the team has yet to be tested.

“I do (see the team coming together),” he said. “But I also am cautiously optimistic as far as when I say that, from the standpoint of, what real adversity have we faced? I do think that we have battled through some tough practices, heat, exhaustion, fatigue. I think we’ve managed that, I wouldn’t say we’ve passed in flying colors, but we’ve managed that.”

Moving forward, Muschamp will begin to get a real feel for his team when the lights come on inside The Swamp and the games are live.

“What’s going to happen when we get down 14-0, how are we going to respond then?” Muschamp said. “I think that that’s when you find out a lot about your team … We’ll test our true mettle when we get down 14-0 on the road and we see how we respond.”