On Sunday night Gator Country posed five burning questions surrounding the Gators and SEC Media Days. Today Will Muschamp, Vernon Hargreaves, Dante Fowler and Jeff Driskel went through the media day gauntlet and answered those questions for us.
1. How does Vernon Hargreaves handle the media day circus?
The University of Florida had only ever brought one sophomore to SEC Media Days (back in 2000 when there were less than 500 credentialed media members in attendance).
Hargreaves will be the only sophomore in attendance all week so a question of how the youngster would handle himself was begging to be asked.
Hargreaves answered that question for me first with his body language. With hot lights shining down on him and dozens of reporters huddled around shoving recorders in his face, Hargreaves looked as relaxed as if he were running back a pick six on Florida Field.
A sophomore, only 19 years old, Hargreaves handled himself with the demeanor of a professional. He was calm, confident, friendly and at times funny. He didn’t blink or even smile when calling Jeff Driskel the best quarterback in the country — a statement that the quarterback shied away from.
Then, in his words, Hargreaves described getting grilled by reporters as fun, because, well, who doesn’t like getting hounded by questions all day (not this writer).
“Talking to Jeff and Coach Muschamp and all of our media guys, they told us how it was gonna be,” he said. “Growing up just being around football my whole life, I kind of know what to expect. It’s not too bad for me, I’m kind of enjoying it, it’s fun.”
Before this week people may have thought that bringing a sophomore to media days could be a treacherous endeavor — and it might be, but not with Hargreaves. Bringing him to media days was a touchdown for Florida.
2. Speaking of Hargreaves, how will a very green secondary –led by the sophomore corner– perform and can they hang in the SEC?
Vernon Hargreaves is taking a leadership role this year. It’s not something that a lot of sophomores are asked to do but it is something that he has embraced, even if he wasn’t ready for it.
“It’s my job. [The freshmen cornerbacks] have to play and they’re young. I’ve got to get them up to speed and I’m taking full responsibility for that,” Hargreaves said. “It doesn’t matter if I am ready or not; I have to do it. I’m going to do it.”
Hargreaves will lead the unit that may be wet-behind-the-ears but they are talented and Will Muschamp said he would take talent over experience every day, “We do lack some experience in some areas. I take talent over experience any day.”
The secondary may have to take a couple of baby steps in the first month of the season and they may even stumble out of the gate, but in the end they will be fine.
3. After a miserable season for the kicking game, what kind of confidence do the players have that the kickers will be able to bounce back?
I asked Jeff Driskel if he was confident with the current situation at kicker; he responded.
“There’s a lot of competition at the kicking spot and it’s something that’s going to have to be addressed and it’s something that we’re going to have to improve on if we want to win those close games.”
That’s nice, but where is your confidence level with the kickers on the roster?
Nothing. No vote of confidence for Austin Hardin or the four other kickers on the roster, Driskel said kickers do their own thing in practice (he’s right, they do) but avoiding the question of his confidence level should tell you all you need to know about where Florida stands at the kicking game.
Does Caleb Sturgis have any eligibility left?
4. Who will step up as the leader of the defense with Dominique Easley no longer around?
After Jeff Driskel and Dominique Easley went down with injuries last season, the Gators lacked a true leader in the locker room. Vernon Hargreaves admitted that the team needed someone to step up and fill the void but nobody did and you saw the results.
The team has learned from that experience and the three main leaders for the Gators in 2014 were all in Hoover today for media days.
While the faces of the team were represented in Hoover, Hargreaves said that the team has learned their lesson from last season and they’re not dependent on just one or two leaders that the team has several players they lean on in leadership roles.
“I definitely think we lost leadership with Easley going down. He was the heart and soul of our defense and it showed,” Hargreaves said. “Jeff going down on offense, I mean he’s the quarterback; we definitely lost a lot of leadership. We learned from that. Now I feel like if someone does go down who’s big on offense, defense or special teams we know how to adapt and come together as a team.”
5. How is the offense adapting to Kurt Roper’s offense and more importantly, is Driskel ready to take the next big step in his development in this new offense?
Who better to ask how the offense looks than two players who went up against that offense all spring. Vernon Hargreaves and Dante Fowler both described the Florida offense with the same word; fast.
Hargreaves didn’t get to see a lot of Driskel last year but Fowler was able to watch as a freshman when Driskel led the team to an 11-2 record. Fowler has seen a change in Driskel under Roper. He’s picked up the offense and is more confident.
Only time and games will tell the whole story about whether Roper can revive Driskel and turn him back into the 5-star rated quarterback he was coming out of high school, however Roper and Driskel have the players believing. After all, when a team is coming off of a 4-8 season, believing in yourselves and your teammates is the first step.