GAINESVILLE, Fla. — With the season opener against Toledo eight days away, the Gators are starting to get healthy.
Florida coach Will Muschamp said Friday that starting fullback Hunter Joyer (hamstring), defensive tackle Damien Jacobs (patella), freshman defensive back Vernon Hargreaves III (shoulder) and receiver Ralph Andrades (turf toe) are all expected to be cleared Monday as Florida opens game week for Toledo.
“All those guys we feel like will be back,” Muschamp said.
The Gators remain without starters Matt Jones and Jon Halapio. A sophomore running back, Jones missed camp due to a serious viral infection and has been ruled out for the season opener. Muschamp said starting right guard Halapio (pectoral tear) is also out for the opener and likely the Miami game.
Jones is scheduled to have more blood work on Monday as he continues his climb back from his health scare.
“He will be out for Toledo. He’s questionable from there on out, but he’s doing very well,” Muschamp said. “He’s really progressing well as far as — they’re putting more on him each day as far as physical activity and lifting and different things. They want to make sure his immune system is up and he can handle those things.”
As for Halapio, who has started 27 consecutive games, Muschamp said projections have him being ready for the Tennessee game Sept. 21.
“I think that his [pectoral muscle] is filling in and we feel really comfortable where he is, but certainly being his senior year we don’t want to push it with him,” Muschamp said.
With Jones and Halapio out for the opener, the Gators will look to others in the running game.
Mack Brown, Mark Herndon and Valdez Showers are expected to get the majority of the carries, and transfer Tyler Moore has been filling in for Halapio.
“[They] certainly are huge absences,” Muschamp said. “I feel comfortable about our run game. Would I say that we’re going to miss those guys? I think we’ll play well in their absence but certainly they are good football players and we want them back playing.”
The Gators brought in several talented freshmen in their 2013 signing class and Muschamp said to expect to see many of them on the field. Asked which freshmen will play, Muschamp said he would be better prepared to answer that question four of five games into the season.
Still, he mentioned several newcomers who should contribute in their first seasons based on what they did during fall camp.
The list includes receivers Demarcus Robinson, Ahmad Fulwood and Chris Thompson, offensive lineman Trenton Brown. If they needed him on the offensive line, Muschamp said Octavius Jackson would likely be next in line after Brown.
Meanwhile, on defense Muschamp said Hargreaves, linebackers Daniel McMillian, Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone, and defensive backs Keanu Neal and Nick Washington will play. Defensive linemen Jay-nard Bostwick, Antonio Riles and Caleb Brantley are working mostly on the scout team and Muschamp said no final decisions have been made with them.
As for running backs Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane, Muschamp said “we haven’t made a decision. Right now both of those guys are taking some reps, and you never know where the season progresses and what they can or cannot do.”
Finally, Muschamp said he would like to redshirt punter Johnny Townsend, who has had a good camp. Junior Kyle Christy returns and was one of three finalists last season for the Ray Guy Award honoring the nation’s top punter.
Redshirt junior defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell has not played in a game since the Gator Bowl in January 2012. But after a pair of major knee surgeries, Powell is days away from making his long-awaited return.
He has looked sharp in camp but Muschamp said the true test comes when the clock starts against Toledo.
“You’ve seen him gain more confidence each time in contact,” Muschamp said. “And that’s the thing you worry about is a guy really cutting it loose and playing.”
Powell led the Gators with 6.5 sacks in 2011 and has the tools to be a premiere pass rusher when healthy. Muschamp said Powell looked a little cautious early in camp but appears to be regaining his old form.
“It’ll come back fast for him as far as the tempo and speed of the game,” Muschamp said. “I’m sure he’ll have some anxious moments. That’s part of it. That’s expected when you have an injury like he’s had.”
Sophomore Antonio Morrison, projected to be the starter at middle linebacker, remains suspended for the first two games for a pair of off-the-field incidents over the summer. Information surfaced recently related to the second incident and Morrison’s alleged actions were shown in a more favorable light.
Muschamp said Friday that he had not made any decision about Morrison’s suspension.
“Not right now,” he said.
Quote of note I
“It’s hard to go against the Heisman Trophy winner. I’m not going to express my vote. That’s why it’s a private ballot.” — Muschamp on if he voted for Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel for All-SEC first-team; the league’s coaches voted Georgia’s Aaron Murray to the first team
Quote of note II
“We prepare for that all the time because that’s where our league is headed. We’ve got four or five teams in our league that are doing that now.” — Muschamp on preparing for Toledo’s up-tempo spread offense
Quote of note III
“I feel very comfortable where Jeff is right now. I feel like there’s no question we’re ahead of where we were a year ago.” — Muschamp on development of quarterback Jeff Driskel
Notes and nuggets
The Gators had only nine pass plays of 20 or more yards to wide receivers in 2012. “That is certainly not what we want,” Muschamp recently told CBSSports.com … From 1995 to 2001, Florida had nine 1,000-yard receivers; since 2002, Taylor Jacobs is only Florida WR with a 1,000-yard season (1,088 yards in 2002) … Muschamp said no decisions have been made on captains for the Toledo game … Prior to Friday’s press conference Muschamp acknowledged ESPN.com Gators beat writer Michael DiRocco, whom after 13 years on the beat — most of that time spent with the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville — is leaving to cover the Jaguars.