GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Steve Shaw goes on tour around the Southeastern Conference this time of year.
The discussions this year are expected to be more lively than usual.
The head of officials for the SEC, Shaw was at Florida on Monday to meet with the Gators to discuss rule changes that go into effect this season. The new targeting rule is one that everyone seems to have an opinion about.
The NCAA adopted the rule in March that allows officials to eject any player that targets a defenseless player by leading with their head to make a tackle or block. The new rule has caught the attention of coaches everywhere.
Gators coach Will Muschamp understands the NCAA’s position. His quest in camp — the Gators will hold their first full-contact practice in helmet and pads Tuesday — is to make sure his players understand how the rule will be enforced.
“Based on the information I’ve gotten, they are going to err on throwing the flag,” Muschamp said Monday. “It is a problem as far as some of the head injuries. Player safety is first. We’ve got to use good judgment in situations. To me, if a guy is maliciously trying to take a shot, then yeah, he needs to be ejected from the game. I’ve got no problem with that.
“But some of these plays are bang-bang plays. It’s a receiver going across the middle, he gets low, we’re trying to lower our target, [and] all of a sudden there is helmet-to-helmet contact. Well, whose fault is that? Those are the situations to me that are a little bit gray. That’s where it gets tough.”
Muschamp said there will “most likely” be some controversy related to a call until players get used to the change.
Muschamp spent time Sunday talking to the Gators about the rule and Shaw planned to do the same Monday, using videos of past hits that would now warrant an ejection.
Regardless of all the opinions, the game is changing and there will be an adjustment period for everyone — players, coaches, officials and fans.
“That’s the way the rules are and we play by the rules,” Muschamp said.
Sophomore running back Matt Jones, listed atop the depth chart after spring practice, is showing signs he could be back on the field soon.
Jones has not been available so far during fall camp due to a serious viral infection. Muschamp said Monday the 6-foot-2, 228-pound Jones has lost approximately eight to 10 pounds.
However, he has rejoined the team.
“Matt Jones is in the building and moving around a little bit,” Muschamp said. “Hopefully maybe try to see if next week, try to get him active.”
Jones averaged 5.3 yards per carry as a true freshman and is slated to replace Mike Gillislee as the Gators’ featured back. In his absence, redshirt junior Mack Brown is getting the first-team reps.
Muschamp is encouraged from what he has seen of Jones since he returned.
“He looks good. He is moving around a little bit, on the bike the other day,” Muschamp said. “We’re going to try and get him back in the middle of things.”
The QB situation
While starting quarterback Jeff Driskel has yet to practice due to an appendectomy six days ago, he has been involved at camp as Tyler Murphy takes reps with the first-team offense.
Third-string quarterback Skyler Mornhinweg, true freshman Max Staver and walk-on Chris Wilkes have also received extra work in Driskel’s absence.
Muschamp said Driskel is schedule to visit the doctor later this week to see how he is progressing.
“We’ll know more then,” Muschamp said.
Meanwhile, Staver has made a good first impression.
“Max has got a live arm. I think he has done some really nice things,” Muschamp said. “Brent and I were talking this morning, pleased with him. Skyler has been a guy that has progressed well. But you see some of the big throws that Max can make. It’s something that jumped out at us. He’s swimming [mentally] right now, but because of the situation, has been able to get more reps than maybe he would have before.”
Following Sunday night’s practice Muschamp visited with redshirt junior defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell.
Powell is back on the field for the first time in 18 months after a pair of knee surgeries. Muschamp wants to make sure Powell plays smart while he gets re-acclimated to full-contact drills and football speed.
“Whenever you come off something like this, the wear and tear of training camp can wear you down,” Muschamp told him. “We need a fast, physical player on Aug. 31 that is ready to play. There is a fine line there. You have to make sure you monitor him through the process because he is a guy who is going to take as many reps as he can.”
Odd or even
When Muschamp took over the program he brought a pro-style multi-dimensional defensive scheme with him he used as defensive coordinator at Texas and other stops.
The Gators have used 4-3 and 3-4 defensive fronts during Muschamp’s tenure, a system that will continue under first-year defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin, who replaced Dan Quinn.
The Gators have worked primarily with 3-4 fronts to start camp and will use more 4-3 sets later. That is by design to help each package get fully installed, to help the offense function more efficiently while getting extended looks against one scheme, and for the teaching of technique and fundaments.
Still, you could see more 3-4 fronts than in the past with more versatility on defense.
“From the standpoint of personnel, I think the odd-man front fits us very well,’’ Muschamp said. “The thing you’ve got to have in an odd front, you better have two really good outside linebackers and I think we do in Ronald Powell and Dante Fowler. You need to have a good nose, and I feel like whether we’re in a pass-rush situation, Dominique Easley would play the nose. In [running] situations, Damien Jacobs and Leon Orr would play the nose.”
Quote of note I
“I always believe you add size, speed late. Those guys can do something for your football team. We want to be a big, fast, physical team. That’s why you add guys like that in your recruiting class late. You don’t add little guys late.” – Muschamp on 6-5, 270-pound athlete Trevon Young, who is working at tight end and was one of the final members of 2013 signing class
Quote of note II
“He’s still learning offensively what we do. I think Chris has got a great feel as a coach. He does a really good job with the players and obviously understands the position, and sitting in the chair being the quarterback at the University of Florida, he understands very well. That experience will help us.” – Muschamp on former Gators quarterback Chris Leak, in his first season as an offensive graduate assistant
Quote of note III
“You are not having as many coaches have to get guys lined up and show them what to do and how to do it. They are able to adjust more to different things. When your players take ownership in what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, a lot of times they can put it in their terms that maybe sometimes as coaches we can’t.” – Muschamp on the offensive progression in second year under coordinator Brent Pease
Notes and nuggets
Starting right guard Jon Halapio (pectoral tear) is scheduled to be re-evaluated by doctors Friday and left guard Max Garcia (back) Tuesday. Both players have missed the first three days of camp … Muschamp said defensive tackle Leon Orr (sprained left thumb) and freshman offensive lineman Roderick Johnson (knee) are battling minor injuries … Former Gators Willie Rodgers (1995-97 letterwinner) and Henry McMillan (1992-94) stopped by practice early in camp. “It’s been good to see some former Gators out at practice and hove those guys part of what we’re trying to do,’’ Muschamp said … Jaylen Watkins is primarily working at cornerback early in camp so the younger players can get more reps at safety; Muschamp praised safety Cody Riggs for his play early in camp.