Muschamp confident in Gators' team chemistry

April 12, 2012

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – As smoke from nearby brush fires hovered over an empty Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Wednesday afternoon, a maintenance crew worked on the field.

A few people walked the steep stairs for exercise, but otherwise it was a quiet and nondescript April day a world away from the wave of energy that will arrive on Sept. 1 when Florida opens Will Muschamp’s second season against Bowling Green.

Inside the football offices, Muschamp continued to put a cap on spring practice with an eye toward the future. He is meeting individually with every player on the roster this week to review their performance, discuss their work in the classroom, outline a plan for next season and talk about anything else they want to.

“It’s a very open meeting,’’ Muschamp said. “We try to hit it all. I let any player air any issues or problems with the program.

"We kind of go through everything with where we are. I told the players when I first got here that communication is so key to me, to be able to understand we’re all on the same page.”

While the program has undergone the kind of transformation that often takes place when a new coach comes in – including several players departing the program – Muschamp is comfortable with the Gators’ team chemistry heading into the summer months.

“I think we’ve made progress,’’ he said Wednesday. “The input I get from the players is that we’re a much closer team than we were at this point last year. This is where you really form that relationship you need to have to be successful over the next four months before we start in August.”

Muschamp expects to finish his one-on-one meetings with players by next week. He held a team meeting on Monday to discuss the expectations from now until the team reconvenes for camp in August.

Much of the team’s progress over the next four months is up to the players as they continue their strength and conditioning program.

Having had a chance to dissect film from Saturday’s Orange & Blue Debut spring game the past few days, Muschamp remained pleased overall by the team’s progress over the past month.

Two areas that specifically impressed him was the offensive line’s improvement under first-year coach Tim Davis and the Gators’ more physical approach.

“We got better up front,’’ he said. “That was the biggest thing that held us back last year, being able to consistently run the ball and protect the quarterback. We made strides there.

“I feel like we got some things accomplished. The biggest goal going into spring was the physical and mental toughness of what we’re trying to do.”

Over the next month and a half the coaches will spend most of their time recruiting during the spring evaluation period and looking ahead to next season.

Muschamp and his staff have already started to break down film of next season’s opponents, opening that task on Tuesday when the defensive staff began looking at film of Florida State.

“We’re going to have the first four games completely game-planned by the time we break in June,’’ he said. “We’ll have all that done and we will have looked at every one of our opponents for next season to get an idea if there are some things in training camp that we need to rep and we need to look at that maybe we’re not getting from the offense or the defense.

“Those things to me are critical for training camp as far as setting the practice schedules.”

They spend an entire day scouting an opponent’s film to gain any advantage they can months in advance of the actual game.

And of course the recruiting schedule is filled up for the next several weeks. While Muschamp isn’t allowed to do any off-campus recruiting, his staff will take turns going out on the road to evaluate potential players.

The recruiting part of the equation has gained added clarity thanks in part to a more established identity. Now that Muschamp has placed his stamp – a blue-collar approach rooted in a workmanlike mentality – on the program, the Florida Way is more than just a slogan.

“I feel like I know our team better. I know the individuals on our team better. I know a little bit more what to expect with each person. That helps you understand each side of the ball a little better and where you have progressed.”

The goal now is to keep that progress moving forward until fall camp opens in August.