GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — The Will Muschamp era at Florida began Saturday with little fanfare but a lot of uncertainty.
Florida opened pre-season practice with uneventful separate morning and evening workouts for the veterans and freshmen. It was little more than a get-your-feet-wet session, so Muschamp still has a long list of questions he has to answer in the 28 days before the season opener against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 3 at Florida Field.
“It went okay,” Muschamp said. “Everybody’s excited. Pleased with their first day, but it’s the first day.”
Now the Gators can get to work on resolving the issues at quarterback, receiver, offensive line, and the pass rush. If they don’t, Muschamp will have a hard time bettering last season’s 8-5 record.
Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley is coming off a disappointing first season as a starter. He threw nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions - including three touchdown passes and nine interceptions in the final nine games — and is the first UF player to lead the team in passing but throw more interceptions than touchdowns since Kyle Morris in 1988.
Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’ first job is to repair Brantley’s confidence, which was pretty low by the time the season ended with a victory over Penn State in the Outback Bowl. Despite a sub-par spring game — he completed 4 of 14 passes for 45 yards - Brantley said he feels more self-assured than he has in a while.
“My confidence is a lot higher now since when the coaches arrived,” Brantley said. “When the new coaching staff got here, it was all new to me. Now that I have spring football under my belt and have had all summer to study the playbook, I think as a team we’re ready to go.”
Florida still has to develop depth along an offensive line that has just 11 players on scholarship. The projected starting lineup has only a combined 20 career starts.
“We need to get five guys playing well together,” Muschamp said. “And you’d like to build that number to seven, eight, nine, ten guys if you can.”
The Gators also have to find a playmaker at receiver. The depth chart is a jumbled mess. Muschamp said redshirt junior Frankie Hammond, Jr., has been the Gators’ most consistent receiver and redshirt senior Deonte Thompson and sophomore Quinton Dunbar have been the best deep threats since the spring.
But entering the season it’s possibly the most unimpressive group of receivers the team has had in the last 20 years.
“Everybody wants to be that go-to guy and right now all of us are out there working and grinding,” said Hammond, who’s 26 career catches is third on the roster behind Thompson (42) and redshirt junior Omarius Hines (34). “Going into camp, nothing is set in stone and that makes everybody want to go harder and give that extra effort to be that guy.”
Florida had to find a couple of guys to rush the passer. The Gators had just 20 sacks last season, the fewest since the school began keeping that stat in 1978. The projected top five defensive ends have a total of five career sacks.
“You have to go earn your scholarship and affect the quarterback,” Muschamp said. “We’re a little skinny there as far as depth is concerned. Consistency is key. You can’t have a good day and then have a bad day (rushing the passer). You do that in this league and you’re going to lose.”