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August 22, 2014
Practice Notebook: Two new scholarships awarded
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At the end of Friday's practice, with his players huddled around him on the field, Florida coach Will Muschamp had a reward for walk-ons Francisco Velez and Michael McNeely.
What better present for their efforts could there be than two scholarships.
Muschamp had two available this season, and he chose to award them to Velez, a redshirt senior kicker, and McNeely, a redshirt senior receiver.
"Both of those guys will contribute to our football team," Muschamp said Friday in his meeting with reporters, minutes after awarding the two scholarships.
"Mike has been a fantastic special teams player and just a wonderful young man and has done everything we've asked him to do. He will be a huge contributor on special teams. Frankie is still in competition for field goal mixing duties and extra point duties and I think he has done a fantastic job in camp and has been here for five years and done everything we've asked him to do as far as those things. Plugging in last year. Both of those guys very well rewarded and I'm happy for both of those guys."
Last season, Velez had a significant role in the kicking game when Austin Hardin got demoted, making 6-of-8 field-goal attempts and converting all six of his point after attempts. His 44-yarder against LSU was the longest of Florida's season. Velez was a member of UF's scout team in 2011 and did not see any action in 2012.
After the announcement, Velez posted to his Twitter account (@F_Velez95) on Friday: "Best day of my life!"
The 5-foot-8, 176-pound McNeely has never caught a ball in his collegiate career but has been a special teams staple for the Gators the past three seasons.
The moment was a rewarding one for Muschamp, who experienced a similar situation when he played safety at Georgia from 1991-94.
"Awesome, absolutely awesome," he said. "I earned a scholarship when I went to school and I'll never forget the feeling when my coach, Ray Goff, walked up to me and said you earned your scholarship. That means you have now gained the respect of your staff and your teammates, not that you didn't have it before. But now you're recognized as one of the guys, not that you weren't before. And that's why walk-ons are so important to me. They're treated no different than a scholarship player. They're not going to get as many turns and opportunities because obviously we have invested ourselves into some of these scholarship players that we feel like may be further along. But we're not always right either.
"So there's nothing better than that feeling of seeing that today and being able to do that on the field with Frankie and Mike. They're two very well-deserved young men."
Injury update: Offensive tackle David Sharpe (high-ankle sprain) will return to practice Monday, while nickel back Marcus Maye (strained hamstring) will rejoin the team either Tuesday or Wednesday.
"We only had two soft-tissue issues in all of camp," Muschamp said. "That's outstanding. That's the best I've been around, as opposed to last year, I think we only had three as far as hamstrings, groins, those sort of things and hernias. That tells you we're training the right way. Those really are the only, we expect to get David and Marcus back but that's it."
Linebacker Matt Rolin, who returned this fall camp from an ACL injury that forced him to redshirt in 2013, has been closely monitored by the coaching staff as he gradually returns to full health.
"We've been slowly bringing along Matt Rolin purposely to make sure he's ready to go," Muschamp said. "He's just a year out of his second ACL surgery. His status moving forward, we'll continue to monitor."
Depth chart, so far: Muschamp called offensive tackles Chaz Green, D.J. Humphries and center Max Garcia definite starters on the offensive line, with some form of Trenton Brown, Tyler Moore and Trip Thurman on the inside. Roderick Johnson could play both tackle position coming off the bench, Muschamp added. He also said that Sharpe would definitely see time in the rotation.
Jake McGee and Clay Burton have pulled away at tight end, per Muschamp.
He added that he's comfortable with his top four linebackers - Neiron Ball, Jarrad Davis, Antonio Morrison and Michael Taylor - and expects Alex Anzalone and Daniel McMillian to play some snaps off the bench.
There has been no decision yet on a backup quarterback, as the coaching staff will discuss the battle in full length this weekend when the Gators take Saturday and Sunday off.
"We'd like to, by the second quarter, whoever ends up being the guy and go from there," Muschamp said. "I think that that, again, giving game situation, kind of like we did our first year."
Aside from starters Vernon Hargreaves III and Keanu Neal, the secondary is still filled with shifting parts. At safety, Jabari Gorman, Maye, Duke Dawson, Nick Washington and Marcell Harris could all see time.
As for the second-unit defensive line, Muschamp feels confident utilizing Jay-nard Bostwick, Joey Ivie and Caleb Brantley in the interior. Muschamp hasn't ruled out playing true freshmen Taven Bryan and Khairi Clark this season, but it could be hard to find those two significant snaps in a deep defensive front.
The Gators will release an official depth chart Tuesday of next week.
Toughness in Driskel: Muschamp had some strong praise for starting quarterback Jeff Driskel on Friday. Among the things he commended him for what his toughness on and off the football field.
"I think that's part of human nature, and anytime you go through tremendous setback and adversity in your life - especially being a guy that had an outstanding high school career and was very much recognized coming out of high school, coming to the University of Florida, playing some as a true freshman," Muschamp said.
"You're starting your sophomore year, winning 11 games, going to a BCS bowl - albeit some of the, in my opinion, unfair criticism he received, still won 11 games. And all the sudden kind of having the injury take place, the first major adversity as far as an athlete is concerned, in dealing with that. That's very frustrating.
"But his parents, Jerry and Mary, they're great people. And he's got a great support system around him. Certainly had a lot of conversations, especially about dealing with an injury and having something very important to you taken away, which I've gone through that before. But, Jeff's not a guy that you have to sit and babysit either. Jeff's a grown man, and he's as tough a competitor that I've been around as far as just from an athlete's standpoint. To have him walk off the field with what happened to him, he's a lot tougher than me. And it just says something about his toughness, his mental edge and what he's got about him. And that's why he's got great respect, in my opinion, from the locker room. It's because of his competitive edge."
That resolve has earned Driskel respect from his teammates over time, Muschamp added.
"I don't think there's any question," he said. "At the end of the day guys respect competitors. Guys respect tough guys. And he is one."
This and That: Freshman defensive lineman Justus Reed will likely redshirt this season, according to Muschamp. "He's going to be a good player. He's probably heading for a redshirt this year, but he's a guy who needs some girth. He probably weighs about 218, but he's going to be a 235-pound guy that's got really good pass rush skills." ... Muschamp reaffirmed Friday that the Gators plan to use Jeremi Powell as a pass rusher off the edge in multiple packages. ... When asked if he expects anybody not to suit up for the season opener due to academic reasons, suspensions or any other issues, Muschamp didn't have much to say. "No, we'll be fine. No, I'll address anything at the appropriate time. But not right now." ... The Gators will practice in full pads Monday night and shells Tuesday. The Gators will then decided how they plan to practice Wednesday and Thursday.