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Notebook: Florida coordinators discuss direction of each side of the ball

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NUSSMEIER OPTIMISTIC ABOUT FUTURE OF FLORIDA'S OFFENSE

Doug Nussmeier hasn’t spent a third year as an offensive coordinator of a program since the 2011 season at Washington. Following that campaign, he jumped to Nick Saban’s staff for two years, spent a season at Michigan and then has spent the past two years in Gainesville.

Under Nussmeier, Florida ranked 112th and 116th nationally in total offense in 2015 and 2016, respectively. However, now entering his third season on the job this year, Nussmeier is optimistic about the direction the Gators are taking on offense.

“We’re really starting to build a core of guys,” Nussmeier said. “You look at our perimeter players — our wide receivers are probably one of our deepest positions on our team. I really feel good about the way the line is starting to gel together, the depth at the running back position. Obviously we’re young at quarterback but I like the players that are in our system."

A lot of factors can be contributed to Florida’s struggles on offense a year ago – inconsistency and subpar play at the quarterback position, youth and inexperience at numerous positions, injuries to key contributors, just to name a few. However, the bulk of Florida’s starters from last season are back in the mix for 2017.

“It’s a big difference,” Nussmeier said. “When you look at the first two years how many young players we’ve played, the production we’ve had form young players and the moving pieces we’ve had in there at times. We had one guy (David Sharpe) that started basically the whole season last year for us, that was it. Really excited about the group we have and them understanding what we’re trying to do and where we’re trying to go.”

However, in 2017 the Gators may end up turning to a young quarterback to lead the team, as redshirt freshmen Feleipe Franks and Kyle Trask are currently the front-runners. That doesn’t concern Nussmeier, though.

“Last time I checked, greatness wasn't defined by age or experience,” he said.

Nussmeier is looking for his offense to improve in a number of areas in his third season with the program, including third-down conversion percentage and red-zone offense. Although Florida converted on 41.7% of its third downs, good for 55th nationally, it was near the bottom of the country in red-zone scoring percentage (71.4%, 126th in the nation).

A knock on Nussmeier’s play-calling has been that it can be predictable at times, and that is an area where he is constantly self-evaluating.

“The No. 1 thing we try to do is put our players in the best position to have success, whatever that may be. Put your playmakers in position where they can make plays,” Nussmeier said. “Try and if you do that with deficiency masked the best you can against the opponent you’re playing because of their strengths. Every week, it’s a different chess match, so to say. Sometimes we’ve done a good job of it, sometimes we haven’t done a good job. We have to do a better job. We all know we need to coach better, we need to play better.”

Added Jim McElwain: "I think one of the things is that you find yourself kind of getting in a little bit of a rut, and all of a sudden you can't do this, you can't do that because they're doing this. That kind of thing. Rather than, it doesn't matter what anybody else is doing. Let's continue to grow and be creative. It's been good with the new guys coming in as well, just new thoughts, new way of looking at things, that kind of stuff.”

SHANNON SIMPLIFYING THINGS FOR PLAYERS ON DEFENSE

After Geoff Collins left his post as Florida’s defensive coordinator to accept the head-coaching job at Temple, the Gators eventually turned to linebackers coach/co-defensive coordinator Randy Shannon to fill the vacancy.

This spring has given Shannon, now in his third year with the Gators football program, an opportunity to put his own stamp on the defense as its coordinator.

"What I did was just make things more simple,” Shannon said. “We haven't changed anything, just more simple in what we do so guys can understand and play fast. Because I think the most important thing is that when you play fast there's a lot of things that you can cover up. We did a lot of great things with coach Collins last year, we just keep improving on them this year.

"You know, we've got a long ways to go,” he continued. “We're working at it. One thing about it, guys that are here are hungry. One thing when you have young guys and guys who are new to a system, they want to improve. They want to get better. We lost a lot of great players but we have a lot of guys that we looked at in the bowl game who played in the bowl game, so that's a plus for us. Just got to get better and keep going.”

One aspect Shannon has put an emphasis on this spring is getting guys on the same page defensively by having more guys involved making calls. In Shannon’s words, the Gators “were more of a coverage team and a front team. Now we're more of a formation. You know, same calls, but formation.”

"They still got to line us up and make the calls,” Shannon said of the middle linebackers. “But it's like anything. Anybody can make the calls. They don't have to be (David) Reese. Here's the thing. And the reason why we're going to it is because it's like the NFL. When I went to the Dolphins. If you have one guy making all the calls, and it happens, like anything else, and if you're in the game and one guy makes the calls and everybody's looking like, 'That ain't the call', that means this guy's got a concussion and we need to call a timeout and get him out of the game.

"So if everybody knows the call and knows the adjustment, than you don't rely on one guy. Because one guy can really make you not be successful if he doesn't know exactly what's going on."

McElwain noted that the language spoken between Shannon and his players is similar to the verbiage Collins used to operate the defense. He noted that it would be key this year for Florida to establish a consistent pass rusher so the Gators don’t need to always pressure.

“It’s really kind of a big thing for us, developing that edge guy that you kinda have to go, ‘Hey, we gotta have to worry about this guy’ and figure out how to get matchups along the front,” McElwain said. “I think Randy and Coach (Chris) Rumph both are doing a great job with that. They guys have, I think the continuity is something that really helps. Then bringing a couple new voices on that side, obviously with [Tim Skipper] and Corey (Bell) there again adding some things that — it’s fun to see them work.”

A big challenge for Shannon’s unit is replacing eight starters from a year ago: defensive linemen Caleb Brantley, Joey Ivie and Bryan Cox Jr., linebackers Jarrad Davis and Alex Anzalone, and defensive backs Jalen Tabor, Quincy Wilson and Marcus Maye.

However, a number of youngsters who should play key roles in 2017, like linebackers Reese, Kylan Johnson and Vosean Joseph, and defensive back Chauncey Gardner, were thrown into the fire last year when veterans went down with injuries.

"A little bit of inexperience, but like anything else you've got to play for what you have on your team at this particular time,” Shannon said. “We're trying to get everybody knowing strengths and weaknesses with certain calls, certain fronts, certain coverages, certain blitzes. If they know the strengths and weaknesses, then we can get better."

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