Ever since they arrived on campus, the members of Florida's current junior class have made news for one reason or another. There has been controversy and big plays and disappointments, but now Gators coach Will Muschamp believes they are truly ready to be the core of his football team.
"We're going to draw a lot from our junior class, from a playmaking standpoint first of all and with our leadership," Muschamp said.
He added that one of the things that was overlooked last season was the inexperience of players like Sharrif Floyd, Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell. While those players often saw action as freshmen, Muschamp said few people talked about how few actual snaps they played. Therefore, while expectations soared during their sophomore seasons, they were not technically ready to contribute as full-time players in the Southeastern Conference.
"They didn't play a lot," Muschamp said. "They played some. Then they came into this year and they were playing the duration of an SEC season for the first time."
One of the things Muschamp has emphasized over the past two days is the benefit of a second year of experience, whether it is his experiences in learning to become a head coach or players getting another year of reps in SEC play.
"Now they're moving into really their second year of playing," he said. "The jump from that point has to be considerable in my opinion."
Mike Gillislee looking for more: The running back currently listed as Florida's starter is admittedly not a vocal guy, but that doesn't mean he won't see an increased roles in multiple ways this season.
Week after week last season, fans and media were curious of why the junior tailback wasn't a more integral part of Florida's offense. Aside from the obvious injury that set him back during one month of the season, Muschamp admitted that a lot of the struggles to get him on the field had more to do with the coaching staff than Gillislee himself.
"I feel like if we were further along with what we were doing, we would've been able to do that, but we certainly were not at the time," Muschamp said.
With Chris Rianey and Jeff Demps being seen as the two top options in the backfield last season, the vast majority of schemes in Florida's arsenal were outside runs that didn't fit into Gillislee's skill set. The offense was installed slowly last year and was never installed fully enough to build options for secondary players.
But with a power-oriented inside attack being readied this year, there will no longer be any excuses for Gillislee not getting extended reps.
First day of practice: As could be expected, Muschamp was too willing to try to make details after his first day of watching his team in shorts and helmets.
"You play football in pads so it's tough to judge when you're out there in helmets," he said. "Were we in the right spots for the most part? Sure, but that's all you can really get out of it. I think we're in shape, so those are the kinds of things you can kind of tell when they're out there in helmets."
When he met with the media, Muschamp had not yet talked to offensive coordinator Brent Pease about Pease's first time watching Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett throw in person. However, he said both players had good throws overall but were at times hampered by some players around them performing poorly.
"At times, there were some busted routes and some misreads on the receivers and some protection issues here and there and we've got to reset and get the ball out or whatever it is," he said. "But I thought there were some nice passes today."
Muschamp said he will not be singling anyone out for their play until he sees some more practices but did say that he believes he has seen the proper intangibles from both to know that they have what it takes to be successful quarterbacks in the SEC.
"Unfortunately they played for us [last] year," Muschamp said. "Fortunately they played for us [last] year. It's two-fold. It's not an indictment on either young man. I think they're really good players but playing as a freshman at that position is different. It's different than any other position."