GAINESVILLE -- With training camp completed and the season rapidly approaching, time is running out for players battling for starting spots to make positive impressions on the Gators’ coaching staff.
Florida scrimmaged Friday and had an open practice in front of fans and media Saturday, setting up an important Sunday, what coach Will Muschamp called “decision day,” where Muschamp and all members of his staff will meet to iron out roles and make decisions on several key position battles, with quarterback obviously occupying the top spot on the list.
“That’ll be huge,” Muschamp said. “I told our team before the scrimmage: This is decision day on Sunday for us. We’re going to take the scrimmage and [Saturday], and we need to start making decisions on who’s going to get turns and reps as we start to prepare.”
With Muschamp saying Saturday that quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are “very even in what they’re doing managing our team,” that decision will have to wait. Muschamp said he will take the process into next week, mentioning the Monday of the first game week as a potential announcement time.
“We have to start figuring that out as we move forward,” he said. “I think both guys, looking at it right now, are very even in what they want to do. … I think we need to start moving towards [a decision].”
When asked if the competition could continue into the season and become a week-to-week topic of discussion, Muschamp didn’t want to comment.
“At this time, we’ll see what happens,” he said. “We have a press conference Monday of game week. We’ll see Monday. I don’t know. I’ll make a decision. I’m sitting on some things right now. We still have some time now.”
Players moved out of the camp hotel on Friday, signaling the end of fall camp. They have their first off day since Aug. 3 on Sunday before two practices on Monday and one last scrimmage on Tuesday. With classes starting Wednesday and preparation for the season opener against Bowling Green getting underway Thursday, Muschamp said the beginning of this week is the players’ last chance to upgrade their status.
In addition to quarterback, there are battles taking place up and down UF’s roster.
Several Miami area natives are involved as cornerbacks Marcus Roberson and Cody Riggs (Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas), wide receivers Frankie Hammond (Hollywood Hallandale) and Quinton Dunbar (Miami Booker T. Washington) and linebacker Darrin Kitchens (Homestead) are all pushing for starting roles.
Roberson started 10 games a season ago, but is battling Riggs, Loucheiz Purifoy and Jaylen Watkins for two spots. Roberson and Purifoy worked the most with the first-team defense in Saturday’s open practice and impressed. Dunbar caught seven passes in Friday’s scrimmage, with two going for more than 20 yards, and Muschamp on Saturday called Hammond the team’s most consistent receiver.
Kitchens and Neiron Ball, who is coming back after missing the 2011 season with a rare congenital condition that required brain surgery, are the two leaders for the vacant linebacker spot alongside incumbent starters Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins.
Muschamp said he will meet with players today and be “brutally honest” about where they stand.
“We’re still investing time in everybody, but we need to start dwindling the reps down and we need these guys to continue to pick it up,” he said. “It’s time to go.”
And what, exactly, will Muschamp and his staff be looking for during meetings Sunday?
“Who are we going to win the SEC Championship with? That’s my question,” Muschamp said. “We understand what our goal is here and where we need to go.”