Will Muschamp, 10 minutes into his half-hour press conference, uttered the word “opportunity” seven times in a span of three sentences.
A month away from the spring game, players have the opportunity to get a head start on a talented recruiting class and a chance to move on from a disastrous 4-8 season.
They have nothing but opportunity. They stunk last year.
It’s the kind of year that puts coaches’ jobs on life support and players on notice.
What the Gators have in front of them is a second chance, an opportunity they can’t pass up and one that starts with practice No. 1 on March 19.
“You find out about the guys who really want to be a part of the program when you go through something like that. Those guys that are here are working their butts off,” Muschamp said Tuesday afternoon.
“I see a great work ethic and a great resolve with this group. There’s a lot of accountability within the team.”
The Gators head into spring practice with new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper, who has the gaudy task of spreading out and fixing the nation’s 113th-ranked offense.
Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel is getting his first action since fracturing the fibula in his right leg in September. Roper is the third offensive coordinator Driskel has played for at Florida.
Eleven offensive linemen give Muschamp the most flexibility he’s had at UF. Having only six healthy linemen last season turned the spring game into a glorified practice.
Six starters return to a defense that hasn’t ranked outside the top 15 in Muschamp’s first three seasons.
Florida will be without nine players to start. Defensive tackle Leon Orr (wrist) and running back Matt Jones (knee) headline those missing time.
The two will miss all of spring and expect to be cleared on May 1.
“At this time of the year, there are a couple of things you’re looking for: a belief and confidence in what we’re doing. I see that with our team,” Muschamp said.
“Generally, what you put in is what you get out. I think our guys are putting in a lot right now and I’m pleased with where we are.”
Muschamp watched the No. 1 Florida men’s basketball team beat Kentucky by 19 points in the O’Connell Center on Saturday. He saw a unit — one that he called a true team — that his players can learn from.
Those players finished 2013 on a seven-game losing streak. Injuries broke the Gators.
Now, while spring practice gives them the opportunity to pick up the pieces, they aren’t forgetting the embarrassment.
“I don’t know that you can put the season behind you at all,” Muschamp said.
“You need to have a good memory for that and not let it happen again. We’ve talked about those sorts of things, but our guys are hungry. Our guys are working hard.
“At the end of the day you shut up and have a good memory. That’s kind of been our motto around here.”
Green getting healthier: Along with Max Garcia, redshirt senior Chaz Green is expected to anchor an offensive line that must improve from a year in which its position coach was let go, its opponents sacked the quarterback 27 times and its running backs averaged 3.6 yards per carry.
Green, who started 10 games in 2012, missed last season due to a torn labrum he suffered in fall camp.
He’s always been a hard worker, but Muschamp has seen Green up the ante.
“When something is taken away, sometimes you realize how important it is to you,” Muschamp said.
“I’m out in here last Friday before spring break, and he’s in here Friday afternoon, working out and absolutely grinding. The guy has been a great example for our entire offseason program in how he’s handled himself and how he’s worked.”
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