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It’s been eight years since University of Florida head football coach Will Muschamp had an office in Davie with the Miami Dolphins, but he reconnected in a big way this past weekend.
Muschamp’s phone continued to blow up with texts on Saturday, as three of his Gators were drafted by the Dolphins in rather rapid succession – outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins, running back Mike Gillislee and kicker
“They got three great people, three great guys in the locker room and three really good football players,” said Muschamp, who spent the 2005 season as the Dolphins’ assistant head coach/defense. “Obviously, I’ve got tremendous respect for (General Manager) Jeff Ireland and the job he’s doing down there. He’s a guy that I’ve known for a while here through the scouting process and the different places that I’ve been and I think we have similar styles in terms of what we want to be. I think if you look at the physicality they want to play with on both sides of the ball is kind of what we’re about here at Florida.”
Jenkins was the first Gator taken by Miami in the fourth round with the 104th overall pick, which makes even more sense considering the fact that Muschamp and Dolphins linebackers coach George Edwards worked together on Miami’s staff that one season. The two had another rookie linebacker from Florida on the roster at the time, Channing Crowder in the middle, but this is a different era.
While his size might have been a factor in Jenkins still being available on the third day of the 2013 NFL Draft, it’s not as easy to measure the motor on the 6-foot, 243-pounder who had plenty of success against top-notch competition in the Southeastern Conference. That’s where game film and live scouting tend to pay off, as his 182 career tackles, six sacks and three interceptions proved.
“Jelani Jenkins has got a huge upside as a player,” Muschamp said. “He’s an every-down linebacker, he’s an immediate contributor on special teams but the guy can really run and play in space. He’s improved his physicality, he’s playing blocks in the core but he can play on every down. You’ve got to have guys that are able to play in the box in the two-back situations and when people spread you out be able to play every down and he can do that. He’s extremely intelligent, a hard worker and has absolutely no issues.”
So the Dolphins wound up with a defensive stalwart, a high profile special teams player and an offensive threat from one program. That’s some serious balance out of one draft class, and Gillislee, chosen in the fifth round with the 164th overall pick, is just now coming into his own after seeing limited playing time his first three years with the Gators.
Sitting behind the likes of Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps on the depth chart at Florida only made Gillislee hungrier to produce when Muschamp handed him the starting running back job as a senior in 2012. At 5-11 and 206 pounds, his combination of power and quickness caused problems for SEC defenses and he rushed for 1,152 yards and 10 touchdowns on 244 carries, while also making an impact with his blocking in pass protection and as a receiver out of the backfield.
“He was probably nowhere on the radar this time last year and is a guy that just brings his lunch pail to work everyday,” Muschamp said. “He’s an extremely hard worker and has got good lateral quickness and can get vertical in the hole quick. He’s tough, hard-nosed and can play every down because he can protect on third down, catches the ball well and he’s smart and again no issues. He’s got really good lower body flexibility and good punch and power on all blocks.”
Sturgis was projected to be one of the top kickers in this draft class and was an All-American in each of the last two seasons. As a senior he was 24-of-28 on field goals and 34-of-35 on extra points and there is a YouTube video out there showing him converting a field goal from 72 yards out on a high school field.
If there is one thing Sturgis is not lacking in it’s confidence, and that’s what compelled Muschamp to emphatically sing his praises. Sturgis’ proficiency impacted the Gators’ in-game strategy on numerous occasions because of how he could affect the scoreboard.
“Caleb Sturgis is the best kicker I’ve ever been around when you hit the 37- or 38-yardline depending on whether you’re in range,” said Muschamp, who watched Sturgis win his fair share of games with a late field goal. “He’s accurate, has got a strong leg and is an extremely hard worker. I’ve just never had a confidence level in a young man when he steps on the field that he’s going to be productive for your football team. I’ve never been around a guy as confident and the confidence level I had in him I’ve never had in another kicker. He does a good job of getting the ball up and he’s not a low trajectory kicker.”
All three of these players learned quite a bit from Muschamp and from facing the pressure that comes week in and out in the SEC, but an NFL season is longer and of course the caliber of competition is higher. They will get their first exposure to the differences at this weekend’s rookie mini-camp at the Doctor’s Hospital Training Facility in Davie.
“We all can improve in different ways and I think them adjusting to the NFL will be the first thing,” Muschamp said. “First of all, being in the NFL the one year I was there, it’s a long season and when you hit Thanksgiving you’ve got five or six games left and hopefully the playoffs. So it’s a long year managing through that and the daily grind of going through it reveals it’s an occupation and not a hobby or just something you’re doing in college. I think all three will adjust well because all three are very intelligent and they’re mature guys and generally the more mature players adjust well and translate well to the National Football League.”