Muschamp, Quinn talk Gators team, defense

With the Florida Gators set to begin 2012 spring practice on Wednesday, head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn met with the media Tuesday to discuss a variety of topics concerning the team’s defense.

RELATED: Muschamp, Pease talk Florida Gators offense | Spring depth chart

PRIORITIES FOR 2012

Just as offensive coordinator Brent Pease listed his five offensive philosophies heading into the season, Muschamp took time before answering questions on Wednesday to discuss – in detail – his three priorities for the Gators on both sides of the ball this year.

(1) As we hit spring, the emphasis to me as a team [is on] turnover margin. We’re minus 12 last year. We’re 113th in the country. It’s really a minor miracle we won seven games. You can’t win games turning it over and not getting turnovers. When I was at Texas my second-to-last year, I think we led the country in turnovers. We emphasize it. It’s not like we’re all of a sudden going to start emphasizing it. Dan talks about it with our defense every single day. We’ve got to find different ways to emphasize it. I don’t know what if you do the same things you’re going to get the same results. We had 15 dropped interceptions, so we had 15 times where we have both hands on the ball. And we’ve got to finish plays. We’re going to do more ball drills. We’re going to do some things that we’ve got to do to get the ball in position for our offense and let Brent and the guys have a chance. That’s a huge point of emphasis.

(2) We need to make a lot more explosive plays, but we need to limit them on defense, but turnover margin is really the emphasis we’re looking at. Ball possession, security of the ball offensively, big emphasis.

(3) Mental and physical toughness. We had some discipline issues and that falls on my shoulders – 41 what I would call ‘discipline penalties,’ jumping offsides, false starts, 23 false starts, 18 offside penalties defensively, so that’s almost half of our penalties. Those are things we will not tolerate. We’ve got more depth on our football team now. There were some opportunities last year where a guy would jump offsides and we didn’t have anybody else to go to. That guy won’t play anymore, so we’ll get him out of the game and put somebody else in there. [...] The physical toughness of stopping the run and being able to run the ball when you need to, and again, not being hardheaded, we’re trying to run the ball. When they load the box, you’ve got to be able to create some match ups outside and win, but to do the things you’ve got to do to win games, and we’ll talk a little bit about that further.

» Quinn on improving turnover margin: “There’s really two kinds of turnovers. There’s one that I’ll call a conscious effort: You strip the quarterback, you’ve got a big hit on the running back. Then there’s some that are just an unconscious effort: There was an overthrown ball, you picked it [up]. We’ve got to do a much better job of the conscious effort, making a big emphasis on taking the ball away. As coach had talked about, it’s something that we address a lot. So what did I do this offseason that was an important part for me, to call some other clubs and say what are some of the things you’re doing that you guys played so well to get the ball away. I talked to the guys at San Francisco; they had a terrific turnover margin this year so important for me to reach out. Are you doing anything different? [...] It’s awareness for the players, and I emphasized it, and as Will said, if you can do the same thing you’ll get the same results. We’re going to challenge, do some different drills for it, and we’re going to improve in that area.”

» Quinn on mental and physical toughness: “The off season program was the first step in that, and that’s what you’re trying to do. Let’s face it, everybody in the country is talking about being a tough, physical team. Who wouldn’t want to be on a tough, physical team? We all would be. How do you put that into action? And I think it starts in the weight room. [...] There’s something that you get accomplished when you go through a physical offseason program that you come out the other end and you feel a little stronger, and you feel a little more ready to take on a different role on the field. And then when you get out on the grass it’s the competition, and I think that’s one of the really exciting things about coaching at a place like here that there’s some really good competition on the other side of the ball. I think you gain something from that as a player when you have to go against a certain player, whether it’s covering him or taking him on at the line of scrimmage or in that physical element. So that’s one of the things that I’m looking forward to is competition going forward into spring practice.”

Read more about the defense’s players and the coaches’ philosophies…

ORAGNIZING AND IMPROVING THE DEFENSIVE LINE

Defensive tackle Jaye Howard is headed to the NFL and junior DT Dominique Easley is out likely at least until the summer with a torn ACL, so Florida is looking to fill in holes on what was an effective defensive front in 2011. Junior DT Sharrif Floyd, who played some time at defensive end one year ago, will continue filling in at that position while the Gators hope that other players like redshirt seniors Omar Hunter and Earl Okine, redshirt sophomore Leon Orr and transfer Damien Jacobs step up in a big way.

» Muschamp on Floyd: “Sharrif really played well inside for us, really played well at defensive tackle, probably his more natural position. As you get in, you’ve got to get your best guys on the field, and that’s really where we got in the crosshairs last year as far as Dominique and Sharrif. Sharrif’s situation the NCAA going into the season, not knowing when we were going to get him back, we decided to play him at end and Dominique inside. We may flip-flop that as we go into fall. Sharrif will play both inside and outside. When we’re in nickel situations, he will be an inside player. When we’re in regular situations, he will play the end in spring, but he will also play inside, so will play both positions.”

» Quinn on Floyd moving back-and-forth: “I think he does a good job. In the run game, he’s really effective at defensive end, as well. One of the real challenges when you’re playing two spots is just the learning of it. At defensive end you’ll have certain blocks that will come that won’t happen at defensive tackle, and certain pressures that we’ll have, you’ll have a different responsibility as a tackle or as an end. So sometimes there’s some double learning in that way that you’ll have to train at, so that’s one of the real challenges for a guy when he plays two spots is just learning how to play two different positions. In other words, it was like a tight end playing running back. Some of the routes are different at running back than they would be at tight end if that would be a good analogy.”

» Muschamp on the rest of the line: “We need Earl Okine to step for us. As far as playing at the end position, Leon Orr is a guy that’s had a nice off season, needs to continue to play well. We need for to him to give us some snaps. Damien Jacobs is a junior college player that we signed, came in here mid year, has done a nice job for us. We’ll see what he can do inside. He’ll play the nose and the three as well as Leon, and Leon can play some end. We moved Nick Alajajian to defensive tackle. We felt like on the offensive line right now, we needed more depth up front defensively, especially with Dominique not going through spring. We wanted to give Nick an opportunity to come over and see what he could do on the defensive side of the ball, so we’ll see how that works.”

» Muschamp again on Orr and Jacobs: “Well, Leon is a guy that we’ve really put some heat on. He needs to step forward. He needs to play lower pad level. He needs to play behind his pads. It’s his opportunity to step forward and do some things for us. Damien Jacobs is a guy that we really like out of East Mississippi. He’s been a nice addition so far in our offseason program to see him move around and some of the things he does. He’s got good lower body flexibility. He’s got good quickness and initial quickness, and Dan and Bryant [Young] have been real pleased with some of the stuff they’ve seen in the off season program. I think both of those guys are guys that need to figure into our depth, and however they play, it’s nice to have some more numbers there as opposed to last spring, I can tell you that.”

» Quinn on his expectations for Jacobs: “The expectations for a guy who comes in as a junior college player, obviously they’re coming in to provide a service where he can come in and play right away. That’s the thing we talked to him when we were recruiting: ‘Hey, we want you to come in and compete and it’s the SEC and at a place such as this.’ So the expectation for him is, number one, let’s come in and learn the system and let’s help your skills develop and see how far we can take your career and go from there. My expectations going into the spring is, let’s learn the system and let’s play with the technique that we want to do here. The offseason program is for him get stronger, get in shape, push it hard, get to know your teammates, and now as we get forward to spring practice, the next step for him is learning the system and playing within that system to play it really well.”

» Quinn on how Okine can improve: “I think when he starts doing it on a consistent basis. [...] There’s times when Earl can flash some really good things, so consistency over time, doing it right over and over again, that’s one of the things you’re looking for as a coach as a guy you can trust to say here’s how he’s going to do it and you can count on that every day of the week.”

LOOKING FOR EVEN MORE FROM THE LINEBACKERS

Florida’s starting linebackers should be unchanged from a year ago with senior Mike LB Jon Bostic, redshirt junior Will LB Jelani Jenkins and redshirt senior Sam LB Lerentee McCray manning the field behind the defensive line. The Gators also have junior Ronald Powell coming back as the Buck linebacker/defensive end. However, Florida still searching for depth behind those four and must find someone to will in for McCray while he currently sits out with a shoulder injury.

» Quinn on how Bostic can get even better: “For me he’s an every down linebacker [in the NFL], and one of the things that I think when you see as a linebacker how many knock back physical hits as an inside linebacker that you put on tape, and that’s one of the things we addressed with him, just like we did all the guys. [...] For me his physical style of play was one [thing] that we’re challenging Jon on, and I’m anxious to see what he’s going to bring. He has got a very high football IQ. He runs well, and I’m anxious to see him take the next step as a player, and I think he’ll do that.”

» Muschamp on McCray not being back healthy yet: “Lerentee McCray still has some lasting effects from the hit he took in the Georgia game from his shoulder, and he probably could go through spring but to me there’s no sense in chancing it with him. He’s a senior. He’s a guy that’s proven himself as a football player. Let’s continue to let him heal through spring, get some other guys some opportunities, and so I’m going to hold him.”

» Muschamp on Neiron Ball (vascular condition) not being back on the field yet: “Ball has been cleared for physical activity but not for spring, and we’re still working through that process as we speak. But as far as the physical activity stuff, he can do. As far as the practicing and those things, we’re not there yet, okay, so that’s where we are with that.”

» Muschamp on sophomore Graham Stewart moving around a bit: “We’ll move Graham Stewart outside, he had been playing mostly at the Mike position, but we felt like we needed to build our depth outside a little bit more, especially with Lerentee not going through spring.”

FILLING AND BUILDING DEPTH IN THE SECONDARY

Junior safety Matt Elam returns in 2012 as the most talented open-space player that the Gators have, but he is going to need plenty of help to ensure that Florida’s defense runs even more efficiently than it did a year ago. With sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson (neck) not fully back to practice yet and redshirt junior CB Jeremy Brown (knee) still rehabbing his nagging injury, the Gators are also looking for solutions at cornerback that may come later than sooner.

» Quinn on his expectations for Elam: “One of the things in going through with Matt, I thought that he can improve on is tackling. He’s a very physical player, and we use him in run support. We use him at nickel. He’s a good blitzer. Those are one of the things he can really improve at taking the ball away. He’s got good ball skills to do it. We’re going to put him in that position at safety and at nickel, so to me as a safety you’ve got to be a really good tackler. I think that’s one of the areas of emphasis I wanted for him coming into the spring, and then just his attempts at the ball where he can get more interceptions, more rip attempts. He’s one of the guys, as you know, I’ve talked about Matt before, he can really be a ball hawk. I think he’s got all the right stuff about him to do that.”

» Muschamp on Roberson’s health and recovery: “Marcus Roberson has been cleared but not for contact, so he starting spring will not be involved other than walk throughs and things like that. He will not be cleared for practice, but we certainly feel like he’s going to be cleared as far as we move forward. [...] I’m just happy that he’s probably going to be cleared for the fall. It’s a scary injury any time you’re dealing with the head or the neck, and I’m just very pleased we’re going to get him back in the fall more than likely. Marcus, it’s been very, frustrating for him. He’s a good young man, and he’s a competitive guy, and I know it’s been very frustrating for him.”

» Muschamp on the confusion over Brown’s knee injury: “[Some of you] felt like that I misled you all on Jeremy Brown. Jeremy Brown was injured in training camp, and our medical evaluation was he was going to be out for about a week. That’s what I was told, and that’s what I told you all. And when we’re in training camp, I don’t mind telling you about the injuries. Now, when we get into a game week situation, I’m not going to do anything to help our opponent, so when I say I’m not sure about a guy, I don’t know where a guy is going to be, he may or may not play, those situations obviously I’m not going to do anything to help our opponent as far as the game plan is concerned. But Jeremy was a situation where he rehabbed, it didn’t work, we rehabbed a different way, it didn’t work. We continued to progress, we tried to work him back in practice as the season was going, and he just never responded to rehab, so eventually we had surgery. So we all need to get on the same page as far as that’s concerned with that situation. That was our diagnosis early. Obviously it was not the right one, so we had to have surgery, and that progress has been going very well.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Muschamp on the team not having a lot of “talent” at Pro Day: “Heck, we need more guys out there in position to be drafted. That’s pretty evident as you go through our last two pro days. [...] We need to do a better job recruiting, we need to do a better job evaluating, we need to do a better job developing our players and coaching, that’s the bottom line. We need more guys involved in that, and that self evaluation sometimes is a hard thing, evaluate where you are as a program. But that’s the facts, and that’s the way it is.”

» Muschamp, sarcastically, on the importance of the pre-spring depth chart: “I know that is the most important thing you guys want to talk about. It is the most critical part of the day, maybe for the month of everybody – more important than the NCAA Tournament maybe is this depth chart right here.”

» Muschamp on filling out a NCAA Tournament bracket: “I do not do the bracket. Don’t show it to me. I don’t want to see it, alright?”

» Muschamp on CB Janoris Jenkins being on the field at Pro Day as a spectator: “It’s open to the public, so anybody can come. I have no problem. He did a great job for the University of Florida when he played here, and I wish him nothing but the best.”

» Muschamp on improvements from year one to year two: “We’ve got some kids in the room now that are nodding their head and they understand what we’re talking about. We’ve tried to keep as much verbiage the same as we can offensively so we keep some continuity on that side obviously and special teams as well. From that standpoint and a coaching standpoint, our players will be our best coaches in some situations because of the experience of teaching. We do a little bit more than most people do. That’s just what we do. It’s worked. Our players will be the best coaches in some situations this spring for our younger players.”

» Muschamp on an unwritten part of his job being getting players ready for the NFL: “That’s a huge part of your job. That’s why we run the systems we run from a standpoint of offense and defense and special teams. [...] Our basis of our defense is the same stuff we did at the Miami Dolphins, and the same things on the offensive side of the ball. When they watch our tape there are no projections, there are no ‘I wonder if he can do this’ with our offense or our defense. That’s part of the continual 365 days of preparing our players on and off the field for life after the University of Florida whether that’s in the NFL or it’s in the business world. It’s all the same to me. That’s a continual education process.”

» Quinn on why he stayed at Florida and did not go to the NFL with Tampa Bay: “Just kind of a personal philosophy. I’d rather not touch on that publicly. I’ll just kind of leave it at that.”

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