Florida Gators sophomore tight end A.C. Leonard has returned to practice after serving a six-week suspension following an arrest for misdemeanor domestic battery. Leonard was indefinitely suspended from team activities by head coach Will Muschamp, who said early in the spring that he still had a number of conditions to meet before he would be allowed to return to the team.
However, in a statement released Wednesday evening following a report by The Gainesville Sun, Muschamp explained that Leonard was back at least temporarily. “After a six-week suspension from team activities, A.C. Leonard has been cleared to return to practice only,” he said according to the team. “He still has a lot of things to work through before his status for the fall is addressed.”
Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn sat down Wednesday to discuss how his unit is progressing approximately midway through the 2012 spring practice session. Quinn touched on some individual players that are standing out, how teachings from the classroom are translating to the field and his overall plan for the 2012 season.
GOING FROM GOOD TO BETTER TO GREAT
Quinn helped lead Florida to a top-10 ranked defense in 2011 but is anxious to see what his unit can do after a year of retention and execution. He and Muschamp have spoken extensively throughout the spring about the team focusing on turnovers on both sides of the ball. However, there is a second step in the Gators’ becoming one of the top defensive teams in the country: dominating the line of scrimmage.
“That’s the goal,” he said of taking the defense to the next level this year. “That’s the whole reason of doing it here – to say where can we take this group of guys and see how far we can come as players and how far we can take our defense.”
“One – we got to get better at taking the ball away from the opponent. That’s clearly one of the things that we had a tough time doing last year, and it’s going to be a real emphasis moving forward. Two – for us to be the defense that we want to be, we’ve got to do a better job at the line of scrimmage and in the run game. For us that’s going to create more third-down opportunities, more opportunities for us to get to the pass rusher. [...] If we do those two things and keep moving forward in the other areas, then you’re [a team that’s] hard to deal with.”
Already confident in the defense, Quinn has seen his players become more efficient in the meeting rooms, quicker when it comes to comprehending new concepts and taking significant steps in improving their communication. The instant recall that Florida is showing leads to less thinking and more reacting with helmets and pads on.
“We have a number of players back so for the first meetings – boom – the recall, the communication, the trust, the knowledge of how to work. What a difference a year makes,” he said.
Senior Mike linebacker Jon Bostic: “It’s really a good thing to see a guy take it from the meeting room and then put it on the grass. That to me is when you see the light [turn on]. [...] With Bostic it has really been more of a physical element of the game because the guy has always been pretty mentally quick. In his system he plays all downs so he picks up football fast. It’s a real compliment to a guy to say this guy gets football. And Jon does. [...] When he took that from the meeting room on to the grass this spring, I was really encouraged by that and anxious to see him take the next step as a player.”
Senior safety Josh Evans: “Josh Evans is another one whose communication and confidence [have improved].”
Linebackers redshirt sophomore Michael Taylor and freshman Antonio Morrison: “Michael Taylor is one to me from where he was from a year ago to now, the trust, the knowledge of the system – in that way he’s really improving. Antonio Morrison is a young player that has really grabbed our attention by how physical he is and the style that he can play.”
Junior cornerback Cody Riggs: “Cody Riggs is having a really good spring. It’s good to see that experience take over and do things.”
Sophomore CB Louchiez Purifoy: “Louchiez Purifoy as a young player is really moving in. He uses his size and uses his length. [...] He really kind of came on and played some. All the way through the bowl preparations is where we saw the guy break through. And in that game he played a bunch. In the offseason we said the light has gone on for him. That has carried on through the offseason. I like the way he challenges. As a tall guy he can press and get his hands on people. He’s had a good offseason and we’re halfway through the spring practice and I’m pleased with where he’s at.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Quinn said junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd will continue to play both his natural position and defensive end both due to the lack of depth at the latter position as well as his immense talent. “I think he can handle it. It happens with a lot of big guys where right now he can be a nickel tackle – and he’s done a lot of that this spring – and a base end.” Junior DT Dominique Easley, like Floyd a year ago, may be considered for a defensive end role when he returns from a torn ACL; however, Floyd is the one at that dual position right now. “He adds value to me for our defense because I know he can do it at end,” Quinn said. “My goal is to put guys in the best spot to help us win and really that’s what we’ll do when we get [into training camp].”
» On if Purifoy could start at cornerback opposite sophomore Marcus Roberson: “He is absolutely in the mix to do that.”
» On Bostic and redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins being instrumental to the defense: “We are really counting on these linebackers to make some plays. I think both of those guys have the explosiveness to create big plays.” Quinn wants to see more than just wrap-up tackles but also tracking down players on the edges, covering tight ends and creating turnovers.
» On if it is hard for junior college defensive linemen like junior Damien Jacobs to transition: “Having a junior college player here at the [defensive] line position for the spring, that really makes a difference. It is a whole new system and that’s hard to learn in just a training camp – not just for a lineman. It’s not just necessarily he plays. A lot of the big guys can learn the plays; it’s not exactly rocket science what we’re doing on the defensive line. But there is a lot of technical play – where you put your hands, where you put your eyes, how you run the stunt. So it’s more along the lines of how you learn the technique fast.”
» On emphasizing pass rush in addition to turnovers: “Turnovers is really a team thing. It’s how we go about our approach with the players. But certainly rush and affecting the quarterback – at times we’ll do it with pressure, at times we’ll do it with a four-man rush. But we’ve been working hard at it and I think we’ll see the benefit of that.”