With the Florida Gators beginning weekly preparations for their first game on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing.
RAINEY READY TO RUN
Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey has shown flashes of his immense talent throughout his career. After sitting out a few games last season, Rainey got the chance to rejoin he team and prove that he can be effective and dynamic. Starting the 2011 season with a more mature mindset, he is ready to contribute even more to the Gators offense. “I see everything like a man. I do everything [more] professional,” Rainey said when explaining how his mindset has changed. “[I] think first. I would do something before I [thought] about it [before].”
He is also excited about the team’s pro-style offense, which he said is similar to the one he ran in high school. “It’s been a long time since we were playing and we’re in an offense that I love and I can’t wait to perform,” he said, noting that he will spend “a lot” of time in the backfield with senior RB Jeff Demps. “Everybody going to get the ball in this offense.” Asked if he enjoys getting the ball deeper in the backfield, Rainey laughed. “I feel super-good, great,” he said. “You can see the whole field, so you know how the scheme works, where to cut and stuff like that.”
UNKNOWN STARTERS MAKE ELAM UNCOMFORTABLE
[EXPAND Click to expand and read the remainder of this post.]As the only sure-fire starter in the secondary at this point, sophomore safety Matt Elam has a lot of responsibilities going into the season. Not only is he being counted on to perform at a high level game-in and game-out, he is also looked to as a leader by all of the freshman playing beside him in the secondary. “I really don’t have a choice but to be comfortable with [being a leader] because we’re young in the secondary,” he said. “A lot of people look up to me, so I have to abide by the rules basically and do my job. […] It was a very difficult role because I wasn’t used to that, but every day I try to get better. I’m getting better every day. I was always the quiet guy, but something had to grow out of me.”
One of two players who will start at safety in the season opener, Elam still does not know who is going to play next to him but would certainly like to sooner than later. “It’s hard not knowing who is going to play besides you, but I just continue to push the other players so they can get better. I want to feel comfortable,” he said. “It’s basically feeling comfortable. Knowing the person next to you, knowing what kind of plays he’s used to doing and what he’s great at and things like that. […] It could be a problem because you’re not used to playing with each other. You always have to have set starters so you can be comfortable. It can also help with energy; you get more energy and more enthusiasm with more people rotating in, fresh legs and stuff like that.”
HARRISON ACCEPTS THE PRESSURE
Moved over to a new position in the spring, redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison knows he will have to succeed as the man in the middle in order for Florida’s offense to work this year. The first player to start at center without the last name Pouncey in quite some time, Harrison accepts the pressure that comes with snapping the ball each play and is ready to take it head-on. “There should always be some kind of pressure to be a starter on a team, especially a team like the Florida Gators,” he said. “There is some pressure, but you just have to live up to the high expectations. To start on a team, especially in the SEC, there will always be pressure to be a starter.”
Discussing snapping the ball in particular, Harrison said that there obviously was an adjustment period for him but all of that has been worked out with time and practice and he can do it now without any miscues. “When I initially moved to center, I was having a little transition with the snaps and everything,” he explained. “Now I’m fine. We’ve got a lot of extra practice in and a lot of extra snaps after practice.”
Should he not perform, Harrison is aware that his job could be snatched up quickly. “Positions change day-by-day,” he said. “Whoever performs the best – the best five will play. Every day is a chance to get better, every day you got to perform at your best.” That mindset comes from offensive line coach Frank Verducci, who is forcing the players to play up to the level he wants on a practice-by-practice basis. “He has high expectations for all of his offensive linemen. If we meet or beat his expectations than he’s fine, but if he feels like we’re not living up to the expectations he set – that’s when he starts to get upset,” Harrison said. “If he has to, he will [get in your face]. He will do whatever he has to do to get the best offensive line.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Rainey on how head coach Will Muschamp has changed this week: “[He’s] more aggressive. He wants everybody to be mentally tough, focused and no putting around. It’s game week.”
» Rainey said all of the linebackers and defensive linemen hit hard but redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins is probably the hardest hitter on the team from his experience.
» Elam on freshman De’Ante “Pop” Saunders moving to safety: “Pop’s been doing great. I didn’t expect him to do so well because he’s never played the position, but Pop has been doing good.” He added that Saunders’s size is not an issue for the position.
» Elam on tackling redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed: “It’s very hard to cover and tackle Jordan Reed. He’s a very great player. He makes me better every day, and I make him better.”
» Elam on his excitement level heading into this season: “I’m way more excited because I have a lot more on the line, a bigger role and a lot of weight on my shoulders. That’s why I’m so excited.”
» Harrison on his expectations for the first game: “I would just like to see both offense and defense running as smooth as possible. I’d like to see all of us coming together and meshing as a team. We’ve been going against each other all through camp, so now it’s time to actually bring it together as a team and compete against other opponents.”
» Harrison on being ready to hit somebody: “I’m dying to. I’ve been itching to since Penn State.”
» Harrison confirmed what others have said, that the offensive line is very close both on and off the field. He said that the players being close in age has helped them communicate better and their friendship has really helped their production on the field.
» Harrison on redshirt senior transfer guard/center Dan Wenger: “He’s actually helped a lot. He’s been around the offense for five years going on his sixth year right now. He’s been able to point out little things that maybe the coach could not relate to us as well. He’s been able to help us out with that and it’s really helped the offense.”[/EXPAND]