There are plenty of reasons why a particular player may or may not see the football field on any given Saturday. For the Florida Gators and head coach Will Muschamp, consistency in effort during practice leading up to the game is of paramount importance in determining how many opportunities one might see on the gridiron.
Such is the case for redshirt junior wide receiver Andre Debose, who looked to have turned a corner in 2011 from a playmaking standpoint while leading the team in receiving yards (432) and touchdowns (4). Yet Debose, the primary kick returner, has barely played on offense in 2012 and does not have a single reception on the year (he has two carries out of the back field for a net of one yard gained).
Asked specifically about Debose on Monday for the second-straight week, Muschamp once again noted that he will see the field more as soon as he becomes a consistent performer in practices throughout the week.
“Anybody that’s in the coaching profession [knows] there’s a key to every kid. And we’ve got to find that key to motivate any young man, not just Andre, day-in, day-out to consistently perform well, to consistently do it the right way,” he said.
“Generally your practice habits do carry over to your game. I am young, but I’m old-fashioned and I believe that. Guys that don’t go out and consistently perform well at practice, generally it carries over to the game.
“As coaches, we want guys to consistently do it well and do it right. We promote that within our program and we’re going to practice what we preach around here to our football team. Effort as much as anything [is important] but consistently doing it the right way. It’s consistently doing it the right way. Consistent effort is different.”
Not every player is dependable from the get go as far as his production during practice is concerned. For most there is a major transition period, especially in their first year or two playing college football.
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“It’s very difficult because most times in most situations in high school, and I’m not saying all, most situations they have not been asked to work hard because they haven’t had to. They’ve been so much better. They’ve been the big fish in the little pond, and they didn’t have to work very hard. Their athleticism, their raw athleticism, was so much better than the other guy [that] it didn’t really matter,” Muschamp explained.
“Now, all of a sudden, they’re swimming in a big lake and they better figure out that the other guys run well, too. The little things matter like how you run a route, how you cover the guy, your hand placement, your pad level. All of those things do matter. Working hard all the time [does] matter. You can’t have a mental lapse as far as you work ethic and your concentration and your focus.”
One player who has begun showcasing the consistency that Muschamp desires is redshirt sophomore WR Quinton Dunbar. The third-year receiver, who caught his first touchdown of the season on Saturday, is currently second on the Gators in receptions (10) and third in receiving yards (109).
“It was a good catch,” Muschamp said of Dunbar’s touchdown, “and it was a catch over the middle, which is something he needed to do – go across the middle and understand that ball was in the air to go make that play. I was very happy for him. He’s a guy that has been a very unselfish guy this year. Really worked hard in the blocking aspect of it and understanding being a total receiver.”
Pass catchers and young players are not the only ones that need to show consistency during practice. Muschamp was quick to point out that two of the best defenders in the history of the NFL – both of whom he coached while a member of the Miami Dolphins coaching staff – understood that hard work in practice translates to game day.
“Jason Taylor is one of the best practice players I’ve ever been around,” he said. “Junior Seau – one of the practice players I’ve ever been around. They’re going to be in [the Pro Football Hall of Fame in] Canton, OH for a reason. God blessed with them with a lot of ability and they took advantage of the ability. They took it to another level.”
Whether or not Debose can take that next step in practice remains to be seen though his time with Florida is quickly running out. The fourth-year player is now a third of the way into his second-to-last season of college football and is in a position where, going forward, his fate is in no one’s hands but his own.