With the team beginning preparations for the 2013 Sugar Bowl against the Louisville Cardinals in New Orleans, LA on Jan. 2, No. 3 Florida Gators defensive coordinator Brent Pease and redshirt senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter sat down with the media to discuss the team’s defense and how it is shaping up for the bowl game.
FOWLER IS “SPECIAL,” POOLE IS IMPRESSING
Head coach Will Muschamp has propped up sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy all season for making great strides in his game during practices leading up to the 2012 Gator Bowl. Asked Wednesday who has made similar strides so far in these bowl practices, Quinn pointed to two players in particular.
“In the front seven, one that is really coming on that you can see is [Buck linebacker] Dante Fowler. He’s played all year. He’s playing really at a high level right now and to me you can see the momentum, the confidence and the understanding at a faster rate. That part has been exciting,” Quinn said. “On the back end, one guy that has caught my attention that is doing a good job right now is [CB] Brian Poole. I’d say those two players are really ones to me that have caught my eye, and I thought they’ve had a good camp in terms of the work and stuff they’ve put in.”
For players like Purifoy last year and Poole this year, Quinn said it is all about growth and development. Freshmen may not pick up terminology or technique in the few practices before the season begins, so the coaching staff may not have the necessary confidence in them to play them early. As the season goes on, the players are able to pick up a lot more and are then able to display the improvements they have made in bowl practices when younger players get more time on the field.
Asked to point out players that have impressed him in bowl practice, Hunter named Purifoy, Fowler, junior DT Damien Jacobs, freshman defensive end Jonathan Bullard and sophomore CB Marcus Roberson. He had plenty of praise for Fowler in particular.
“That kid’s special. He’s special. He’s what I wanted to be my freshman year. He is very special. He’s going to be a great player here. Quick, powerful guy,” Hunter said. “I think he can play inside at three-technique; I think he can play outside at the end. He can cover tight ends. He’s just a special athlete, special football player. He’s learning the system more than anything. He’s getting smarter. He’s a smarter football player than he was when he first came in. These practices [are] where the coaches can help the younger guys more because the seniors know everything.”
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EVALUATING TALENTED JUNIORS
Quinn on Wednesday was asked to evaluate the juniors on the team that have at least put some consideration into leaving early and entering the 2013 NFL Draft. Below are his thoughts on each of those players.
» Junior safety Matt Elam: “He can be because of his explosive power. The guy is a big-time hitter. He’s got very good football instincts. That’s why we’ve been able to play him at a number of different spots this year. … I think just his physical nature and he way that he plays. He’s aggressive. He’s a very good special teams player. He’s a good tackler. He’s a good blitzer. Those are some of the things that make him unique. … He’s unique because he plays safety and nickel. I don’t know if there’s many guys in the NFL right now who play both.”
» Redshirt junior Will LB Jelani Jenkins: “He’s got terrific speed to play linebacker. To me, that’s one of the critical elements to playing linebacker in the NFL. You’ve got to have speed and he has that. He’s got a very high football IQ. He understands schemes and concepts extremely well. He can matchup on tight ends and backs from a coverage standpoint.”
» Junior DT Sharrif Floyd: “Inside he’s got real quickness for a big guy. For a 305 pounder, he kind of moves like a 275 pounder. He’s got power in his lower body that he can sustain and anchor on blocks. He can push the pocket as a rusher. I think he’s got value that he can play all downs. Sometimes a defensive tackle might only be a first or second down player, but he’s really an all-downs player.”
» Junior DE Dominique Easley: “Dominique is another guy that’s got terrific position flexibility. … He has rare quickness. As a nickel rusher, he’s a hard matchup for a guard. He’s got enough strength to play over the tight end. He’s very heavy-handed. The physical intensity he brings will allow him to have a terrific career. He is one of the toughest players and loves playing and loves the intensity of the sport.”
Though he does believe that all four can play in the NFL, only Elam, Jenkins and Floyd submitted paperwork to gauge their draft stock. Quinn noted that he was surprised how little he has spoken with the players about their future up to this point.
“Not as much as I was thinking that would be the case. I think, in my opinion, I’ve kind of stayed back a little bit and waited for them to come and use me as a resource. If they want my opinion on it, I would certainly give it,” he said. “It hasn’t really come up as much as maybe even I thought that it would. I think it’s more of a personal decision I guess for them where I wouldn’t feel comfortable [telling them to stay or go]. Ultimately, that’s one that they have to make. … I’m glad that some guys are playing well, but we’re going to address it after the [bowl] game. It’s a good problem for them to have and think about.”
Hunter conveyed Wednesday that he appreciated how the junior class has acted in regards to potentially leaving early for the NFL. He noted that he has not heard any talk about it whatsoever, a stark contract to what he experience in his first few years on the team. “When I was a younger guy, I used to hear it all the time. ‘Oh man, I’m leaving. I don’t want to be here anymore. I’m going to get money.’ This year, not one bit,” he said.
He also suggested that anyone interested in leaving early speak with two particular members of the coaching staff. “Talk to Dan Quinn and Bryant Young. That’s the best advice I can give,” he said. “Those guys know it. They wouldn’t lie to you. They love us, they really do. I know they really care about us and they won’t let us make a bad decision. Ultimately the decision is ours, but those guys will give us the best advice they can.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Quinn on if stopping Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel in the second half this season is something to take pride in: “It certainly is. I had a chance to talk to the offensive coordinator there. We were laughing with another coach from LSU. We said, ‘That guy is a problem.’ That was my best way to describe it when people ask. … What a season the guy had. Unbelievable.”
» Quinn said that the best way to deal with talented quarterbacks is to get them “off the spot” while playing tighter coverage down the field and providing consistent pressure throughout the game. Affecting the quarterback has been a key to Florida’s defensive success this season. Quinn credits the team’s deep defensive front because the rotation has allowed players to stay fresh and finish games.
» Quinn on redshirt sophomore quarterback Tyler Murphy helping out on the scout team: “That’s a real team guy, helping the team and having a role to do it. There’s never a question. He’ll come down whenever you need, watch tape of the player we’re playing [and emulate him].”
» Quinn on if junior Buck LB Ronald Powell has returned to practice at all: “Looks good but not in terms of pads and that kind of thing at this point.”
» Quinn on how to prepare for players leaving early: “It’s really just the depth in the recruiting, when you go through it, to have enough in your pool. That was a big important part of why we maybe played a little bit better this year – we had better depth on our team. That was a big factor for us. I think you always have to be prepared by the amount of players you’re able to bring in.”
» Hunter on if he still speaks with Charlie Strong often and the type of person he is on and off the field: “When he first left we talked every now and then. Now we haven’t talked in a long time, but I’m looking forward to seeing him. He was just a real honest guy. He liked to have fun, liked to work at the same time. … I miss Coach Strong. He was a great guy first and foremost and a good coach. … He’s a great father figure, someone I want to be like when I grow up. Guys like him and Coach Dan Quinn and Coach Young, those guys are great people first of all and then great coaches.”