No. 3 Florida Gators defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and a handful of players met with the media after practice on Saturday to preview the 2013 Sugar Bowl against the No. 21 Louisville Cardinals and provide thoughts on the team heading into the game.
ELAM’S IMPORTANCE AND FUTURE
Not every team has player as passionate and tough as junior safety Matt Elam. A first-team All-American who may very well be playing his final game at Florida, he was asked on Saturday what play he will remember from the 2012 season. “Maybe the LSU game. That strip was a big play. That saved the game. That probably was the biggest play of the year,” he said.
His teammates agree. “Right after they showed that the ball did come out and they said it was our ball. That might be the play,” senior linebacker Jon Bostic noted.
Elam is Florida’s best playmaker on the defensive side of the ball but may very well be taking his talents to the next level. According to Dwyer High School head coach Jack Daniels, who spoke to the Palm Beach Post, Elam’s time in the orange and blue may be through on Wednesday. “I think he’s got his mind made up. He’s gone,” Daniels said.
Whether or not he does decide to leave, something that neither he nor the coaching staff plan to discuss until after the bowl game, he has made a huge fan out of his defensive coordinator.
“The biggest transformation to me that I’ve seen from my first year of coaching Matt to now is how physical he is. And I think that really has to stem from the time and effort that he spent in the weight room changing. He’s getting stronger,” Quinn said.
“We play him at the line of scrimmage a lot, whether it’s at safety or nickel. And I think he can blitz. He can cover. But to me the physical style he plays with is one of the things that really jumps out on your team. He can blitz. He can cover. But just the physical nature that a guy can bring to your club really is a huge advantage.”
Read the rest of what the Gators had to say…after the break!
FILLING A BIG SPOT IN THE MIDDLE
Elam’s potential departure could be a big blow for Florida, but the Gators have known all season long that Bostic would be heading out the door after his fourth year with the team. Considered the heart and soul of the defense, he brushed off praise Saturday and said it was the effort of everyone on his side of the ball that counted.
“Me playing linebacker really holds down the defense, but it’s really everyone helping each other out. We help the secondary out and get in the passing lanes. Our whole defense really ties together,” Bostic said.
Not shy to heap on the praise was Quinn, who indicated that he believes Bostic can be a big-time contributor at the next level because he does so much so well that he will always have a spot on a roster and on a team.
“He plays in all of our packages. He plays Mike. He’s our signal caller. He makes a lot of adjustments,” Quinn said. “The thing that most impressed me coming in here, Jon’s a very mature guy and has what we call in the coaching world very good football intelligence. He’s a smart guy but not all smart guys are able to carry it over on to the grass and do that.
“For him, the football intelligence will come with questions. … [That’s] kind of the like advanced level thinking that he has. I think he’s a good blitzer. And one of the things, going into Jon’s senior year, we challenged him on how physical can you play at inside linebacker. And I think he’s really answered the challenge in that way. … I’ve been very impressed by the way he’s handled himself this year and the leadership he gives us.”
With Bostic out of the picture after Wednesday’s game, the coaching staff will be focused on who will fill his role in 2013. Freshman LB Antonio Morrison showed a lot of promise and “really caught [Quinn’s] attention” during the season. Quinn also said the coaches feel like they can “totally count on” redshirt freshman LB Michael Taylor to play on the inside. There was also a bit of praise from Quinn for redshirt sophomore LB Neiron Ball, who came back this year from a serious injury but could start next season.
STAYING OR GOING?
While Quinn was discussing Morrison, Taylor and Ball, he mentioned that “those three guys moving forward, and Jelani [Jenkins] coming back would be the four guys,” insinuating that Jenkins may be leaning towards staying for his redshirt senior season. Pressed further about the matter, Quinn refused to relinquish more information.
“I hope so,” he said of the prospect that Jenkins might return. “We’ll kind of visit those guys after the ballgame in terms of who will go, who won’t. He’s certainly somebody that will be eligible to. But to the guys’ credit, they’ve done a good job staying locked in on the ballgame. There hasn’t been a lot of talk, certainly not with me, where or what or when or how. So that way we’re going to do all the stuff and get into the game and anybody that needs to address that kind of stuff we’re going to address it after the ballgame.”
There are plenty of other players who will be forced to address their future in the coming weeks. Junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is expected to get the most looks as a potential first-round pick, but he refused to speak on the subject Saturday. “My coaches and I decided that we are going to sit down after the season and after the bowl game and talk about that,” he said. Junior defensive end Dominique Easley expressed a similar sentiment on Friday.
Redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed will probably speak (and deny a decision) on Sunday, leaving sophomore quarterback Jacoby Brissett and talk of a potential transfer as the only other outstanding question.
To that end, Daniels told the Palm Beach Post (likely as part of the same conversation) that he believes Brissett will stick around despite his pleas for him to explore options elsewhere. “He loves it there,” Daniels said.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Quinn on the Gators’ mindset coming into the game: “The attitude has been outstanding in terms of the players and the attention to detail we’ve had to have. So couldn’t be more thrilled with the preparation. I thought the guys have handled it in the right way and can’t wait to get to the game.”
» Quinn on the team succeeding defensively against good mobile quarterbacks: “I think, number one, against mobile quarterbacks, you gotta have some discipline in the way you rush. … One of the things you do early on in the week is not only look at the scheme of what the other club is doing, but the style of player. … I think number one you have to have discipline in the way you rush a mobile quarterback and certain ways in terms of coverage or man to man or zone, that factors in as well.”
» Quinn on the emotions of the last game for the senior class and juniors leaving early: “For the seniors, really good senior class, showing good leadership and good togetherness. And I think this team has good morale about it. They like practicing, playing with each other, being around each other. There’s that common camaraderie that good teams have it. They have it. Not every team is exactly the same from year to year. So for the seniors and those guys who possibly may be moving on, what a terrific group. So we went through, hey, this is your last game in The Swamp, which is a big deal for those guys who have invested so much time and we kind of went through that again at Florida State for our last regular season game together. And I’m sure there will be a little bit of that [this week].”
» Quinn on being involved in a top-tier bowl game for the first time in his career: “It is a blast. I didn’t know what it was about because I had never coached where we had a big bowl game that kind of stuff. … I didn’t know how important that bowl time was to develop some of the younger players. … So it’s been a terrific experience. And the people here have been outstanding. So it really is something that there’s been a lot of things but this is certainly one that I’ve enjoyed a great amount.”
» Quinn on how Floyd plays: “The one thing that he can provide, he’s got good initial quickness for a big guy. 300-305 pounds but he does have good initial quickness, real power in his lower body. Sometimes a guy may have good initial quickness but will rise up and you can use his hands where this guy can really use his power to push the pocket as a quarterback, affect it that way. He doesn’t affect the quarterback in the terms of numbers of sacks that he has but he does affect the quarterback in the way he can push the pocket and maybe get the quarterback off the spot so we can get the hit or affect the guy in that way.”
» Quinn on junior Buck LB Ronald Powell potentially improving the pass rush in a major way in 2013: “His first year playing last year, some games up, some games not quite as much. In the spring it was kind of like the analogy I used with [Loucheiz] Purifoy where he ‘got it.’ I wish I could have shown you that, where the amount that he improved over a spring practice … whereas now he was another guy trying to make another big step. … I saw Powell in that same light, he would be another one to jump up and improve.”
» Floyd on how the team has improved the last three seasons: “We came a long way even just inside of our program learning to believe and trust in each other and talk to each other. Not just with the good things but with the bad things as well. We did a great job of just coming together and taking care of each other’s problems instead of putting it on the coaches.”
» Elam on what he learned from head coach Will Muschamp: “His knowledge and things like that. I learned a lot of new things from Muschamp, things I didn’t know and things I never thought I knew. So, Muschamp came in and it was big.”
» Redshirt senior DT Omar Hunter on falling to Georgia: “It was a tough game, losing to a rival, and it being in the SEC and losing. It cost us in going to the SEC Championship, but it was a learning experience for a lot of the young guys on this team. For a lot of older guys like myself, going forward, it lets you know that you can’t get down. You have bigger things ahead of you. Luckily, we were able to get back on track and make it to a BCS game.”
» Senior S Josh Evans on why the third-down defense has improved so much: “Communication. That was something we lacked last year and learning to anticipate certain calls. We can’t get locked into a certain call and not be ready for certain tricks and formations and that’s what we’ve been improving on this year. We’ve gotten faster, quicker, and we can move that linebacker outside or tell the corner he’s in man or zone and things like that.”
* All quotes courtesy of the Sugar Bowl.