Donovan confident in Gators’ rebuilt staff

It has been a long offseason for Florida Gators head basketball coach Billy Donovan. In addition to serving as a court coach for USA Basketball, traveling across the country recruiting some of the nation’s best high school players and preparing for the 2011-12 season, Donovan had to hire four new staff members including three assistant coaches.

“The only guy that liked me half way decent was our trainer [Dave Werner]. That’s because I take him fishing a lot,” Donovan joked during Florida basketball’s media day on Wednesday.

“In hiring, there [were] a couple things that were concerns for me. One, I felt like I needed some familiarity. People around me that knew me, knew Florida, knew the way we were going to do things here. It can be very time consuming when you have to train three new people. When I say ‘train,’ I’m not talking about coaching train them, but terminology on the court, how you go about recruiting, dealing with players, individual workouts, breaking down tape, scouting reports. All those things are things that need to be taught because it’s their first time doing it this way, not the first time in their career.

“The other thing too is, I talk a lot about our team chemistry, how we play together, chemistry on the court, chemistry off the court. I think it’s really hard to sit there and talk to your team [about that] when your coaching staff doesn’t have chemistry. Players see that stuff. I wanted to try to hire a staff where we all were going to try to make each other better, there were going to be great relationships, great respect and great passion.”

Donovan first reached out to an old friend and a familiar face for fans of Gators basketball. John Pelphrey, fresh off being fired by the Arkansas Razorbacks following five years as the team’s head coach, decided to return to Gainesville, FL where he was an assistant under Donovan from 1996-2002.

“From a familiarity standpoint, bringing John Pelrphey back first was very helpful to me because he had been with me for quite some time,” Donovan explained. “He knew me, knew Florida. I knew he could help the other guys.”

Next up was hiring another experienced assistant. Though there was no direct connection to Donovan, former St. John’s Red Storm head coach Norm Roberts became a top candidate. Like Donovan, Roberts is a native New Yorker, and the two had crossed paths as players and on the recruiting circuit. Roberts had been out of work for a year after being released by St. John’s in 2010.

“Getting the chance to hire Norm was a real big steal for us. Norm’s a high-character, a really good basketball coach,” Donovan said. “He obviously has head coaching experience under his belt at the highest level. He’s been a great guy. I’ve known Norm since we both got out of high school in New York at the same time, played against each other a little bit. Never had a close relationship but we knew each other.”

Rounding out the staff is former University of Florida director of basketball operations Matt McCall. Also serving as a team manager, head manager and graduate assistant during the seven years he worked under Donovan (2004-08), McCall left the program to become an assistant coach with the Florida Atlantic Owls under head coach Mike Jarvis. He is now back in a coaching role and with a lot more responsibilities.

“I don’t think it’s any different than when I was hired by Coach [Rick] Pitino at 24 years old at Kentucky. I started off as an administrative assistant and worked my way up and within 2-3 years was on the road recruiting at 25-26 years old. Matt’s been with me for a long period of time. He’s been involved. He was like an administrative assistant here,” Donovan said of hiring such a young assistant.

“He learned an awful lot at FAU. He had a lot to do with the players that were brought in there along with their staff. They won the league this past year. It’s one of those things when you know somebody as a person, someone that you’ve worked with and someone you’ve been around, it makes it a little bit easier. I don’t think there’s any question that he will do a terrific job for us and is more than ready to handle [it] because he knows exactly what’s going on.

“The one thing that’s great about him is he’s got great energy in recruiting. He’s very passionate about it and he’s very good. On the floor, he knows our system. He knows our style of play. He knows practice. He knows all those things. That will be OK for him.”

Donovan is not only thrilled about the character and talent of his new assistants but also how well they are already meshing both on- and off-the-court.

“It’s great to see those guys work together because you have Norm and John who have obviously recruited at a high level for a long time, and you have Matt who has been here and around and has watched us at Florida try to recruit like that,” he said. “Now you’ve got Matt’s energy and enthusiasm recruiting with the experience of Norm and John. The staff, the way it’s mixing and matching, is very good.

“It really exceeded my expectations of what these guys have done to this point in time. Having to get right into recruiting and develop relationships, having to know the players and find out our system and style.”

The hiring process was not over for Donovan after Pelphrey, Roberts and McCall were in the fold. Strength and conditioning coach Matt Herring also decided to leave the program to become the director of athletic performance with the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA. Donovan replaced him by hiring Preston Greene, who had spent his last three years as the assistant strength and conditioning coach with the Clemson Tigers.

“Hiring those three guys was really great. And then hiring Preston Greene our strength coach, I think we added another really good guy,” Donovan said. “I would say that, right now, our ability to work together, recruit together, coach together, I feel like we’re all on the same page and it has been good.”

If Florida’s chemistry on the court can be built the way its coaches have formed relationships off the court, the Gators have a lot to look forward to this season.

Photo Credits: Unknown, Chris Trotman

Florida basketball 2011 media day – Donovan

With the Florida Gators beginning 2011-12 fall practice, head coach Billy Donovan and the entire team met with the media Wednesday to discuss the season ahead.

STICKING AROUND FOR A WHILE – CONTRACT EXTENSION

It’s not a matter of “if” but “when” Donovan will sign a five-year extension that will keep him at Florida through the 2015-16 season. Donovan explained that he is currently wrapping up an extension with athletic director Jeremy Foley that will keep him wearing orange and blue at least a little while longer. “I think [we’re] pretty close. Jeremy and I have already agreed on that. Jeremy has really always been proactive with me. Dr. [Bernie] Machen has been great. In terms of us on the same page, we totally are. It’s a matter of me just singing it and getting it done,” he said.

“In this day and age in coaching, it’s very rare that you stay at a job starting my 16th year and you still have the same athletic director in place. It has been our relationship that has made this job and this opportunity for me here so special is my relationship with him. I would think that it would happen soon. Probably need to ask him that question. I’m ready to go. With a couple years left on this contract, the other one would probably be a five-year extension. That’s what Jeremy wanted to do and I’m fine with that. Besides my first year coming in here where it was maybe six years or seven years, because we were trying to rebuild, I think pretty much from there it has always been a five-year deal, and that’s what we talked about.”

Donovan’s current contract earns him approximately $3.5 million per year before bonuses. He took home his first Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year award in 2010-11 and took the Gators to the Elite Eight with a senior-laden team.

STAYING COMPETITIVE

Florida’s schedule was one of the toughest in the country last year, and the way it was built for this season is not giving the Gators much of a break before SEC competition begins. UF is set to face Ohio State, Syracuse, Arizona, Texas A&M and Florida State in non-conference action before playing at Tennessee on Jan. 7 to start the first division-less SEC season.

“I told Jeremy – we were trying to add one more game – but because of the lockout right now, they weren’t sure which NBA team they were going to add,” Donovan joked. “We’re trying to obviously play a highly competitive schedule. We want to do that. The only time I was opposed to that was after ’07 with all the new faces. Going forward we want to do that. Looking at it on paper right now, at least preseason, I think we maybe have if not the toughest one of the toughest schedules out there. It’s good for our team to find out where we’re at.

“Certainly have a very early game with Ohio State on the road. We have to play Syracuse on the road, Arizona at home, UAB, Florida State, Texas A&M. We’ve got a lot of high-quality games, not even including our league. There’s a lot for our team to get prepared and ready for. There’s a lot that we’ll be faced with early in the season. Our schedule last year being as competitive as it was probably helped our team going into the league, and I’m hopeful the same thing will happen this year.”

ATONING FOR PAST MISTAKES

Donovan opened his press conference on Wednesday talking about the hot topic of the offseason – the arrests of forwards junior Erik Murphy and redshirt freshman Cody Larson. He explained that both matters have been resolved and the players have returned to the team after their indefinite suspensions but expressed how apologetic the players were for their actions and how they affected those they care about.

“Both guys were very embarrassed and had a great deal of sorrow and regret for what had happened. A lot of times when people don’t know somebody and they see something like that happen, I don’t think that necessarily defines who they are as people. I know they and themselves and their families went through a lot personally over the last several months with what happened,” he said. “Both of them are extremely sorry for what happened. They know that they don’t want to represent themselves, their families or our program in that way. There were obviously some things disciplinary-wise that we had placed on them while the case was going on. Because it did take quite a bit of time, I think that for both of those guys, they have shown a lot of growth and development as people. It’s time for them to move on and get prepared for the season and our team.

“Erik’s got resolved obviously a lot sooner than Cody’s situation. It was an unfortunate situation, and I don’t think anybody condones any of their behavior. They paid a price for that. I’m just hopeful that this is something they learn from and they grow from and they realize that their leash, so to speak, there’s a lot of eyes on them right now and how they conduct themselves, how they handle themselves. Hopefully this is something that will make them better as people moving forward.”

GOING BACK TO THE PRESS

Florida’s defense under Donovan has – especially over the last six years – been one that tried to take the ball out of their opponents’ hands early by pressing throughout the length of the court with players staying tight on the defender. Due to the Gators’ lack of depth in the backcourt, Donovan had to change that model recently in order for his guards – namely senior Erving Walker and junior Kenny Boynton – to remain energized and play the long minutes they needed to. He may be able to go back to his old ways a bit this year.

“I do think that because we have speed and quickness in our backcourt that we really need to try to get up the floor and be more of a full-court defensive team. That’s not to say that we can do it for 40 minutes, but I would certainly like to do it more than we have in the past,” he said. “Any time you get into a situation where you’re pressing like that, you’ve got to have depth in your frontcourt and right now that’s probably one [thing] that we don’t know. What kind of depth are we going to have because every guy in our frontcourt right now is being put into a completely different and new role than they had a year ago. All of those guys are excited and anxious about the opportunity that is in front of them. Defensively I think we do need to use our speed and quickness and try to be somewhat disruptive and try to utilize the depth we have in our backcourt.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On the team having plenty of work to do in order to play at a high level: “This is a team that has a lot to develop going forward. Although Erving and Kenny have played a lot together, there’s going to be three other guys on the floor that they’ve never really played with and vice versa. Our chemistry on the court is something that’s got to be developed very, very quickly because of the strength of our schedule and how competitive it is early. That’s going to take a lot of work. Some of the things we’ll do offensively will change. Some of the things we’ll do defensively will change. It’s going to be new for everybody going into this season. The relationship and the chemistry away from the practice court between all those guys is very good. There’s a great deal of respect. They all like each other. It’s different when you step on the floor and now you got to try to utilize each other’s strengths as a player. I’m hopeful that through starting practice here this week that we’ll be able to kind of work though some of those things and improve.”

» On finding rebounds without many big men down low: “The biggest dilemma I have in some of those unique lineups is can we rebound and can we defend form the power forward position if we don’t have a conventional power forward. The one thing that really probably a lot of people didn’t talk about last year’s team is we clearly had the best offensive and defensive small forward rebounder in the league in Chandler [Parsons]. There was nobody at the small forward spot that could rebound the ball better than him. With him gone and potentially playing three guards, what kind of opportunity do we have to get the ball back on second-chance points and how well can we keep teams off the glass on the defensive end of the floor? Those are real concerns for me with our team because we’re not as long and we’re not as big as we were a year ago. But there’s other things that we do better. We had a +5.5 rebounding margin in our league last year, which was a pretty big margin that there were not too many teams that outrebounded us. If you look at when [Al] Horford and [Joakim] Noah and those guys left, we had a void ether for a couple years in the frontcourt. We had a really difficult time rebounding the basketball and competing up front. “

» On if losing to Butler in the Elite Eight is lingering in his mind: “For coaches it always lingers where you look at how close we were. There were some things in that game that hurt us that were probably somewhat of a weakness of our team the entire year. I thought our guys had a phenomenal year winning the league and getting to the championship game of the SEC Tournament and then a game away from the Final Four. The one area that I didn’t think we were great at was I didn’t think we were a great loose ball team. What happens is, when you go in the NCAA Tournament and the further you advance and the further you move on, the more your weaknesses as a team get exposed. One of our weaknesses was we weren’t a great loose ball team. That game, a lot of people talk about Erving Walker’s shot there, that was one shot and one play. We gave up 12 points the last eight minutes of the game on loose balls with an 11-point lead. I hope for a guy like Erving Walker, who has made a lot of big shots in his career – Kenny Boynton the same thing – that would linger for them somewhat.

“I would hope that going into this season that they can look at why we didn’t get to the Final Four and what we need to do to get better as a team. I can tell you, when you get to that point in the season, if you get to the Final Four. I remember walking off the floor after Michigan State. When you keep getting closer and closer to a championship, I don’t know if it ever settles well for you at any point as close as you get. It’s always difficult, especially when you feel like you’re that close. If we did beat Butler, who knows what would have happened going forward. I do hope that it’s not something that is lingering with them in a bad way but it’s lingering with them [in a way] that’s going to motivate them, drive them to be better and to look at this season as far as things we need to get better.”

10/12: Quinn focuses attention on defensive line

As the Florida Gators prepare for their second-straight road game on Oct. 15 against the No. 24 Auburn Tigers, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn met with the media on Wednesday to discuss last week’s game and the team’s upcoming contest.

DEFENSIVE LINE NEEDS TO STEP UP, BIG TIME

If this headline looks the familiar, it should, because it is unchanged from Quinn’s meeting last week. Speaking Wednesday about the area in which the defense must show the greatest improvement going forward, Quinn admitted he was disappointed with the defensive line and how it has performed over the last two weeks. “Us and our staff take a lot of pride in the way we play run defense. Certainly when one of the things that you really are counting on to be a backbone of your core, and you don’t play the technique quite as well as you want, certainly there was some frustration there,” he said.

One player in particular – sophomore defensive end Sharrif Floyd – earned some praise from Quinn, though he did not offer up much for the rest of the unit. “Floyd would have been one that stood out and had a better performance than the week before. Overall one of the things we’re really emphasizing is getting our hands and getting knock backs and separation – really moving back the line of scrimmage. It’s such an important part of playing defensive line. It’s something we’ve emphasized from the time we’ve gotten here,” he said.

“As as whole unit, there may be certain guys here and there that shined to us, but it was a tough performance for all of us and not a lot to pull from to be honest with you. We didn’t single anybody out necessarily that stood out to us one way or another.”

PICKING UP POWELL

One man who was expected to be a big playmaker for Florida’s defense, sophomore Buck linebacker Ronald Powell, has been relatively quiet the last three weeks after helping force two interceptions with his pass rush against Tennessee. Quinn on Wednesday expressed his disappointment with Powell’s production lately.

“At that position we certainly want the production to be higher,” he said. “When the rush opportunities are there, converting faster into your rush. [The] technique of edge setting when we’re playing that way. I wouldn’t say it’s one thing. It’s something we’re working on daily in practice with him. In pass rush, it’s all about our get-off with him. In the run game, the outside guy has to set the edge. It’s a daily thing with he and a lot of the guys to say how are we going to play our brand of football better.”

Quinn was quick to note that changing Powell’s position to less of a hybrid role was not under consideration at this time. “He’s in the right spot for the system. What we’re looking for at that spot is a guy who has speed and length and he certainly has those two,” he said. “For him, like a lot of our guys, it’s just a function of us playing better. The evaluation on him, like a lot of the guys, is nowhere near complete. At that position, along with others, we really need to play better.”

STOPPING OFFENSES AND CREATING TURNOVERS

The main area in which the Gators have struggled over the last two weeks has been stopping the run. Florida’s opponents put up season-high numbers against them, which is not exactly the goal going into the game. Quinn, though he praised Alabama and LSU, did not want to make excuses for the line. “We’ve faced some talented backs and some talented offensive lines. Really it says we’ve got to play a certain way. When you face a good team – whether it’s a good offensive line or a good running back – you really have to be on your technique,” he explained. “It told us, ‘This is where we are today. This is where we have to get to.’ That’s the message I gave to the club. I told them, “These are the errors we made. This is how we’re going to play.’ And we’re working hard to getting back to the style we want to play.”

Quinn also spoke about the team’s inability to get off the field on third downs and how the Gators have been unable to secure a single takeaway in their consecutive losses. “It’s our job to stop them. Some of the times for the long drives we missed a critical third down where maybe we could have got off the field,” he said. “We’re firefighters and let’s go put out the fire. If it’s third down, we got to get off the field. If we didn’t stop it, we had to go another series, then it’s on us to get it stopped and really get the ball. That’s one of the things we’ve been most disappointed about the last few weeks – not creating opportunities for the offense. Zero takeaways for us is really hard to swallow. It’s something we’re working hard at.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Quinn said that an eight-man rotation on the defensive line is optimal.

» On how the linebacker rotation will change with Dee Finley transferring: “Certainly Mike Taylor is the top backup inside behind Jon [Bostic] and Jelani [Jenkins]. We’re kind of working in as we have been the last few weeks Graham Stewart and Juice Johnson.“

» On Finley transferring: “I wish him the best.”

» On preparing for an up-tempo offense like Auburn’s: “It’s not uncommon at times, when you have to prepare for a team that could do some tempo to use two huddles. When a group of five guys go out, maybe the offensive line stays the same and maybe a different set of running backs and receivers comes in. That’s one way to simulate the speed. Certainly our offense has the ability to go in and out of that system as well. For us, being able to go against our offense or try to simulate it in practice was really a critical part of our preparation this week.”

» On how the team has prepared for Auburn’s offense: “The scout guys had a really critical role in this to watch tape together and see how fast the action went. How fast you have to get back to the line of scrimmage. That was really an important part of it.”

Update: Gators LB Dee Finley will transfer

Florida Gators redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finley has decided to transfer to another school, the University of Florida officially announced on Wednesday.

“Dee has decided that he would like to pursue other opportunities,” head coach Will Muschamp said in a release. “We wish him the best of luck and we appreciate his time at Florida.”

A four-star defensive back coming out of high school who transferred to the Milford Academy for a year in order to improve his grades and qualify to enroll at UF, Finley was moved to linebacker upon joining the team in 2009.

He appeared in 14 games in his first two seasons, playing in 10 as a freshman but only four as a sophomore. Finley fractured his collarbone against LSU in 2010 and was forced to miss the remainder of the season.

Muschamp praised Finley as a “solid” linebacker and “outstanding” special teamer in the spring, but he has not played much in 2011, slotted as the reserve Will linebacker behind redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins

Finley had played in five of the Gators’ six games this year but has only registered four tackles. He missed one game while serving a suspension after being arrested for driving with a suspended license and resisting arrest without violence.

“Although I’ve enjoyed my time here at Florida, I think it’s best for me to move on and get a fresh start somewhere else,” Finley said in the same release. “I plan on finishing the semester here and concentrating on my academics.”

Finley is the seventh player to leave Florida since Muschamp took over the team. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was dismissed following two marijuana rests in less than 90 days. Defensive end Chris Martin, wide receiver Chris Dunkley, WR Javares McRoy, running back Mike Blakely and tight end Michael McFarland transferred.

10/12: Will Muschamp’s SEC teleconference

With the Florida Gators just days away from their seventh game of the season under head coach Will Muschamp on Saturday at 7:00 p.m. against the Auburn Tigers, he spoke during the Southeastern Conference coaches teleconference to provide some insight about where his team is at going into into week seven action.

FINLEY’s TRANSFER IS NOT OFFICIAL – YET

Though some reports surfaced Tuesday that had redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finley already having transferred from the team, Muschamp said Wednesday that it is not official “at this time” because, after meeting with the player, he told him to think about his decision. “Dee and I talked the other night and we’re going to meet again,” he explained. “I told him he needed to take a little time to think about what he wanted to do and where he was in his mind. He and I plan on probably trying to meet today sometime and we’ll address that as we go.”

OPEN COMPETITION FOR QUARTERBACK JOB CONTINUES

For the third-straight day, a Florida coach has declined to name a starting quarterback against Auburn, with Muschamp saying Thursday that freshmen Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are both taking nearly equal snaps. “We haven’t made a decision as far as a starter is concerned, but both guys we have a lot of confidence in,” he said.

Ideally, Muschamp would “love for one of them to step forward and be the guy” but due to them being the same age with relatively the same amount of experience, they are way too similar at this juncture in their careers for that to happen so soon. “Their skill set is so similar, so it’s not like we’re having to drastically change what we do when one young man is in the game as opposed to the other,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to work through. Again, I’d love for one of them to step up and play really well and go from there. We will manage that as we roll through the season. I couldn’t think of anybody whose hands it could be in better than Charlie Weis.”

The evaluation of Driskel and Brissett will be an open one though Driskel’s ankle will factor into the equation. To that end, Muschamp said he has bounced back well from missing almost every practice one week ago.

“He’s been doing well. He looked good yesterday when we repped him. I don’t think it’s limiting anything that he’s trying to do,” he said. “You’re just trying to work through an injury. He got some reps last week and he’s trying to get back in and get the reps this week. Again, we’re talking about a freshman. He hasn’t had the amount of turns and reps at the position in the offense as a John Brantley would have. When John misses a practice or so in training camp, he picks it up back the next day and it’s OK. When you’re talking about a freshman, you have a little bit of a drop-off as you go back the next time.”

Muschamp said he’s “got my ideas about what’s going to happen” as far as naming a starter but said it certainly could change after Wednesday’s practice. “We’re going out there today working a lot of red zone and third down and critical situations in the game,” he said. “We got a one-minute drill to win the game, we’ve got some situations that are going to come up in the practice that those guys need to perform well [in].”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On adjusting the offensive philosophy: “We’re going to open some things up a little bit offensively. We need to do that to help our football team.”

» On competition at the quarterback position: “It starts in the meeting room – how well they’re aligning and how well they know what we’re doing and understanding us and our opponent. That’s where it starts. We do have some lifting during the week and how they conduct themselves there. And then on the practice field. Who’s producing? Who’s making plays? Whether it’s a quarterback or any other position. Who are the guys who are making positive plays for the Gators? That’s what I talk about every day. We talk about competition. Those are the things you’re talking about. You’re talking about guys going out and competing every day at positions. Competition makes everybody better. We don’t have enough competition at some spots. That’s what’s been frustrating for me.”

On playing a lot of true freshman: “Any time you have transition there is some natural attrition that happens within the program.”

» On returning to Auburn: “The Auburn people were good to me. I really enjoyed my time there.”

» On the main reasons why Florida has lost consecutive games: “The first thing that I would be disappointed with would be psychologically when John went down in the Alabama game – of how we responded. We didn’t respond very well as a football team. That goes back to mental toughness of understanding that you can’t always control your circumstances but you can control how you handle it. We didn’t handle that very well. Then going into Baton Rouge and playing a very good football team, I don’t know that early in the game we faced adversity if we handled it very well. From there it’s a trickle-down effect to how the game was going and what LSU needed to do to win the game and that was not throw the football. That was just run the football. Over a period of time of not maintaining drives offensively, not getting enough stops defensively, it turns out to be a little bit of what it was.

“The first thing I would talk about as far as my disappointment so far has been handling adversity – handling when things go against you and understanding that, when you play in this league, you’re going to have adversity and you’ve got to learn to handle those situations. It’s a mental toughness factor. It’s an understanding that, when you play in this league, there’s going to be some adversity. You got to learn to handle it and play through it. A little of that goes to youth. Who are your leaders? Who are the guys who are willing to step up and take it by the horns and push forward? It’s not from a lack of effort. We’re getting great effort. All of those things have been very positive. It’s just the psychological part of the game that you got to learn to battle through.”

Driskel’s back but Gators’ QB job remains open

Florida Gators freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel’s ankle injury is a thing of the past, according to offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who said Tuesday that the player has returned to the field and basically split practice repetitions down the middle with his classmate and last week’s starter against LSU, Jacoby Brissett.

“I wouldn’t be giving him that many reps if [he was still injured],” Weis said.

However, Driskel returning to practice does not mean he automatically becomes the top choice to start on Saturday. That is still to be decided this week.

“My job is to make sure I have both of them ready to play. I’m not going to have one of them ready to play; they’re both going to be ready to play. They both took pretty close to even reps [Tuesday], so I’ll have both of them ready to play,” Weis said. “I got the whole week to see how the whole thing matriculates.”

No matter who winds up being tabbed as the starter on Saturday, Weis explained that the game plan he is formulating can be put into action with either player behind center. In fact, both of them seeing action against the Auburn Tigers is not out of the question.

“Yeah, there’d be a chance of both playing in the game. Right now it’s too soon to say, ‘Hey, let’s do this or let’s do that.’ Let’s just get through the week and see how the week goes first,” Weis cautioned.

His re-opening of the quarterback job is not a statement about Brissett’s performance last week. Though Weis “chose the conservative route” and decided not to open up the offense due to his lack of experience and the hostile environment in which the game was played, he thought Brissett “handled himself very well” on Saturday.

“He showed very, very good poise. That’s what I expected from being around him a bunch. Until you go out there and actually watch it, you don’t know what’s going to happen for sure,” Weis said of Brissett. “There’s a lot of good practice players that when it comes time to playing a game, they disappear. But he certainly isn’t one of them.

“It’s one thing when you expect it, but you don’t know until there’s 93,000 people, you’re on the road, it’s loud. He wasn’t the reason that we lost the game. I can say that with fairly good confidence.”

Weis has a lot of confidence in both Driskel and Brissett, citing the fact that they have now both played in games as a “big difference maker” for each player going forward. Though he said even Brissett would admit that Driskel is the faster of the two, he has been impressed with what each player brings to the table.

“They’re both big, strong, physical guys, very sharp mentally with a very, very high ceiling,” he said. “Both these guys have grown to improve and be very, very good players.”

10/11: Weis on Gillislee, flexibility, Gators’ offense

As the Florida Gators prepare for their second-straight road test on Oct. 4 against the No. 24 Auburn Tigers, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis met with the media on Tuesday to discuss Saturday’s loss and the upcoming contest in Auburn, AL.

WHY GILLISLEE DESERVES MORE TIME

Junior running back Mike Gillislee has continued to prove to his coaches, teammates and fans that he deserves to carry the ball more often. After his performance on Saturday against LSU, Gillislee showed that hard work, determination and positive attitude can really pay off in the long run.

“He’s probably the perfect example of a team guy. Most of these guys they all have illusions of grandeur like they’re the best guy on the team,” Weis said on Tuesday. “You come in and now all of a sudden you have [Chris] Rainey and [Jeff] Demps ahead of you that are playing very well. You’re kind of waiting in the wings and just playing hard in practice every day, never opening your mouth and just going hard every single snap that you get and on special teams.

“All of a sudden, you get in there and you start getting more reps and more reps and you produce. He’s a lesson to a lot of these guys that are backups to see what can happen if you’re prepared to be ready, and they call your number and you produce. That’s going to get him on the field more.”

Another reason that Gillislee will get an increased workload? Unlike Rainey and Demps, he has seen success running between the tackles in Southeastern Conference play. Though he only weighs in at 205 lbs., Gillislee has proven he is better suited and better equipped physically to run the ball inside than the starters.

“He likes to run in there. Most running backs can’t get to the outside fast enough,” Weis said. “He likes it in there. He likes contact. Most running backs don’t like contact. They prefer not to get hit rather than get hit. Getting hit is part of his game. There’s times where, if he has a choice to make somebody miss and try to dance or try to run through somebody, he’s one of those guys were a lot of times he’ll try to run them over. He plays way bigger than his size.”

BECOMING A MORE FLEXIBLE COORDINATOR

With his starting quarterback out at least one more week and an offense that has only scored 21 combined points against top of the top teams in the country, Weis realizes that the Gators have to make some changes. It did not help that he had to start his third signal-caller on Saturday with a limited package of plays that did not allow Florida to pass the ball as much as he wanted.

“If you score 10 or 11 points on a weekly basis, you’re going to lose most of them – if not all of them. What we have to do is be more aggressive. You’re in that catch-22 when you’re dealing with inexperience at the quarterback position. We will be more aggressive [this week],” he said.

Weis also explained why he was unable to keep the offensive momentum going two weeks ago when redshirt senior John Brantley went down and freshman Jeff Driskel was forced to enter the game. He placed the blame on his lack of preparation.

“Let’s go back two weeks. John gets hurt. What you could do is you could have a better auxiliary plan in place so that if John goes down, we’re going to go just to this auxiliary plan,” he said. “But to be honest with you, I thought we were going to have to throw the ball to win – as you saw what our game plan was. You don’t go into that auxiliary plan with guys that have been here for three days saying, ‘OK we’re going to let you throw it on this defense on every snap.’ It’s quite a drastic change from what the plan really was to win the game.”

Part of Weis’s auxiliary plan against LSU was using RB Trey Burton behind center for many of the running plays. He said that Burton was a viable option for the team and will be one going forward if UF must continue using young quarterbacks.

“You better have, especially going into that game, you better have some options, some versatility within your package,” he explained. “I wasn’t going to wait around and let us be stagnant. […] We had the package. I used it the second series. Didn’t intend to use it quite so early, but what you didn’t want to do was – it was already 7-0 – you don’t want to let the game get away from you too quickly.“

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On freshman QBs Driskel and Jacoby Brissett: “I like both these guys. I like them a lot. I don’t like one of them a lot. I like both of them a lot. They both have attributes to be a very good quarterback. […] I’d love Brantley to be here this week, but you can only play one quarterback at a time. Right now my job is to make sure I just get those guys ready to go.”

» On learning about Brissett’s presence during recruiting: “I was scrambling a bit to help get him here, but one of the things that I liked the most besides watching him on tape was actually watching him play basketball. I watched his basketball team, which was really good. But I watched him play on his basketball team and watched his presence and his command playing basketball. It’s so much easier when you can watch a guy physically doing it. That’s something that’s different. Presence is not something that you can watch on tape. You can watch production, but you can’t watch presence.”

» On rumors about redshirt freshman QB Tyler Murphy transferring: “He’s been with me for the last five hours, so that would be news to me.”

» On if he’s concerned about the blocking of tight ends and running backs: “If you can’t block then you can never be a regular player. You can never be an every-down player. Because a running back who can’t pick up the blitz, you have to take him out when there’s a blitz. A tight end who can’t block the run, you’re going to be looking for somebody better. And the same is true for wide receivers. If they can run and catch but they can’t block anyone, you can’t play them on a regular basis because you’re going to run the ball at least half the time.”

» On if his offense is physically capable of matching up with teams like Alabama and LSU: “That’s a moot point because I’m just worried about Auburn. That’s what I’m worried about. Hopefully we’ll get to revisit that question down the road. Hopefully that question has some merit this year. Right now, we can’t be worrying about that. We have to be worrying about Auburn.”

» On the improvement of redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan: “He’s played with a lot of physicality. That’s what’s got him more time. Matt is a physical player, but when he knows what he’s doing and can really turn it loose, he can be a dominant physical presence. That’s what he’s shown to earn himself more playing time. In that last game, he was one of the players for us that stood out and played with physicality the whole game.”

» On if his offensive line is undersized: “It depends on who you’re playing against. If you really look out our offensive line versus LSU last week, no, they weren’t undersized. It depends on the opponent and how big they are versus how big you are. I’ve been with offensive lines where everyone averaged 280 and I’ve been with offensive lines where everyone averaged 315. And I’ve won with both of them. Size isn’t always the factor.”

» On if using so many special packages early has hurt his playbook: “Now [other teams] practice that and you do other stuff. That’s part of coaching. There’s other things you can do off of the same thing. We only ran a handful of things.”

10/11: Gillislee’s increased role, leadership void, quarterback battle, discipline issues

With the Florida Gators preparing for their second-straight road test in the middle of the 2011 season, four prominent players were made available to the media early in the week to discuss how the team is progressing heading into their showdown with the No. 24 Auburn Tigers on Oct. 15 at 7:00 p.m. in Auburn, AL.

GILLISLEE HAS EARNED HIS SHOT

For a team that had so much success running the football over its first four games of the season, it is a bit of a surprise that Florida will have to rely on a third running back to give the offense a bit of a spark going forward. Nevertheless, Gators junior RB Mike Gillislee – who has been stuck in a reserve role for the last three years – is expected to see an increased role on Saturday. “I feel like I earned it. I’ve been waiting of this time in my life to stand up and to be productive and for this offense to do what I can,” Gillislee said on Tuesday. “Every time I run the ball, I never know when I’m going to get it again, so I try to run it as hard as I can while I got it.”

He said he understands why he has not had the chance to get a large number of carries before (“I got two great running backs in front of me.”) and that has never been a concern for him. “I’m pretty much a team player. I put the team first,” Gillislee said. He also believes that, at 205 lbs. (up 30 lbs. from his freshman year), he gives the team a little extra power when running up the middle.

Even though he’s a bit stronger than senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey, Gillislee says he also has some speed and can hit the holes well. “I got pretty good vision,” he said. “When I see something, I try to hit it as quick as I can.” Rainey agrees. “He brings a lot to the table. I love when he runs the ball. I guess he’s probably going to be playing a lot more now, so I can’t wait to see that,” he said Monday.

Redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison said he has always known Gillislee could contribute. “He’s a hard runner, hard worker. He’s bringing this extra little “umph” we need in the backfield,” Harrison explained. “He’s getting more reps at practice and everything, and he’s going to see a little more playing time, coach was saying.”

FINDING SOME LEADERS

One thing head coach Will Muschamp has been adamant about is that he needs players of any age to step up and prove they can lead game-in and game-out. With consecutive losses serving as extra weight on their shoulders and another road game ahead, Rainey said it is time to put up or shut up. “This is a time when leaders step up, talk to the team, tell people it’s all right that we still control our destiny and stuff,” he said. “I just try to do everything right, stay positive.”

Redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter said that three sophomores – DT Dominique Easley, defensive end Sharrif Floyd and Buck linebacker Ronald Powell – have stepped up on his side of the ball. With redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley injured, it will be curious to find out who joins Rainey as an offensive leader.

SATURDAY’S STARTING QB STILL TO BE DETERMINED

As of practice on Tuesday, freshmen quarterbacks Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett were both playing and splitting reps 50/50. Harrison confirmed this fact Tuesday but said he did not know who would wind up winning the job and the start on Saturday.

However, both Rainey and Harrison spoke about Brissett’s performance as of late, offering a bit of praise for how he handled himself. “During the week he was taking more snaps than everyone else, so that’s when I figured out he was playing,” Rainey said about last week’s practice. “I trust him at practice. It all starts at practice. It looked like he was more ready. He was ready to step up.” Harrison said Brissett had a good demeanor and was poised with an up-tempo attitude on Saturday. “He actually, his first game and everything, he performed well. He was confident in the huddle and he can only build off that last game and get better throughout the season.”

That is, if Brissett wins the starting job over a healthy Driskel.

FIXING DISCIPLINE ISSUES

Unlike in years past, the discipline issues facing Florida in 2011 are not off-the-field but rather on-the-field. The Gators have been committing nearly double-digit penalties in every game on average, and it is costing them in numerous ways. Rainey said Monday that the miscues are simply unacceptable. “We did get a lot of penalties – people doing dumb mistakes or people ain’t focused or stuff like that,” he said. “It’s called ‘selfish’ when people do dumb mistakes like that.”

Harrison said the offensive line in particular is doing what it can to correct them. “[They are] unnecessary penalties and mental [mistakes on] assignments,” he explained. “[It’s] maybe a little bit more discipline, practice a little harder, practice with some more game-like situations.” Redshirt sophomore tackle Kyle Koehne said the unit needs to “stay more focused and keep our minds right” in order to avoid making those mistakes. “The undisciplined penalties are just false starts are lining up wrong,” he said. “They’re unacceptable right now how many we’re getting per game. They’re not being tolerated.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Rainey on the team losing back-to-back games: “We just don’t need to lose at all. We lost two so we don’t need to lose no more because we control our destiny.”

» Rainey on Alabama and LSU: “They’re two pretty good teams, but I felt that we was better than them. They just out-physicaled us, they was out-tough than us at the time. We just got to get together and regroup this week.”

» Rainey on redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose becoming a playmaker: “I’ve been waiting for him to step up for a while. He’s doing what I’ve been seeing since high school, so it’s nice to have him up there.”

» Harrison on if changes are needed: “Maybe just work harder throughout the week, which we’re doing. We’re just going to change up our schedule, work a little bit harder to make sure we are successful.”

» Harrison on why Alabama and LSU’s defenses had so much success: “Alabama planned to stop the outside run, which was our strength. That was their advantage. LSU just certain plays we weren’t completely meshed as an offense.”

» Koehne on if he had jitters during the Alabama game: “It was our first big game and we all – on the offensive line – were pretty young. Personally, I had some jitters. I can’t speak for everybody. Personally it was my first big game and I was a little nervous. Everybody gets nervous. You kind of get hype dup with the whole mood of the night and you’re playing Alabama in a Florida-Alabama game. I grew up watching this game. You just want to come out and perform your best. You feel a lot of pressure and you want to perform at your best.”

» Koehne on if junior left tackle Xavier Nixon didn’t play due to a performance issue: “Yes, I believe so.”

» Koehne on if this is a defining week in the season: “This is a huge week. Every week is a huge week. One game at a time. We really have to come together as a team. Defense and offense have to come together and play as a group. We’re really being put to the test this week.”

» Koehne on why Alabama and LSU outperformed them: “Alabama and LSU recruits the top athletes in the nation, too. They’re coached well and they play well and they stepped up for the occasion.”

» Hunter on the team moving on from consecutive losses: “Right now the team has moved on pretty quickly from the last two weeks. All of our focus is on Auburn right now. Everybody has a clear head right now and everybody is just focusing on Auburn.”

» Hunter on getting up for Auburn: “We treat every game the same. This is as big as it was last week and the week before. Auburn is a great team. We’re really looking forward to going and playing them at their stadium. It’s a wild stadium and we’re going to enjoy the moment.“

» Hunter on what the defensive line can do to improve: “We can hold double teams a little bit better. I know I can hold a double team a little bit better. We’re doing a pretty good job at contact, but just letting the guard or center or whoever it is run off to the second level, we have to do a better job at that.”

» Hunter on an statement he heard a teammate make:Lerentee MccCray said something good the other day. We’re five or six games into the season. No one is a freshman anymore. We’ve all played six games; everyone should be ready to play right now.”

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