Dolphins to honor Gators championship team

Two former Florida GatorsMiami Dolphins center Mike Pouncey and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow – will meet up on Oct. 23 when their teams go head-to-head in a regular season contest at Sun Life Stadium. In order to cash in on Tebow’s cache and generate additional ticket sales for the contest, the Dolphins have decided to honor the Gators 2009 BCS National Championship team that Sunday.

Florida defeated Oklahoma 24-14 at what was then Dolphins Stadium on Jan. 8, 2009 to win its second national title in three years. Pouncey started at right guard in the game, and Tebow accumulated 353 total yards and three touchdowns while throwing two interceptions in the Gators’ victory.

Miami has invited a number of former players who are not in the NFL to join the celebration. More than 20 have already confirmed and head coach Urban Meyer will also be in attendance along with Albert and the pep band. UF has a bye that weekend.

Numerous Gator Clubs in South Florida are hosting the inaugural Gator Day at the stadium. Ticket packages begin at $115 per person (subject to availability) and include a pre-game tailgate celebration; gameday ticket; all-you-can-eat and all-you-can-drink refreshments; a team cheerleader performance, Miami Dolphins/Gators alumni players question & answer, live entertainment and more.

Photo Credit: MCT

FAU psyched for showdown with Florida

College football returns exactly seven days from now for the Florida Gators. Adjusting to an entirely new coaching staff including different schemes on both offense and defense, Florida has been concentrating on getting the playbook down all summer and just began scheming for their first opponent, the Florida Atlantic Owls late last week.

Four hours south in Boca Raton, FL, Florida Atlantic has taken the opposite approach. The Owls are once again under the stewardship of head coach Howard Schnellenberger. Though he will retire at the end of the season, Schnellenberger has had Florida Atlantic preparing for their big-name opponent for months.

“I watched film all summer,” safety Demetrius Williamson told the Sun-Sentinel. “I don’t know everything they do, but I am getting an idea of what they do and how they are going to attack us.”

He added that the team learned head coach Urban Meyer’s Gators teams “would formation you to death,” but new head coach Will Muschamp has a different strategy. “I feel like they are going to get it to their playmakers and let them play ball,” he added.

Defensive tackle Jarvis Givens indicated to the paper that FAU is playing up the underdog aspect of the contest with the team feeling that it can compete head-to-head with Florida.

“It is just like the difference between a Cadillac Escalade and an Avalanche,” he said. “It is just a name. You pay an extra 20 to 30 grand for a name, but it is all built on the same platform of hard work.”

The Gators defeated the Owls 59-20 in 2007 and held them scoreless in the first, third and fourth quarters. Florida Atlantic was successful moving the ball, totaling 384 yards of offense, and held onto the it longer than Florida (31:40-28:20) in the contest.

The two teams will square off at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL on Sat., Sept. 3 at 7:00 p.m. The game will air live on ESPNU.

FOUR BITS: Tebow on NBC, Murphy, Crowder

1 » Though plenty are questioning Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow’s ability to succeed in the NFL, there is little doubt about his ability to motivate. According to Entertainment Weekly, Tebow (along with New Orleans QB Drew Brees and Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson) will make an appearance on the Oct. 4 episode of The Biggest Loser on NBC. EW reports, “Some of the athletes will be seen competing against the contestants in a throwing contest, while others help the pound shedders with their ‘Last Chance Workout’ before that week’s weigh-in.”

2 » Florida Gators senior right-side/setter Kelly Murphy was named by ESPNW on Wednesday as one of the “five things to watch in college volleyball” this year. “[She] looks to dominate again after three straight All-American seasons and a 2010 selection as SEC Player of the Year,” says writer Mick Elliott. “She was the league’s only player last season to rank in the top 10 in kills per set, service aces per set and hitting percentage. Ranked as the nation’s top 2007 prep recruit coming out of Joliet (Ill.) Catholic Academy, Murphy became just the second Florida player to lead the SEC in aces per set during a single season. Ranked fourth in the SEC and 26th nationally with a .374 hitting efficiency, she also tallied seven triple-doubles last season, including three that came in three-set matches.” Murphy on Thursday was one of 30 student-athletes named as a candidate for the 2011 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award, an honor given to college players in each sport who demonstrate excellence in the community and classroom as well as with their character and in competition.

3 » Southeastern Conference coaches on Thursday selected the Florida women’s cross country team as the preseason favorites to win their third-straight league title. Earning six first-place votes, the Gators could take home the team’s sixth-ever SEC Championship if the coaches are correct. The men’s team was chosen as a preseason third-place finisher and did not receive a single first-place vote.

4 » He may be semi-retired, but former Florida and Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder is still in demand, according to Pro Football Talk. “Per a source with knowledge of the situation, at least two teams recently expressed a desire to lure Crowder out of retirement,” Mike Florio writes. Crowder has given no indications that he plans to return to the field this year (his new wife is having a baby during the season and he wants to remain in South Florida with his family).

Meyer talks Gators, coaching on ESPN call

Former Florida Gators head coach now ESPN analyst and color commentator Urban Meyer participated in a teleconference with the network on Thursday and spoke at length about his former team as well as his mindset not being on the sidelines this year. He also touched on some subjects (such as using a two-quarterback system in 2006 and John Brantley’s struggles in 2010) that pertained to his time with the Gators. Below are some excerpts of the conference call that are informative and relate specifically to Florida.

Q. – Urban, I had a question for you about the way you used Leak and Tebow in 2006 I was curious how that process evolved, how maybe easy or difficult it was to commit to it, and how did the team respond to it when they first saw the design?

URBAN MEYER: It was not something we went into the season planning because we really didn’t know what we had with Tim. You don’t know until you get into the game atmosphere, and his value we learned rather quickly. So it evolved throughout the course of the year.

It was a very fragile situation and very unique where if you don’t have character guys that are playing that position, you can see where it could become a locker room issue or become a chemistry issue. The parents were fantastic. You’re talking about a quarterback at Florida, which is a very high profile position, on a team that had a chance to be really good. So it was incredible to work with two guys that are built like Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. There was absolutely no ego, there was no anything other than what’s good for the team, and their families were on board, and the team really bought into it, as well, too.

Like Chris made a comment, which is if we didn’t win then it probably would have been chaos, but winning cures all evils, and we won a lot of games and we had one stumble and that was against Auburn. But to see that team rally back from that, and really both quarterbacks were a major, major part of that.

Read the rest of what Urban Meyer had to say on Thursday…after the jump!
Continue Reading » Meyer talks Gators, coaching on ESPN call

8/25: Easley discusses himself, Elam, Halapio; Demps not worried about Brantley

With the Florida Gators in the middle of preseason practice preparing for their first game on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Thursday to discuss how the team is progressing.

EASLEY ALL GROWS UP

His first season at Florida was a rough one for sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Inactive for some games (including not traveling with the team for a few away contests) and said to have somewhat of an attitude problem, he did not get on the field much and was a candidate to transfer. His teammates and coaches calmed him down a bit toward the end of the year, and Easley eventually got over his woes and decided to remain with the Gators. On Thursday, he opened up a bit about that time in his life and explained how he has moved forward.

“[It was a] freshman thing. Every freshman goes through it,” he said. “[I was] home sick basically. Basically just home sick.” Easley explained a bit of what head coach Will Muschamp said to him upon taking over the team. “He just told me that I have a fresh start. My plan was to do a fresh start, too, start from the beginning and start the right way. Maturity – I matured a lot and [started] making better choices. […] I had to get used to it. I had to break myself in.”

Redshirt junior DT Omar Hunter recalled Easley’s struggles and agreed that he is a changed man this year. “Wow. Ten steps forward. Big. He’s definitely more mature,” he said. “[Easley] has the right mind going into the season; he knows we’re counting on him to play a lot. He’s definitely stepping it up. He is just going out and working hard. He’s not talking as much. And when he does talk, he’s not complaining about anything. He’s just having fun and going out and playing. […] Dominique, he’s a good guy. You can get along with him easy. He comes out, talks to everyone, he’s a good teammate.”

Hunter also talked about some of the people who helped Easley right the ship. “I know a few guys – one of our strength coaches, Coach Mark Campbell – that’s like his mentor. They talk all the time. He put his arm around him and talked to him a lot. Me too. I love Ease, like I said, him and Sharrif [Floyd] come in last year, I know the pressure that was on them to play. I felt that same pressure my freshman and I know what they were going through so I talked to them a little bit too.”

“BAD” SCRIMMAGE NOT SO TERRIBLE

Though no one would come out and say that he was exaggerating per se, both Easley and Howard said they did not believe the team’s scrimmage on Wednesday was as bad as Muschamp made it out to be in his evening media availability.

“From my perspective, everything went good. We came out obviously some things went bad, every team certain things go bad, but from the way I look at it, everything went good,” Easley said. Hunter added, “It was OK. I think both sides of the ball could have did a little bit better, but I think for the most part it was OK. We still got to come together as a team a little bit more and be a little bit mentally sharp on our plays, but it was OK.”

Easley said that the team has “actually…gotten way better since the first two scrimmages” even though he knows the team is “not perfect yet but we will be there soon.” Hunter thinks the team needs to focus on “sharpening up mentally, getting all our plays down, [and] being able to make the right adjustments we need to make in crunch time situations.”

Overall though, Easley believes Muschamp was less angry and more disappointed in the outing. “He seemed a little bit upset because some plays went wrong, some people didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing, but that happens everywhere,” he said. “He just wants us to know that we’re not who we’re supposed to be yet and we’re going to be there soon, we just got to keep going at it.”

BRANTLEY SHOULD BE FINE, DEMPS SAYS

With redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley on the mend with a sore back, senior running back Jeff Demps noted on Thursday that he is confident he will be ready to face Florida Atlantic in the first game of the season. “I don’t think it’s that serious,” he said. The back-ups are ready, but I doubt that John is going to miss that game.”

He also explained that, while Brantley did have his reps limited during the scrimmage and has missed a few practices, he is using that time wisely.

“He’s been practicing. Last night he was limited, but throughout camp he’s been going full-go, he said. “Yeah, uh-huh, his back has been kind of bothering him. I’m not concerned. With him and his back issue, I think they’re giving him a chance to get back in the playbook and pick up the offense even better.”

HIGH PRAISE FOR ELAM

Given his first real opportunity to speak to the media since stepping on campus, Easley was also very vocal when it came to what sophomore safety Matt Elam brings to the team day-in and day-out. “My opinion – this is my opinion – I think he’s the best thing out there. He works hard at everything he does,” he said. “Basically he’s relentless every play; he doesn’t take off not one snap. [He’s the best] I see out there. Period. His whole plan is to beat that snap every play. He’s just a smart player. He can read the field, like he’s our quarterback of the defense.”

OFFENSIVE LINE STEPPING UP

Considered one of the potentially weakest units on the team going into the offseason due to its youth and relative lack of depth, the Gators offensive line has been a highlight for the ream recently according to Muschamp and the players.

Demps said Thursday that the chemistry amount the unit is apparent. “They’re playing together now. All over the summer they were having events – just the line hanging out and getting closer together,” he explained. “You can tell it now because, like I said, they’re playing like a unit.”

Offering up a similar story about the line was Easley, who specifically tries to go against redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio in practice each day. “That’s like a family there. The offensive line, I’d say that’s like the strongest group of our team right now,” he explained. “Everything is all together. Everybody knows what page each other’s on. No matter where we’re at, if we’re off or on the field… Nobody knows this but every Thursday or Wednesday they have dinner together, and they’ve been doing that since I’d say the end of spring.”

Easley added that Halapio is “the strongest guy” he faces but that neither of the two men usually get the best of each other over the course of a day’s activities. “We’re working each other. He’s working me, I’m working him, so we’re just getting each other better,” Esaley said. “He wins, I win, he wins, I win, I love going against him. We just try to get each other better.”

And how did he respond to Halapio’s comments from Wednesday stating that Easley never seems to get tired on the field and has become a relentless player? “I just have fun,” he responded. “You’ll always see me dancing. I just try to keep dancing and just have fun, not think about the tiredness.”

HUNTER’s GOT JOKES

Asked if he was concerned about Brantley having his reps limited in practice due to a sore back, Hunter quipped that he “didn’t even know he was not healthy,” saying that when he rushed the passer he didn’t look at the jersey and just assumed it was him.

Hunter also talked about being excited for the season to begin. “I’m so ready to hit someobody other than my teammates,” he said. “I’m just really feeling the itch to hit somebody. I might hit Demps today.”

Asked if redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey did a good job blocking a pass rusher recently, he said that the player is getting better” and though he “didn’t like to do it before, I think he enjoys it now.” As to whether or not Demps recently took out a defensive end in a recent practice? “I do believe that. He’s a little sneaky.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Easley on if the defense is dominating the offense in the trenches: “Everybody’s doing good, but we emphasize that it starts with up front first, so we’re trying to make that statement.”

» Easley on how he has improved the most: “[I’m] more about the game. More about reading people, reading the offensive lineman, just becoming a wiser defensive lineman.”

» Easley on playing nose tackle vs. three-technique: “I’ve played the nose since I got here last year, but I just started playing the three-technique this summer. I’m playing both equally.”

» Easley on Halapio saying he’s not a good dancer: “I try.”

» Easley on how much the team can improve with another week of practice: “Seven days better.”

» Easley on how the defensive line has improved from a year ago: “Extremely good. Technique-wise, we’re way much wiser. As far as reading the offensive lineman, we’re better coached at that.”

» Hunter on being a leader as an older guy: “It’s kind of weird, but I enjoy it. I kind of look at myself as a leader in that aspect. I’ve been through a lot more things than these younger guys have went through. Grabbing younger guys and kind of pulling them in the right way, I like that.”

» Hunter on his passion for football now vs. last year: “I love football now. I wouldn’t say it was a struggle. I enjoyed my teammates last year and I enjoyed it last year, but this year a new energy and a new life with the coaches being here, and I enjoy it.”

» Hunter on taking a leadership role: “I feel like I’m one of the older guys. Myself, Willie Green and Jaye Howard, we are the three older guys on the defensive line, so when things are going wrong, people are looking to us to lead them. I do take that challenge on.”

» Hunter on getting to this point in his career with a new staff: “It’s fun. It’s something new. Something that re-motivated me to practice hard and play harder. This new fresh start over, it just made me focus more and [made] me more hungry.”

» Demps on his health: “Everything is good. I’ve been taking care of my body pretty good, so I’m feeling pretty healthy. I’ve been going through all the practices.”

» Demps on picking up the offense: “Some days it was easier than some other days, but it’s tough for me to miss the whole spring and then try to come back and learn it all in a couple weeks. My position coach, Coach [Charlie] Weis and the assistants have been helping me out.”

» Demps on his ability to pass protect: “It’s getting better. I still have some stuff to learn, but I think it’s getting better day by day.”

» Demps on junior RB Mike Gillislee and redshirt freshman RB Mack Brown: “They look pretty good. They’ve been running with the twos, but they still look pretty good to me. They’re running hard and just going through everything. [They’re working on] probably being more mentally focused, learning their plays also.”

» Demps on playing with Rainey at the same time: “It feels good. It takes some pressure off of me and him. Instead of worrying about one they got to worry about two now.”

The Silver Lining: Media shares the blame but tornado of Tim Tebow began in-house

Take every story written about every backup quarterback in the history of the NFL, combine them, and you probably would not reach the level of attention Denver Broncos second-year reserve Tim Tebow has received this offseason.

While a lot of the diatribes and “insider” stories about him are driven by one thing in particular – page views – it is important to realize that the media cannot be solely held responsible for this barnstorm of criticism and relative subjectivity about one of the most polarizing players in the league. His team has to take some blame, too.

Read the rest of this column…after the break!
Continue Reading » The Silver Lining: Media shares the blame but tornado of Tim Tebow began in-house

8/24: Muschamp maddened by lack of execution

With the Florida Gators now having completed training camp and headed into fall practice, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media after Wednesday’s scrimmage and went off how the team is failing to progress on both sides of the ball heading into the 2011 season, which begins on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic.

MUSCHAMP’s RANT ON EXECUTION

Entering his media availability 30 minutes early, Muschamp sat down and went on a rant that lasted just over three-and-a-half minutes and was interrupted with only a few questions interjected between his statements. Here it is uncut:

Asked how scrimmage went Wednesday evening: “Not very well. We tried to do it just like a game with preparation as far as pre-game procedure – I thought that was fine. As far as the scrimmage was concerned, we did not execute very well. The mental toughness was not there. A very immature football team at this point. [We’re] not consistently performing at the level we need to perform at. I was just disappointed overall with the mental effort tonight. There were some procedure issues we should not be having at this point, defense, some mental mistakes we should not be having at this point. Just overall pretty displeased. [...] Not what we were looking for tonight, that’s for sure.”

Asked if the team took a step backward: “Well it dang sure wasn’t a step forward. We just got to get on the film. We’re going to go out and have a good practice Thursday and Friday, get back Sunday night and get after it again. That’s all we can do – coach better and play better. It’s not a lack of effort, in my opinion, in those situations. It’s just a lack of focus on what you’re supposed to do and how you’re supposed to do it. We have no sense of urgency about what we do and how we do it and how we approach it. [It’s] very frustrating. And it’s not everybody. We’ve got a bunch of guys who do it the right way but not enough and not collectively enough guys doing it that way right at this point. We just got to find the guys who do it. I told the coaches, ‘We’re staying here tonight and we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to stay here as long as it’s going to take to figure out the guys who are going to play hard for the Gators, and the ones who don’t we’ll weed them out and go to the next guy.”

Asked if players will lose their current positions: “There ain’t no doubt. We’re going to figure it out. Tonight we’re going to look at the tape and get the guys that want to compete and play hard and the ones that don’t, we’ll go to the next guy.”

Asked if it is concerning to have these issues so close to the first game: “You just try to put people in situations, and it was frustrating that we didn’t execute the situations we needed to execute. Whether it was coming off the goal line, red zone, third down, 45 seconds to win the game – whatever it was we just didn’t do what we needed to do on either side of the ball. It was just disappointing. Coaches can’t play; the players got to play. We just need better effort, need to do a better job I guess from our standpoint as coaches evaluating what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with.”

BRANTLEY’s BACK AND INJURY CONCERNS

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley was “not totally” healthy when participating in Wednesday’s scrimmage as he is still nursing a sore back and the coaching staff “went out there with the idea that we were going to [pull him early],” according to Muschamp. “He’s still a little sore,” he said. “Had a good day Tuesday. He repped a little bit early and then we had some of the other guys rep in there. He’s still sore in the back, but we feel like he’ll be fine. […] Based on the information I have, based on his Tuesday practice, a little soreness here and there. I just don’t have a whole lot to be concerned about at this point.”

Freshman tight end A.C. Leonard (torn meniscus): Out for the opener, a 6-8 week injury

Redshirt junior TE/wide receiver Omarius Hines (hamstring): Questionable for opener

Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (sprained knee): Held out recently but should be available for opener. “I’m hoping to get him back tomorrow or Friday or if not that definitely Sunday night.”

“I CANNOT WAIT FOR PRACTICE TOMORROW”

Muschamp said Wednesday’s effort at scrimmage “needs to be” a wake up call for some of the players on the team. Though he cautioned on multiple occasions that many of the players did show flashes and perform admirably, those who faltered or failed to impress him were also plentiful. “To me, any time you step on the field and you’re a competitor you compete. I hate to paint the brush that there was a lot of guys – there was a select few – because we had a bunch of guys compete and play hard. Proud of those guys; proud of their efforts,” he said. “You see things a as coach you don’t want to see. We didn’t finish very well, play very well at the point of attack, played too high on both lines of scrimmage. You just see things that displease you. And that’s what I saw coming from what I saw, and I told them that’s what I thought after.”

Faced with a tough decision – whether to cut the scrimmage short due to his displeasure or force his players to grind through it – Muschamp chose the latter method because he wanted to see what the Gators were made of at this juncture. “There are a couple different ways to do it. You can [stop it] or you can hope that your leadership takes over and realizes it is not going as well as you would like,” he explained. “Tonight we were doing a lot of situational work, so you’re working different groups. It’s not like the whole offense is over there together or the whole defense is over there together – and a lot of special teams work. You’ve got to work through it and you’ve got to let the players play.”

When it all comes down to it though, Muschamp wants Florida’s student-athletes to know the buck stops with them – not the coaching staff.

“Players need to lead. It’s their football team, not mine,” he said, “[but] I wasn’t questioning leadership tonight. We should have enough guys mentally tough enough to battle through what we needed to do and play smart football.”

Then he made a foreboding statement:

“We’re going to be in full gear and we’re going to strap it up and we’re going to get after it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I cannot wait for practice tomorrow.”

SOME PLAYERS FLASHING

Muschamp refused to say specifically that any one player excelled or shined on Wednesday, but he did provide some comments on a few who “flashed” on a play here or there or have been impressing him recently. (He likes to go back and watch the tape before dishing out praise because while one play may stick out, that player could theoretically perform poorly the rest of the practice.)

“[Dominique] Easley plays hard inside. Sharrif Floyd plays hard. Those guys showed up to me,” he said specifically about Wednesday evening. “Andre Debose made a nice play across the middle today.”

On Easley, the sophomore defensive tackle: “Dominique’s a hard-playing guy, likes the game, plays hard, practices hard, takes a lot of pride in his performance. [...] He’s got a very good first step, he certainly does. He’s got a very good anticipation. I tell Charlie [Weis], ‘Every snap, hard count him.’ We work on that an awful lot, and he’s doing a better job of holding in there on those sort of things. But he certainly has a great first step.”

Redshirt junior right tackle Matt Patchan: “Matt’s got some toughness to him. He likes playing the game. Certainly good to get him back and throw his hand in there. He’s a really good football player. He certainly brings some toughness to our team, so we got to continue to develop that with other guys around him and him to consistently do that all the time.”

Sophomore safety Matt Elam: “Matt’s just a really instinctive football player. He sees things on the back end. He’s able to get a good jump on the ball where other guys may not see it as quickly – it doesn’t naturally come to some guys as quickly. To me on the back end you’ve got to have some natural instincts. You’ve got to have natural instincts to play the ball, to understand about reception area – where the receiver is going to be, where the ball is being thrown, understand about angles. We can talk about coaching that all the time. Some guys get it, some guys don’t. That’s something that certainly comes very easy to him. […] I think he’s got great acceleration to the ball. When he sees it and he goes and gets it, he’s got that ‘umph’ He’s got that extra gear. He has some things that, from a coaching standpoint, you like to take credit for but are really just natural ability.”

Sophomore running back Trey Burton: “Trey’s lining up in a lot of different positions. He gives so much to our football team from a blocking standpoint in the run game and protections, catching the football and running the football. He’s been very effective in doing all of those things. We certainly use him as far as in the slot, mismatches outside, get him on a linebacker, slip him on the flat and wheel routes and the different stuff we do with him. We do an awful lot with him. He gets the game very well; it comes easy to him. I think he’s had a great camp.”

Redshirt junior linebacker Lerentee McCray: “At this point he’s played the best at the SAM, I’d say he’s been the most consistent guy. He also gives us some good pass rush. He does a nice job rushing the edge so he can give us some juice on the edge there.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On what he told Easley to “straighten him out” in the offseason: “I just told him it was going to be a certain way [and] if he didn’t like it, he could leave.”

» Muschamp said the Gators have been pumping crowd noise into camp since the fifth practice in order to help the team work on communication, signals, snap counts and general focus. He plans to do it for every single practice up until the first game.

» On if the team is ready to play a full game: “Well we need to be ready next Saturday night, so we’ll be ready.”

» On if he has already game planned for some teams: “We installed for the season during camp, so once we get through our base package, then we install for maybe some things that we don’t see our offense give us. Some of the different stuff maybe our offense doesn’t give us formation-wise, play-wise, route concept-wise for the team’s we’ve got to beat because we scout all of our opponents in the offseason. We’ve taken some time the last part of camp and into Tuesday and even into tonight to work on some opponent stuff.”

» On why he game plans so early: “You try to expose it to them so when you get into week one or week four or week eight or week 10 or whatever and you’ve practiced some of the looks. I don’t like to introduce something totally new concept-wise and learn it in a week and execute it on game day.”

8/24: Koehne starting, a terrific trio, Easley stepping up, McCray and Green excited

With the Florida Gators in the middle of preseason practice preparing 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.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS

Standing well over six feet each and weighing a combined 921 pounds, the redshirt sophomore trio of center Jonotthan Harrison and guards Jon Halapio and Kyle Koehne hope to be a force to be reckoned with this year. Those three men, who are roommates and best friends, will take up the entire interior of Florida’s offensive line this season if each retains their job through the remainder of fall practice.

“We’re all great friends. Ever since we first came here we’ve been kind of like a trio, hanging out all the time,” Koehne said Wednesday. “All three of us are roommates as well, so we’re with each other 24/7, talking to each other 24/7, so we got some good chemistry between the three of us.” Halapio believes the fact that all three are on the starting unit together will help the team this season. “When we go back at home, we sit on the couch and watch film on the 60 inch,” he said. “The chemistry is a lot better. We communicate a lot better on the field, so it’s good that we’re good friends off the field.”

Koehne, who was named the front runner to start at left guard on Saturday after switching from tackle following the first scrimmage, said Halapio has been instrumental in his transition. “He gives me advice all the time with plays, footwork and everything,” he said. “Halapio’s kind of been a good mentor for me being kind of new to guard.”

Halapio noted that his roommate “graded out highest out of the offensive line” following the first scrimmage and has been doing well overall this offseason. “He has a few plays where he’s killing guys. He has a few plays of that. He just really knows what he’s doing on the field and you can clearly see that on film,” he said.

EASLEY STEPPING UP ON THE INSIDE

Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley was praised throughout the spring for his quick first step, but his work this fall had not been discussed much until Wednesday when Halapio addressed Florida’s pass rush problems by noting that the youngster has been a standout in that regard.

“I think they all have gotten better in the pass rush, especially Dominique Easley,” he said. “He’s a real good pass rusher and a real good run stopper. They all have gotten better in the pass rush, but I think Easley is the best right now. […]

“He’s just relentless. Since he’s been here, I’ve never seen him tired on- and off-the-field. He just doesn’t show it. He plays relentless and runs to the ball. I’ve never seen him tired; he just has a great motor. He’s really explosive off the ball. I don’t know if he knows the snap count, but he’s just really quick off the ball. I can’t even get out of my stance and then by the time I get out of my stance he’s already in my path.”

Redshirt junior linebacker Lerentee McCray would not go so far as to call Easley the best of the bunch, but he did pay him equal praise. “Dominique Easley is a real close friend of mine. He’s come along real good,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better nose tackle to come in and play in front of me. […] I would have to say he’s one of the best; I wouldn’t single him out as the best, but he’s definitely a good pass rusher.”

“THEY’RE LIKE TWINS”

Though he performed well in 2010, Halapio feels even more comfortable in the Gators’ new offense and thinks, obviously, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has a lot to do with that. “He’s a genius. He just thinks of different ways how to execute a play real good – the easiest way to execute a good play,” he explained. “He’s just a real good coach. He just thinks of different schemes, ways we can run the ball, different ways we can pass the ball, different ways we can disguise this, disguise that.”

Halapio deals with Weis plenty, but he is around offensive line coach Frank Verducci more. Luckily for him, he cannot tell much of a difference between the two, which is probably a good thing for the team as a whole. “They’re like twins,” Halapio said of Weis and Verducci. “[Weis] says one thing and we hear it again with Coach Verducci in the meeting room. When we meet as an offensive unit before we start individual meetings, they both get up there and they’re both saying the same thing. They’re like twins.”

DEFENDERS EXCITED ABOUT SCHEMES

McCray and senior defensive end William Green will see significantly more playing time in 2011 than they ever have before and both players are confident that head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s concepts will serve them well in the long run.

“As a player it makes you real excited and gives you a lot more opportunities to make some plays,” Green said. McCray co-signed. “This defensive scheme has helped me out a lot – just moving back and forth and just showcasing my talent and some of the stuff I can do,” he said.

McCray, who is slated as the starting SAM linebacker this year alongside junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins, is happy that his transition from end has gone smoothly. “I really feel comfortable pass rushing, but adapting back to the linebacker position has been coming along real good,” he said. “I’m real comfortable with our defense and all the schemes that the coach has. The blitz packages are working real good for me.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Koehne on when he knew things were clicking: “I was getting some compliments during film from Coach Verducci, so that was a good hint for it.”

» Koehne on his transition from tackle to guard: “It’s a big adjustment, especially going against the personnel that you face every day – going against Jaye Howard and Easley now instead of Ronald Powell. Those are two whole different types of players that I had to get used to and still am getting used to. There’s a lot of footwork change; every spot’s like a whole different world.”

» Koehne if he used to feel lost in the shuffle: “Every once in a while, but I just kept my eyes down the good path and I knew, if I kept working hard, I’d get a shot. I’ve capitalized on every opportunity I’ve been given.”

» Koehne on being named a starter^: “It was a great feeling. It made my family proud. It was a great thing to hear.”

» Halapio said redshirt freshman Chaz Green has been rotating at both tackle spots, giving junior left tackle Xavier Nixon and redshirt junior right tackle Matt Patchan breaks when needed.

» Halapio on Patchan’s intensity*: “Oh man, he’s…I think I told somebody this. When he runs off the ball, he’s just trying to poke somebody’s eyes out. He brings that nasty intensity offensive line character to our offensive line.”

» Halapio on if he is more comfortable being a leader: “I feel real comfortable. There are a lot of young guys on the team, a lot of players that are younger than me and they see me as a leader. It makes it easier because I’m older than them and they respect me.”

» Halapio on his advice to younger players: “I always tell them to get in the film room and watch the film a lot. I just came in knowing that I was going to start because of the depth and what we were going through last year. I knew that I was going to start and I didn’t take it as serious as I should have.”

» Halapio on the success of the Pounceys: “It feels real good to see all the former Gators doing their thing on the big time show, NFL and everything. I’m really happy for them boys; they deserve it. I still keep in contact with all of them. They wouldn’t’ big-time me like that.”

» Green on how sophomore Sharrif Floyd is playing at his new position: “He’s doing well at end. Things are a little different for him, but he’s made a good adjustment to it. End is different than tackle just because you’re in more space and you get different blocks at end. He had a learning curve there but he got used to it and is doing real well at it.”

» Green on his assessment of the defensive tackles: “They can be real dominant. All of those guys are real strong and real physical at the point of attack. We got a lot of experience with [Jaye] Howard and Hunter, so they can be pretty good this season.”

» Green on Bostic and Jenkins becoming more vocal: “Both of them have grown up a lot. They feel more comfortable taking charge, giving all the calls. I think they’ll both be a lot better this season.”

» McCray on who is working behind him at SAM linebacker:Darrin Kitchens and Gideon [Ajagbe] – they’re ready to take on the role when their name is called.”

» McCray on whether or not redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed is “tough to handle”: “Jordan Reed – I wouldn’t say he’s a load to handle – he’s got to handle me first. I play defense, so I like to take the aggression to the tight ends and let them know from the first play that they get on the grass that they’re going to have to deal with me all day. Coverage-wise, Jordan Reed is definitely a match-up that you got to take care of before you game plan. […] He’s definitely had some success. He’s a great player, so he’s always going to have success.”

» McCray said the offensive line has made a “drastic change since the spring” noting that it comes from a number of things including the “personnel, learning [of] the offense and their blocking schemes.” He also said the offense definitely “utilize[s] the personnel they have at each position. That’s one thing this offense does well.”

* Quote courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel. | ^ Quote courtesy of the Palm Beach Post.

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