8/6: Muschamp’s first practice in the books

The Florida Gators took the field for the team’s first fall practice under new head coach Will Muschamp, and the man himself provided an update afterwards touching on how certain players looked and some of his philosophies going forward. Florida will be stuck with wearing helmets only (no pads) for the first few practices due to NCAA rules. The Gators will be operating in split squads for the time being with the older players practicing early and the younger one later in the day.

MEDICAL REDSHIRTS HANDED OUT

Four 2010 freshmen – wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, running back Mack Brown, safety Josh Shaw and offensive lineman Ian Silberman – received medical hardship waivers from the NCAA last week, allowing them to keep four years of eligibility and enter the 2011 season as redshirt freshmen rather than sophomores.

TOP THREE WIDE RECEIVERS

Though not as big of a question mark going into the season like some of the other positions (namely the offensive line and linebackers), the Gators’ wide receivers have a unique opportunity to impress and either steal or solidify their rolls on the offense. Muschamp noted Saturday that three in particular have emerged from the group.

He labeled redshirt junior Frankie Hammond, Jr. as the team’s “most consistent receiver” overall. “Frankie really consistently has been our best receiver as far as catching the ball, finishing plays, [and] blocking,” Muschamp said.

The other duo – Dunbar and redshirt senior Deonte Thompson – have provided the explosion. “Quinton and Deonte have been our most vertical threats down the field, big-play receivers. [They] have created some more explosive plays for our offense.”

EARLY FRESHMEN STANDOUTS

With so many young faces on the field from Florida’s newest signing class, each has a unique opportunity to impress early and earn playing time during their first year. Muschamp pointed out a few in a short statement (annotations added for clarification).

“[Tight end] A.C. Leonard is a guy we’re excited about. [WR] Ja’Juan Story looks like a guy that eventually can help us. How quick that will happen, I don’t know. [Fullback] Hunter Joyer did some nice things for us. Both quarterbacks looked very good. [Offensive lineman] Trip Thurman has done some nice things for us in the offseason. We’re pleased with his flexibility, power and where he is as an athlete. Both corners – [Marcus] Roberson and [Louchiez] Purifoy – we think can be good players. They’re both athletic; they both looked good tonight. The safeties were solid. [Linebacker] Graham Stewart flashed, doing some things instinctively. Making some plays in space. He’s got some command and leadership to him.”

He also spoke about how freshman quarterback Jacoby Brissett looked on his first day. “Jacoby is very bright. Just after one day, I’m very pleased with where he is,” he said. “He’s certainly got a certain command about him. He’s a guy that is very well respected by his teammates. He’s an outstanding athlete, but he really can throw the football.”

DEVELOPING TEAM CHEMISTRY

In addition to strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti working the players hard and forcing them to bond over the summer, Muschamp explained that additional initiatives have been undertaken in hopes of bringing the team closer together.

“We took the locker room and we didn’t really do it by position or by class, we kind of separated it – young, old, offense, defense, guys that would never interact with each other unless they had to,” he said. “We put a players’ lounge back in the locker room. We built that and think that’s important. Terry Jackson, he’s our life skills director and spiritual development director, he’s going to have a lounge upstairs so the players have two different places to go and relax.”

Muschamp noted that the NCAA taking away athletic dormitories was a blow to creating team chemistry because players instinctively stick with guys from their own class and don’t venture outside of that comfort zone. ”You don’t get to know the other guys as well – especially if they’re on the other side of the ball,” he said. “We [also] tried to create some leadership groups this summer, they were made up of teams and it was a competition that Mickey created for them.”

NIXON’s GIRTH A KEY FACTOR FOR O-LINE’s SUCCESS

Earning a starting role as a freshman but falling off slightly as a sophomore, tackle Xavier Nixon’s main goal over the summer was gaining weight. Suffering through a sickness that actually caused him to drop some lbs., Nixon ended up succeeding his goal and is now up to 290 lbs. heading into fall camp. Muschamp said that getting bigger and stronger was a necessity for not only his success but also the entire unit’s.

“He’s an important player for us to have a good year offensively. As a football team, we needed him to have some girth [to play] in this league,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to run the ball, and you’ve got to be able to anchor and set edges. He’s certainly athletically has got all the tools to be successful. Him adding that girth and that strength and being able to sustain through our season is going to be critical for us.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

On the first day of practice: “It went OK. Everybody’s excited. We had some very good retention – especially with the older players. Some decent retention with some of the younger players.”

On if senior running back Jeff Demps looked a little lost coming back: “Looked great actually. Really good. I thought he looked great this morning. He and Chris [Rainey] both.”

On where the leadership will come from: “We have some younger guys that are going to be playing a lot, start. Those guys need to step into that role.”

On not being able to fully practice pass rush until later in the fall: “We’ll have three full scrimmages in the fall where we will have good tackling, crisp tackling, so we ought to be solid coming into the first game.”

On what stood out about the Gators’ pass rush in 2010: “I don’t know that we didn’t pressure the quarterback well; we didn’t sack the quarterback well.”

On Brown’s first day: “He was good. It’s hard on a running back when we’re [just] in helmets. He went and did everything.”

On redshirt junior T Matt Patchan’s return: “He can move around good, got his hands out there and on people. He was fine as far as all that. It’s hard to determine until they are truly able to put their pads on, play with pad level and strike. It’s very frustrating to be in helmets sometimes.”

On Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s misinformation rant: “If he wants to put something on a message board, somebody will have to put the computer on for him, show him how to use the mouse and probably keyboard it as well. He’s not very advanced as far as technology is concerned.”

On his own injury information policy: “Our policy really is we’re going to be as honest as we can. But it’s not the NFL; we don’t have to disclose anything. So that’s going to be my policy.”

Florida football’s 2011 media day – Players

With the Florida Gators finally beginning 2011 fall practice on Saturday, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and a handful other players met with the media to discuss the upcoming season. The Gators took the field for the first time on Saturday but all practices will be closed to both fans and the media.

BRANTLEY READY TO STEP UP ON AND OFF THE FIELD

There is no question that the 2010 season was tumultuous for Brantley, but with a new coaching staff and a renewed sense of trust in his abilities, he is more focused than ever heading into 2011. “My confidence is a lot higher now since when the new coaches arrived,” he said Friday. “When the new coaching staff got here, it was all new to me. Now that I have spring football under my belt and have had all summer to study the playbook, I think as a team we’re ready to go. We’re excited about this camp and this season.”

Part of Brantley’s learning curve was learning how to overcome adversity – something he faced plenty of one year ago. “I definitely learned last year, that when things aren’t going right or when things did go wrong to just forget about it and move on,” he said. “Keep my head up and keep looking forward. If your head is down, other people’s heads are going to go down. You just have to keep moving.“

The other portion of his newfound confidence has to do with the brand new offense being installed by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. “During spring ball he tried to get our offense down and pound that in our heads,” Brantley said. “I think during this camp and during this upcoming season he’s going to teach me a lot more about watching film and preparing for games.”

He also realizes that it is up to the entire team to embrace the pro-style offense and move forward with the new system. “In the spring, that new offense was a challenge for us. It was a new challenge that we had to face, and we all took it on,” Brantley noted. “We’re excited about it now that we’ve gotten a little deeper into it. We know it better and are just more excited to get going again. Summer is over now, and we’re excited finally to get back on the field and actually play football.”

DEMPS ALMOST LEFT. REALLY.

Senior running back Jeff Demps, in Italy running with the U.S. National Team, admitted Friday that he did give serious consideration to not returning to the football team this season. “It was close, but maybe not as close as some people thought,” Demps said. “There were people saying I wasn’t going to play football this year. Once I got back, I talked to my parents and talked to my coaches and decided to come back and play football for my senior year.”

Though he does have designs on running track professionally, Demps still believes he can succeed at his first dream, playing in the NFL. “Hopefully, I can play at the next level,” he said. “Hopefully, I have options.”

Another notable occurrence Friday was the new Gators roster, in which it is noted that Demps changed his jersey number from two to 28. “I just felt like No. 2 was more of an all-purpose back’s number,” he told The Gainesville Sun. “I wanted to wear a tailback’s number this year.”

NEW STAFF MAKING AN IMPACT

Ranked No. 23 in the USA Today coaches preseason poll, Florida is certainly facing lowered expectations in 2011 compared to 2010, something Brantley certainly does not mind. “We’re going to go out there like we have every season and just try to be our best. That is all we can do,” he said. “We can go out there every day, try to win that day, try to get better each practice and if that happens, we’ll be able to get back to where we were.”

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins, from a defensive perspective, is also looking forward to learning under a staff with plenty of NFL experience under their belt. “I’m trying to take as much knowledge as I can from them and prepare for this season and eventually for the NFL. That’s really a goal I set for myself and where I want to be,” he said. “Everything they’re giving us is new; it’s like a clean slate. I’m really looking forward to the season and what’s next. I’m ready to be out there, going hard and giving it everything I’ve got.”

Like Jenkins, junior LB Jon Bostic is pleased with the new staff and believes one mantra in particular has really stuck with the team. “One philosophy is to play together as a team. That’s what I saw. They were trying to get everyone back together,” he said. “A lot of the stuff that we did in the offseason, weightlifting and everything, brought the team a lot closer together.”

DEBOSE EXCITED FOR A NEW OPPORTUNITY

One of the criticisms of redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose a year ago was that he had difficulties learning the playbook and committing fully to improving for the team. On Friday, Debose said all of that has changed and he is finally comfortable with himself as a football player and his role with the squad.

“It’s something that happened over the summer. I really just took football to another level. I have really made football a priority of mine,” he said. “I’ve studied a lot more. I’ve really dove into the playbook, so I feel like I have a nice grasp of it. We’ll know the truth once we get on the field and practice what you’ve been studying the whole time.”

Now what he describes as “under the radar” Debose no longer has to worry about “being ‘the man’ and always having everybody with their eye on [me],” instead he can concentrate on simpy being the best he can be. “Mentally, I’m 100 percent more prepared than I was last year. Last year I still had a lot of doubts in my mind about my injury and everything,” he explained. “Every year [since] I came to Florida I’ve always had something on my mind coming into the season.”

ELAM IS CONFIDENT, FOCUSED AND READY

Stepping into a leadership role himself, sophomore safety Matt Elam knows his team no longer has the hype surrounding it that it did one year ago. Nevertheless, he is quite sure that the underdog role will suit him and his teammates quite well.

“I love being an underdog. It pushes me harder. The whole team knows we’re underdogs, and it makes us practice harder and stick together. Being an underdog is very important to us,” he said. “People don’t know what goes on around here. The coaches are great. We’re more as a team. We’re closer. And we’re the underdogs, so we’re working harder.”

Being an underdog will not be enough for the Gators to succeed right away. However, the team’s youth and athleticism could go a long way to helping them reach their goals. “We’re young, but we’re fast. I think we’re the fastest team in the country,” he said. “We’re learning a lot from each other. We’re learning what everybody does best, so if we put all that together we can become great. It’s all about confidence. If you have confidence, you’ll do great things.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Brantley on redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed: “Jordan Reed is probably one of our best athletes on the team. Having him at tight end creates mismatches on linebackers, and we’re excited about that. He has bought into that position, and I’m excited for him to be playing at tight end.”

» Brantley on redshirt freshman wide receiver Quinton Dunbar: “Quinton made a lot of plays during the spring, and that definitely boosted my confidence with him. He can run any route, catch any ball. We’re hoping for big things out of him, and I think that he will be able to prevail.”

» Brantley on redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey: “Chris was definitely a little different this summer. He was kind of quiet; he was a leader, but quiet. He just worked hard every day, went out there with a great attitude and that definitely showed with him. It spreads throughout the team, that kind of confidence.”

» Brantley on his offensive line: “I have a lot of confidence with my O- line. I’ve been with them for a couple of years now – they’re a real close bunch, and I’m close with all of them. They are all fairly new to playing, but I think they’re going to be very hungry and ready to learn.”

» Brantley on the team being underrated entering the season: “We’re never relaxed. We are trying to compete every day to win. The next two weeks during camp, we’re going to try and get better every day. It doesn’t matter if we’re 80th or first in the polls – we’re going to keep doing the same thing and keep getting better each day.”

» Brantley on Muschamp’s all-around energy and intensity: “He’s just not intense on the field; he’s very intense in the meeting room. I’ve heard him through the doors sometimes coaching. It’s awesome. That keeps everyone awake and in tune. Everyone is listening to him.”

» Brantley on sophomore TE Gerald Christian: “He brings a lot. When people see Gerald in there they might think run, but he’s a great athlete. He has great hands and he’s very able to go out for passes. That helps you out because you never know what could happen when he’s in.”

» Redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. on emerging as a big play guy: “It’s on all of our minds because everybody wants to be that go-to guy and right now all of us are out there working and grinding. We’re going into camp and nothing is set in stone.”

» Redshirt sophomore guard Jon Halapio on the hardest part of camp: “Just staying healthy. We need everybody to stay healthy on the offensive and defensive lines. We just want to be healthy on both sides. […] We definitely have something to prove. We have a lot of young guys on the offensive line that need to step up this season. We need to stay healthy. We’re excited that we have Matt Patchan back, he’s a real good football player right now. We just need to stay healthy and have everybody step up.”

» Sophomore running back Trey Burton on if he is used to succeeding in short-yardage situations: “I had 30 rushing touchdowns my junior year and more than half of them were from the goal-line. So, I was used in short-yardage.”

» Burton on what the coaches are telling him about play time: “They’re telling me they will line me up at a bunch of different positions and they are going to try to get me the ball as much as possible.”

» Redshirt junior defensive end Lerentee McCray on his goals: “Taking advantage of every opportunity I get to step on the field and helping this team win. Helping the team win is the main goal.”

» McCray on giving advice to underclassmen: “The most advice I give my teammates is to come in and work hard. Don’t let me down. I won’t let you down. It’s a brotherhood-type thing, I’ve got your back, and you’ve got my back. That’s the main thing we’ve been working on this offseason.”

» Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis on how he improved recently: “One thing we did this offseason was work with the snappers and holders. I worked a lot with John Crofoot, he’s my holder, and just try to go out there every day that way you get muscle memory and comfortable and next thing you know you’re in games and it doesn’t feel any different. That’s been good. I felt like I had to start over this year because I missed so much time but I think that was a good thing because you can develop some bad habits over time and I think that allowed me to fix some of those.”

» Bostic on becoming a leader: “I’ll probably be taking on more of a leadership role. Me and Jelani coming in we were both quiet players. We let our talk be our play but this year we’ve been trying to be leaders on the defense.”

» Bostic on helping the younger players: “Just bring them along. They’re part of this too. We’re one team. We can’t leave anyone behind. We have a goal to get to Atlanta and we have to make sure that everybody is there. We can’t leave one person behind. We have to bring them along because if someone goes down they have to get in the game.”

» Bostic on Elam becoming a leader, too: “This offseason, how much he’s stepped up. Once he realized Ahmad Balck, Will Hill, they’re gone. It’s his turn. He’s just taking that big step, taking that leadership role. He wasn’t one of those big vocal guys in the back of the defense, but now he’s taking that on.”

» Senior defensive end William Green on his leadership role: “I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been telling the underclassmen to take advantage of every opportunity. When you meet with your coaches actually do that and embrace it.”

Florida football’s 2011 media day – Muschamp

With the Florida Gators finally beginning 2011 fall practice on Saturday, head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and dozens of other players met with the media to discuss the upcoming season. The Gators will take the field Saturday but all practices will be closed to both fans and the media.

STAT TO CARE ABOUT: TURNOVER MARGIN

Muschamp made it a point throughout both his media session to explain hat turnover margin is the only statistic that will be a primary focal point for all members of the coaching staff, whether on the offense, defense or special teams.

“The stat I emphasized with our team is turnover margin. Last year, the top 10 teams in turnover margin, six of them played in BCS games,” he said. “The critical factor I try to emphasize with our football team is turnover margin and big play ratio. When you’re dealing in that world, you’re talking about game-changing, field position-changing, vertical field-possession changing momentum in the game. We got to take control of the ball offensively and create what we call a ball hawk defense.”

Asked later if focusing on turnover margin made the team more defensively oriented than Florida football has been historically, Muschamp disagreed. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that. Turnover margin is something that affects both sides,” he noted. “We’ve got to have great ball security offensively, and we’ve got to create some turnovers on defense. On special teams, control the vertical field position. But from my chair, that affects all of us and how we play. It controls the field position; it controls the momentum of the game.”

FOUR TEAM GOALS HEADING INTO THE SEASON

When it comes to what he looks for in not only a successful player but more specifically a leader, Muschamp has those characteristics defined. He believes each represents a goal that the players should individually achieve by the time the season begins.

“We talk about leadership, and we define it to our players as: No. 1 – You got to be a productive player. If you’re not producing and you’re not making plays, it’s hard to be a leader. [No. 2] – You can’t have a bad day. You can’t come, ‘I hope that guy didn’t get hurt.’ So when you come to work, you can’t just say, ‘Well Coach, I just didn’t play good today.’ You got to play well all the time. [No. 3] – You got to positively affect everybody in the organization. [No. 4] – You got to stay humble in what you do. So you can’t be a negative guy that sits in the locker room and complains about how we’re practicing, how hot it is, or what we’re doing offensively or defensively. Stay humble and move forward with the mistakes and don’t make them again.”

INJURY UPDATES

All four of the injured players the Gators were worried about heading into 2011 have been cleared in one way or another. Redshirt freshman running back Mack Brown (broken fibula) will need to be careful with his endurance but is cleared to practice and will be “worked up to speed.” Redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan (wrist) has been cleared for the field as well, but coaches will “make sure that we get out there and he’s ready to roll as far as contact and things are concerned.” Senior tackle William Steinmann (meniscus tear) is cleared for everything but contact (Aug. 15), and redshirt sophomore long snapper Christopher Guido (hernia surgery) will be good to go on Aug. 10.

BUILDING THE OFFENSIVE LINE

Muschamp continues to be worried about depth on three fronts, starting with the offensive line. Florida did not have much of an opportunity to build such depth in the spring as many players were injured and others were just putting their feet in the water for the first time.

“Obviously with the moving parts we had going through spring ball, that’s something we need to gel and we need to gel early,” Muschamp said. “We need to get five guys playing well together. And you’d like to build that number to seven, eight, nine, 10 guys if you can, but build depth on the offensive line of scrimmage.”

Overall, however, he is pleased with the development of the guys he got to see in spring. Muschamp praised redshirt sophomore guard Jon Halapio for his toughness and effort, junior tackle Xavier Nixon for being up to 290 lbs. but remaining athletic with more punch and power, and redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison for his transition from guard to center – “that’s a tough deal to do, do make the calls. We put an awful lot on the center.” He was also excited about redshirt freshman Ian Silberman’s move to guard, and redshirt freshman Chaz Green’s growth at tackle.

BUILDING THE FRONT SEVEN

Just like on offense, Muschamp hopes his defensive line rotation is something that can be solidified by the time fall camp comes to a close. With plenty of depth at defensive tackle including the two veterans – redshirt senior Jaye Howard and redshirt junior Omar Hunter – he said that sophomore Sharrif Floyd will mainly play on the inside but will also see some time at defensive end. Senior DE William Green will primarily play there but also get some time at outside linebacker, too.

Linebacker is another position in which depth is a concern for Muschamp. Aside from junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins, he is looking to fill in the blanks. Helping him do just that might be redshirt freshman Michael Taylor, who stood out to him as a “tough, physical kid” who “understands a little more what we’re asking of him.” Muschamp also noted that redshirt sophomore Dee Finely is progressing from his move from the secondary: “When your position moves closer to the ball, the game happens a lot faster. He’s been a guy that’s shown some flashes and was very productive for us early in spring.”

Obviously sophomore buck LB Ronald Powell will be counted on heavily in the pass rush, but Green and redshirt junior DE Lerentee McCray will also both work on getting to the quarterback. “Lerentee has done some nice things. Willie Green has done some nice things. But, consistently we haven’t seen enough,” Muschamp said. He did, however, have some extra praise for McCray. “Lerentee has got a great motor. He is very passionate about playing at Florida. It’s important to him to be a Gator,” he said. “He’s a guy that can give us some pass rushing plays, plays extremely hard. He’s tough, and he sticks his face in there. He’s a guy that you really appreciate coaching; he’s always up in the meeting rooms to watch film, ask questions. We’re expecting him to have a really good year.”

BRANTLEY AND THE OFFENSE

Asked how well he and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis are meshing together, Muschamp noted the duo shares the same offensive philosophy and have a great working relationship. “We want to be a running football team, have the play actions off of it, but still be able to spread the field and create plays in space for our playmakers,” he said. “I’ve got great confidence where we are and where we’re headed with our offense.”

His confidence, of course, begins with redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley, who he believes should have complete trust in himself considering that Weis has all the faith in the world in regards to his abilities on the field. “He’s got great confidence in John; that should give John great confidence. That ought to give him great confidence as a quarterback, and I think it does,” Muschamp said.

He added there is “no question” that Brantley is the starter and noted that sophomore Tyler Murphy is currently the back up with freshmen Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett fighting for that role. “John is the starter. I say create some separation behind John; we need to find who is our backup quarterback going into the season, how are we going to tailor offense for the backup quarterback. And that’s a decision we need to make as quickly as we can in camp,” Muschamp explained.

FINDING A TRUSTWORTHY SECONDARY

With the Gators losing three veterans in the secondary, Muschamp has placed an emphasis on solidifying the positions, whether that is with older or younger players. “Secondary, I really like our athleticism,” he said. “I like starting with athleticism. I’d rather start with that than experience if I could take one of the two.”

He also shared his thoughts on four players in particular…

Sophomore safety Matt Elam: “Obviously, he plays safety and nickel, but he’s a guy who’s shown some play-making abilities. If you look at a defensive back and you look at critical factors of being able to play in space, that means you’ve got to be able to tackle and cover them, have physical toughness to play the position. He can spin in the box and play in the box and play in the deep part of the field. He judges the ball extremely well. He’s bright, he’s intelligent, and he can get in and out of the chase.”

Junior safety Josh Evans: “[He] has certainly been another guy that’s shown that he can do that.”

Redshirt freshman safety Josh Shaw: “[He] is certainly a guy who I think can do that, but he’s got to do it more consistently.

Sophomore cornerback Jaylen Watkins: “[He] is a young man we played at corner and safety in the spring and I think can give us a little position multiplicity in what he can do.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Florida will be holding split-squad practices on the first few days of camp in order “to let younger players have a better opportunity to learn.” NCAA rules state that players can only practice once per day over the course of the first five days of practice. Therefore, Muschamp will have the older players practice early and plans to film them. The younger players will then watch the film and go out in the afternoon and practice. “Now they’re able to, at least for two practices, get a better idea of what is going to be expected on the practice field,” he said. Monday is the team’s first day as a full unit.

» On how younger players can also be leaders: “I’m not really worried about looking for senior leadership. You can be a sophomore, you can be a freshman and be a great leader. I’ve seen guys do that – positively affect the organization with how they play and how they approach things every day. We’ve got some guys, especially that sophomore class, that we’re counting on being very productive players and they need to be really good leaders on top of that.”

» On not allowing assistant coaches to speak to the media yet: “I do think it’s important right now that there’s one message for our football team, and I’m the one that knows that the best.”

» On having an open doors policy with former Gators: “I have open arms for every letterman that comes back here. They are welcome to come to any practices; it’s not closed to them. They can come to every practice if they want to. But when you have guys like Kevin Carter, who was in yesterday, Fred Taylor, Mike Peterson, Tim Tebow, I mean all these guys have come back in the summer. Percy Harvin, the list goes on, of guys that come back anytime so they can talk about their time at Florida and the expectations of playing at Florida. I’ve got a guy on my staff, Terry Jackson and Aubrey Hill, that played at Florida. They understand the expectation of what it takes to be successful here.”

» On that dirty word “potential:” “Potential? That means you really haven’t done anything. God blessed you with an awful lot of ability, you take advantage of it. Guys that get labeled with potential in our program don’t last long.”

» On being ranked No. 23 preseason: “I could care less.”

» On the future of sophomore Trey Burton: “I think he fits very well with what we want to do. He’s going to play what we call the F position. That position is going to be a full back, it’s going to be a slot receiver, it’s going to be a match-up on a linebacker outside, and it’s going to motion and create leverage in the run and pass game. He’s going to do so many things for us. He’s a guy that is going to be catching the football, he’s going to be blocking, he’s going to be carrying it. He was a short-yardage situation guy in the spring that was probably our best short yardage back. It is kind of limitless what he’s going to be doing in our offense.”

» Muschamp noted that replacing Chas Henry at punter will be difficult but that freshman Kyle Christy has the inside leg on the job. “[He’s] a young man that came in mid-year, very excited about him,” he said. Muschamp also mentioned, however, that senior David Lerner would have a fair shot at the gig.

OT Humphries is Florida’s first five-star commit

With six months to go until National Signing Day, the Florida Gators received their first five-star commitment of the 2012 recruiting cycle on Friday when offensive tackle D.J. Humphries (Charlotte, NC) announced his intent to wear Orange and Blue in the fall.

“Florida is really the only place I felt like I could spend the next four years at,” Humphries said during his announcement on Friday. “Florida is the only place that felt like home, where I felt comfortable.”

At 6’5” and 265 lbs., Humphries is not only the top-rated player at his position nationally but also the No. 3 overall recruit in the country, according to Rivals. He chose Florida over Tennessee and joins four-star OT Jessamen Dunker (Boynton Beach, FL) at the top of the Gators’ 2012 recruiting class.

He said that he will still take all five of his official visits.

“With Florida, they are a hungry coaching staff and they really want to get back to where they were and I can feel that,” Humphries told Rivals in July. “ When I talk to the coaches, I can see they want to prove that Florida is still on top. I speak to [offensive line coach Frank] Verducci at least once every couple of weeks and we have a strong bond.”

ESPNU and Scout also have Humphries ranked as a five-star prospect; the former agrees that he is the No. 1 player at his position (and lists him as the No. 7 overall player), while the latter has him rated as the third-best offensive tackle and No. 17 in the country.

The Gators now have 17 commits for their 2012 class and may only take five (potentially up to eight) more before all is said and done in early February.

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Carter (1/2): “It’s the kind of pressure you want.”

There are few former Florida Gators football players more accomplished than defensive end Kevin Carter. A three-time Southeastern Conference champion who was named first-team All-SEC twice (1993-94) and earned first-team All-American honors his senior year (1994), Carter is a member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame (as a Gator Great) and went on to a storied 14-year NFL career.

After being selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams, Carter ended up a two-time Pro Bowler (1999, 2002) who was named the Rams’ most valuable player in 1998 and won Super Bowl XXXIV.

The consummate team player, Carter played both end and tackle in the NFL and registered 104.5 career sacks including a league-high 17 during St. Louis’ 1999 Super Bowl run. He never missed a game due to injury or otherwise and retired from the NFL after fulfilling his dreams and earning the immense respect of his peers.

Last week, Carter sat down with OGGOA for a 45-minute exclusive interview that touched on his time at Florida, extensive NFL career, charitable efforts and new gig as a television analyst for the SEC Gridiron Live program. OGGOA caught up with Carter while at his home and, even though he was in the middle of getting a brand new deck built, he stepped inside to reminisce about his career and look ahead to new beginnings.

This is part one of our interview with Carter; the second half will be posted Saturday.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: You were born in Miami and grew up living in Tallahassee. What was it that got you to end up playing at Florida rather than for Miami or Florida State?
KEVIN CARTER: “Growing up, I didn’t really grow up a Seminoles fan – I actually grew up a big Georgia Bulldogs fan as a kid, when Georgia won the national championship with Hershel Walker back in 1981. That was more of who I followed as far as being a fan. When it came time for me to go to school, I went to a couple of game at Florida State, took a visit there, got to know some of the players and knew a lot of the guys who were going to go there, but it just never felt like home. It felt too much like being at home. For me, I was looking to kind of get away, be on my own but still close enough for mom’s cooking.

“Academically, Florida State didn’t really have what I wanted to major in. I wanted to do something in the medical field, something medical science-related, possibly pharmacy. I wanted to be at a place that had not only everything that I wanted in a football school but also everything that I needed for my life, academically as well. For me it came down to Notre Dame and Florida. When I met Coach [Steve] Spurrier, I was pretty sold after I talked to him. I was really impressed just by the man he was, his candor and how he lived his life. I liked his style. He was a little cocky – not arrogant but just sure, very process-oriented and driven. I was really impressed by that at 17-years-old. He sold me.”

AS: Your career with Florida speaks for itself, but almost every former Gator I talk to has one game where they felt they performed on a different level that really sticks out in their mind. Which one was that for you?
KC: “The Tennessee game in Knoxville my senior year, 1994, when we went up to Neyland Stadium. They had a big, strong offensive line with all of these big, big guys and [the media was] talking about how this offensive line was going to overpower us and how James Stewart was going to have a big game against us. They were the favorite in the SEC East, and we had just come off of a good year, but a shootout in The Swamp a year prior. We went up there; we took it as a personal challenge. Like I said, we were supposedly outmatched, upfront especially. We took it upon ourselves – me and Ellis Johnson and Henry McMillan, Johnny Church, Mark Campbell – we really took it upon ourselves to go out there and shut up all the critics, come out and really lead the way on defense. We actually ended up winning that game 31-0, so it was a pretty dominating performance on defense.”

Read the rest of part one of our interview with Kevin Carter…after the break!
Continue Reading » Carter (1/2): “It’s the kind of pressure you want.”

Meyer talks Tebow on ESPN; Tebow opens up

Former Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer, now a college football analyst on ESPN, was asked on SportsCenter Thursday evening if he had any problem with NFL analyst Merril Hoge’s criticisms of his former player and now Denver Broncos second-year quarterback Tim Tebow. Meyer agreed that Hoge had every right to criticize him but did note that the analyst’s was relatively “harsh.” He also said that he believes part of the reason so much vitriol is thrown at Tebow is because of the immense success he has achieved and the non-stop coverage of him at every level of his career.

Tebow, who was interviewed by Denver Post columnist Woody Paige on Wednesday, expressed angst and uncertainty about his role on the team going forward this year. Below are excerpts from the one-on-one interview, which can be read in its entirety as a feature story in the Denver Post by clicking here.

On Orton not being traded: “My dream, since I was a young boy, of being a starting quarterback in the NFL seemed to be coming true. Then, I felt like it was grabbed back away.”

On if learning of the change affected him: “I didn’t have a good day on the field (last) Saturday, but I think in the other practices I’ve thrown well and improved each day.”

On blocking out the critics: “I’m trying to insulate myself from what people in the media are saying, but I’ve seen some of it, and it hurts because it’s coming from people who haven’t seen me practice, haven’t seen me play, haven’t seen what I can do. I did an interview the other day with someone on the NFL Network who said last year I’d never play a down in the NFL. He was wrong. Others who say I won’t make it are wrong. They don’t know what I’m capable of and what’s inside me. My family and my friends have been bothered by what’s gone on, and I tell them to pay no attention to it.

“I’m relying as always on my faith. I’ll always use the negativity as more motivation to work even harder and become even stronger. I’ll practice as good as I can, but I know that I play even better, with the qualities I have — leadership, my ability to make something happen in games, winning. And I know there are a lot of people who believe in me as a player and a person, and I don’t want to let them down.”

Report: Saunders caught with pot in May

Florida Gators freshman cornerback De’Ante “Pop” Saunders, an early enrollee who joined the team in January, was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana back in May, according to a report from the Palm Beach Post.

Saunders, a four-star recruit coming out of high school, reportedly agreed to deferred prosecution, which likely included a small fine and community service. The charge will be cleared from his record once terms of his agreement are reached.

The Post spoke to Saunders’s attorney Huntley Johnson, who believes there will be no further problems with the player going forward. “He’s quit smoking marijuana,” Johnson said. “I’m satisfied that’s not going to be an issue again.”

The fourth player since January to be cited for possession of marijuana, Saunders has likely already served out an internal punishment from head coach Will Muschamp.

Florida redshirt sophomore defensive end Kendric Johnson served his punishment and remains on the team headed into the 2011 season. However, senior CB Janoris Jenkins was dismissed after his third pot arrest, and redshirt freshman linebacker Chris Martin ended up transferring but did not say it was specifically for that reason.

ESPN to go All-Access with Gators on Aug. 8

Even though the Florida Gators have closed their fall practices to fans and the media, the team has decided to make an exception for ESPN and will provide studio analyst Jesse Palmer, writer Chris Low, a cameraman and a photographer with an all-access pass for a special behind-the-scenes look at the program on Monday, Aug. 8.

Titled Inside the Program: Live with the Gators, the feature will allow Palmer to “conduct live interviews with head coach Will Muschamp, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and multiple players throughout the day,” according to an official press release from ESPN.

These segments, along with some other elements (mentioned below), will air at least once per hour on SportsCenter, First Take and College Football Live; each will streamed live on ESPN.com for those without access to a television.

Additionally, College Football Live will televise a practice drill live at 3:30 p.m.

Additional elements include:
» Still photographer posting images on ESPN.com throughout the day
» Video of training room, cool tubs, etc.
» A ride-along on the bus to the stadium
» Live shots during breakfast, lunch and dinner in the Gator Room
» Video and interviews with players
» Post-practice interviews

OGGOA will have live coverage on Twitter throughout the day but will also compile the segments in a post at the end of the day here on OnlyGators.com.

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