With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice now in full swing, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media after the day’s activities were completed on Tuesday. Maintaining a serious and balanced demeanor, Muschamp discussed a number of topics including the team’s level of consistency in practice, who is shining in the secondary and what the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut will look like on Saturday.
DUNKLEY SUSPENDED FOR ACADEMICS
Redshirt freshman wide receiver Chris Dunkley, who hobbled through most of 2010 with a hamstring injury and has been relatively silent so far this spring, has been suspended from the team for academic issues. Muschamp remained vague about the situation, saying that “academically he needs to handle some things,” but noted that he has not sat out the entire time and can earn his way back on the field if he gets his grades up.
TIME TO BE CONSISTENT
Muschamp wants to trust the guys he puts on the gridiron and has maintained that the best way for players to prove themselves is by showing consistency both on and off the field. “I really challenged the players after practice to [find] consistency in their performance. We’ve done some really nice things at all positions at times, but the consistency of it is not what it needs to be,” he said. “We’ve made a lot of improvements, but we have tremendous strides to make. […] The inconsistency is the frustrating thing, but there’s been bright spots at a lot of positions in what we’re trying to do.”
Asked to compare the base level of talent that Florida has with what he left at Texas, Muschamp noted that ability is not the issue. “We have talent. I’m excited about the players we have,” he said. “It’s what we have and we’re going to be fine. Depth is an issue, but that’s something that [can be fixed with time].”
He spent a lot of time talking about two position groups in particular, noting that once they become consistent and cohesive as individual units, the team’s overall performance will be more impressive. “The two tightest knit groups on the team need to be the offensive line and the secondary,” Muschamp said. “They’ve got to play together. They’ve got to have great communication. They’ve got to be on the same page in what they do and how they do it. We’ve got to be tied together well in those two areas. There’s been times we have been, and there’s been times we haven’t been.”
PLANS FOR ORANGE & BLUE DEBUT
The Gators will be in the hot Florida sun on Saturday for the team’s spring game, but due to lack of depth along both lines and injuries on both offense and defense, the format will be different than years past. Florida will split up into Blue and Orange teams with Blue groupings representing the first-team players and Orange groupings representing the second-team players. However, the offense will wear the color blue throughout the afternoon, while the defense will stick with white. All that really matters to Muschamp is that the team gets better when Saturday’s scrimmage comes to a close.
“What we want to do is go out and have a very functional scrimmage. We want to execute on both sides of the ball. We need to see guys play in front of people, I think that’s important to see how they respond in front of a good crowd,” he said. “It’s important for us to go out and play fast, play physical and play with toughness.”
He also cautioned that the game is “not gonna be real flashy” and joked that he may have to strap on the pads one more time to help out. “We’ve got who we got; I may line up at left tackle,” Muschamp quipped.
» On how sophomore Gerald Christian is faring at tight end and linebacker: “He’s battling [at LB], but he’s playing on both sides. [His] head’s spinning a lot. He’s working awful hard. I’m very proud of his effort and what he’s trying to do. He’s done some nice things for us at tight end, and we continue to rep him in at linebacker. After spring is over, we need to sit down and make some decisions about where we go with this, but he’s done some good things on both sides of the ball.”
» On the standout play of sophomore safety Matt Elam: “We’ve done some really nice things at times. Matt Elam’s really made a lot of plays; I think he’s had a really solid spring. I want his leadership ability to step up; he’s a guy that can provide more of that and bring that more to our football team. He’s really made some nice plays on the ball in coverage and in run support.”
» Muschamp said that junior Josh Evans and sophomores Josh Shaw and Jaylen Watkins are all performing well at safety. Watkins is listed on the spring roster as a cornerback and played that position in 2010. He also noted that sophomore Cody Riggs has played nearly every defensive back position in the spring.
» Evaluating the CBs in particular, Muschamp said redshirt junior Jeremy Brown is consistent day-in and day-out and “has had a very solid spring” overall. However, redshirt senior Moses Jenkins has been just the opposite, “inconsistent in his performance” including at the point of attack and on the line of scrimmage.
» On the emergence of freshman CB De’Ante Saunders, who is currently sidelined with a hamstring injury: “He’s going to be a good football player for the Gators. This guy’s got a lot of ability. For a guy that hasn’t played a lot of corner in his life, he’s got some natural instincts on the back end. He’s got the critical factors of being a good defensive back: toughness, he can play the ball down the field, he can play with range, he can cover man, he’s got zone instincts. He’s got all the attributes you want at that position.”
» Muschamp repeated much of what has been said about the offensive line recently. Redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison is doing well after being moved to center, redshirt sophomore Jon Halapio is impressing at guard and junior Xavier Nixon has looked good at tackle. He announced that sophomore Ian Silberman has permanently moved from tackle to guard, and that redshirt freshman tackle Chaz Green has played on the left and right. “It’s a little bit of a luxury for him to be able to play both sides.”
» On if he’s coached players who don’t perform well in practice but do during games: “I don’t believe in that. You’re going to play like you practice. The guys that practice well play well. I think that carries over. I’m young, but I’m old fashioned in that regard.”
» On sophomore athlete Trey Burton’s importance with so many players being injured: “He’s a football player. He’s got natural instincts. He’s a guy that really gives a defense problems from the standpoint of, ‘What is he?’ Because he can play in the slot, he can play in the backfield, he can be in protection, he can free release. He does an awful lot of things, and Charlie [Weis] does a really nice job of putting him in those situations and really gives the defense some issues.”
» On if the Heisman Trophy winners on-site for the statue ceremony will speak to the team: “Anytime we have an opportunity to have some of the great Gators come through and speak, [we will]. Tim [Tebow] and Danny [Wuerffel] , we want them to be a part of that as well. Fred Taylor should be here on Friday, so we’re excited about Fred speaking to our football time. Anytime that you have guys that have been in this program and been a part of the great tradition and really built this place to what it is, that’s an exciting thing for our players to ask questions, to interact with them and find out what it was like to be a gator when they were here. I think that’s really important to our football team.”