4/5: Dunkley suspended, consistency an issue

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.

NOTES & QUOTES

» 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.”

Florida gains ninth 2012 commit in CB Bailey

Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp and his staff are on a roll, gaining their ninth commitment for the 2012 recruiting cycle on Tuesday when three-star cornerback Willie Bailey (Miami, FL) decided to wear the orange and blue next year.

Bailey, who decommitted from Miami (FL) in order to switch to Florida, attends the same high school as Gators redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. At 6’1″ and 165 lbs., he is best suited to play either nickel corner or safety.

“He’s always been a Florida fan,” Bailey’s high school coach Dameon Jones told InsideTheGators.com. “He’s always liked the Gators, but I guess he’s never been there. Once he saw the campus and got to talk to Frankie and see how it fit him – because they are both pretty much the same. They are both quiet kids who run track and are really more laid back and polite type of kids. When he saw how that atmosphere fit him, he started thinking about committing. That’s something he couldn’t pass up.”

Bailey spent the last two weekends in Gainesville, FL and came to his decision at least in part because of the relationship he built with WR coach/recruiting coordinator Aubrey Hill and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson.

OGGOA will be updating this story shortly.

TWO BITS: gymnastics in NCAAs, Hill returns

1 » No. 5 Florida Gators gymnastics will begin semifinal action in the 2011 NCAA Championships on Friday evening at the Wolstein Center in Cleveland, OH. Competing in Semifinal II along with Alabama, Kent State, Nebraska, Oregon and Utah, Florida hopes to finish in the top three in order to advance to the NCAA Super Six – the final stage of competition for a national title.

2 » Back wearing orange and blue for the first time since 1994, new Gators wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill is happy to be back home. Calling his return to Gainesville, FL a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Hill told University of Florida senior writer Scott Carter that he is the one who reached out to head coach Will Muschamp about joining his first staff. “When he got the job, I sought him out,’’ Hill said. “I’m just very thankful for the opportunity to be able to come back home to your alma mater and to be able to give back to the players, give back to the community, and give back to this wonderful Gator Nation.” Muschamp explained why having Hill on board can help the team be successful. “I think having someone on the coaching staff who attended the University of Florida is really important when dealing with the players,’’ he said. “Aubrey has walked in their footsteps. He has been on their practice field, was in their classrooms and knows the culture of the Gator Nation. He’s accomplished what a lot of these players want to accomplish – he has been part of championship teams.”

You can check out the rest of the feature story by clicking here, though a choice quote has been republished below:

Q: You are the recruiting coordinator. How do you approach recruiting?
A: I really, really enjoy recruiting. Why do I enjoy recruiting? I look back when I was recruited and how important it was in picking a school. As an assistant coach, we have to give them all the information that can help them make a decision. They can pick it for several reasons: football, academics, proximity to home. What we try to do as coaches is try to tie them all in. There is no way I can do my job without the head coach. Sometimes I can’t do my job without the area coach. We all collectively work on getting a kid here. Recruiting is just selling what you believe in, and it’s an easy sell when you are talking about the University of Florida.

4/4: Easley shining as defense beings to solidify

With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice in full swing, a number of the team’s defensive players were made available to the media to begin the fourth week of action. The defensive front seven seemed like a more cohesive unit than they were one year ago, as evidenced by some of the news and quotes provided on Monday.

EASLEY BECOMING EXPLOSIVE

Asked to pick a defensive teammate shining this spring, everyone pointed to sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who barely played last year and was in the dog house due to alleged attitude and personal problems. The story is quite the opposite this season, with players raving about how dominant he has been coming off the line.

“This defensive line I can definitely say is a big difference from last year. Easley – that’s probably the fastest I’ve ever seen somebody get off the ball,” junior linebacker Jon Bostic said. “As soon as the center says ‘hut,’ Jon Harrison is two yards in the backfield. His get-off is crazy. Sometimes when you pause the film and just look, every other defensive lineman is taking half a step or one step and he’s taken two or three.”

Sophomore buck LB Ronald Powell concurred. “Easley is so explosive off the ball. His get-off is just ridiculous,” he said. “It makes it hard for guys to block him because by the time they snap the ball and get ready for the block, he’s already past them.”

Not only has Easley’s play improved, his attitude has as well. Part of the reason he is still wearing the orange and blue is because his classmates picked him up when he was down. “I was one of the guys that was sticking with him, talking to him,” Powell said of Easley’s struggles in 2010. “Coming into this thing, we all chose to come here together, so we decided to stay here together.”

Fellow sophomore DT Sharrif Floyd deferred the attitude talk but spoke about Easley’s ability on the field. “Maturity-wise, I guess that’s a good question for him,” he said. “On the field he takes care of his stuff and he’s doing a great job of firing off the ball. He’s gotten more explosive than last year.” He also said that the duo can cause “a lot of problems” if they work at it. “He’s got that get-off-the-ball penetration, and I’ve got the power. [It’s a] great combination, going to cause a lot of havoc,” he said.

OFFENSE TOUGH TO DEFEND

The Gators’ defense may be ahead of the offense at this point, but Bositc said Monday that doesn’t mean they aren’t giving his unit fits during practice. “Just all the different looks they’re giving us. They run a lot of different combination routes with the receivers, the way they’re running routes,” he said. “[It] is actually helping us out as a defense [because] we may need to change this, may need to change that.”

Floyd believes the offensive line as a whole is “starting to come together more” even though they are dealing with a massive amount of injuries. Powell agreed, pointing out two players in particular who impress him on a day-to-day basis. “Jon Halapio is a beast, man-child, doing great things on and off the field,” Powell said. “[He’s] just a great guy. You’d never know he’s the type of player he is when you see him off the field. He’s kind of a cuddly guy. On the field, he’s rough – rough. […] Chaz Green is a great player. Definitely going to be an outstanding tackle for the Gators.”

DEFENSE MORE DETAILED BUT ALSO MORE FUN

For a young group of players, having to learn a brand new defense from the ground up can be difficult. Florida’s front seven seem to be adapting to it well overall.

“I wouldn’t say the concepts are too hard, it’s just really a lot of plays – a lot more plays than in the past,” Bostic said before discussing the style of defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. “I like it. I know a lot of the younger guys like it, too,” he added. “He sits down and makes sure you understand the concepts and what’s going on out there on the field. He talks everything through with you.”

Powell shared Bostic’s opinions about the coaching staff’s teaching methods. “I love the way the coaches are getting after us and making us better,” he said. “If you want to be great, you got to be pushed.” He also commented about his new hybrid position on the defense. “I love it. I think it’s good for me, definitely gives me an opportunity to make some good plays and do big things for the Gators this year.”

With such limited time in the spring, Floyd realizes what matters now is doing the best they can on a practice-by-practice basis. “We’re making great progress and learning more each day, just getting better and doing what we can do,” he said.

QUOTES

Easley on his struggles in 2010*: “I was just a freshman going through a phase. I’m over it now and I’m going on to the season. […] Almost every freshman gets homesick. I went through it. Now, this is my home.”

Easley on what the team is trying to accomplish*: “We’re playing as a team. Everybody wants one goal – to win a national championship. Everyone is striving for one thing. That’s what you want on a team.”

Easley on if he was going to transfer*: “I never thought different. I never thought I was going anywhere else.”

Powell on freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel’s personality: “He’s a funny dude – real funny. Definitely serious about his plays and his books and stuff like that, but he’s real funny off the field.”

Powell on the defense coming together: “I knew a lot of these guys had it in them. It was just a matter of when we were going to start showing our talent.”

Powell on the best hit he’s seen this spring:Matt Elam came down and hit Mack Brown – one of the biggest hits I’ve seen.”

Quotes marked with * are courtesy of The Gainesville Sun.

Gators C Mike Pouncey will attend NFL Draft

Planning to follow in his brother’s footsteps of being a first-round selection, former Florida Gators center/guard Mike Pouncey has accepted an invitation from the league to attend the 2011 NFL Draft on April 28 at Radio City Music Hall in New York, NY.

Pouncey has let it known that his goal is to be picked ahead of his brother Maurkice Pouncey, who was selected No. 18 overall by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2010. He is considered the top interior offensive lineman in the draft and has been projected by analysts to potentially go as high as No. 15 to the Miami Dolphins.

Since showcasing his talent for coaches and scouts at the 2011 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN and Pro Day in Gainesville, FL, Pouncey has been conducting private workouts with teams potentially interested in drafting him and will continue to do so as draft day approaches.

Beal wins Gatorade National Player of the Year

Florida Gators five-star signee Brad Beal (St. Louis, MO) was named the 2010-11 Gatorade National Player of the Year on Monday.

Standing 6’4” and 205 lbs., Beal averaged 32.4 points, 5.7 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 2.7 steals per game this season while shooting 73 percent from the field for Chaminade College Preparatory School. He led his team to a 27-1 record in his senior year and concluded his career with 2,634 points.

In addition to being a fantastic basketball player, Beal is also a model student. He has a 91.7 average in the classroom and does plenty of volunteer work when he’s not studying or playing.

“This was a year full of outstanding candidates for Gatorade Player of the Year, so Bradley Beal winning says a lot about how perfectly he exemplifies everything the award is about,” said ESPN’s national director of recruiting for basketball, Paul Biancardi, in an official release. “As a player, he’s one of the best shooters in all of high school basketball, and beyond that, he’s improved his game so he can use dribble-penetration to shake defenders, he’s rebounding at a high margin, his passing is improved and, as a result, he’s become one of the best all-around guards in the country. When you look at his makeup, he has a unique ability to help his team win. There’s not a greater complement than that.”

Beal, who won the Gatorade Player of the Year award for the state of Missouri in 2009-10 and 2010-11, is the first Florida commitment to earn the national honor.

Photo Credit: Wiley Price/The St. Louis American

Elway on verge of pushing Tebow out of Denver?

Though he has denied the rumors since he has taken the job, nothing that new Denver Broncos president John Elway has done – regardless of the damage control he is trying to send through the media – has indicated that he believes former Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow is his starting signal-caller of the future.

Denver has been taking a very close look at a number of athletic rookie QBs including Cam Newton, Blaine Gabbert and Colin Kaepernick and plans to select a passer in the first two rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, according to ESPN’s John Clayton and Sports Illustrated’s Tony Pauline.

“[Elway’s] bold enough to think Tebow isn’t the answer. […] I’m starting to think Elway might take a QB in the second round and call the Tebow selection a mistake,” Clayton opined based on what he is hearing around the league.

Pauline shared a similar but more fact-based sentiment. “Sources have told us a while ago they expect the Denver Broncos to draft a quarterback this year and it could be early,” he wrote on Sunday. “Many familiar with the situation told us Tim Tebow is not the quarterback for John Elway – and with the future Hall of Fame passer calling many of the shots for the franchise a signal caller is a priority.”

This is all coming to light exactly two months after Elway and new head coach John Fox indicated without much provocation that veteran Kyle Orton would most likely start the season as the team’s quarterback.

Tebow, who has quickly become a fan favorite in Mile High, is already one of the most popular players in the NFL and has a ton of support from the Broncos faithful, may never get the chance to prove himself to management over a full season after having relative success in three starts to end 2010.

Asked two weeks ago by the Denver Post why the Broncos were working out so many signal callers, Elway had this to say: “We’re always looking for that guy. We may already have the guy who can pull the trigger and win us a championship someday. We may have him. We don’t know. We believe in Tim, but he’s not there yet.”

Contrary to Elway’s statement, the way he and the Denver front office are looking for a quarterback this offseason, it does not appear they believe in Tebow much at all.

Photo Credit: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Florida baseball sweeps; softball gets swept

Both marred in slumps in Southeastern Conference play, Florida Gators baseball and softball took divergent paths over the weekend. Breaking out of the doldrums, the No. 3/4 baseball team improved to 24-5 with a three-game sweep of the Tennessee Volunteers at home, while No. 5/5 softball lost their sixth-straight game and fell to 30-7 after being swept over three contests by the No. 23/24 Kentucky Wildcats on the road.

BASEBALL

After going 1-3 from March 25-29, Florida (24-5, 7-2 SEC) rebounded and outscored Tennessee (19-9, 2-7 SEC) 23-3 over a three-game period to recapture the form they’ve had most of the season.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Hudson Randall (5-0) took the mound Friday for the Gators and pitched his second-straight complete game to lead his team to a 3-0 victory. Randall’s complete game shutout was Florida’s first since 2004; he struck out four and only gave up four hits in the contest. Sophomore first baseman Austin Maddox (1-4, HR, 2 RBI, R) got the Gators on the board early with a two-run homer in the bottom of the second, and sophomore catcher Mike Zunino (1-4) scored on a wild pitch in the eight to notch UF’s only other run of the day.

Florida’s offense exploded on Saturday as sophomore shortstop Nolan Fontana (3-4, 6 RBI, R, BB) continued his fantastic season by knocking in six runs and collecting a trio of hits on the afternoon. Joining him with great performances at the plate were junior left fielder Daniel Pigott (2-4, HR, 2 RBI, R, BB) and senior second baseman Josh Adams (2-2, 2 R). Sophomore left-handed pitcher Brian Johnson started the game for the Gators but was pulled after giving up two earned runs on four hits with five strikeouts in 5.1 innings. He was replaced by junior RHP Anthony DeSclafani (4-0), who collected the victory in 2.2 innings of work.

UF’s performance Sunday mirrored their effort Saturday as they thwarted UT 9-1 to complete the three-game sweep. Freshman RHP Karsten Whitson (4-0) got the Gators started by striking out six in 5.0 inning to earn the win; Florida used four relievers to complete the game. Maddox (3-3, 2 RBI, 2 R, BB) piled on the runs at the plate and was backed-up with great performances by Fontana (2-4, 2 RBI), Zunino (1-3, 3 R, 2 BB) and Adams (1-3, 2 RBI, BB). Already up 4-0 heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, the Gators scored five additional runs in the frame to put the game out of reach for the Vols.

SOFTBALL

On a three-game losing streak after being swept by Georgia one week ago, Florida (30-7, 7-6 SEC) continued to flounder over the weekend as Kentucky (25-7, 11-3 SEC) outscored them 26-10 over the course of three games in Lexington, KY.

Freshman RHP Hannah Rogers was lit up Friday as she allowed 11 hits and 10 earned runs while striking out six. She did not receive much help from her teammates as the Gators only crossed the plate twice on a pair of solo homers from senior LF Kelsey Bruder (1-3, HR, RBI, R) and sophomore C Brittany Schutte (1-3, HR, RBI, R).

Rogers’s struggles continued Saturday as she gathered her second loss after allowing six earned runs – including three in the opening frame – on nine hits in six full innings. UF actually lead 6-3 after putting up a five-run fourth inning, but Rogers let UK retake the lead by scoring four runs in the bottom of the inning. Senior second baseman Aja Paculba (1-4, HR, 3 RBI, R) put up most of Florida’s runs, but sophomore pinch hitter Samantha Holle (1-1, 2 RBI) and senior first baseman Megan Bush (1-4, RBI) drove in the others.

The weekend came to a rough conclusion Sunday with Rogers (16-5) dropping her fourth-straight decision by letting the Wildcats rock her for nine earned runs on seven hits. The Gators were doomed from the start as their opponent scored eight runs in the bottom of the first inning and held on for the victory. Florida’s only offense came in the top of the fifth when Paculba (1-4, 2 RBI) hit a two-run double with one out.

Why is the softball team struggling? In addition to Florida’s bats going cold (they were averaging 12.2 runs per game in the six contests prior to the start of their losing streak), the team is forced to continue pitching Rogers while dealing with the loss of senior ace RHP Stephanie Brombacher, who has been sidelined since March 12 with a multitude of arm injuries. UF has plenty of time to right the ship with 18 games (including 12 at home) remaining until SEC postseason competition begins on May 12.

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