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 Friday to discuss how the team is progressing.
LERNER GETS A FULL RIDE
Though the news may not be so great for senior punter David Lerner on the health front, head coach Will Muschamp informed the walk-on Friday that he will be awarded a scholarship for his final season in the Orange & Blue. Lerner, who is competing with freshman Kyle Christy for the starting job, was said to have been emotional when learning of the team’s decision.
“I thought it was a great opportunity for him,” redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley said, according to The Gainesville Sun. “He’s been here for a few years now and he’s worked his tail off. I’m just happy to see it because he’s such a good kid.”
THOMPSON, DUNBAR FORM A STRONG BOND
The 2010 season is likely the most disappointed redshirt freshman wide receiver Quinton Dunbar will feel in an Orange & Blue uniform, but a strong friendship with redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson got him through the struggles and made him appreciative of the opportunity he has with the Gators. “Since I got on campus, Deonte grabbed me under his wing,” Dunbar said Friday. “That’s the only person I really hang around. We do everything together. He’s like my older brother. He teaches me route running, adjusting to the ball, just different things as a receiver.”
Part of the reason the relationship is so strong is that Dunbar leaned on Thompson to help him become a more consistent player after he was disappointed to learn that he would redshirt his freshman season. “Physically I was probably ready, but mentally I wasn’t ready,” Dunbar said, according to InsidetheGators.com. “I was immature. Some days I would come out wanting to practice, some days I didn’t. Some days I’d show up, some days I wouldn’t. So it was more of a maturity thing than a physical thing last year.”
Now Thompson, who sees himself as a leader this season as well as a mentor for his “little brother” Dunbar, hopes he can set a good example in his final year at Florida. “I’m not old, still young, but time is running out here,” he said.
BRANTLEY’s CONFIDENCE, IMPROVEMENT PRAISED
Ask anyone the main difference between Brantley’s demeanor in 2010 and 2011 and the default word that is always pointed to his confidence. Placed in a system that did not best utilize his skill set and forced to lead a young team that had just lost many veteran playmakers, Brantley’s improvement this offseason both on- and off-the-field is widely agreed upon by his teammates.
“He’s having a great camp, doing real well and [being] a great leader,” Thompson said. “He’s taking control of the team, and it’s been like that all summer. I’d just say his swag and confidence is higher than they have been in the past.” Dunbar was even more specific. “From the spring, I felt like he was more comfortable, so coming into fall it was expected because he was more comfortable in the spring,” he said. “One thing I will say is he’s more vocal than last yaer. Last year he wasn’t really into it. This year I’d say he’s more into it. More vocal. More happier.”
Though Dunbar would not co-sign the lofty prediction by redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard (who said that Brantley would be in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy), he did note that the signal caller is steadily improving. “He’s a work-in-progress,” he said. “He’s getting better each and every day, making his reads and making great throws. I won’t vouch for [the Heisman yet], but he’s getting better every day.” Dunbar also pointed to the fact that Brantley is not zoning in on one player but giving all of his teammates equal opportunities to help him out. “He’s throwing the ball in different places. He hits the tight ends and wide receivers, so he’s just feeding everyone,” he said. “He’s very confident in his offense and he’s very confident in [offensive coordinator Charlie] Weis and what Weis teaches him.”
For his part, Brantley is trying to lead by example and is obviously doing a good job based on the way his receivers react when his name is brought up. “We got a group of us leaders on offense and on defense. I consider myself one of those,” he said. “I just try to step up in practice every day and try to be that leader.”
WEIS LEAVING HIS MARK ON BRANTLEY
With an extensive history of developing quarterbacks and helping them mature at a rapid rate, Weis once again has another reclamation project in Brantley and, from how things sound early on, may very well already be succeeding. Brantley, who said Weis doesn’t yell but likes to “do his thing,” considers him “an all-around great coach. He knows when you can laugh a little bit in the meeting room to break everything up. He knows when to be serious.”
Though Weis is “very demanding” (“If a ball is just a little high, he’s telling us to get it down even if it’s a completed pass. He expects perfection, and that’s what great coaches do.”), Brantley notes that his impact on his game has been monumental already. “He’s a great coach, a real smart guy. I learn something new every day in that film room,” he said. “It’ll be the same play but he’ll pick out something new to teach us with. That’s what makes it interesting and fun to go in there and keep learning.”
One lesson Weis has taught Brantley is to pick himself up if he makes a mistake, brush his shoulder pads off and get ready for the next series. Redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond has noticed that Brantley is more comfortable, relaxed and settled in the pocket and can tell Weis’s lessons are already paying dividends. “He takes control,” Hammond said of Brantley. “Whether we’re progressing or it’s a bad [play], he just regroups and has short-term memory, moves on to the next play.”
DRISKEL AND BRISSETT BIRDS OF A FEATHER
Just like how “confidence” is a key word when players talk about Brantley, “progress” is used whenever the names of freshman QBs Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are brought up. Below are some specific thoughts on the two young signal callers from their teammates.
Brantley: “They’ve done a great job. They’ve made a lot of progress also this camp. With helping them also helps me understand everything. I’m just glad I can be there to help them, and I’m happy to see that they’re progressing so well. […] [Brissett is] a little confused and everything but that’s normal. He’s worked really hard. He’s studied his playbook and when he goes in there and gets his reps, he does a fine job. […] Jeff, he does a little more mentally prepared just because he was here during the spring. Coach Weis puts them in good situation – plays they know they can run and everything. He keeps testing them each day and they keep doing well.”
Dunbar: “They both are working, getting better. I see a lot of potential in both of them. Both got mobility, so they’re getting better. They’re both the same – both of them got mobility, got nice arms – can throw the ball deep. Both of them are going to be good players here.”
Hammond: “Both of them are pretty much on-point. Being that Jacoby got here in the summer, he has to pick it up a little bit quicker, but he’s picking it up. Being that Driskel came in the spring, he has a little bit of a jump start, so he’s a little bit more comfortable with it. They’re both progressing and moving forward. […] If you ask me, they’re similar quarterbacks, just because they’re a little bit more mobile, they can scramble and get out of the pocket and make more things happen with their feet. It definitely brings a different type of style to the offense.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Thompson on if he has a nickname for being one of the older players: “The only person that gives us a hard time is Coach Weis. He gives me and [Chris] Rainey a hard time every day, says we’re the old guys and were playing college ball when he was in college.”
» Sophomore safety Jaylen Watkins on Muschamp being tough on the secondary: “He just tells us if we mess up, then it’s a touchdown. If the D-line messes up, we can cover them. We have nobody to cover us, so we have to be right on point.”
» Watkins on freshman De’Ante Saunders’s work at safety: “He looks pretty natural. Pop’s a good tackler, so if you can tackle and play corner, obviously you can cover.”
» Watkins on adjusting from cornerback to safety: “Just being more vocal. You have to be vocal; you have to know a lot. You can’t mess up. You play a bigger role in the defense.”
» Watkins on if the secondary’s communication is improving: “We’re pretty young on the back end, so it’s coming along pretty good. The past couple of days we’ve had great communication and great adjustment. The more we get the defense, the more vocal we get. All of us are starting to get it and become one, so that’s when we talk more.”
» Hammond on how long it took him to become consistent: “It just takes time. Coming off of my redshirt sophomore year when I was just basically playing special teams, I wanted to focus on catching and becoming a better all-around receiver. Coming off that year, I just tried to focus on that. I’ve just been getting better and progressing at it every day. All of us try as a whole, as receivers, to focus on being consistent and not have any drops at all. Nobody’s perfect and there’s always somewhere you can critique and get better at.”
» Hammond on specializing in pass blocking on the edges: “Blocking helps because it’s more than just catching the ball and scoring touchdowns. To be a good football team, you have to establish the run game. Part of that is springing plays – those big 60-yard runs – that contributes to a receiver blocking down field. I understand that’s a great deal of our offense and that’s what keeps things moving and opens up things for the passing game as well. So I focus on blocking just as well as catching the ball.”