TWO BITS: Sturgis improving, Verducci excited

1 » The Florida Gators may have won another game or two in 2010 if junior kicker Caleb Sturgis had not injured his back and missed the majority of the season. Fighting back from two injuries – a stress fracture and herniated disk – Sturgis is feeling better and beginning to get back into a groove. “I’m getting close [to 100 percent],” he said, according to The Gainesville Sun. “I haven’t done kickoffs or anything like that yet. But I’m feeling real good. Field goals…I’m 100 percent on those.” Sturgis also discussed being forced to sit out most of 2010. “That was obviously really rough,” he said. “I never really in my life had an injury before that kept me out. It was something new for me, especially being a kicker and not really expecting it would happen to me. That was definitely rough.”

2 » Opening up about his family, life and decision to join the Florida coaching staff, offensive line coach Frank Verducci explained to University of Florida senior writer Scott Cater that head coach Will Muschamp asked him to join the team before it was known that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis – who he worked with at Notre Dame in 2009 – was on board. “The interesting thing is that I didn’t know Charlie was involved at that point,’’ Verducci said. “So I couldn’t figure out how [Muschamp] came up with me. I could tell he saw the game the same way I did. His standards for what he expected out of a football team were very compatible with mine.” He discussed a number of other topics in the feature story, which you can read by clicking here.

Q: Who is a favorite player you have coached?
A: Emmitt Smith, a former Gator. He was a consummate pro. He was the most prepared guy that I had ever seen. Every day he was completely prepared for whatever we were doing. He made you a better coach because you had to have the answers. He was going to ask you the most detailed questions of any guy I have every coached. He made me a better coach, but he did it in a way that you just enjoyed being around him.

DE Williams is eighth 2012 commit for Gators

Defensive end recruit Quinteze Williams (Tyrone, GA) committed to the Florida Gators on Wednesday, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

“I felt like it was time,” he told Rivals. “I wanted to get my commitment in before any other defensive ends of my caliber dropped in and took that spot.”

Williams, at 6’4” 255 lbs., can play either defensive end or defensive tackle, though he and his father maintain that he is being recruited the play the former position.

Visiting Florida during Junior Day in February, Williams was thrilled at what the school and city had to offer. With so many options to choose from, it was believed that he would not make a verbal commitment until later in the process, but the Gators’ coaching staff may have swayed him with their extensive experience.

He chose Florida over offers from Auburn, Florida State, Georgia and Tennessee, among other schools. Though Williams had not previously named a leader, it was thought that UGA – the in-state school – had the best chance to gain his services.

Tebow stays cool with first Jockey TV commercial

With Jockey set for a large advertising campaign centered around the staycool brand and spokesperson Tim Tebow, the company released a first look of the commercial that will hit your airwaves soon. Sorry ladies, the Denver Broncos second-year player and Florida Gators Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback is not in his skivvies…

Jockey claims its staycool collection will help you feel up to 3° cooler due to the breathable feel and classic fit of the t-shirts and briefs.

TWO BITS: Baseball falls, Haden goes all out

1 » Starting hot out of the gate, No. 3 Florida Gators baseball (21-5) was outscored 5-0 from the fourth inning on and defeated 5-2 by the No. 7 Florida State Seminoles (19-5) on Tuesday in Jacksonville, FL in front of a crowd of 10,078. Florida rallied for runs in the first and third as junior right-handed pitcher Anthony DeSclafani tossed three scoreless frames. Then, to start the fourth, he gave up back-to-back hits and sophomore left-handed pitcher Steven Rodriguez (1-1) failed to keep them on base. Tied at two runs a piece, Florida State scored what would be the game-winner when senior second baseman Josh Adams dropped a popup in the sixth; FSU added two more on a home run in the bottom of the eighth. The Seminoles now lead the season series with the Gators 2-1. UF has a chance to even things up when the teams face in Tallahassee, FL on April 12. Florida has lost three of their last four games.

2 » The Cleveland Cavaliers may have lost forward LeBron James, but they have gained a major supporter in Cleveland Browns and former Gators cornerback Joe Haden. Appearing at a number of games this season, Haden has shown his support with a variety of jerseys and by cheering hard from the front row. He took his game to another level Tuesday, dressing up like point guard Baron Davis from head to toe…including a fake beard. A for effort; D for the toy basketball.

3/29: Brown hurt, Brantley leads, Demps around

Eight days into spring football practice, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp is starting to get a feel for his team. On Tuesday, he provided some injury updates, talked about the quarterback situation, updated the status of a missing player and provided a bunch of information about the team in general.

INJURY UPDATES

Redshirt freshman running back Mack Brown (broken fibula): “Mack Brown sustained an injury Friday in practice. Broke a fibula, which is a non-weight bearing bone. It is a three-month procedure, and he will be in fine.” Brown will have surgery on Wednesday and should be active in July.

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose (sprained ankle): Muschamp called his injury “nothing serious,” indicating that he will be back at full speed sooner than later.

Brown and Debose join junior RB Mike Gillislee (stress fracture in foot – limited for spring), redshirt sophomore defensive end Kendric Johnson (sprained knee – out for spring) and defensive tackles redshirt senior Jaye Howard (ankle scope) and redshirt junior Earl Okine (wrist) on Florida’s injured list.

BRANTLEY STEPPING GAME, LEADERSHIP UP

Coming off a rough first season as the starter, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley is doing well in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis‘s system. While Brantley is proving to be ahead of his primary competition – redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy and freshman Jeff Driskel – he still has a way to go in order to be 100 percent comfortable.

“John, in the sense of learning a new offense, is a freshman again as far as the different ball handling and different things Charlie has him doing,” Muschamp said. “I’ve been very pleased with how he’s managed our football team and made plays down the field vertically.” Asked if he was already anointed the team’s starter, Muschamp deflected the question. “John’s had a good spring. He’s playing well right now. He’s doing a nice job managing our offense. We’re in practice eight, and we’ve got a lot of time to go,” he said.

DEMPS WITH TEAM – JUST NOT PRACTICING

Though senior RB Jeff Demps is spending the vast majority of his time practicing with the men’s track and field team for their outdoor season, Muschamp explained that he has been around the football practice facility often, is doing what he can to get engrained with the new program and will get to work with football as soon as track ends.

“He’ll work through the whole summer. He’s been a part of all of our meetings and all of our walkthroughs, so he’s been our building. He’s been working on football,” he said. “He’s been a part of what we’re trying to do. Mentally he has an idea of what we’re going to ask him to do in the fall. This summer, after the outdoor season is over, our players will conduct seven-on-seven and team drills throughout the summer on their own without coaches. He’ll be involved with that. When we start camp in August, he’ll still be competing for the starting job.”

Muschamp also discussed his philosophy about dual-sport athletes like Demps and incoming freshman QB Jacoby Brissett. Specifically of Demps, he said, “If a young man wants to play two sports here, as long as he handles what he’s supposed to off the field and academically, I’m 100 percent for it as long as it helps the University of Florida.”

TEAM NOTES & QUOTES

» Redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey continues to separate himself from the pack, impressing his coaches as well as his teammates. “[He] has really had a good spring. He’s a guy that makes an awful lot of plays. Getting the ball deeper to him in the backfield helps him. He’s got great vision, cut-back ability and bounce ability. You got to be really gap-sound on him and the run game.”

» Muschamp said the offensive line has “progressed well” overall.

» A number of players were listed as having standout performances on both sides of the ball. “[Tight end] Jordan Reed did some really nice things last Friday as far as catching the ball vertically down the field. [WR] Quinton Dunbar made some plays Saturday in the scrimmage.” Muschamp also pointed out sophomore defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley as well as junior linebacker Jon Bostic, redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins, redshirt junior defensive end Lerentee McCray, sophomore safety Matt Elam and redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown as players who have impressed him.

» Muschamp said senior kicker Caleb Sturgis played well on Saturday and that he is “very pleased with his progress.” He also noted that freshman punter Kyle Christy was strong over the weekend.

» On how quickly the team is picking up the new systems: “We feel comfortable with where we are. It’s all relative. I’ve been pleased so far with retention on both sides of the ball and in special teams.”

» On Murphy and Driskel: “Both of them have made some plays. As far as the ability, the athleticism, the arm talent, the mental capacity to learn and to do things the right way – are all there [for Driskel]. He’s in his eighth college practice, and he’s in an offense where there’s a lot on the quarterback. […] There’s been some bright spots in both of those guys and a bright future in both of those guys.”

» On position flexibility: “We’re going to play the best players. Play the best players that give us the opportunity to be successful and win football games. […] You’ve got to be able to move guys around to find out if they can to do it because you don’t even know until you try a guy at a different spot. […] We’re just trying to experiment to build depth on our football team to get the best 11 on the field instead of just plugging a guy in because he’s a backup.”

» In addition to Dunbar, Muschamp said four other receivers have stood out: Debose, redshirt senior Deonte Thompson, redshirt junior Omarius Hines and redshirt junior Frankie Hammond, Jr.. He believes the team is in need of consistency past those five.

» On if he has any concerns about the size of sophomore CB Cody Riggs: “Cody’s a good football player. He’s got a tremendous heart [and] all the ability as far as playing hard and playing fast and doing the things you got to do to be a good football player. […] It’s not about how tall you are. It’s about if you make plays or not.”

» On the health of sophomore LB Neiron Ball: “He had a procedure done today and he’s going to be fine. We’re just working through that with him right now and his family. It’s an unfortunate situation but he’s a fine young man. Things happen in life sometimes that you don’t understand, but he’s handled this as well as you can handle it. We’re all praying for him and his family right now. He’s going to be fine; the prognosis is very positive and we feel very comfortable about where he is right now. […] I’m not worried about his football future. I’m worried about his overall health right now. The least part of my mind right now is worried about his football future.”

FOUR BITS: Pouncey’s stock, Crowder, Eckstein

1 » Former Florida Gators center Mike Pouncey, expected to be the only member of his team picked in the first round of the 2011 NFL Draft, told the Sporting News on Monday that he will attend the event if invited regardless of what the NFLPA asks rookies to do. “I haven’t been invited yet, but I’m hoping to get invited,” Pouncey said. “I’ll bring my brother up there and a couple of my family members. I’m going if I’m invited. I just feel like it’s a dream I’ve wanted my whole life. We’ve busted our tails to be in the draft, and it’s a dream come true.” He understands this might ruffle the feathers of some veterans but explained that the day is about the rookies. “I’m not too worried about [any backlash],” he said. “I respect their feelings because they’re great players. But as far as them keeping us from going to the draft, I’m totally against it.”

2 » Speaking of Pouncey, former NFL head coach Brian Billick – who also spoke highly of safety Ahmad Black – praised his versatility on his daily blog published for WNST AM1570 in Baltimore, MD. Below is a portion of what he wrote:

When you watch Pouncey play, you see a good athlete that plays light on his feet, but can anchor down and get physical when needed. That athleticism is on display when you watch him pull on counter and trap plays. He runs a tight line through the hole and gets to the second level quickly to clear a path for the running back. His initial punch is powerful and he keeps good leverage to hold up the defender at the line of scrimmage. […] Late in the game as fatigue sets in, Mike tends to stand up straighter and bend at the waist rather than the knees. He will need to fight off the urge to be a consistent performer in the NFL. Because of his versatility and body of work, Mike Pouncey will be the first interior lineman to be selected.

3 » There has never been any attempt by OGGOA to hide our admiration for Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder. Proving our fascination with his ability to make any interview interesting once again, Crowder spouted off on ESPN draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. on 560 WQAM in South Florida on Monday, nothing that the high-haired analyst cost him a bunch of money coming out of the University of Florida by over-projecting him. “Mel Kiper and all, he messed me over,” Crowder said. “He lied to me, said I was a top-20 [pick] had me go out and spend X amount of dollars and then owe the bank stuff. They’re just guessing like we guess.” Obviously Kiper didn’t force Crowder to spend a penny; he was being facetious in the statement.

4 » A family man first and baseball player second, former Florida second baseman David Eckstein has decided to put his playing career either on hold or on the shelf permanently in order to donate a kidney to an ailing family member. The Ecksteins, who Yahoo! Sports’ ThePostGame reports have had “five kidney transplants with six more anticipated” as a family, did not ask David to give up his over the years because of a MLB career that earned him millions. He took it upon himself to save a family member’s life this time around. “Everything my family went through gave me a life lesson at an early age that a game is just a game, it’s not life-or-death,” he said. “But along with that, it taught me to never take a day for granted. I’m looking forward to the transplant. I consider it a privilege. I knew at some point it would be my turn.” Also donating a kidney for his family is former Gators player Rick Eckstein, David’s brother. Read the rest of writer Steve Henson’s amazing story on the Ecksteins here.

3/28: Gators experience offensive shake-ups

With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice now in full swing, the school made a number of the team’s players available to the media as the third week of action began on Monday. There was a noticeable excitement in the air about the possibilities in Florida’s new offense under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, as evidenced by some of the notable news and quotes provided during the press sessions.

A NEW MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Known as one of the team’s most versatile lineman, redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison has a chance to prove that moniker is true after learning that he has been moved to center and will compete for the starting job with redshirt junior Sam Robey. “[I’m] playing center this year,” he said on Monday. “It’s going real good. It’s a big change from left guard, but I’m enjoying it so far and I’m just going to work at it all spring.”

Harrison, who has not manned the middle since his freshman year of high school, said coaches did not give him any specific reasoning for the move, noting that it was “for the betterment of the team” and that he was “shocked but…excited at the same time.”

With the ball now in his hands, Harrison understands that he has to shoulder additional responsibility from this point forward. “I have to learn the calls. Especially with this new offense and everything, I’m just adjusting to all these calls,” he said. “The center is actually required to make the IDs now and everything, so I’m getting used to that.”

OFFENSIVE LINE STILL ADJUSTING

As with any unit that loses the majority of its starters to graduation and the NFL Draft, Florida’s offensive line is still trying to find its identity. Harrison thinks the unit will come together rather quickly. “Offense as a whole, we’re looking real good. We’re going to be amazing,” he said. “I feel like this is just all going to mesh together as soon as we’re used to playing with each other and everything, especially with the young O-line. […] We’re young, but we worked together as the second string, a lot of us. So now we’re just bringing all that together on the first string,” he said.

Redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio said that the schemes the offensive linemen are being taught are completely different from a year ago, something that is taking some getting used to. “Everything from point A to point B – blocking and everything – everything is different from last year,” he said. “Our offensive line coach [Frank Verducci] is not only teaching us techniques, now we’re learning the whole entire football play. We got to know what the quarterback is thinking, running back is thinking, wide receiver is thinking. We’re not just thinking about ourselves and our blocking schemes; we’ve got to know what everyone else is doing on the field.”

RAVING FOR RAINEY

No matter who you ask about the Gators’ offense these days, you will hear one thing for certain: redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey is having an awesome spring. Head coach Will Muschamp has said so on numerous occasions, and the guys blocking for him are coming to the same conclusion.

“Our offense really fits [Rainey] because he’s got so much speed,” redshirt freshman tackle Chaz Green said. “We got some things that can put him in some one-on-one match-ups, get him in some space. It will be good, with his speed, to use his athletic ability.”

Harrison and Halapio both agreed. “Chris Rainey’s doing real well in this offense,” the former said. “He’s so fast. He’s done real good from last year. His cuts are more sweet. His routes are precise. He’s just a good football player right now,” the latter added.

LEADERS EMERGING

With any change in regime and departure of a number of seniors comes a leadership void. Halapio noted how different the team is now “because we don’t have [Tim] Tebow, [Brandon] Spikes and the Pounceys.” He went out of his way to point out a few guys who are doing their best to lead the way. Offensively, Halapio said himself, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and junior tackle Xavier Nixon are leading the way, while sophomores buck linebacker Ronald Powell and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd are carrying the load on defense.

SECONDARY COMING TOGETHER

Both of Florida’s starting safeties departed in 2010, leaving sophomore Matt Elam as the most experienced valve in the defensive backfield. As part of his new responsibilities, he is slowly learning how to step up and be someone his teammates can count on. “There’s a lot of things I need to work on just being a leader. I’m not used to being vocal and everything like that,” he said. “I might have to take on that role and start doing that, being more vocal and being more of a leader, because I’m not used to that.”

Elam also said that he feels comfortable with the new staff and is happy that Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are allowing him to blitz. “I love Muschamp. He’s a cool man. I’m learning a lot from him. I’m loving the coaching right now,” he said.

Redshirt senior cornerback Moses Jenkins, who OGGOA has been keeping tabs on since the website began, spoke about getting a new lease on his college career with a sixth year of eligibility. “I worked hard, came out the first game and injured myself,” he said of hurting his elbow in 2010 after missing most of 2009 due to a head injury. “It was kind of tough, but it’s football. Injuries happen and you’ve got to move forward.”

FOUR BITS: Harvin, Taylor, Bullock, Macklin

1 » Due to his migraines and a coaching change mid-season, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin did not end up performing up to where he did when he made the Pro Bowl as a rookie one year earlier. When If the 2011 season begins, Harvin will be more involved in the offense, according to head coach Leslie Frazier. “I still think there are more things that can be done with Percy [Harvin],” he told the Minnesota Star Tribune. “We did some things toward the end of the year where we definitely tried to isolate him, and that’s one of the reasons I pulled him off kickoff at times. I wanted to feature him more than we were. I wanted him to be a featured part of our offense. There’s different things we can do with him, and hopefully, Sidney [Rice is] in the fold and he’s healthy and there’s some things that we can do with him. Because of Adrian [Peterson], there are opportunities that we can do on the perimeter that a lot of teams can’t. But you still have to account for him on every single play. So, we have to be able to exploit in that sense and I think what we’re trying to do is build to be able to do that. Adrian creates a lot of good situations for our perimeter people.”

2 » Two months ago, veteran running back Fred Taylor sounded like he was going to call it quits after a 13-year NFL career including 10 as a featured rusher. Having amassed 11,695 yards and 66 touchdowns (as well as 290 receptions for 2,384 yards and eight more scorers) over his career, Taylor has noted that being healthy enough to spend quality time with his family is important going forward. On Monday, Taylor told Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union that being injured in 2010 may have “bought him some extra years.” At 35-years-old, it remains to be seen if he will decide to continue and what time, if any, would sign him.

3 » Former Florida right-handed pitcher Billy Bullock was traded from the Minnesota Twins – who drafted him in the second round of the 2009 MLB Draft – to the Atlanta Braves on Monday in order to complete an long-standing deal. Bullock has spent his time as a professional in the minor leagues and pitched for AA squad New Britain last season, striking out 60 batters in 36 2/3 innings.

4 » Wrapping up Gators basketball for the 2011 season is this story from The Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway on a tattoo redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin has on his forearm. Though he has 40+ tattoos, Macklin has one that means a lot more to him the rest – a memorial to his deceased grandmother. Read more about Macklin’s tattoo here.

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