Wrapping up the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut

With the Florida Gators spring game – the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut – now in the books, plenty will be written about what occurred during the game and how it will play a role in what happens the remainder of the season. However, what happens during spring practice and the spring game – outside of player evaluation – often has little to do in determining how a season will unfold in the long run. There are nevertheless some hot topics of conversation coming out of the game which you can read below.


Head coach Will Muschamp and his coaching staff have a lot of work to do in order to get the Gators ready for the regular season beginning in September. The initial step to doing so, he said on Saturday, was using the spring to identify those players he can trust to make an impact for him on every unit, something he believes the team accomplished over the previous five weeks.

“The first thing you look [at] is the installation of schemes and see how far along [the team is] and identify playmakers. That dictates what you do. That’s really our philosophy as a coaching staff: Let’s evaluate our players, let’s see what they can do and put them in situations where they can be most successful,” he said. “We’ve done that. We’ve identified, on both sides of the ball, the guys we can rely on as far as offense, defense and special teams. You work through that scheme-wise and then you start implementing things you feel like can work in those situations. We’ve identified our playmakers.”

While a few of those playmakers were showcased on the defensive side of the ball Saturday, there was not much electricity when it came to the offensive output. Muschamp said the goal is to list the top 22 players overall (11 starters on each side) and expand from there. “We need that list to grow as far as guys we know we can count on and rely on in the fall in our league,” he said.

Now that the spring session is over, the coaches will concentrate on recruiting and planning ahead for the summer and fall. In the meantime, Muschamp told his players that it is up to them to show leadership, keep up with their physical fitness and stay out of trouble. “This is a critical time for us. We’ve had a five-week offseason program. We’ve had spring ball. Now the coaches will be on the road recruiting,” he said. “By NCAA rules, we’re very limited as much we can spend with the football team, and our leadership needs to take over. I challenged some guys in our locker room. It’s time for them to step up. It doesn’t need to be a senior. We don’t have many seniors. They need to understand it’s their football team, it’s not mine. We will only be as good as we are next year with the work ethic that takes place.”


The only glimpse fans have had of redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley since last season is Saturday’s dismal performance where he only completed four passes and played just a half of football in a scrimmage. However, according to Muschamp, Brantley has been lights-out in practice and is the team’s starting quarterback going forward.

“I thought he had a really good spring. If we started the season today, John Brantley would be our starter. He’s experienced. He’s got talent. John’s had a very good spring,” he said. “He’s close to 70 percent completion percentage for the spring; we tally every throw. I’m very pleased with how he’s managing our football team. He’s picked up our offense; he does a great job at the line of scrimmage. We put a lot on the quarterback as far as running pass checks, protections, run game… I’m pleased with Johnny.”

Critics will be quick to jump on Brantley for throwing incompletions and having a few balls batted down (as was his tendency in 2010), but the Gators entered the game with only one running back, not a single fullback and a banged up offensive line that was neither experienced playing together nor able to handle the stout defensive front they encountered. “We went into scrimmage planning on just playing [Brantley] in the first half regardless. We didn’t change our plan there as far as what we wanted to do,” Muschamp said. “[I’ve been] pleased with his performance all spring. [He’s] been consistent, but he’s also got to have better people around him to help him. That starts with our offensive line.”

Brantley did not discuss his performance in particular but tried to show leadership by propping up the offensive line that let rushers through to all of the quarterbacks all day long. “They were running both ways. I respect the heck out of them for doing that. They played their hearts out,” he said. “It didn’t really limit us play calling or anything like that, it’s just tough for those guys to go back-and-forth, up-and-down the field all afternoon.”

He also discussed how offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has changed the team and him in particular. “We have a great offensive scheme here. Everybody’s getting real comfortable with it,” he said. “We’re going to keep building off it, work together with the receivers over summer, get in sync with everything, and we’ll be good for camp. I feel pretty comfortable [with the system]. There’s a lot more to learn, and Coach Weis and all the coaches will get us ready for all that. For right now, what we learned in the spring is a good basis of what we’re going to be doing in the fall. He’s always been telling me to be more of a leader I don’t have to be more vocal, just be able to lead the team by what my actions are. He wants me to be able to run this team, and he’s helped me out a lot with that this spring.”


Florida had nearly 20 players sidelined and sitting out for the Orange & Blue Debut including a number of major playmakers and much of the starting offensive line. Muschamp, who has maintained from the beginning that football in the Southeastern Conference starts with the play of the men in the trenches, understands the injuries but is anxious for the players to get healthy as soon as possible.

“There’s been some spotty work up front with that because of injuries. Because we were thin to begin with [and] you take the laundry list [of players] out of that then it’s even worse,” he said. “There’s two units that have to be as tight-knit as any on the team and that’s the offensive line and the secondary. When you have a lot of moving parts on either one of those positions, then it creates problems for the rest of your team. The SEC is a line of scrimmage league and we’re only as good as we are upfront. […] We’ve had a lot of moving parts up front, which is good for our football team in that we’re building depth and we’ve had to cross-train guys at different positions. That will help us in the long run, but in the short run it has been a little frustrating.”

While the offensive line has been a point of concern, the defensive line – especially the play of sophomore defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley – has been a bright spot all spring and was once again on Saturday. “They’re good football players and they need to stay grounded with where they are. They’re disruptive players inside,” said Muschamp of the duo. “Dominique is extremely quick with his first step. He’s got great initial quickness, punch and power, good change of direction. Sharrif is a really good football player, starting to feel blocks inside. Instead of just playing the game, they need to start learning the game. They need to understand situations; they need to understand stances; they need to understand steps. Those are the things they need to do a great job in [learning] in the offseason.”

Floyd confirmed to ESPN that what he and Easley were able to do to the offensive line caused Brantley some problems. “I wouldn’t call John Brantley’s play today a struggle. I would call it, ‘Not enough room,’” he said. “Me and Dominique Easley collapsed the pocket, and that’s one of our main goals. We forced offensive linemen into his face, and he had to roll out.”


No pass catcher was raved about more on Saturday than sophomore wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, who only finished with two receptions for 21 yards but opened eyes during practice over the last five weeks. “You can’t take away from what Quinton Dunbar has done vertically down the field through the entire body of work of spring,” Muschamp said after the game. “Dunbar has made more big plays than anybody else.”

In fact, Brantley nearly hit Dunbar for a long pass on the first play of the game that he promptly dropped. “I wish I would have had that back. Cody Riggs made a good play on it and I came back, tried to make a play, and he knocked it out of my hands,” Dunbar told the Orlando Sentinel after the game. “I feel that I had a solid spring. I came out, worked hard, competed everyday and I felt great. I’m hoping to stretch the field, and I’m also hoping to just be a receiver in general.”

Muschamp had handed out superlatives to the other receivers, calling redshirt junior Frankie Hammond, Jr. the “most consistent,” redshirt junior Omarius Hines the most versatile (F position in the backfield, X receiver on the line), redshirt senior Deonte Thompson the most experienced, redshirt sophomore Andre Debose a threat anywhere on the field because of his speed and sophomore Solomon Patton the best out of the backfield on the reverse.

Photo Credit: Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun

Muschamp evalutes players, team after game

With the Florida Gators first year of spring practice under head coach Will Muschamp coming to a conclusion with the lackluster 2011 Orange & Blue Debut he spoke with the media after Saturday’s activities and gave an injury update, provided some insight on individual players and noted how the team is performing.


In addition to the long list of players who have been injured throughout spring practice, a few notable names were absent from the game on Saturday. Sophomore athlete Trey Burton, who twisted his ankle at the end of practice last week, “probably could have scrimmaged today had it been a game,” Muschamp said, but instead sat out as a precaution. Freshman wide receiver Javares McRoy, not previously listed on the injury report, had what Muschamp called a “medical procedure with his lung” a week or so ago. He said the situation is not serious, career-threatening or life-threatening but would not go into further detail. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley appeared to hurt himself at the end of the game and looked like he was grabbing his ankle, but Muschamp waved it off. “Easley is fine. Easley got tired,” he said.


Muschamp wrapped up the spring with thoughts on some of the team’s standout performers both over the last five weeks and on Saturday in particular.

Sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell: “Ronald’s a power player on the edge; he’s a very powerful young man, plays with great effort, plays with great toughness, plays the way we want to play at Florida. I’m very pleased with his effort up until this point.”

Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey: “He’s a good football player. He’s special with the ball in his hands. He’s got tremendous vision. Matt Elam’s a very good open-field tackler; Matt drew wind today on him. That’ll tell you what kind of vision he’s got and how quick he is. We need to get him in space. Also looking forward to his combination with Jeff Demps and getting Jeff back in the fold with football. Chris is a playmaker.”

The other defensive tackles: “We have two very disruptive players in Sharrif [Floyd] and Dominique. Omar Hunter has done a good job. We’re looking forward to getting Jaye Howard back off surgery he had in the spring.”

Redshirt freshman QB Tyler Murphy: “Charlie [Weis] does a nice job of calling things that fit a person’s personality. Tyler’s very good in the pocket movement-creating plays. He’s accurate with the ball in the underneath throws. I think that’s what you saw today. He was accurate with the ball and did a nice job with the pocket movements.”

Freshman QB Jeff Driskel: “Jeff has got all the tools and is going to be a really good football player for the Gators. It’s just going to take some time. Right now he should be going to the prom. He’s going to be a really, really good football player, I think we just need to give him some time to be a good football player right now. He should be a senior in high school.”

Freshman tight end A.C. Leonard: “As he ended the offseason program, he really started to mature and grow up. I’m very proud of where he is right now. He’s doing a nice job academically. He’s a guy that can really help us in the fall as he continues to mature. Another guy that this time of the year is very important for.”

Secondary players: “Matt Elam’s had a great spring. Jeremy Brown’s been very consistent [as has] Cody Riggs. Those would be the three that jump out at me. Really proud of Jaylen Watkins playing two positions – safety and corner – and has shown coverage skills on the edge and also the ability to play the deep part of the field. He has good coverage skills for a safety.” Muschamp also pointed out freshman Josh Evans (“He’s more vocal. He’s a better leader.”), Josh Shaw (“He’s come along and made some plays today.”) and De’Ante Saunders (“He’s a guy that’s going to be a really good player for Florida.”).


Muschamp on the statues:Steve Spurrier, Tim Tebow and Danny Wuerffel – three great Gators. To honor them the way Jeremy [Foley] and our administration decided to do was a pretty special deal.”

Muschamp on a special guest:Mike Peterson spoke to our football team yesterday; what a phenomenal person. What great passion and emotion he played with and still plays with.”

Muschamp on redshirt senior QB John Brantley’s early incompletions: “We had the first deep ball coming out of the gate there on the first play – that ball should have been caught. Wish Quinton [Dunbar] would have caught that ball. Quinton has made those plays all spring. Very proud of Quinton.”

Muschamp on Brantley being the starter and his competition: “He’s ahead, he’s just…you need to look at the whole body of work. He’s done a nice job. Quarterback to me is no different than any other position in that we’ll have competition in the fall. We need to go compete, and we need to understand that no position is going to be given to anybody on this football team. It is your job to go compete on a championship level every day at the University of Florida.”

Muschamp on what he took away from the spring game: “It’s an opportunity to get better. It’s an opportunity to coach. It’s an opportunity for our team to improve. We’ll watch the film and we’ll see improvements today. That’s the way I approach it.”

Muschamp on his expectations for the spring game: “I don’t really go in for an expectation level of what I think is going to happen. I go out, I want to see the guys compete; I want to see them play fast, and I want to see them play physical. I just want to see great competition and see guys getting after each other, and I think we did for the most part.”

Muschamp on if he is impressed with the talent on the team: “We’ve got some good players at certain positions. We’re not as old as we’d like to be, but that’s what we’ve got. We’re not as deep at some positions as we’d like to be, but that’s what we’ve got. We’re not going to make excuses for anything whether it’s injury or youth. It’s our job to perform at a championship level, and that’s what I expect to do.”

Muschamp on the overall attitude at practice: “Our kids have really bought into what we want to accomplish and what we want to do. I’ve been very pleased with their progress as far as that’s concerned.”

Brantley on the spring: “All around we made a lot of progress this spring. We’re going to be OK.”

Brantley on the Orange & Blue Debut: “It’s just another practice. It’s just another opportunity for us to go out there and get better. We’ve had a good spring. We’ve progressed very well. Today was another day and we’re just going to keep building off that.”

Brantley on Murphy and Driskel: “I think they played great. They work really hard. They definitely got this offense down just like everyone else has. They’ve had a great spring, and they’ve progressed since day one. Tyler can throw that ball on the run pretty good. They both have a lot of mobility.”

Brantley on Rainey: “He’s definitely matured here the last two years. He’s had a huge impact being a leader. He’s had one of the best springs out of everybody. I hope he builds off it, and I think he will. He’s going to be a great player.”

Blue tops Orange 13-10 at Gators spring game

Not all coming out parties are exciting and such was the case for the Florida Gators at the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL. Faced with a mountain of injuries and in the middle of a coaching transition, Blue defeated Orange 13-10 after each team scored a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The first half was a 3-3 stalemate with senior kicker Caleb Sturgis hitting a pair of field goals including a long of 43 yards for Blue.

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley started for Blue but only played in the first half and finished 4/14 for 45 yards after throwing five-straight incomplete passes to begin the game. He was replaced by freshman QB Jeff Driskel (2/6 for 13 yards, 23 rushing yards) at halftime before walk-on sophomore QB Christian Provancha closed out the game with a 39-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Robert Clark.

Redshirt freshman QB Tyler Murphy drew the start for the Orange team and played most of the game, going 7/11 for 68 yards. He threw a TD to sophomore walk-on running back Ben Sams on a play that would have normally been ruled a sack and tossed an interception to sophomore cornerback Cody Riggs on a ball tipped by the receiver.

Other highlights from the game include a 55-yard punt by freshman punter Kyle Christy, dominant performances on the defensive line from sophomore defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley, some explosive plays from redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey, a solid day from sophomore WR Quinton Dunbar and two nice first-half receptions from freshman tight end A.C. Leonard.

The University of Florida announced that 53,000 fans were in attendance for the game and halftime ceremony that saw three statues being unveiled for the school’s trio of Heisman Trophy-winning QBs: Steve Spurrier (1966), Danny Wuerffel (1996) and Tim Tebow (2007). Spurrier sent in a pre-recorded message because South Carolina’s spring game was also played Saturday, while Wuerffel and Tebow stood at midfield and expressed their appreciation to the fans, administration and donors.

2011 Orange & Blue Debut – Gameday Preview

Event: 2011 Orange & Blue Debut – Florida Gators spring football
Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Time: 12:00 p.m. (EST)

TV: Sun Sports

Online Video: —–>

Live Updates: @OnlyGators Reference: Roster | Schedule 2010: Blue 27, Orange 24

Radio appearance: Adam Silverstein will be previewing the Florida Gators’ spring game Saturday on Sirius-122/XM-143 College Sports Nation at approximately 11 a.m. Tune in.


» Gator Walk: North side of stadium, exterior, 9:30 a.m. start
» Parking: The following parking locations are available first-come, first-serve for fans wishing to attend the game – O’Connell Center garage, O’Connell Center lot (disabled), Commuter Lot (Lemerand Dr.) with shuttle
» Heisman Statue Ceremony: UF will unveil three statues of the school’s Heisman Trophy winners – Steve Spurrier (1966), Danny Wuerffel (1996) and Tim Tebow (2007) – on the westside of the stadium at halftime of the game near the skybox entrance. Those inside the stadium will not be allowed to exit for the ceremony but will be able to watch the unveiling live inside The Swamp after watching a brief video introduction. Spurrier, Wuerffel and Tebow will all provide remarks to the crowd after the unveiling, though only Wuerffel and Tebow are expected to be in attendance.
» Former Gators in attendance: QB Tebow, QB Wuerffel, LB Mike Peterson, RB Fred Taylor, C Maurkice & Mike Pouncey, WR Riley Cooper, WR David Nelson, LB Brandon Spikes, DE Carlos Dunlap, DB Dorian Munroe, DE Jarvis Moss, DT Joe Cohen, RB Kesthan Moore, etc.
» Recruits in attendance (List courtesy of InsideTheGators.com): LB Jeremi Powell (commit), RB Matt Jones (commit), LB Tyriq McCord, OT Patrick Miller, OT Avery Young, DE Jelani Hamilton, ATH Angelo Jean-Louis, ATH Amos Leggett, ATH Nelson Agholor, LB Noor Davis, OL Evan Goodman, ATH Marcus Maye, DT Korren Kirven, TE Kurt Freitag, DE Jhaustin Thomas, LB Tashon Whitehurst, S Ladarion Young, LB Trey Johnson (2013), RB Kelvin Taylor (2013), LB Leon McQuay III (2013), etc.

Additional information including the game format, injury report, team notes and who to keep an eye on all are available…after the break!
Continue Reading » 2011 Orange & Blue Debut – Gameday Preview

FOUR BITS: Macklin, Poyner, Portis, Shipman

1 » Florida Gators redshirt senior center Vernon Macklin, currently participating in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament with forward Alex Tyus, scored 19 points on 50 percent shooting and notched 12 rebounds in his first game at the event on Thursday. NBA.com wrote a profile piece about him on Friday, looking about his entire career as well as strengths and weaknesses that may – or may not – find him a spot on a NBA roster this upcoming season. The feature also has a blurb about Tyus, who has scored a combined 25 points and grabbed 21 total rebounds in two PIT games, at the end.

2 » Left-handed pitcher and dynamic hitter Bobby Poyner, a Florida baseball commitment, tore the labrum in his throwing shoulder and will miss the remainderof his high school career. According to the Palm Beach Post, Poyner went 6-1 as a senior with a 1.91 ERA and 51 strikeouts in 40.1 innings to go along with a .404 batting average. In his last full season, he finished 9-3 with a 1.86 ERA and 72 strikeouts in 64 innings.

3 » Former Gators quarterback Josh Portis, who transferred away from the team early in his career and has spent six years in college, will be up for grabs in the 2011 NFL Draft in late April. In an interview with the Post, Portis said he is not running from his past but instead explaining it as well as he can and hoping teams understand that with age (he’s 23) comes experience and maturity. “I have nothing to hide,” he said. “Teams are going to know about it. Teams know everything. I feel, just be honest and up-front, and hopefully they’ll say, ‘Look, this kid made a mistake, and he’ll learn from it.’” The former four-star recruit transferred to Maryland after Tim Tebow was signed to be Florida’s QB of the future. While sitting out his transfer season, Portis cheated on a quiz and ruled ineligible for the following season. Finally able to play, Portis was stuck as a back-up and transferred a second time to Division II California University of Pennsylvania, where he combined for 69 passing touchdowns in two seasons and impressed with his athleticism. Getting ready for the NFL, Portis was arrested for using a stolen credit card but claims he wasn’t his. He explained that situation to the Post in a story that you can read here.

4 » Though Gators basketball had plenty of success without him this year, former Florida guard/forward Ray Shipman is thrilled that he decided to transfer to play football for the Central Florida Knights. After spending his first season on UCF’s scout team in order to get into football shape after playing basketball for two years, Shipman is now listed on the team’s spring depth chart as a starting outside linebacker. Part of the reason for his success is his praiseworthy dedication, which he planned to give since the moment he stepped back on the gridiron. “[The coaches] get tired of seeing me,” Shipman told the Orlando Sentinel. “I told [the linebackers coach] when I first got here, ‘Coach, I’m going to be nagging you. I’m going to be in your office every day right after class. If you’re here at night, I’m going to be here, too.”

FOUR BITS: T. Burton, paintball, Beal, Lee

1 » Florida Gators sophomore athlete Trey Burton may be limited in the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut on Saturday after suffering an undisclosed injury during practice recently, according to the Palm Beach Post. With coaches and players being unavailable to the media from Tuesday evening until the conclusion of the game this weekend, no further information is currently known. Burton, who is/was expected to see snaps in the backfield behind redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey due to Florida’s injury problems, may put the Gators in an even bigger hole offensively during the public scrimmage.

2 » Head coach Will Muschamp and his staff surprised the team on Thursday by cancelling scheduled team meetings and weight lifting to take the entire group on a paintball trip. In addition to squaring off in paintball action, the team played cornhole and tug-of-war in what Muschamp referred to as “team building exercise[s].” Joining in on the fun was Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Riley Cooper, who has been in Gainesville, FL all spring. The players all seemed to have a fantastic time at the event, and OGGOA has learned that the vibe was great on-site. Below is a team picture (courtesy of UF Sports Information’s Scott Carter) of the group after the festivities concluded.

3 » Though the difference is marginal, Gators incoming five-star guard Brad Beal was moved up from No. 7 to No. 4 on ESPNU‘s Top 100 rankings for basketball players in the 2011 recruiting cycle. Beal was named the 2011 Gatorade National Player of the Year this week and can next be seen participating in the Nike Hoops Summit on Saturday at 10 p.m. The game will air live on FOX Sports Network, so be sure to check your availability if planning to watch.

4 » Golden State Warriors center David Lee is on a bit of a hot streak right now, having scored 20 or more points in five of his last seven games with four double-doubles in that time. In six games since March 27, Lee is averaging 22.7 points and 13.5 board. Even more impressive is his last two performances, where he put up totals of 29 points/20 rebounds and 22 points/17 rebounds. Unfortunately for Lee, he won’t have much time to continue that streak as Golden State is 9.5 games out of playoff contention with only three more to play in the regular season.

Peterson, Emrick highlight 2011 Hall of Fame class

Seven letterwinners, including Gator Greats Mike Peterson (football) and Bob Emrick (men’s basketball), will be inducted into the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame 2011 class on Friday. The F Club and Gator Boosters, Inc. will hand out these prestigious honors to the group of Florida Gators at the Hall of Fame Banquet on April 8, 2011, in the Holloway Touchdown Terrace at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

According to UF, “inductees are divided into three different categories: Gator Greats, Distinguished Letterwinners and Honorary Letterwinners.” The remainder of the induction class includes Gator Greats Dawn Buth (women’s tennis), Judd Davis (football), Michelle Freeman (women’s track & field), Mimosa McNerney (women’s swimming), Distinguished Letterwinner Keith Tribble (football), and Honorary Letterwinner Dr. Richard Shaara (team physician).

More about each inductee and their career accomplishments after the break.
Continue Reading » Peterson, Emrick highlight 2011 Hall of Fame class

TWO BITS: Johnson coaching, Lewis’s journey

1 » Former Florida Gators defensive back Todd Johnson was hired Wednesday as the new head football coach of Riverview High School in Sarasota, FL. In the works for a year, Johnson’s hiring came after 30-year coaching veteran John Sprague announced his retirement in March. Johnson, who played seven years in the NFL for Chicago and St. Louis, was a first-team All-Southeastern Conference player who helped Florida win the 2000 SEC Championship. He attended and played for Riverview as a youngster and hopes to continue taking the football program to new heights.

2 » It took Gators tight ends coach Derek Lewis a long time to get from his hometown of New Orleans, LA to Gainesville, FL. He played college football for Texas, spent two seasons in the NFL, went back home to drive a city bus, returned to his alma mater as an intern, took a coaching job with Minnesota and eventually caught head coach Will Muschamp’s eye. University of Florida senior writer Scott Carter caught up with Lewis for a feature on the coach’s journey.

Q: What makes an ideal tight end in your view?
A: A guy who is willing to give up tags. I get overly concerned with guys who only want to be a pass-catching tight end or only want to be a run-blocking tight end. We gave you a title from the beginning: tight end. It’s encompassing. You’ve got to combine the beauty and grace of a wideout with the meanness and nastiness and toughness of an offensive lineman. You try to become Beauty and the Beast. So the first thing I would say is the mentality. You have to be willing to put everything out there. You’ve got to be willing to do all those things at a high level and not box yourself in.

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