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 Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing.
REPORTS: BROWN OUT WITH KNEE; NAMED GATORS ON FIELD
Citing a source close to the team, the Independent Florida Alligator reported Wednesday evening that redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown suffered a knee injury during practice and “could miss up to three weeks.” If that timeline is accurate, Brown (likely one of the team’s two starters at cornerback this season) could miss the Gators’ first game of 2011 against Florida Atlantic on Sept. 3.
Additionally, The Gainesville Sun‘s Robbie Andreu reports that the three Gators named in the Yahoo! Sports report alleging illegal benefits and impressible recruiting activities at Miami – wide receivers coach Aubrey Hill, wide receiver Andre Debose and offensive tackle Matt Patchan – all participated in practice with the team on Wednesday.
THE WILDCAT IS BACK
Though offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has infused the Gators with an entirely new playbook, one carryover from the previous regime are some Wildcat formations featuring a trio of the team’s running backs – redshirt senior Chris Rainey, senior Jeff Demps and sophomore Trey Burton – taking direct snaps from the center and either reading rushing lanes or (rarely) throwing the ball.
“It’s fun,” Rainey said, according to The Gainesville Sun. “I was nervous a little bit the first time, but I love it a lot. I ain’t never done it before. It’s fun, though.” Demps echoed a similar sentiment. “I haven’t been in the Wildcat very much, but when I got in it was pretty fun,” he added. “I can see the little hole a little faster and hit it.”
Rainey also conveyed his overall enthusiasm for Weis’s offense. “It feels good,” he said per The Sun. “I’m super happy. Everybody gets the ball in the offense. It’s not a one-man show. Basically, you see better. You see everything, you see the whole field. […] I’m super comfortable. I don’t even have to bring my playbook into the [meeting] room. I know everything. It took me a week to know it in the spring.”
As seems to be the theme, Demps shares Rainey’s opinion in the topic. “It’s a tailback-friendly offense,” he said. “It’s a run-first, pass-second offense. I think this year the running backs are going to get a lot of touches.” He also spoke about getting the ball deeper in the backfield. “It makes a difference,” Demps said. “You can actually see the holes developing and be able to track the linebackers and make your reads. The two yards was kind of fast, so everything was closing in on you [in the spread].”
DEFENSE PRAISES OFFENSIVE PLAYMAKERS
Every defender who spoke on Wednesday had something positive to say about their offensive counterparts, words that are likely music to the ears of fans who were disappointed with the offensive production one year ago.
Discussing Florida’s speedy running backs, sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd glowed. “Them boys – they can do it all,” he said about Rainey and Demps. “Preparing for a season with them two in the backfield is great because you’re going to get every look that you can possibly imagine. Rainey can cut on a dime, Rainey can do this, Rainey can do that, Demps can do the same thing. It gets you moving fast and gives you a better motor and all of that. That’s the plus side of it.”
For redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard, the Gators quarterbacks (especially redshirt senior John Brantley) are the biggest difference this year. “All I can say is the SEC better watch out, man,” Howard said, according to the Palm Beach Post. “Brantley is on fire right now. His whole demeanor has changed. He’s taken charge of the offense. He’s running the show now and you can really tell it. In my eyes, he’s a Heisman candidate.” He provided equally lofty praise for freshman signal caller Jeff Driskel. “He’s great, man,” Howard added. “In my eyes, he’s the next Tim Tebow. He’s so fast. He’s explosive. If something happens and Brantley goes down, we feel reliable with him coming in the game.”
Sophomore safety Matt Elam, who tries to stop the team’s wide receivers all practice long, said two in particular stood out to him. “All of them are good, “Elam said. “The one[s] that stuck out the most to me [were] Frankie [Hammond, Jr.] and Quinton Dunbar. It seems like they don’t drop anything. They’re really good receivers.”
MUSCHAMP WINNING OVER THE TEAM
Whether you’ve noticed players tweeting #TEAMMUSCHAMP hashtags or the overall sense of camaraderie in the locker room, it appears that the Gators have once again become a cohesive unit after being pretty fractured during the 2010 season. As Floyd describes it, 2011 is a “new year, new era, and we’re just pushing forward,” with the team as a whole is looking to “control what you can control.”
He also opened up a bit about how the team is more unified this year. “The chemistry is way better on both sides of the ball,” Floyd explained. “We’re not just the offense and not just the defense anymore, we’re a team and we break as a team. After practice we don’t break it down as an offense and a defense, we break it down as a team.”
Evan Elam, who had a close relationship with former head coach Urban Meyer, is beginning to become a big-time fan of the new top dog, Will Muschamp. “I feel like [our relationship is] getting better every day,” he said. “He’s teaching me a lot, and I respect him a lot, and I’m learning a lot from him. So that’s making us closer.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Rainey on Muschamp’s attitude during practice: “We just saw him yelling at a trainer across the field and everybody looked at each other like, ‘Wow. He’s the real deal.’ He’s bipolar, too. Don’t tell him I said it.” (PBP)
» Rainey on Burton being an unselfish player: “He do[es] the same thing every year. He’s a ‘program guy,’ they call it. He’s great. He do everything right. I love him. We need people like that. It’s very rare. It would be nice to have the whole team like that.” (PBP)
» Demps on how he and Rainey are different: “I’d say he’s more shiftier than I am, but other than that we’re fast guys, tough and can run the ball.”
» Demps on where he is struggling “I have a little problem with protections. Going through the plays in the spring, I never really had a chance to go over the protections. I’m trying to catch up now.” (SUN)
» Floyd on how he likes playing on the end: “You can’t get double-teamed at that position; I’m loving it. I’m getting a feel for it, learning everything I can get, learning the situations and everything like that. It’s a good opportunity for me, and I’m going to take advantage of it.”
» Floyd on the defensive line’s rotation: “It’s the biggest rotation we’ve had since I’ve been here. We’re doing good with it. Each player is learning and we’re just trying to get better.”
» Floyd on how often the defense is in the 3-4: “It’s pretty balanced 3-4 and 4-3; the whole front can play either position. Now it’s just seeing what we’re going to get and learning from it that way.”
» Floyd comparing Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn: “Different personalities, but you can say that – they have the same style of coaching, getting after it. The big thing with them is aggressiveness and sticking your face in someone.”
» Floyd on if the defensive line feels pressure to lead the unit: “We’re not really worried about it. We’re just honestly trying to get better every day and just learn what is told to us and taking what we learn in the meeting room out to the field.”
» Howard on which formation he is more comfortable playing in: “I’ve become more accustomed to playing a 3-4 now. It fits my body type and it’s working well with our team, so it’s going to look good this season.”
» Howard on the offensive line’s progression since last year: “The offensive line, I can really tell a difference from last year. They’re coming off the ball, they’re putting their face into the blocks, I think they’re going to help Brantley out a lot this year.” (ITG)
» Elam on freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson: “I expected a lot with him coming in, and he’s living up to everything I expected.”
» Elam on what he learned from Ahmad Black: “I learned a lot from him – practice tempo. I learned toughness and just the way to practice and how to approach things; how to approach practice and how to approach games. I learned a lot of mental things.”
» Elam on how Brantley has been playing: “Brantley has been looking real good to me. I’ve been seeing a lot of good things from Brantley this camp – a lot of good things.”
Source Key: SUN = The Gainesville Sun; PBP = Palm Beach Post; ITG = InsidetheGators.com