12/20: White talks OC job, Gator Bowl prep

As the Florida Gators prepare for their 2011 Gator Bowl match-up against the Ohio State Buckeyes on Jan. 2 at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL, interim offensive coordinator and running backs coach Brian White met with the media Tuesday to discuss the upcoming game.

A GATOR WHETHER PROMOTED OR NOT

White wanted to make one thing perfectly clear Tuesday: He loves the University of Florida and enjoys working under head coach Will Muschamp. He reiterated on three occasions that, whether or not the “interim” tag is removed from his title following the Gator Bowl, he anticipates being with the Gators in 2012 and beyond.

“Every day is an audition for the job that you have. I learned a long time ago: Do a great job with the job that you have and don’t worry about doing anything except the best job you can do with the resources you have and good things will happen,” he said. “That’s just the approach that I take to every day in this job. I love working for Coach Muschamp in any capacity and love this university, so I feel very fortunate to be here and be part of just a great university and a great athletic program.”

But would those sentiments change if he is passed over for offensive coordinator? “I’d be happy to be here,” White said. “I’d be happy to be part of this organization in every capacity every day I can be a part of it. My family loves it here. I love it here. Any opportunity to help this program get better in any way I’d be happy to be part of.

“Will’s going to do what’s in the best interest of the football program. That’s what he should do – what’s in the best interest of this university. He’ll make a great decision and it will be very beneficial to this program. I’m just happy to be here.”

”NOTHING BUT A GAME OF VIOLENT CHESS”

Though he may not have had to create an entire game plan in a while, White is excited to have that opportunity once again – even if it is just for one game.

“I’ve always enjoyed it. It’s always a great experience to be able to put together a game plan with your coaches,” he said. “It’s always a collaborative effort. It’s fun to be able to play chess. Football is nothing but a game of violent chess, and the best part is that we as coaches don’t have to take any of the hits.”

He is also not concerned about the long layoff and believes football is the exact same game it was last time he had the permanent role of offensive coordinator.

“You may think football has changed but it hasn’t. Football is really still a very simple game,” White said. “It is who blocks and tackles the best and who scores more points than the other team, who is better fundamentally, who is tougher physically and tougher mentally. That’s who is going to win the game. It’s not nuclear physics. It’s about execution.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On how bowl practices have been going: “It’s been really good. I really like where the players are at right now. They seem very motivated and looking forward to playing in a big-time bowl game against one of the most traditional programs in America.”

» White said he and football Jeff Blasko are the ones currently working with the quarterbacks heading into the bowl game. “Jeff’s a wonderful young coach who has done a nice job with our players,” he said.

» On the health of the running backs: “They’ve made every practice; they’re probably as healthy as they’ve been all year. I’m really looking forward to them being at full strength for the bowl.”

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12/19: Muschamp’s Monday press conference

Head coach Will Muschamp met with the media Monday to answer some questions and look ahead to the Florida Gators‘ next opponent, the Ohio State Buckeyes. Florida and Ohio State will go head-to-head in the 2011 Gator Bowl at EverBank Field in Jacksonville, FL on Jan. 2 at 1 p.m. Below are some of the most important notes and quotes from Monday’s availability.

INJURY UPDATES

Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley (torn ACL): “That surgery went very well. He is rehabbing as we speak. He probably will miss spring but will certainly be cleared for the summer, so he’ll be ready to get back.”

- Sophomore Sharrif Floyd will move back inside and play his natural position of defensive tackle after spending the entire year at defensive end. “Sharrif will play inside. For lack of numbers, we played Sharrif at end,” Muschamp said. “He is a more natural inside player. When [Easley] was injured in the Florida State game, we moved Sharrif inside and he played extremely well.”

Redshirt sophomore cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee): “We’re evaluating him right now. There’s a possibility he will have surgery to repair his knee. We’ve exhausted every measure as far as not having surgery at this point and we’re in that process at this time.” Muschamp hopes to have him back next season depending on the severity of the injury.

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (concussion): “He’s fine. We gave our guys off the week after the game while we were on the road [recruiting]. We lifted him and [he] ran a little bit.”

SEARCHING FOR AN OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR

Muschamp maintained Monday (sorry for the alliteration) that Florida will not officially hire an offensive coordinator until after the bowl game but that does not mean he has been stationary in his search for Charlie Weis’s replacement. “A lot of people have a tremendous interest in the job,” he said. “I’m taking my time. I’m talking to an awful lot of people and will continue to do so to find the best fit for the University of Florida. We will make that decision after the bowl game.”

Interim offensive coordinator Brian White, the team’s running back’s coach who is filling in for the bowl game, is a candidate at the top of Muschamp’s list and will have bowl practice and the game itself to convince his head coach that he deserves the job. “I’ll sit down and talk to Brian but again, he’s a guy I’ve been with every day. I like how he’s managing our offensive football team at this time,” Muschamp said. “He’s doing an outstanding job. He has experience at the position with Wisconsin and had great success. Certainly he’s a candidate.”

Other candidates – like Jacksonville head coach and former UF QB Kerwin Bell – are being interviewed in the meantime. In the end, Muschamp is looking for someone who can add his special touches but keep the status quo. “You’re also looking for the right fit. We’re not going to come in and change what we’re doing. We don’t think that it’s smart to hire a guy and have 40 guys learning as opposed to one guy learning,” he explained. “Obviously will he tweak some things? Certainly. Will he change some things? Yeah, maybe. But we’re not going to just take a playbook, throw it out the window and bring another one in. We got a young football team, and I think continuity is the most important thing at this point with our football team.”

IT STARTS WITH SELF-EVALUATION

Already looking back on the Gators’ 6-6 regular season, Muschamp (as he has all year) puts the blame primarily on himself, saying he is responsible because it all falls on his shoulders. Nevertheless, he thinks there is plenty for Florida fans to look forward to with the bowl game and offseason upcoming.

“At the end of the day, are we headed in the right direction? Yes, I emphatically believe that. Is it where we want to be at this point? No. Are we going to get there? Yes,” he said. Muschamp added that the 2011 season did not go as expected because, simply put, Florida did not play for a SEC Championship. “That’s what I understand, and that’s what I expect,” he said.

Asked if there was one thing he could change about how the year went, Muschamp said it would be one of the very first decisions he made as head coach. “The most disappointing thing or poor decision I made was training camp not having been more physical because of numbers. You get nervous about injuries. You get nervous about situations with guys as far as having a more physical camp to prepare our team for the season. If I had one thing I wish I could have changed, that would be it,” he said.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Florida began practicing on Friday and worked on fundamentals and technique over the weekend. Preparations for Ohio State began on Monday, and the team will practice Monday-Thursday this week before going to Jacksonville next week.

» On the sophomore class: “Without getting specific, there’s no question the majority of our playmakers are in that class. You look offensively, defensively and special teams of the guys who really contributed to our football team.”

» On there being so much attrition this year: “I would attribute it to a lot of different things. I think it is hard to really put your finger on one thing and say, ‘This is it.’ Anytime you have transition there is a natural attrition that occurs. Whether it is the coach that recruited you, the position coach, the coordinator, the head coach is different, the scheme is different. There are a lot of things.”

» On why Brantley impresses him: “Regardless if you pay attention to it or not, you hear negativity a lot. Quarterback is a tough position to play. It is the hardest position o play on the field. When it’s going well, you normally are put on a pedestal that you actually are playing probably better than you really are. At times when things aren’t going very well, you’re probably painted to be a little bit worse than you really are. From that standpoint, a guy that went through a frustrating year the previous year, came into our situation [and] really embraced it, did a good job with our offense, unfortunately had some injuries and some setbacks. The one thing I’m going to tell you about John is that he’s a positive guy. He loves being a Florida Gator. And that’s important to me. He’s a guy that does everything he can do in a first-class manner. He’s got a great family that supports him and is a guy I’m really proud of to be a part of this football group.”

» On how he will approach recruiting with so many empty spots: “You still want to evaluate and take the right guys. It’s a little different now because we have a whole year to evaluate. My philosophy at that point was not taking a guy you weren’t sure about. That’s the most important thing – right now we’ve had a full year to evaluate. We know what we’ve evaluated. We’ve ranked everybody at every position. We understand the numbers at certain positions that we want to take, but we’re not going to take a guy to take a guy. We’d rather – if there’s five at this position and you want to take three, you know you’re going to get two so you take four more at this position if you really feel good about those four. More than anything, at the end of the day, it’s kind of like the NFL Draft. You take the best player available at those situations.”

» On redshirt junior tight end Omarius Hines not seeing the field much: “He had some injuries early in the year. As we moved forward, you look at Jordan Reed and A.C. Leonard were very productive at the position. [...] We expected more of an impact on special teams as well, not just on offense. The injury put him behind a little bit as far as moving forward.”

» On his plan for redshirt freshman QB Tyler Murphy: “To compete at the quarterback position.”

On sophomore Buck linebacker Ronald Powell: “He played better as the year rolled on. He’s having a nice bowl practice as we progress to this point. He’s had his best practice since we’ve been here the other day as far as just his pad level, his hand placement and affecting the quarterback in the rush. He always plays with good effort and toughness.”

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Replacing Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator

With the surprise resignation of Florida Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, who decided to take the head coaching job with the Kansas Jayhawks on Thursday, still the big news of the day, one of the major questions arising is a simple one: Who will replace him? OGGOA has complied a list of candidates who could replace Weis:

Kerwin Bell
Head Coach – Jacksonville Dolphins

Hire him: Bell is almost everything Florida is looking for in an offensive coordinator. He’s talented, runs a pro-style offense at Jacksonville, has professional experience as a player (four years in the NFL, four in the CFL) and coach (two years as offensive coordinator of the Toronto Argonauts) and is a Florida alumnus who was a quarterback on the Gators football team from 1983-87. His JU team features a strong down-field passing game but is also balanced with a solid running attack. Bell told The Gainesville Sun directly that he would be interested in returning to Florida, and a source close to him told OGGOA Thursday evening that he would listen to any offer head coach Will Muschamp might have for him. With orange and blue coursing through his veins, Bell would be loyal to the program and would have no designs on leaving anytime soon.

Hold up: Despite his success both with Toronto (2000-01) and Jacksonville (2007-present), Bell is relatively inexperienced as a college football coach. He spent six years as the top man at Trinity Catholic High School between the two jobs and is currently a coach in the FCS, which is a far cry from the SEC. Weis had total control over Florida’s offense, and it remains to be seen if Muschamp (inexperienced in his own right as a head coach) would be comfortable giving Bell that same power.

Brian White
Running Backs Coach – Florida Gators

Hire him: One of the most experienced coaches currently on staff, White has been an offensive coordinator before during his time at Wisconsin and has been a part of two national championship teams. He is one of the Gators’ best recruiters and is multiple on offense, already proving his ability to coach up running backs and tight ends at Florida. (He also coached quarterbacks and wide receivers at UNLV.) White is well-known and trusted by the players considering he is one of two holdovers remaining from Urban Meyer’s regime and has been with the team since 2009. He could be the safest move in terms of continuity, especially in recruiting where he has excelled during his time at UF.

Hold up: Though he has served previously as both an offensive coordinator and passing game coordinator, White has not called plays since 2007. He will have what may be considered a tryout at the 2012 Gator Bowl, where he will temporarily take over for Weis as Muschamp looks to make a permanent decision on a future offensive coordinator. White is also not the “sexiest” candidate – he has absolutely no NFL coaching experience, something that Muschamp appeared to lean on with his first staff.

Bell and White individually may each be capable of running the Gators’ offense, but hiring co-offensive coordinators is not out of the realm of possibility for Muschamp. Bell (quarterbacks) and White (running backs) each specialize in a different area of the offense and could serve as passing game coordinator and running game coordinator, respectively. Florida had co-defensive coordinators under Meyer with Greg Mattison and Charlie Strong, and the defense was the backbone of the team while both were on staff. Expect Muschamp to give this idea serious consideration as Bell would love to return to the Gators but would likely want more than a “quarterbacks coach” title and White will feel he is deserving of additional responsibilities (and money) considering his work ethic and experience.

Al Borges
Offensive Coordinator – Michigan Wolverines

Hire him: Currently helping turn around Michigan, Borges has served as a college offensive coordinator for 25 years, getting his start back in 1986. He spent four years with Auburn (2004-07), crossing paths with Muschamp during his final two years with the team. When you talk about experience – Borges has it – and his pro-style offense has proven that it can be tailored to utilize speed and quickness.

Hold up: Another candidate without professional experience, Borges’s resume should be enough to overcome that. However, he just took the Wolverines job this year and – considering that offense is on the upswing – probably won’t be too inclined to change jobs after one year. Although he has been an offensive coordinator for a quarter century, he has done it at nine different stops and spent two years or less at five of them, only staying at Portland State, UCLA and Auburn long-term.

Stan Hixon
Wide Receivers Coach – Buffalo Bills

Hire him: He has never served as an offensive coordinator, but it might be time for the 54-year-old to take a step up to the next level. With coaching experience on both levels (14 years in college, 13 in the NFL), Hixon moves on at will and picks his poison. He worked at LSU for four years (three alongside Muschamp) and has plenty of experience both coaching in the SEC and recruiting top-tier players. He left that job to take one with the Washington Redskins, where he stuck for seven years, and has spent the last two coaching pass catchers with the Buffalo Bills (under head coach Chain Gailey – former UF player and GA). Hixon was born in Lakeland, FL and could see Florida as a great opportunity. He is well-known for getting the most out of unknown players and helping them reach their full potential.

Hold up: Hixon has never been an offensive coordinator. He hasn’t called plays for any extensive period of time and has not coached in college in nearly a decade. Some position coaches remain such for a reason, and Hixon may have turned down offensive coordinator opportunities in the past in order to concentrate on the job he does best.

Bobby Williams
Tight Ends/Special Teams Coach – Alabama Crimson Tide

Hire him: Another coach with a history alongside Muschamp (at LSU and the Miami Dolphins), Williams has served under Nick Saban for seven years coaching wide receivers, running backs and tight ends. He was a head coach for three years at Michigan State (beat Florida 37-34 in the 2000 Citrus Bowl) and has extensive SEC recruiting experience. Williams’s versatility is a major plus.

Hold up: Like Hixon, Williams has never been an offensive coordinator and play caller, but his time as a head coach adds another level of experience. His loyalty to Saban is obvious and many believe the chances of him leaving his side are not good.

Paul Chryst
Offensive Coordinator – Wisconsin Badgers

Hire him: Considered one of the best offensive coordinators in the game right now, Chryst would be a huge hire for Muschamp and the Gators. He’s had immense success with Wisconsin and would do great as the “head coach of the offense” with total control over the unit.

Hold up: Chryst has been a candidate for head coaching jobs and may be unlikely to move from Wisconsin unless it is to run his own program. Florida is undoubtedly a step up but probably not enough of a difference for him to move across the country. A year or two of immense success with the Gators could springboard him to a top job, but he is doing fine up north and may be able to pick his spot sooner than later staying put.

Scott Linehan, Brian Schottenheimer, Mike Mularkey
Offensive Coordinators – NFL

Breakdown: Linehan, Scottenheimer and Mularkey all have connections to the program but each has his own reason for not giving much thought to the Florida job. Linehan, who was offensive coordinator under Saban with the Dolphins while Muschamp was there, is leading a burgeoning unit with the Detroit Lions and is unlikely to leave a secure job and take a cut in pay unless he really wants to get back into the college game. Mularkey, a former Gators tight end, has never coached at the college level and is closer to a NFL head coaching job as current offensive coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons than he is to leaving the team and going to Florida. Schottenheimer, currently the New York Jets’ offensive coordinator, was a backup quarterback under Steve Spurrier at UF but also has no college coaching or recruiting experience. He would be the most likely out of the three to have any interest in the job considering he is heavily criticized as Jets’ offensive coordinator and could be on the outs up in New York.

Steve Spurrier, Jr.
Wide Receivers Coach – South Carolina Gamecocks

Hire him: Spurrier, Jr. has been a WR coach at Oklahoma and Arizona and spent time working under his father at Florida, with the Redskins and now at South Carolina. He played college football at Duke and got his master’s degree at UF. He may feel it is finally time to step out of his father’s shadow and up into an offensive coordinator job, and returning home could be especially sweet for him.

Hold up: According to a number of people – including his father – Spurrier Jr. is not ready to be an offensive coordinator. He’s had opportunities to call plays and lead the offense at USC only to have his father demote him back to WR coach and call the plays himself. He probably won’t be a legitimate candidate, but you never know.

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Kansas plucks Charlie Weis from Florida

The Kansas Jayhawks have hired Florida Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis to be the team’s next head coach, the university announced Thursday.

Weis, who has spent the last year working under Florida head coach Will Muschamp, will be officially introduced in his new role on Friday at a yet to be determined time.

Deciding to leave his job as offensive coordinator of the Kansas City Chiefs one year ago, Weis said he chose to join Muschamp’s staff for a number of personal reasons and called the opportunity “almost a dream.” He signed a three-year, $2.6 million contract with Florida, making him the highest paid assistant in school history.

At the time, Weis explained that it was a fantastic opportunity for his family. His son would be a student assistant with the Gators, his wife would be pleased with a 10.5-acre estate in Reddick, FL with plenty of horses, and his special needs daughter could get the assistance she needed with her condition.

“This opportunity is one of those unique situations where I can go to a great institution where my son goes to matriculate and be able to spend the next bunch of years watching my son grow,” he said on Jan. 2. “He wants to coach. It took us very long to try to find a place where he could be involved with the football program in a student assistant capacity. When I finally did talk to Will, we chatted about that and then we talked about me. I had to really reflect on that, spend time with my wife and [my son].

“We talked about a whole bunch of things and at the end of the day, I don’t think anybody could understand how wonderful an opportunity it would be to be able to work at a place and see your kid on a daily basis. It’s a tough business. To go to a program like Florida and be able to be around my kid at the same time … is almost a dream.”

Weis was the main reason redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley returned to the team instead of transferring. He was also the catalyst that convinced freshman QB Jacoby Brissett to commit to Florida over Miami even though the Gators already had Jeff Driskel in their 2011 recruiting class.

He recently said that he had no designs of leaving UF and would remain at the school as long as Muschamp and the university would have him.

“I’m going to coach for a long time. My wife says I can’t quit,” he said on Nov. 22. “That’s not even – remember I have a kid who is a freshman in college here and remember the reasons why I came here. I’ll be here for a while unless you’re trying to get rid of me.”

Weis went 35-27 as head coach of Notre Dame and led a Florida offense that finished 102nd in total offense (334.17 yards per game) and 72nd in scoring offense (25.58 points per game) in 2011.

Muschamp gave Weis his blessing publicly while discussing his departure at a press conference on Thursday for the 2012 Gator Bowl.

“When you’re a coordinator and you have an opportunity to be a head coach, I support you 100 percent,” he said.

It remains to be seen who Muschamp will tab to replace Weis, but it is expected that he will continue running a pro-style offense. He could look for an accomplished coordinator in the college ranks or go back to the NFL once again.

Muschamp may also have to find a quarterbacks coach (a position Weis held) and replace offensive line coach Frank Verducci, who joined his staff with Weis. The two are friends and worked together previously at Notre Dame.

Florida running backs coach Brian White will be the offensive coordinator and call the plays in the Gator Bowl on Jan. 2, 2012 against the Ohio State Buckeyes.

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SIX BITS: Marotti, Driskel, Meyer, rings, Tebow

1 » Now that Urban Meyer had donned the whistle for the Ohio State Buckeyes, it is time for him to fill up his staff. Meyer has already plucked director of football administration Mark Pantoni (who was reportedly fired from his post) from the Florida Gators and is not surprisingly trying to bring strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti along for the ride, too. Sources close to the program have confirmed to OGGOA that Marotti is leaning towards leaving Florida for Ohio State. Apparently a decision has already been made but has yet to be announced by one party or the other. Rumors are that Meyer is also looking to bring linebackers/special teams coach D.J. Durkin over to the Buckeyes though his former tight ends coach (now running backs coach) Brian White has already decided to stick with the Gators, according to ESPN.

2 » Despite freshman quarterback Jacoby Brissett passing him on the depth chart in the middle of the season, classmate Jeff Driskel is planning on staying right where he is to compete for Florida’s starting job in 2012. “Great to be a gator. Here for the long run,” he tweeted on Monday. Driskel’s father also told ESPN that his son has not even considered leaving the program. “Jeff wants to be the quarterback at Florida,” Jerry Driskel told the network by text. “That has never changed.”

3 » The News-Journal‘s cartoonist Andy Marlette created the following piece of art, depicting Meyer running away from The Swamp off to his new job with Ohio State.

4 » Former Gators reserve offensive lineman Brad Hiers’s home was burglarized and a pair of national championship rings were stolen on Nov. 20, according to News Channel 8. He reported the break-in to police and has been calling pawn shops in hopes of finding his rings and getting them returned to him. “My hope is that people will talk about it. And then say, ‘Oh yeah, I know those are stolen’ and at least have a heart and get ‘em back somehow,” he told the station. He also said he is not inclined to simply order replacements, which do not hold the same sentimental value.

5 » According to beat writer Evan Woodbery, Florida head coach Billy Donovan’s daughter Hasbrouck, a champion rider, has committed to attend Auburn and compete with the school’s equestrian team. Hasbrouck has already accomplished plenty in her young career and won a number of tournaments including some this year.

6 » Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow had the top selling NFL jersey for months after being drafted in 2010. Now that he is the (somewhat) permanent starter and Denver is winning, his jersey sales have begun rocketing up the charts once again. Tebow had the second-best selling jersey among NFL players last week, according to CNBC’s Darren Rovell and how has the sixth-best selling jersey this year (beginning in April).

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9/12: Gators discuss rivalry week, improving pass rush, converting in red zone & more

With the Florida Gators beginning preparations for their first Southeastern Conference opponent of the 2011 season, number of prominent players were made available to the media on Monday to discuss how the team is progressing heading into their showdown with the Tennessee Volunteers on Sept. 17 at 3:30 p.m. in The Swamp.

DIFFERENT TAKES ON FIRST RIVALRY WEEK

Of Florida’s three main rivals, Tennessee is always the first they face each season, and different players have varying perspectives about the week in general. While all believe it is important in terms of being the first SEC game of the season, some care very much that it is against Tennessee while others are not fazed whatsoever.

“It’s a big rival game. It’s probably my favorite rival game – playing that and the Florida State game,” said redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter, who expects the contest to be physical. “Growing up I used to always watch the Florida-Tennessee rivalry. Being from Georgia, both of those teams are hated, but I always grew up watching the Florida-Tennessee game has always been fun to me. These two teams hate each other and they always love to play. Everyone gives it their all and they all enjoy playing in this game.”

For redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley, a life-long Gators fan, it is all about getting the win. “We start out SEC play against a tough opponent each year, which is Tennessee. To walk out of the game with a ‘W,’ know that you’ve played fairly well, that gives you some confidence and everything leading into other SEC play,” he said.

Sophomore running back Trey Burton is just ready to play. “It’s a big game for us and it’s always fun to play SEC games because they count,” he said. “It’s a conference game. Our goal is to get to Atlanta, and if we don’t wint his game then we won’t be able to get to Atlanta. These are obviously a little more important than the other games.”

Feeling slightly different is redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins, who cares more about giving maximum effort at all times than the team he faces. “We try to come out every day and attack each opponent the same,” he said. “Tennessee – they probably have more talent [then our first two opponents] – but we still like to play the best that we can every week, it really doesn’t matter what opponent we play.”

STEP ONE: IMPROVE THE PASS RUSH

Florida did not register any sacks against UAB on Saturday, which head coach Will Muschamp said was OK simply because the opponent got the ball out fast and did not allow many opportunities to do so. “Not having any sacks is some place that we need to get better at. That’s something we were very unhappy about, but we did affect the quarterback and still got some hits on him as he was throwing the ball,” Jenkins said. “Those are always stats that they don’t really show too much but they add up and help us out in the long run.”

Nevertheless, the players are well aware that improving in that area will be a major focus this week heading into SEC play. “This week in practice we need to have a good pass rushing session. We need to get better with our pass rush as far as the defensive line goes,” Hunter noted. “In the UAB game, we could have got to the quarterback a lot more, and I think that’s a big emphasis on what we need to do this weekend.” Redshirt junior LB Lerentee McCray agrees. “The pass rush emphasis is going to be a real big deal after that last game with us not getting any sacks. Just mostly our get-offs. It’s probably going to be a real big emphasis by coaches this weekend at practice.”

STEP TWO: CONVERT IN THE RED ZONE, SPREAD THE BALL AROUND

Though Florida’s offense has performed well over the last two games, the running game has led the Gators in both contests. “Like any quarterback, you want to be able to throw touchdown passes and everything, but the run game has been working,” Brantley said. “The pass game has really been working also, we just haven’t gotten the ball into the end zone through the air. That’s fine as long as we’re putting points on the board and coming out with the W – that’s all that matters to me.”

He recognizes this as well as the fact that Florida has been unsuccessful in converting most of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns. “We ran the ball real well. Once we got to that red zone we just kinda stalled,” he said. “I’m sure this week we’re going to concentrate on it. Once you get in the red zone you got to score. Field goals are nice, but you’d like to punch it in the end zone. […] Everything just gets a lot harder in the red zone. It’s a smaller area of field. We got the right plays for it and everything, we just got to execute them.”

Brantley is also aware that the passing game must open up, but he will not do so at the risk of attacking covered players. “[Long passes are] in the game plan and everything, but we take what the defense gives us. That’s one thing Coach [Charlie] Weis stresses to me and that’s what we’ve been doing,” he said. “All the receivers are built-in to this offense and they completely understand. They know as much as we check down or have to check down, sooner or later it’s going to open up. If they get frustrated or anything, they might miss that opportunity for a big play or something like that to happen. You always want to throw down field, but we’ve got great receivers and one-on-one I know the receivers can get open. We’re just going to go out there and take what the defense gives us.”

HUNTER A JOY TO HAVE AS A TEAMMATE

Taking his first carry in the orange and blue uniform into the end zone for a touchdown on Saturday, freshman fullback Hunter Joyer has been impressing teammates on both sides of the ball as well as the entire coaching staff. His focus, dedication and talent is something that his teammates respect and enjoy competing against.

Jenkins, who encounters Joyer in the backfield from time-to-time when rushing the passer during practice, noted that his strength is a major plus. “[Jon Bostic and I] both have a lot of respect for Hunter Joyer. He’s a great player. He’s real low to the earth, so you have to come at him real low. He’s strong,” he explained. “I remember first seeing him in the weight room benching like 315 [pounds] like it was easy. A lot of guys can’t do that at all. He’s a great player, and I love having him on the other side because we get to practice against him. We’re going against one of the best to prepare for other teams.”

Burton is working with Joyer as a part-time fullback himself and has seen first-hand how his preparation translates onto the field. “Coach [Brian] White works with both of us. Hunter is doing an unbelievable job especially coming in as a freshman,” he said. “I’m real proud of him and he’s learning real fast, and he’s a great kid. He’s unbelievable. He comes in and works real hard. He’s not a guy that will go out and talk a lot. He’s a really soft-spoken guy. He’s really quiet, doesn’t speak too much.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Hunter said the cast he has been wearing is a removable one that is heavy and has made it “difficult at times to do certain thing I would like to do.” He hopes to have it off before Saturday’s game.

» Hunter on the defensive line stepping up: “As a defensive line, we talk about it before games, that we want to put the pressure on ourselves because we’re the most experienced group on the field.”

» Hunter on Tennessee-week motivation: “It is a little different coming to the Tennessee game and not seeing the pictures, posters. New coaching staff and they got their own little thing they like to do and I’m enjoying it.”

» Hunter on how this staff prepares for each game compared to the last one: “They’re both very similar. They’re all about mental focus during practice and during the week, coming in and getting a lot of tape in, a lot of studying in and knowing what you have to do before the game starts. I think they’re both very similar in that aspect.”

» Brantley on how Weis has helped him improve: “He’s helped me out in a bunch of ways – mostly mentally. I think I’ve grown up a lot since last year, just forgetting about plays – even good plays and bad plays – you got to move forward. You can only worry about what’s going on right then and there; you can’t worry about the past.”

» Brantley on redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey being the leading receiver: “He has great hands and once he has the ball in his hands, he can do dangerous things. Coach Weis tells the receivers to keep blocking because you never know who he’s going to make miss and what he’s going to do.”

» Brantley on the intensity inside the locker room for Tennessee week: “Inside our locker room it definitely has the same intensity as it always has been. […] There’s been a lot of great memories. It’s always a big rivalry and always will be I believe.”

» Brantley’s opinion of the new offense: “It’s completely changed. Under center, I-back, just we’re going to run the ball at you. It’s completely changed and I think it’s changed for the good around here.”

» Brantley on how Weis uses Rainey: “He’s not a real downhill power runner, but Coach Weis – he’s able to get those running backs out on the edge, and I think that’s where Chris is most dangerous – in the open field out on the edge. Coach Weis just does a great job suiting the offense around what his players do best.”

» Brantley on if what Rainey can do ever shocks him: “He still surprises me sometimes, but I just know he has it in him. When I watch film on Sundays, when I come in and watch the game, because sometimes I’ll be faking away or I really don’t get to see it. It surprises me a lot. First game when he spun and scored that touchdown, I had no idea that he made that spin or anything. He definitely surprises me.”

» Brantley on Muschamp letting Weis handle the offense: “Coach Muschamp’s our head coach and everyone knows that. He’s not completely distant from the offense during practice; he overlooks the offense at times. We understand that Coach Weis is the main offense, but it’s not too much of a difference because he’s still around quite a bit.”

» McCray on sophomore safetyMatt Elam being the leader of the secondary: “Matt Elam has taken on his role very well. He’s quiet – he pretty much leads by example in the secondary. He has to talk to the other guys to get the guys going sometimes, but he’s doing a good job taking on his role as just being the quiet guy who leads by example.”

» McCray on if he plays harder against SEC opponents: “I just look at it as being a consistent player – just going out and playing your best every game. You can’t play better versus one team and worse versus another team. You just have to go out and put a consistent level of play every time you get on the field.”

» Jenkins on if his teammates make fun of him for dropping two interceptions: “Yeah they always give me grief about that. There are two plays I probably could have made.”

» Burton on how his brother, freshman tight end Clay Burton played during his first game time: “I was happy for him. He had a good time and my whole family was happy for him. He did pretty good. I didn’t really watch too much of what he did, but from what I saw on the sideline, he did pretty good. He was real psyched to play.”

» Burton on his conversation with Weis about his position before the season: “I just told him I wanted to play whatever he saw me playing. It’s his offense and he does what he wants to do.”

» Burton on if he’s noticed the crowd has not been at capacity: “I heard UAB brought back 5,000 tickets or 4,000 tickets, something like that. That might have had something to do with it, but I expect it to be a pretty good crowd on Saturday. The Swamp’s The Swamp.”

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8/29: Muschamp on injuries, coaches, position separation and standouts before opener

With the Florida Gators now in final preparations for the first game of the 2011 season (Sept. 3 vs. Florida Atlantic), head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss a number of topics relating to the team and their opening game.

OPENING STATEMENT AND INJURY REPORT

“I’m excited for the first game; I’m excited for game week. I know that the players are and we are as a staff. Starting off with Florida Atlantic, offensively they are a pro-style attack with multiple formations. I think that Coach [Howard] Schnellenberger does an outstanding job of teaching the quarterback and what they want to do offensively. That obviously is their success and defensively they have more of a four-down team and now they have changed their personnel listing the possible three down, so we’ll prepare for both of those as we work through the week here.

“Obviously, anytime there is a first game there is some unknown on both sides of the ball and I think we’ve got some ourselves but I’m very pleased with our preparation at this point. Last Thursday and Friday, we came back and had a little better day from Wednesday. We had good meetings last night, very attentive and I thought the guys were bouncing around a little bit as far as the walkthroughs and things that we were doing. I’m real pleased at where we are at this point.”

OUT: Freshman tight end A.C. Leonoard (torn meniscus)

QUESTIONABLE: Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee), redshirt junior wide receiver Omarius Hines (hamstring), redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finley (shoulder)

ACTIVE: Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (back)

COACHING POSITIONS, JOBS ON GAME DAY

Though many offensive coordinators spend their game days up in a box overlooking the field, Charlie Weis will be stationed on the sidelines this year along with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and most of the other position coaches. “I feel that it’s important to have Charlie on the field from the standpoint of the first year on offense,” Muschamp explained. “John is a senior but it’s the first year of going through the adjustments that happen in the first year. I’ve been through it before, the growing pains of something happens on game days that you’re not prepared for. We’ve got to get them up, we’ve got to get them calmed down. We’ve got to say this is what’s happening.”

Defensively, Muschamp reiterated that Quinn will be making the calls on defense though he will “be on the headsets and I’ll certainly make suggestions when I feel I have to look at some things.” Filling up the box upstairs will be running backs coach Brian White and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson Of White, Muschamp said he has experience of watching a game from that vantage point and “does an outstanding job of communicating what is happening with the other team’s defense. In regards to Robinson, Muschamp said he “is the same with knowing our defense very well” and that he needs his eyes up in the box.

As a whole, he reiterated that there is not much more he could have asked for from his staff after their first offseason together. “I’ve been very pleased with how we’ve come together and understanding where we are headed with this thing. First of all, philosophically being on the same page and that starts with offensively and defensively, special teams, recruiting and public relations. It’s everything,” he said. “I think that they understand and they know what I want done in the program and how we want things done in the program as far as discipline is concerned, how we approach practice, how we approach our players, how we handle the situations. I’ve been very pleased with the results to this point, but again, we are measured on game day.”

READY AND RARING TO GO

The team may not be there yet, according to Muschamp, but they will be. He said it all starts “with today and finish[es] through Thursday and having a good walk-through on Friday.” To his dismay, the Gators will be playing an evening game rather than an early afternoon game, something that he would prefer. “We’re going to get ready and try to play the game and unfortunately it’s at 7 p.m. I wish we were playing at 1 p.m., but that’s the way it is and we’re looking forward to doing that,” he said. Asked why the game time matters, Muschamp indicated he preferred earlier contests because of the motiviation players have in the morning. “You wake up and you’re ready to play and that’s kind of the way you feel but once you get out there at night with the great atmosphere – we’re going to have we’ve got the best fans in the country so I’m excited about that, they are going to be excited about that,” he said. “They’re going to be excited at 7:00; they’re going to be excited 1:00. They’d be excited at 11:30 a.m. if we played then so I will be fine.”

In the long run though, Muschamp just wants to get out on the field and relieve some of the light anxiety he is facing as a first-hear head coach. “I’m emotional every day. I’m excited about it, but more than anything is to just focus on the task at hand. It’s coaching well, it’s making good decisions for your football team, preparing well during the week,” he said. “Come Friday, the preparation is done, it’s just a mental game from that standpoint moving on to game day and going out and winning the football game. That’s what we’re looking forward to doing. I’m not nervous. ‘Anxious’ would probably be a better word.”

WORK IN PROGRESS: OFFENSIVE LINE AND SECONDARY

During his introductory press conference and before each semester so far this year, Muschamp has repeated that the offensive line and secondary are the two units that need the most cohesion in order for a team to be successful. Unfortunately for Florida, those are the two areas that the team is having the greatest difficulty finding players to separate themselves from the pack. “The bottom line with me is that you have to earn the right to start, so if a guy doesn’t practice, he’s not going to start,” Muschamp said Monday. “A guy has got to get out there and practice and compete and play the right way when we start our football game.”

In the depth chart released a few hours after his press conference concluded, Muschamp outlines exactly where certain players fall as of right now. He said he is pleased with junior Xavier Nixon, redshirt junior Matt Patchan and redshirt freshman Chaz Green at the tackle position and considers all three of them to be starters even though Nixon and Patchan will likely earn that title. The left guard and center position, however, remain up for grabs even though redshirt senior transfer Dan Wenger and redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison currently hold those respective positions. Muschamp said Wenger is pushing Harrison for the center job but redshirt sophomore Kyle Koehne is also making a case for Wenger’s left guard position, leaving both up in the air right now.

He is similarly concerned with the starting positions in the secondary, noting that every spot (left vs. right cornerback, left vs. right safety) is interchangeable. “all of those positions are a little bit up for grabs as far as who practices the best,” he said, except for sophomore Matt Elam who has locked down a starting job at safety. Take a look at the depth chart released today for a closer look at the alignment of the secondary.

In the end, his main goal is to see players finally separate themselves and claim a starting job rather than be just another good player who is not consistently leading the pack at their respective position. “We’ve got certain guys and I’d like to think they are competing very well and they’re competing to be the star. They all will play, and I can tell you that. So, who deserves to be the starter and jog out there to start the game? We’ll see what happens and how they progress through the week,” he said. “You can look at it as motivation, you can look at it as a lot of different things, but the bottom line is them understanding it is how you prepare is how you play. I’m young, but I’m old-fashioned and generally how you play is how you practice, too. That’s the way I view it and nobody, in my opinion, has separated themselves to be named the starter here Monday before our first game. Does that mean that we’re playing poorly? I don’t think so, that means we have not created a separation at the position as we have at other positions.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders: “He would be the front-runner today [to start at safety], but it’s about consistency and that’s the hardest thing for young players. It’s hard for them day-in and day-out to go out and consistently do it but I’m very pleased with him. I think he has in the intangibles as far as the instinct to play in the deep part of the field, tackling ability, coverage ability, playing the ball and a guy that I’m excited about playing for the Gators.”

» On restoring Brantley’s confidence this season: “I don’t know about restoring…I think that if more than anything when you have some sort of change you grow with that change and that’s what John has done. I’ve been very pleased through the off-season and his work ethic and his approach through spring practice and it’s catching on onto what we are trying to do. I think he feels more comfortable in the things that we’re doing and I’ve been very pleased in his progress. I think that John has built his confidence himself and I think that when you have a quarterback coach and an offensive coordinator like Charlie Weis, the track record speaks for itself and Charlie has confidence in a guy like John and that should bring confidence to John. I think that’s what is happening and I feel very comfortable for where we are right now.”

» On if the reserve quarterbacks, specifically freshman Jeff Driskel, will see the field: “We’ll cross that bridge we come to it. As far as the game is concerned, we’ll work through that but John is our starting quarterback and if it presents itself that somebody else plays then that will be fine and if it’s Jeff, it’s Jeff. At this point, it would be Jeff being the backup but certainly through the week we’re going to see the guys who are practicing best and who deserves to play. John Brantley is our starting quarterback.”

» On where fans can expect to see sophomore Trey Burton on the field: “At a bunch [of positions]. You better track him. He’s a guy that can line up in a fullback position, he can line up in the tailback position, he’ll line up in the slot, he’ll line up at tight end, he can be split out wide. He brings an awful lot of variety to your playing call because he’s smart and he gets football, he understands it. When you want to change something with him, you can say, ‘This is what we did yesterday, we’re just doing it from a different spot,’ and he understands that. Some guys have a harder time with that and he does not. We’re going to use him in a lot of different ways, he’s a very valuable member of our football team and on special teams he does a very good job.”

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Women’s football clinic was one for the books

Long-time OGGOA reader Jennifer contacted us last week and offered to share with our readers her experience at the Florida Gators’ annual Women’s Football Clinic hosted this year for the first time by new head coach Will Muschamp. Below is her account from the exciting day (pictures included).

I heard about this event about a year ago and always thought it sounded interesting. After rounding up a couple of friends, we registered and were off to Gainesville. The day started in the Reitz Union Grand Ballroom. After checking in, where we were given a t-shirt and small goodie bag, we were free to roam around the ballroom and meet the coaches. Even though I am a huge sports and Gators fan, with all of the new coaching changes, the only coaches I could recognize at first were Coach Muschamp, [linebackers/special teams coach] D.J. Durkin and [defensive coordinator] Dan Quinn. As we walked around we got autographs, took pictures and briefly chatted with the assistant coaches and grad assistant coaches. All were very friendly and seemed pumped up about the day’s activities.

One coach stood out among our favorites for his personality and friendliness, which only got better throughout the day. That was tight ends coach Derek Lewis. He was funny, saying a few times to the ladies throughout the morning and during some of the presentations that “tight ends” really are a football position. Another of our favorites was [wide receivers coach] Aubrey Hill, who when we took pictures with him, told us to “bring it in tight” and pulled us close for a picture with a huge smile on his face.

After mingling with the coaches in attendance, we proceeded to buy some raffle tickets and then moved over to the longest line, which was the opportunity to get a professional picture take with Coach Muschamp. We weren’t allowed to get his autograph or take our own pictures here, but many had the opportunity to do so later in the day as he was walking around. Also in attendance were Muschamp’s two boys and his wife, though they weren’t introduced to the crowd.

Everyone took their seats and the crowd got to listen to Coach Muschamp. It was similar to what you reported from the local Gator Gatherings. Then the crowd was given the opportunity to ask questions. He said why a few of the coaches couldn’t make it that day including [offensive coordinator] Charlie Weis, who he said had knee replacement surgery on Wednesday, and Mickey Marotti, who had a family obligation and “family comes first.” Coach Muschamp said he finished moving to Gainesville on Thursday and jokingly added that he still had lots of extra boxes, if anyone had extra time.

Read the rest of Jennifer’s story from the clinic including a few interesting details related to the football team…after the break!
Continue Reading » Women’s football clinic was one for the books

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