With the Florida Gators having completed their second full contact practice of the 2011 season, defensive tackles redshirt senior Jaye Howard and redshirt junior Omar Hunter as well as safeties junior Josh Evans, redshirt freshman Joshua Shaw and sophomore Jaylen Watkins met with the media to discuss how the team is progressing.
FOUR COMPETING AT SAFETY
Considering three safeties spoke on Tuesday, a much clearer picture emerged on how Florida will fill at least half of its secondary in 2011. According to Evans and Shaw, the coaching staff is not currently using “strong” and “free” to denote safety positions but rather “left” and “right.” At this point, Evans has been starting on the left side, while sophomore Matt Elam has been starting on the right. Backing them up at their respective position are Shaw and Watkins.
Evans also paid a compliment to Elam for accepting a leadership role and playing well. “He’s taking it on pretty good,” he said. “He actually reminds me a lot of Ahmad Black – they kind of fit the same personality a little bit, the same shape and everything. He’s doing pretty good as far as reading his gaps and everything.”
Paying Evans the same compliment was Watkins, who thinks the young unit is progressing nicely. “Matt Elam and Josh Evans [are standing out as leaders],” he said. “They both pretty much know everything on defense so far, so they’re helping up all the young kids, me, Shaw and the corners.”
LINEMATES IMPRESSED WITH COACHING STAFF
Howard and Hunter gushed about how nice it is to have both defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and defensive line coach Bryant Young on staff this year. The former started off by explaining how much they have impacted his game. “I’ve never been around such professionals like those guys,” Howard said. “They’re really into it technique-wise. If you don’t get it, they’re going to stay until you get it. I’ve never had that since I’ve been here.”
He also said that, even though he is in his fifth year, he continues to pick up new things from Quinn and Young. “I learn something [new] everyday. Just sitting in the meetings I’ll learn something – small things,” he said. “They taught us how to get off of blockers – shed blockers. In the past years we weren’t able to make as much plays as we could as a unit, so now they’re putting an emphasis on shedding blocks.”
For Hunter, who grew up a San Francisco fan because his first cousin is Garrison Hearst, being coached by one of his favorite players is a dream come true. “I used to always go to the games to watch [my cousin],” he said. “To have Bryant Young here coaching me is just awesome.”
BECOMING VERSATILE; OVERCOMING INJURIES
Though there are plenty of bodies to play on the defensive line this fall, head coach Will Muschamp wants his players to be “multiple” and has a goal of putting the 11 most talented players on the field at any given time regardless of age or position. For that reason, Howard has been playing all three positions on the line, a role he is sharing with Hunter and sophomore Sharrif Floyd.
Finally healthy after overcoming a spring ankle injury, Howard is concentrating on his technique and hopes to be a big-time contributor this season even though the thought of getting injured again lingers in the back of his mind. Sharing a similar concern is Shaw, who is back healthy after suffering a knee injury but would not say otherwise anyway. “I’m doing perfectly fine right now, but I know Coach Muschamp talks about all the injuries.”
REPLACING JANORIS JENKINS
For really the first time this season, one of former Florida cornerback Janoris Jenkins’s teammates in the secondary opened up about not having him on the squad in 2011. Evans knows that replacing Jenkins will be an issue but is confident that the younger players tasked with the endeavor will succeed.
“It’s pretty tough because you’re expecting a lot out of them because that’s a big load on that side,” he said. “We ain’t putting too much pressure on them, don’t want to make it seem like it’s the end of the world. Just want them to get in the playbook, learn the plays and cover real well.”
He also said the defense is prepared for opposing offenses to go after Jenkins’s replacement. “[Losing him] hurt us because I know teams are going to try to attack us that way and try to think that we’re kind of low on that side, but we got confidence in the guys that’s here and we’re going to go with them,” Evans said.
NOTES AND QUOTES
Howard on how the defensive line is doing: “We really have to work on our technique and clean up things, but the depth is there.”
Howard on the line being the strength of the defense: “It starts up front with us. Every day we have to come out and get better as a unit. The linebackers are depending on us to keep guys off of them in the 3-4 scheme, so we’ll have to do that.”
Howard on fighting for the starting job: “It’s the University of Florida – everyone is trying to battle for a spot. This year is nothing different.”
Hunter on how practice is going: “Everyone is just getting used to having the pads back on and is getting familiar with these coaches once again. Everybody’s doing pretty good right now.”
Hunter on Young’s impact as a coach: “A huge impact as far as [teaching] different techniques.”
Hunter on what is being emphasized: “Playing last year, I think we always got to the ball pretty good. This coaching staff put a huge emphasis on that also. We’re definitely getting to the ball.”
Evans on freshman CB Marcus Roberson: “He’s got great hips for a corner. That’s one thing you look for in them guys – their hip movement and how they get their hands up on the jam and everything. You can just tell from how he’s covering he’s going to be a great player for some time to come.”
Evans on the secondary as a whole: “We’re young, but I feel like we’re very athletic and physical. One thing about these guys – they’re going to work. Nobody big-headed, nobody feeling himself too much.”
Shaw on practice: “Camp has actually been going pretty well this year. I have high expectations for the team, first of all, and then for myself [too].”
Shaw on switching to safety: “I love it. Actually in last year’s defense, playing safety was a lot easier. Now it’s a lot different. Coach Muschamp always tells us if we can play in this secondary and get the concepts of everything than we’ll do fine in the league. Because everybody has aspirations of going to the NFL.”
Watkins on Muschamp’s involvement: “He’s pretty much hands-on with the safeties – everyday, individual.”
Watkins on Muschamp’s advice: “[He tells me] just to be a football player. Everything is not going to be what it is on paper – just be an athlete out there.”
Watkins on the whole secondary: “We’re all pretty young, but that just helps us know that we got to become closer. In our defense, we have to communicate a lot, so that’s what we’ve been working on this spring and in camp.”
Watkins on who is surprising him: “The freshmen are doing pretty good. With this type of defense, you have to make a lot of calls and the freshmen are trying to learn and do whatever they can to help the team.”