With the Florida Gators set to begin 2011 spring practice on Wednesday, new head coach Will Muschamp met with the media Monday to discuss a variety of topics including why practice is closed, who has stepped up as leaders, which players have changed positions and what he expects from redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley.
FIVE-WEEK OFFSEASON PROGRAM
Florida’s student-athletes participated four days each week in a five-week-long offseason program with spring break serving as a nice ending to the activities. Muschamp believes that the time is now to get the Gators in the proper mindset for the upcoming year.
“In the offseason, that’s where you build your football team,” he said. “You build the mental toughness it’s going to take to be successful. You find out a lot about individual players at this time – what they’re willing to push through. You find out a lot about where your leadership is on the football team. You start to develop your identity in the offseason. I’m really pleased with where we are. We still have a ways to go, but I’m excited about what those guys accomplished in our offseason program.”
NO SECOND THOUGHTS ABOUT CLOSING PRACTICE
Former Florida head coach Urban Meyer shut fans and media out of fall practice last year, but spring practice was open throughout his entire tenure at UF. Muschamp, who announced last week that practiced would be closed, said that he had no second thoughts about the decision even though some fans are peeved by the choice.
“We’re a new staff. It’s important – on both sides of the ball and special teams – for our guys to focus on what we need to do to be successful. We need to do that in closed quarters,” he said. “I understand that our fans love the Gators and want to be a part of that. On April 9th, we want a full packed house at The Swamp. We need to concentrate on us right now. We need to get better and continue to develop the identity of what we want to be as a football team on both sides of the ball on special teams.”
He continued, “I’ve got to make a decision that I think is best for the program and about winning football games and doing it the right way. That’s something that will be evaluated in the fall by me and in the spring by me. If I think it’s best for the practices to be closed, they’ll be closed.”
Muschamp has a number of goals that he has set out to accomplish before spring practice concludes. One of those is finding a set of leaders who prove their worth by displaying a positive attitude, being productive and establishing themselves as both dependable and durable.
“Develop the leadership. Come together for that common purpose. I know we’ll all be excited on Wednesday; I want to see how we are [at] practice 12. That’s really where you find out what kind of team you’ve got,” he said. “We want to be a blue-collar, overachieving unit. We’ve got some good football players; we got a good football team on campus. We’ve got to come together as a cohesive unit, build for a common purpose and develop that workman-like attitude.”
Singling out a handful of players as early leaders, Muschamp pointed to Brantley, senior defensive end William Green, redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr., redshirt sophomore WR Stephen Alli, sophomore cornerback Cody Riggs, redshirt sophomore safety Tim Clark, sophomore QB Chandler Carr and freshman QB Jeff Driskel as guys who have already stood out among their peers.
“They came out and played to a championship standard as far as their competition is concerned in the weight room and off the field,” he said of the players. “You’ve got to develop leadership; it’s not just something that happens. We’ve got to develop that within our organization. We’re implementing leadership, character development, mental conditioning for our football team.”
EXPECTATIONS FOR BRANTLEY
Brantley is the Gators’ No. 1 quarterback, and it is going to take a huge effort from either Driskel or redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy to unseat him. Not only does Brantley have the age factor going for him, Muschamp (and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis) both believe he is capable of doing the job that is necessary behind center. To his credit, Brantley has put the pedal to the metal so far this spring and is doing whatever he can to learn the position to the best of his ability.
“John’s worked hard in the offseason. He’s a talented player,” Muschamp said. “John needs to worry about John’s expectations, mine, Charlie Weis’s and nobody else’s. That’s what I think about expectations. Ours are high – really high; we expect a lot. John himself expects a lot of himself, and we’re expecting him to have an outstanding year.”
Asked what his specific expectations are for Brantley, Muschamp instead discussed what he expects from any quarterback running his team. “From the quarterback position, and I don’t mean this in a conservative manner, it’s [about] managing the game,” he said. “Peyton Manning manages the game. Tom Brady manages the game. They don’t turn the ball over; they take care of they ball. They provide great leadership for their offense and their football team. They convert on third down. That’s managing the game; that’s what we want to see. He’s got the ability to do all of those things.”
POSITION CHANGES AND ADJUSTMENTS
As OGGOA covered yesterday in our depth chart post, there is plenty of movement going on throughout Florida’s roster. Here are some of the moves that have been made and what Muschamp had to say about the player involved.
Redshirt freshman Leon Orr from offensive line to defensive tackle: “He’s a bigger body guy that can hold the point inside.”
Redshirt freshman Gerald Christian from tight end to linebacker: “He’s got good lower body explosion [and is] a guy who is certainly bright enough to play two positions.” Christian will also see offensive work at tight end and fullback.
Redshirt sophomore Jordan Reed from QB/TE to tight end: “Jordan Reed will be a full-time tight end. [He] can stretch the field vertically and be a match-up issue for defenses with his athleticism. [I’m] excited about him.”
Sophomore Trey Burton from QB to “F” position: “We’re excited about the versatility Trey will play for us at the F and at the H position in some third-down work.” Learn more about the F position.
Redshirt sophomore Chris Martin from DE/LB to DE: “He’s got good pass rush skills, good pass rush ability. He can move his hands and feet in the rush, which is a natural talent. That’s not something that’s easily coached.”
Muschamp was also asked about sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley, who had some behavioral issues last season. “That was last season. This is this year,” he said. “I [told him], ‘You’re going to do it our way.’ Change is inevitable, growth is optional. You either do it our way or leave.”
Finally, he discussed where the Gators are weakest position-wise. “We are thin on both lines of scrimmage at this point. I like the quality of players; I don’t like the quantity of players. The SEC is a line of scrimmage league. We’re going in a little bit thin,” he said.
Muschamp on the depth chart: “I don’t know if that depth chart is worth the paper it’s printed on.”
Muschamp on the depth chart (II): “It’s not about where you start – it’s where you finish.”
Muschamp on the defensive philosophy: “We want to be multiple. We’ll be more of an over team, a 4-3 team, a one-gap team at this point. We will commingle some 3-4. We’ve got an outstanding defensive staff, and I’m really excited about what those guys are bringing to the table.”
Muschamp on Weis: “Part of buying in is instant credibility, and he brings instant credibility as a football coach because of what he’s accomplished.”
Muschamp on potentially butting heads with Weis: “You hire guys that you have tremendous confidence that you know their abilities. You hire the best coaches available. We’ve been allowed to do that here because of the support of our administration. You want to hire the best in the business. I don’t want a bunch of “yes” guys. I don’t want a bunch of guys who are going to agree with everything I say. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I don’t have all the answers – especially on the offensive side of the ball. I want guys that want to disagree.”
Muschamp on what excites him about the team: “There’s been a willingness and an eagerness to learn. We’ve got a bunch of prideful guys in that locker room that want to have a lot of success.”
Muschamp on it being “his” team: “It’s Florida’s program, not mine. I’m the steward and I’m driving the ship. Florida won a bunch of games before any of us showed up, and they’re going to win a bunch of games after we’re all gone.”