9/27: Weis focuses on rushing, offensive line

As the No. 12 Florida Gators prepare for their biggest game of the 2011 season thus far on Oct. 1 the No. 2/3 Alabama Crimson Tide, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis met with the media on Tuesday to discuss Saturday’s victory and the upcoming contest.

GETTING DEMPS AND RAINEY TOUCHES IN THE OPEN

Ensuring that running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey not only touch the ball but have space to make plays after doing so has been relatively easy for Weis early in the season. The duo shredded three opponents and played quite well against Tennessee, too. With a stout Alabama defense coming to town featuring the best run defense in the Southeastern Conference, Weis knows he will have to get creative.

“You have to wait and see how they play the game. You have to have multiple ways of being able to do that. You can’t just do the same thing each week,” he said. “You have to have a plan where, if they stop this, you have another way of getting to the same means to an end. You just have to wait and see how it goes. You go into the game with a plan and then you have some tweaks in the plan ready to go depending what they end up doing.”

One thing that could work to Florida’s advantage is the number of eyes that will be on Rainey every time he touches the ball. Weis explained, “When we call plays, it’s not designed that we’re throwing the ball to [one player]. The first curl that they threw to Frankie [Hammond], [the defense] had Rainey fever, so Rainey’s running to the flat and so is everybody else runs to the flat. There’s a big hole, Frankie on the curl got us an extra 10 yards after the catch. That’s the type of thing we’re looking for.”

IT ALL STARTS UP FRONT FOR FLORIDA

Probably the biggest surprise this season for the Gators has been the success their young offensive line has had game-in and game-out. Weis believes the momentum comes from how tough and rugged the unit has been every time it takes the field.

“I like to think that we’re establishing somewhat of an identity of being fairly physical up front. You don’t run the ball that efficiently, you don’t protect the quarterback that well without being physical,” he said. “On top of everything else, I think our receivers have done a wonderful job being physical down the field, making some of those runs be longer runs. You’ve got to go toe-to-toe. They’re good but you got to be ready for a slugfest. You got to be ready to go toe-to-toe.”

One characteristic about the offensive line in particular has caught Weis’s eye, and it is something that has been discussed quite often already this season. “The reason why we have a chance every week is because those offensive linemen are very close knit. That’s not a façade. When you have cohesiveness on and off the field with your offensive linemen, you usually have a fighting chance,” he said.

“Psychologically, offensive linemen realize that the only time they ever get noticed is when something bad happens. When things are going good, no one ever talks about the offensive line. They understand that’s just the way football is. The only time they really get any notoriety is when bad things happen. Their quarterback’s getting under siege or else you can’t run the ball very well. They kind of bond together.

“The communication that takes place between five guys – it’s the only position there’s that many guys playing at one time. Communication is one of those critical factors to the offensive line. Usually the standard is the less they’re noticed, the better they’re playing. It’s sad but true, but that’s the way it is.”

PLAYER EVALUATIONS AND UPDATES

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (and his health after last game): “He was out there slinging it today, so that was encouraging. I told him to quit being so soft. [Smiling] Actually I think that we gave him most of the reps today. He got most of them. He’s glad that the game’s still a few days away, but I think that he’s moving along nicely. He’s really progressing nicely. He threw the ball well today.”

Redshirt freshman tight end Gerald Christian (and moving him back-and-forth from linebacker): “I knew Gerald from the first few days of training camp was a big, physical presence. We didn’t have a bunch of big, physical presence on the offensive skill position. [...] We were quite banged up at the tight end position. For him to go back-and-forth from outside linebacker to tight end, I think one thing that shows is his big, physical presence. When you can go out there and make a couple big plays in the game. [...] When you have a guy who can play offense and defense, what you have to do is figure out what gets him on the field the fastest. It really, really was a position of need. We needed him on offense; not that he wouldn’t play on defense, but we needed him more on offense than they needed him on defense. The kid’s unselfish. He didn’t care. Anywhere he had the best opportunity to help the team is where he wanted to go. I think it’s worked out.”

Redshirt freshman offensive tackle Chaz Green (and his progress): “Chaz is a tackle that’s also very athletic. He has really good feet. Not only has good size but Chaz has just gotten better as the year’s gone on. He’s just gotten better and better. Remember, he’s a young pup. Everyone thinks that he’s been there for five years already. The kid’s relatively inexperienced.”

Freshman QB Jeff Driskel (and if he’s coming along): “He better because he’s second. It would be nice if he got a little bit more help in that game the other day. He’s got to take care of the ball. He can’t let 22 come in there and take the ball out of his hands. He was so worried about the pressure coming from outside off the right edge there that he got a little careless with the ball. The interception, that’s a bang-bang play. You can’t throw the ball much better than he threw the ball. I just don’t like strip-sack fumbles that lead to the only touchdown that the other team scores because ultimately we feel like we are the ones that gave them their one touchdown in the game. He runs our team well. The team’s not afraid when he’s in there. He can make every throw. Just gaining experience, that’s what he’s doing. Every time he’s out there it’s a good thing regardless of what happens because he’s just gaining experience.”

Redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr.: “Frankie has been very consistent for us. He’s been very consistent for us the whole time. He also has versatility for us because he’s one of the few guys at the receiver position that can play every position. He can line up at what we call the X, the Z, the F – he can line up at all those positions. Any time you have a player that has some position flexibility, it really helps you in this offense.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On if he is “happier” about the offense than he was last week: “I’m glad that we got on the road, got that kind of out of the way. It’s really tough. You got to give a lot of credit to Coach [Will] Muschamp and then the players, too. They knew what was on the horizon. We could sit there and talk ‘till we’re blue in the face. They’re going on the road for the first SEC game with a bunch of young guys that had never done it before. Everyone wants to talk about Alabama, nobody wanted to talk about Kentucky. I’m talking about outside our locker room. Will did a great job and our team showed an unusual amount of maturity for a team to not look past the opponent that they played last Saturday. For that, kudos. We ran the ball for over 400 yards. That doesn’t happen too often now. I was genuinely pleased that they didn’t go in there and look past that opponent to the one we’re playing this week.”

» On how the offense responded after not starting well against Kentucky: “We made a mistake on the third play of the first drive. We got that ironed out. We figured that one out. The second drive – they did a couple things early in the game that were a little different than they [had] been doing. Sometimes that happens, but it didn’t take long. The sign of a fairly good team on offense is when things don’t go too well right in the beginning, you figure out what the problems are and go fix them. Too many times teams wait to make halftime adjustments. Well you still had a lot of time left after those first two drives. We had a bunch of points on the board by the time we went in to halftime.”

» On if the offense has seen enough adversity up to this point: “We coach them hard. We coach them hard. We coach them hard every day. You’d hope that by the time you get to the games that the games are actually easier than the practices. Even if the scores of the game weren’t that close, you can still create a lot of situations to get your team better. That’s all behind us now. This is going to be a tough challenge for us and we’re really excited and we’re really looking forward to it.”

» On if he sees any of Bill Belichick’s methods within Alabama’s defense: “One of the first things I did this week was [say to Muschamp], “Tell me about Nick [Saban], tell me about Kirby [Smart]’ because these are his boys. I know that Nick worked for Bill back in the Cleveland [Browns] days before he moved on to Michigan State. A lot of the terminology is the same. There are a lot of things that are consistent. They have a good, sound system that I have familiarity with, but they also got really good players. Sometimes you wish that weren’t the case, but that is the case. We have to be ready to make sure that we don’t create any mismatches in the opposite direction.”

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No. 18 Florida Gators vs. UAB Blazers Gameday

Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Weather Forecast: 83°F, isolated thunderstorms
Time: 7:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: FSN/FSNHD
SiriusXM: 220/199
Online Video: WatchESPN
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

(18) FLORIDA GATORS UAB BLAZERS
Head Coach: Will Muschamp Head Coach: Neil Callaway
Record: 1-0 Record: 0-0
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Conference USA
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida -23.5; O/U 53.5

HOMEWORK

Need to catch up on the Gators before week two action? No problem. OGGOA has been here all week compiling a ton of information so you can do your homework on the team before its next exam Saturday evening at 7 p.m. in The Swamp.

Muschamp’s presser | Weis comments on offense | Quinn comments on defense

HISTORY and STREAKS

» Florida is 1-0 in the all-time series against UAB, defeating the Blazers 51-3 in 2002, the only time the teams squared off.
» The Gators are 36-15-3 against current members of Conference USA and have not lost to one such opponent since 1979. Florida last squared off against C-USA member Central Florida in 2006 and claimed a 42-0 victory.
» Florida has won 88 percent of its home games (118-16) since 1990, the best home winning percentage in the nation. In that period, the Gators are 56-4 against non-conference opponents and 92-4 against unranked teams.
» The Gators’ have half as many upperclassmen (17 seniors, 17 juniors) as they do underclassmen (36 sophomores, 35 freshmen) on the roster heading into the season.
» Nine Florida players earned their first starts last Saturday in the season opener as freshmen safety De’Ante Saunders and cornerback Marcus Roberson; redshirt freshmen tight end Gerald Christian, wide receiver Quinton Dunbar and right tackle Chaz Green; sophomores defensive tackle Dominique Easley and S Matt Elam; redshirt junior linebacker Lerentee McCray; and redshirt senior transfer left guard Dan Wenger took the field with the Gators’ first team. It is the first time in school history that a pair of true freshman started the season opener in UF’s secondary.
» Florida’s offensive line did not allow a sack last Saturday.
» The Gators defense has forced the most turnovers in the SEC (304) since 2000; however, UF did not obtain any in its season opener, finishing with a -3 turnover margin (interceptions). Florida also has the most interceptions in the nation (68) since 2008.
» UF did not punt the ball last week but sophomore WR Solomon Patton blocked one which was returned for a touchdown. He has blocked a punt in back-to-back games dating back to last season (2011 Outback Bowl).

LAST TIME OUT

Florida and UAB have only met on one other occasion – Aug. 31, 2002 – when the Gators stomped the Blazers 51-3 in Ron Zook’s first game as the team’s head coach. Florida outgained UAB 643-240 in the contest and Rex Grossman went 16/26 for 337 yards and two touchdowns. Taylor Jacobs broke the Gators’ single-game receiving record with 246 yards and two scores on eight receptions, while Earnest Graham took 13 carries down the field for 182 yards and two touchdowns.

INJURIES

» Acitve: Soph. RB Trey Burton (bruise), redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson (head)
» Probable: Redshirt junior WR Omarius Hines (hamstring)
» Questionable: Redshirt jr. CB Jeremy Brown (knee), soph. WR Robert Clark
» Inactive: Soph. DT Sharrif Floyd (suspension), fresh. TE A.C. Leonard (meniscus)

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

FLORIDA
» Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley…who completed 70 percent of his passes (21-of-30) in the season opener for 229 yards and a touchdown but also threw two interceptions. Brantley only had a 60.8 completion percentage in 2010 with more picks than scores but is said to have been revitalized by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
» Running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey…who are co-starters in the backfield and two of the most dynamic and explosive players in the SEC. Demps and Rainey combined for 272 total rushing and receiving yards with five touchdowns against FAU. Rainey became the first player in school history to have a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in the same game, while Demps eclipsed the 2,000-yard career rushing mark and had four runs over 20 yards in the contest.
» Sophomore Trey Burton…who is the team’s most versatile player and proved that fact last year, scoring 12 touchdowns as a true freshman including 11 on the ground. Burton will line up all over the field for the Gators and could be found as a running back, fullback, H-back, tight end or wide receiver.
» Elam…who stood out all offseason as the most valuable member of Florida’s secondary and moved into a starting role in 2011. He notched four tackles in the season opener good for second-best on the team
» Sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell…who steps into a new position somewhat unique to Muschamp’s defense. Powell started one game as a true freshman but has earned that role permanently this season and achieved a sack against FAU.
» Defensive tackles Easley and redshirt senior Jaye Howard…who have solidified the interior of one of the Gators’ strongest units. Howard is the team’s most experienced player on defense (18 starts), while Easley may be its most dynamic off the snap, with a first-step raved about by teammates and coaches alike. Howard had a sack in the season opener, while Easley registered three tackles including one for a loss.
» Redshirt sophomore will linebacker Jelani Jenkins…who had a team-high five tackles last Saturday including a big-time hit that earned him the team’s first Hard Hat Award.
» Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturigs…who returns for Florida after missing the final eight games of the 2010 season with an injured back. He is perfect this year on two field goal attempts including Florida’s first points of the season – a 51-yarder on UF’s first drive.

UAB
» QB Bryan Ellis…who started the final nine games of the Blazers’ 2010 season and finished with 2,940 yards, 25 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He leads a strong UAB passing attack that hopes to keep UF on its heels throughout the contest.
» RB Pat Shed…who is the team’s leading rusher for a year ago with 847 yards on the season. He also plays a role in the passing game and amassed 471 receiving yards as well as seven total touchdowns for the Blazers.
» LB Lamanski Ware…who is UAB’s defensive leader as well as a team captain in his senior campaign.

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9/6: Weis discusses FAU, players, philosophy

With the Florida Gators preparing for their second game of the 2011 season (Sept. 10 vs. UAB), offensive coordinator Charlie Weis met with the media on Tuesday to discuss Saturday’s 41-3 victory over Florida Atlantic and the team’s upcoming game.

QUARTERBACK EVALUATIONS

Redshirt senior John Brantley: “I thought he managed the team as well for an opener as you can possibly do. He had only one error that I would question his mental on the whole evening. For a first rattle out of the box, to have minimal mental mistakes at the quarterback position, that’s a very good start. I thought that he showed very good accuracy; he showed very good poise. There were a lot of things to be pleased about. Now, turning the ball over twice, that’s not what we’re looking for.”

Freshman Jeff Driskel: “He’s very, very athletic. The one thing with a young guy – I don’t encourage this from No. 12 by the way – the one thing with a young guy who is very athletic is you allow him to [tuck the ball and run]. You don’t discourage him from pulling the ball down and going because a lot of times that’s better than the alternative of them trying to force the ball down the field and have something bad happen.”

OVERCOMING MISTAKES

Weis believes in the mental aspect of football just as much as the physical. To this end, he has a particular method in which he likes to coach up his players while sitting on the sideline, one he has abided by throughout his coaching career.

“When I’m on the field you can sit there and just have a conversation and go over things and it’s kind of settling for [the players],” he said. “As a matter of fact, when they first come off the field, I don’t talk to them. Whether it was good or bad, I don’t talk to them. If it was good, I let the players all celebrate together so that I’m not looking for the kudos. If it’s bad at the same time the camera’s there looking to see what you’re going to say. That’s not the time. Let them get to the bench, let them go ahead and sit down. Then you come over and say, ‘OK, what were you thinking?’ And there might be an adjective or two in there.”

That is how he dealt with Driskel, who entered in the game in the second quarter and – on the first pass of his career – threw an interception. “We wanted to get him in when we felt that the game was still competitive. We weren’t looking to get him in for 20 plays. We were looking to get his feet wet, which is what we did,” Weis explained. “You couldn’t have choreographed it really any better. He comes in, he’s nervous, first time out, 90,000 people in The Swamp, it’s exciting for a kid at that position. But you saw how much more poised he looked the next time he came out there. He kind of got it out of his system. Will [Muschamp]’s plan, which I agreed with 100 percent, was, ‘Let’s try to get one of the young guys some experience so that – who knows when it’s going to be or if it’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen – you have to have the next guy ready to go.’ We didn’t want the first snaps that the backup quarterback got in a super-pressure situation.”

Speaking specifically about Saturday’s game, Weis said the turnovers were undoubtedly an issue. “When you have a minus-three turnover ratio for a game, usually you’re going to lose. That’s one of our points of emphasis [this week],” he explained. Weis added that there were three other potential turnovers during the game as the ball was put on the ground by redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison (bad snap), senior running back Jeff Demps (fumble) and redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. (ball popped out early). “Ball possession I think is a critical factor and one of the points that we’re emphasizing this week,” he noted.

RUNNING WITH THE BACKS

Between Demps, redshirt senior Chris Rainey and junior Mike Gillislee, the Gators combined for 203 yards of rushing and gained it on 7.25 yards per carry. For the first few quarters, Florida was gaining almost all of its rushing yards on the edges but that fact did not irk Weis one bit. “Everything starts with the run game. It’s obvious we’ve got a couple of dynamic guys with the ball in their hands,” he said. “I think what people don’t understand is sometimes they get more enamored with ‘Were the yards made inside or were the yards made outside?’ versus setting up the defense. I have no problem running the ball inside and getting a couple yards a pop over and over again because it now constricts the defense and opens up the outside runs.”

Weis noted that the offensive line and tight ends played quite well throughout most of the game but one other position group really helped spring the backs into the open field. “I was exceptionally pleased with the downfield blocking with the wide receivers,” he said. “That’s one of the things we’ve challenged them [to do] – we can’t play with receivers who don’t block down the field.”

Asked how pleased he was about the performances of Demps and Rainey, Weis smiled but also said he plans to be effectively cautious with them long-term. “I tried to forewarn you of what I expected and what I expected was basically what you saw. They’re both exceptional football players,” he said. “Our job is to make sure that we utilize them enough and not too much, and I think that’s important. Because you’re going to play a 14-game season, which is what we intend to do. If you’re going to play a 14-game season, then you have to worry about the stamina of guys that aren’t 230 pounds.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Weis believes that only touchdowns count as successful red zone possessions. “Sixty percent touchdowns in the red zone – that’s not a good number,” he said. “People will say 80 percent with the interception, but I don’t consider a field goal in the red zone a conversion. That’s a win for the defense.”

» On redshirt freshman right tackle Chaz Green becoming a starter: “He really struggled in the spring. He was also kind of a one-man gang because you had no X[avier Nixon] for half the spring, no [Matt] Patchan for the whole spring as far as full-time go. He was like a man in his own country. Once he got into that rotation with those other guys and competition started getting better and better. He’s a very competitive person and I think the competition made him play better.”

» With Tommy West stepping in as UAB’s new defensive coordinator after a year off, Weis said he had to go back to tape of Memphis in 2009 (in addition to watching UAB’s players from last year) in order to prepare for the unknown defense he will face. “The one thing about UAB is, once again for the second week in a row, we have no evidence for sure what they’re going to do on defense,” he said. “You have two volumes of stuff right here.”

» Weis joked about Rainey’s comment that Florida only ran six offensive plays and explained that the Gators did a lot more than that during the Florida Atlantic game – even if they didn’t give away everything just yet. “First of all, [the players] don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just calling plays. They’re just running the plays,” he said. “For Rainey to try to give you an analysis of what we’re doing – that’s comical in its own right. For him, there were six plays that had No. 1 attached to it, so as far as he’s concerned, those were the only six plays that existed. He forgot about all those other ones that [No.] 1 wasn’t getting the ball. We obviously didn’t throw out the kitchen sink there, but we did enough things in there. We upped the tempo, we went in and out of modes, we went in and out of personnel groupings. There was enough for our first game right there to let them kind of get a feel for the different things that we would like to do.”

» Though he scripts anywhere from 12-24 plays for each game, Weis explained that a lot of times you have to go with the flow and change things up early on. “Sometimes you run it down just the way you have it. Now there’s been other games where it just hasn’t gone very well, where it might be after three series you say, ‘Welp, let’s scrap this and go on to something else,’” he said.

» On first downs not always being the most important thing on offense, speaking specifically about the plays after Harrison’s bad snap: “When the ball is down, unlike what everyone else is thinking, I’m not trying to get the first down. I’m trying to get into field goal range. I’m trying to get points. It’s third-and-25, we get 18 [yards], that was one of our non-conversions on third down, but to me that was a conversion because that got us points. That 18-yard comeback to Quinton [Dunbar] on the left sideline got it close enough where [Caleb] Sturgis could go ahead and get three on the board right there.”

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9/6: Brantley, players talk about FAU, UAB

With the Florida Gators beginning weekly preparations for their second game on Sept. 10 at home against UAB, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Tuesday to discuss how the team is progressing.

ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley may have played well on Saturday against Florida Atlantic (21/30 for 229 yards, touchdown) but there are also plenty of ways he can get better going forward (two interceptions). Discussing how he can do just that, Brantley said his in-game mechanics could use some adjusting. “I need to work on some footwork a little bit more – just a little different footwork in this offense,” he said. “I need to carry that over from practice to the game. It’s always a different setting in the game. You don’t really think about that as much as you should, and I just need to work on that a little bit more.”

Helping him achieve that goal is offensive coordinator (and quarterbacks coach) Charlie Weis, who Brantley is starting to get on the same wavelength as. “Some of the stuff he describes [in the film room] I can see right there with him,” Brantley said, “and even if I don’t he is able to make it easy for me to understand.” Should he need further help during the game, he can count on Weis being seated right on the bench rather than up in a box overlooking the field, something Brantley appreciates. “It’s nice [to have him on the field]. He has the people upstairs telling him what’s going on,” he said. “Having him right there and just getting the feedback from him helps me out a lot throughout the game.”

FRONT FIVE GELLING AT RIGHT TIME

A potential weakness heading into the season, it is looking more and more like the Gators’ offensive line could be a strength for the team even it is does face depth issues. Redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio explained Tuesday that having redshirt senior transfer left guard Dan Wenger in as a starter is a big-time help. “He’s the wise man of the offensive line – a sixth-year senior. He knows every call there is, and we feel really comfortable with him out there calling all the calls and just running to the ball and being a leader out there,” Halapio said. He added that Wenger made many of the line’s calls in the season opener but that the entire unit communicated and others made calls as well.

One of the reasons the offensive line has been so successful early on is the versatility of redshirt freshman tackle Chaz Green. Though he started at right tackle on Saturday, Green can play on both sides of the line and does not have much of a preference either way. He made his first career start on Saturday, a fact he learned the evening before the game. “It was good to finally get my first game in and see how I felt,” he said. “I wasn’t really nervous because I was prepared. I was a little nervous but I knew after that first play I would be all right.”

SHINING AT HIS NEW OLD POSITION

Perhaps one of the most impressive players during Saturday’s game, redshirt junior sam linebacker Lerentee McCray is someone who has stood out all offseason. After moving from linebacker to defensive end upon arriving at Florida, McCray got the opportunity to move back to his old position and ensured that he won the job outright. “I’ve always been a well-conditioned guy, so running has never been a big hard task for me. Running is what I like to do. I like to run all over the field,” he said. “I just feel comfortable when I get the chance to run and tackle and hit people.”

The defense may have allowed only three points on Saturday, but McCray knows improvements can be made. “It’s always a big issue when we don’t get any turnovers. As a defense, that’s what we try to do, keep the ball in our offense’s hand,” he explained. “That’s going to be a big thing we’re going to do this week – stress turnovers, rips, picks, fumbles, stuff like that.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Brantley on getting the wide receivers more involved: “Absolutely. They did a great job Saturday night. We have all the confidence in the world in them and we’re just going to keep giving them the ball.”

» Brantley on not having to run the option: “It was cool. It was fun just giving the ball to our playmakers and seeing what they can do with it.”

» Brantley on redshirt sophomore WR Andre Debose: “Andre Debose definitely grew up and matured a lot in the past year. He had a great camp, worked really hard, and it showed on Saturday night. Hopefully he just keeps producing like he has each week. Just working hard – he goes out there every day with a great attitude and just tries to get better each day.”

» Brantley on the seniors picking orange jerseys for the season opener: “Us seniors kind of decided on it. We’re big fans of the orange jerseys I guess. We just like them. We just think they look good.”

» Sophomore tight end Gerald Christian on Brantley’s confidence: “He seems confident to me, way [more] confident than he was last year. I feel like all this worked out a lot better for him.”

» Christian on working with redshirt sophomore TE Jordan Reed: “We both can learn from each other I think, really two different type of tight ends. He’s real athletic, I’m a bigger guy, more stronger than him, and I think we feed off each other.”

» Halapio on playing “easier” opponents at home to start the season: “I like it a lot. We like it a lot as a team. It helps us to start fast and…just get all the wrinkles out of the mistakes that we had.”

» Halapio on his jersey color preference: “Personally I don’t like the orange. I like all blue.”

» Green on the offensive line’s starters being in flux: “It’s good competition. It keeps us right in practice every week. It’s also a good thing – we got three tackles that can rotate.”

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9/3: Gators vs. Owls post-game news & notes

With the No. 22/23 Florida Gators‘ 2011 season opener against the Florida Atlantic Owls now in the books, OGGOA takes a look at some of the notable occurrences before, during and after Saturday’s 41-3 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

ABSENCES AND INJURIES

Perhaps the most important moment of the evening came before the game started when Florida announced that sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was ineligible and would not play. The Gators will not allow Floyd to rejoin the team until he is cleared by the NCAA, and the University of Florida would not immediately provide many specifics.

Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee) and redshirt junior wide receiver Omarius Hines (hamstring) were questionable going into the game and wound up inactive. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely (shoulder) ended up playing after it was originally thought he would miss the contest. Sophomore WR Robert Clark (hamstring) did not dress either.

Florida did not escape the Florida Atlantic contest unscathed. Sophomore running back Trey Burton appeared to injure his hip in the first quarter and did not return, likely for precautionary reasons. Redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson, catching a ball low to the ground, suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit that popped his off and left him on the ground holding his head. Thompson rose and left the field under his own power but did not return.

THE DEMPS AND RAINEY SHOW

The Gators’ offense rolled on Saturday due in large part to dominant performances by running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey. The duo combined for 272 yards of offense and five total touchdowns with Rainey grabbing three on a rush, reception and special teams return on a punt block by sophomore WR Solomon Patton.

The pair ran up the middle and off-tackle, caught passes in the flats and were simply all over the field making both explosive cuts (Demps) and awe-inspiring spin moves (Rainey). Demps even ran the opening kickoff back 88 yards for a touchdown until it was called back due to a holding penalty.

BRANTLEY’s STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Hoping to shake the rust off and rebound from a rough first season as a starter, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley played quite well on Saturday, completing 21-of-30 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown. However, Brantley also threw two interceptions in the contest. His first was tipped and eventually brought down, but his second was picked off in the end zone as he tried to fit the ball into traffic for a touchdown.

Florida’s offense, though dynamic, did not go deep into the playbook on Saturday and many of Brantley’s completions were on short passes. That being said, he also made some impressive throws and definitely showed an increased level of confidence, something he can improve on each week.

SECONDARY YOUNG BUT DEFENSE STOUT

Not only did the Gators hold the Owls to three points, they barely let them move the ball until the game was already over. Florida held FAU to just 30 rushing yards and 137 yards of total offense on Saturday. Though UF did not achieve any turnovers in the contest, they succeeded in turning a first-and-goal from the four into a 27-yard field goal and did not let Florida Atlantic capitalize on either of the other two interceptions they grabbed.

The young secondary – consisting of safeties sophomore Matt Elam and freshman De’Ante Saunders as well as cornerbacks sophomore Jaylen Watkins, sophomore Cody Riggs and freshman Marcus Roberson – played well but did make some mistakes.

Redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard and sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell each had a sack, while redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins led the Gators with five total tackles including a powerful hit felt by the entire stadium. Elam, Howard and redshirt junior LB Lerentee McCray each had four tackles.

OTHER NOTES

» Muschamp said after the game that Florida’s blue jerseys would be their standard going forward but that seniors on the team wanted to wear the orange on opening night. A Gainesville, FL native himself, Muschamp often used to see the Gators don orange jerseys at The Swamp.

» Redshirt senior transfer Dan Wenger started at left guard ahead of redshirt sophomore Kyle Koehne and redshirt freshman Chaz Green began the game at right tackle instead of redshirt junior Matt Patchan.

» Florida honored soccer stars Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts of the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team during a break in the first quarter. The crowd chanted “U-S-A” for the duo, which has been in Gainesville all weekend.

» Former safety Ahmad Black, who was waived by Tampa Bay on Saturday, was on the sideline for the game. Former defensive end Kevin Carter was an honorary captain.

» The Gators sold out 137 consecutive home games before Saturday’s contest, which was only filled with 88,708 fans, according to UF.

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8/30: Weis speaks for first time since March

With the Florida Gators now in final preparations for the first game of the 2011 season (Sept. 3 vs. Florida Atlantic), offensive coordinator Charlie Weis met with the media on Tuesday for the first time since March to discuss his unit going into the opening game.

Rather than dissect Weis’s comments and put them in perspective as per usual, OGGOA has decided to print them in full in order for you to get a better handle on Florida’s offensive coordinator’s true thoughts about each topic.

COACHING FROM SIDELINE GOOD FOR NOW

Weis explains that, while coaching on the sideline or from the box upstairs both have their advantages, this season it is imperative that he stay on the field to help the Gators.

“I coached on the sideline ever since the day that [Drew] Bledsoe went down with a hit from Mo Lewis and Tommy [Brady] took over as the quarterback. We felt at the time with the Pats that there was a leadership void with a drop off from Drew to Tommy when we went in there. And then we won a bunch of championships and Bill wasn’t going to change it at that point.

“I’ve been upstairs and I’ve been downstairs. There are pros and cons with both of them. Upstairs you can see the field so much better and you’re away from all the distractions. Downstairs you get to finger for the pulse of the players and you know what has to be said. Sometimes they get the far away eyes where you have to go ahead and snap them back to reality. You can’t see that from upstairs. You have to count on your assistant coaches to give you that feedback. There’s pros and cons with both, but I think this year with a new system, Will and I talked about it, with a new system I think that this is the best way to go. I don’t know if we’ll keep it like this forever, but for now it makes the most sense.”

BRANTLEY DEVELOPING AS EXPECTED

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley has been rejuvenated in Weis’s pro-style offense, and the offense’s idea man explains that perception is not always reality.

“John Brantley had a really productive spring. A lot of times, the one showing that you guys get is the spring game, you know it’s a fire drill. Actually he had made a lot progress the whole spring. Where he is right now doesn’t surprise any of us. He’s continued to progress. It’s not in any way derogatory towards the system that he came from; it’s just a different system. Fortunately for him, this system fits his physical qualities better than the last one.”

Weis also said that what happened with Brantley before does not matter at all, especially considering how well he is doing now.

“When I started looking into the job, you do your due diligence, especially when this is a quarterback-friendly offense, you want to know who the candidates are and what the story is. My big thing is short-term memory. I think with quarterbacks, any quarterbacks who keep things with them never can be any good. You can’t worry about the last play; you got to worry about the next play.

“I’m not saying anything about what they did last year. […] I really don’t know what they did. I don’t know the spread. I’d be lying to sit there and act like I knew… I know that he’s not going to run the read option. I know that he’s not going to do that.

“A quarterback like John is better suited to be in a pure drop-back passing game that centers around runs and play actions. He has the mental capabilities to do all the things that I like to do. The more he shows me mentally, the more freedom I can give him when it comes to getting out of bad plays at the line of scrimmage.”

Check out what else Weis had to say about the offense including his thoughts on the offensive line and playmakers as well as the unit’s foundation and progress up to this point…after the break!

Continue Reading » 8/30: Weis speaks for first time since March

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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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8/24: Koehne starting, a terrific trio, Easley stepping up, McCray and Green excited

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.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS

Standing well over six feet each and weighing a combined 921 pounds, the redshirt sophomore trio of center Jonotthan Harrison and guards Jon Halapio and Kyle Koehne hope to be a force to be reckoned with this year. Those three men, who are roommates and best friends, will take up the entire interior of Florida’s offensive line this season if each retains their job through the remainder of fall practice.

“We’re all great friends. Ever since we first came here we’ve been kind of like a trio, hanging out all the time,” Koehne said Wednesday. “All three of us are roommates as well, so we’re with each other 24/7, talking to each other 24/7, so we got some good chemistry between the three of us.” Halapio believes the fact that all three are on the starting unit together will help the team this season. “When we go back at home, we sit on the couch and watch film on the 60 inch,” he said. “The chemistry is a lot better. We communicate a lot better on the field, so it’s good that we’re good friends off the field.”

Koehne, who was named the front runner to start at left guard on Saturday after switching from tackle following the first scrimmage, said Halapio has been instrumental in his transition. “He gives me advice all the time with plays, footwork and everything,” he said. “Halapio’s kind of been a good mentor for me being kind of new to guard.”

Halapio noted that his roommate “graded out highest out of the offensive line” following the first scrimmage and has been doing well overall this offseason. “He has a few plays where he’s killing guys. He has a few plays of that. He just really knows what he’s doing on the field and you can clearly see that on film,” he said.

EASLEY STEPPING UP ON THE INSIDE

Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley was praised throughout the spring for his quick first step, but his work this fall had not been discussed much until Wednesday when Halapio addressed Florida’s pass rush problems by noting that the youngster has been a standout in that regard.

“I think they all have gotten better in the pass rush, especially Dominique Easley,” he said. “He’s a real good pass rusher and a real good run stopper. They all have gotten better in the pass rush, but I think Easley is the best right now. […]

“He’s just relentless. Since he’s been here, I’ve never seen him tired on- and off-the-field. He just doesn’t show it. He plays relentless and runs to the ball. I’ve never seen him tired; he just has a great motor. He’s really explosive off the ball. I don’t know if he knows the snap count, but he’s just really quick off the ball. I can’t even get out of my stance and then by the time I get out of my stance he’s already in my path.”

Redshirt junior linebacker Lerentee McCray would not go so far as to call Easley the best of the bunch, but he did pay him equal praise. “Dominique Easley is a real close friend of mine. He’s come along real good,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better nose tackle to come in and play in front of me. […] I would have to say he’s one of the best; I wouldn’t single him out as the best, but he’s definitely a good pass rusher.”

“THEY’RE LIKE TWINS”

Though he performed well in 2010, Halapio feels even more comfortable in the Gators’ new offense and thinks, obviously, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has a lot to do with that. “He’s a genius. He just thinks of different ways how to execute a play real good – the easiest way to execute a good play,” he explained. “He’s just a real good coach. He just thinks of different schemes, ways we can run the ball, different ways we can pass the ball, different ways we can disguise this, disguise that.”

Halapio deals with Weis plenty, but he is around offensive line coach Frank Verducci more. Luckily for him, he cannot tell much of a difference between the two, which is probably a good thing for the team as a whole. “They’re like twins,” Halapio said of Weis and Verducci. “[Weis] says one thing and we hear it again with Coach Verducci in the meeting room. When we meet as an offensive unit before we start individual meetings, they both get up there and they’re both saying the same thing. They’re like twins.”

DEFENDERS EXCITED ABOUT SCHEMES

McCray and senior defensive end William Green will see significantly more playing time in 2011 than they ever have before and both players are confident that head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s concepts will serve them well in the long run.

“As a player it makes you real excited and gives you a lot more opportunities to make some plays,” Green said. McCray co-signed. “This defensive scheme has helped me out a lot – just moving back and forth and just showcasing my talent and some of the stuff I can do,” he said.

McCray, who is slated as the starting SAM linebacker this year alongside junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins, is happy that his transition from end has gone smoothly. “I really feel comfortable pass rushing, but adapting back to the linebacker position has been coming along real good,” he said. “I’m real comfortable with our defense and all the schemes that the coach has. The blitz packages are working real good for me.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Koehne on when he knew things were clicking: “I was getting some compliments during film from Coach Verducci, so that was a good hint for it.”

» Koehne on his transition from tackle to guard: “It’s a big adjustment, especially going against the personnel that you face every day – going against Jaye Howard and Easley now instead of Ronald Powell. Those are two whole different types of players that I had to get used to and still am getting used to. There’s a lot of footwork change; every spot’s like a whole different world.”

» Koehne if he used to feel lost in the shuffle: “Every once in a while, but I just kept my eyes down the good path and I knew, if I kept working hard, I’d get a shot. I’ve capitalized on every opportunity I’ve been given.”

» Koehne on being named a starter^: “It was a great feeling. It made my family proud. It was a great thing to hear.”

» Halapio said redshirt freshman Chaz Green has been rotating at both tackle spots, giving junior left tackle Xavier Nixon and redshirt junior right tackle Matt Patchan breaks when needed.

» Halapio on Patchan’s intensity*: “Oh man, he’s…I think I told somebody this. When he runs off the ball, he’s just trying to poke somebody’s eyes out. He brings that nasty intensity offensive line character to our offensive line.”

» Halapio on if he is more comfortable being a leader: “I feel real comfortable. There are a lot of young guys on the team, a lot of players that are younger than me and they see me as a leader. It makes it easier because I’m older than them and they respect me.”

» Halapio on his advice to younger players: “I always tell them to get in the film room and watch the film a lot. I just came in knowing that I was going to start because of the depth and what we were going through last year. I knew that I was going to start and I didn’t take it as serious as I should have.”

» Halapio on the success of the Pounceys: “It feels real good to see all the former Gators doing their thing on the big time show, NFL and everything. I’m really happy for them boys; they deserve it. I still keep in contact with all of them. They wouldn’t’ big-time me like that.”

» Green on how sophomore Sharrif Floyd is playing at his new position: “He’s doing well at end. Things are a little different for him, but he’s made a good adjustment to it. End is different than tackle just because you’re in more space and you get different blocks at end. He had a learning curve there but he got used to it and is doing real well at it.”

» Green on his assessment of the defensive tackles: “They can be real dominant. All of those guys are real strong and real physical at the point of attack. We got a lot of experience with [Jaye] Howard and Hunter, so they can be pretty good this season.”

» Green on Bostic and Jenkins becoming more vocal: “Both of them have grown up a lot. They feel more comfortable taking charge, giving all the calls. I think they’ll both be a lot better this season.”

» McCray on who is working behind him at SAM linebacker:Darrin Kitchens and Gideon [Ajagbe] – they’re ready to take on the role when their name is called.”

» McCray on whether or not redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed is “tough to handle”: “Jordan Reed – I wouldn’t say he’s a load to handle – he’s got to handle me first. I play defense, so I like to take the aggression to the tight ends and let them know from the first play that they get on the grass that they’re going to have to deal with me all day. Coverage-wise, Jordan Reed is definitely a match-up that you got to take care of before you game plan. […] He’s definitely had some success. He’s a great player, so he’s always going to have success.”

» McCray said the offensive line has made a “drastic change since the spring” noting that it comes from a number of things including the “personnel, learning [of] the offense and their blocking schemes.” He also said the offense definitely “utilize[s] the personnel they have at each position. That’s one thing this offense does well.”

* Quote courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel. | ^ Quote courtesy of the Palm Beach Post.

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