FOUR BITS: Tebow, Hicks, women’s b-ball, Lerner

1 » Early Friday morning, Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow sat down with Hannah Storm for another interview, this one mostly about the 2011 season. Though the below video is only a clip of the interview, it will be aired in full on ESPN‘s SportsCenter on Friday. If/when the network makes it available online, OGGOA will update this thread with a video of the complete interview.

2 » Former Florida Gators linebacker Brandon Hicks has agreed to a futures contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 2012 season. His former Florida teammate and current Pittsburgh tackle Marcus Gilbert confirmed the signing to OGGOA on Friday via Twitter. An undrafted free agent in 2011, Hicks was signed by the Buffalo Bills in the lockout-shortened offseason but was waived during final cuts and did not make his way onto a NFL roster. He is the second former Gators star to sign a futures contract since the end of the regular season as tight end Cornelius Ingram, who spent time on Denver’s practice squad toward the end of the year, agreed to remain with the Broncos.

3 » Florida women’s basketball (14-8, 4-5 SEC) picked up a big win on Thursday, defeating the LSU Tigers (14-8, 4-5 SEC) 73-64 on the road at the Maravich Assembly Center. It was the Gators’ first victory in Baton Rouge, LA since 1996 and marked a pleasant end to a three-game road stand in which Florida fell just barely to No. 6 Kentucky (57-52) and Arkansas (73-72 in overtime). Senior center Azania Stewart led the way for the Gators with a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds, and both redshirt senior forward Ndidi Madu and senior guard Lanita Bartley also added 12 points in the winning effort. Florida will look to capitalize on their positive momentum with consecutive home games against Ole Miss and Auburn next week.

4 » Gators senior punter David Lerner has been nominated for the 2012 Rare Disease Champion Award presented by Uplifting Athletes to “a leader in college football, individual or organization, who has realized his or her potential to make a positive and lasting impact on the rare disease community.” Lerner, who learned in the offseason that he had Chron’s disease, was knocked back by the illness but able to overcome it and wound up starting for Florida at the beginning of the season. Also in contention for the honor are Nebraska’s Rex Burkhead, N.C. State’s Wayne Crawford and UCLA’s Luke Gane, all of whom you can read about by clicking here.

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Florida Gators vs. Florida State Seminoles

Location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium – Gainesville, FL [Capacity: 88,548]
Weather Forecast: 69°F, mostly cloudy, winds ESE at 5 mph
Time: 7:00 p.m. (ET)

TV: ESPN2/ESPN2HD
SiriusXM: 219/199
Online Video: ESPN3.com
Live Updates: @OnlyGators

FLORIDA GATORS FLORIDA STATE SEMINOLES
Head Coach: Will Muschamp Head Coach: Jimbo Fisher
Record: 6-5 (3-5) Record: 7-4 (5-3)
Conference: Southeastern Conference: Atlantic Coast
Roster | Schedule Roster | Schedule

Odds: Florida +3; O/U 45.5

HOMEWORK

Need to catch up on the Gators before week this week’s game? 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 7:00 p.m.

Story: Seniors can end Gators careers on high note
Story: Seniors talk about their careers, final home game

Muschamp’s presser | Weis comments on offense | Mid-week update

HISTORY and STREAKS
» Florida leads the all-time series against Florida State 33-20-2 and boasts a 20-8-1 record in games played in The Swamp. FSU ended UF’s six-game winning streak (the longest since 1981-96) with a 31-7 victory in 2010.
» The Gators have not lost at home to the Seminoles since 2003 and have not dropped consecutive games to their in-state rival since 2002-03.
» All five Florida’s losses this season have come to ranked opponents.
» Muschamp and Fisher were both coaches at LSU under Nick Saban from 2001-04. A number of assistants on each team have coaching relationships with one another from stints as players or coaches at Georgia, Auburn and LSU.
» UF is 5-0 when outrushing their opponent but 1-5 when being outrushed.
» The Gators are 6-1 this year when leading at the half but 0-4 when tied or trailing at the midway point in a ballgame.
» Florida became bowl eligible for the 21st season in a row with their victory over Furman last week. It is the longest streak in the SEC and second-longest in the nation.
» The Gators and Seminoles are tied for 118th (out of 120 teams) nationally in penalties, each committing 89 in 11 games. Florida has lost up 674 yards due to those miscues, while Florida State has given up 746 yards.
» UF’s offense has struggled as of late, and the Gators have had major problems putting the ball in the end zone. Florida has scored points in 32 of 44 quarters this season and touchdowns in only 24 of those quarters.
» The Gators have half as many upperclassmen (13 seniors, 12 juniors) as they do underclassmen (27 sophomores, 24 freshmen) seeing action this season. The roster is equally split with 19 seniors, 14 juniors, 33 sophomores and 33 freshmen.
» Florida is only converting 48 percent (16-of-33) of their red zone opportunities into touchdowns but has scored at least a field goal when the offense has a possession inside the 20-yard-line 88 percent of the time.
» The Gators’ defense is fourth in the nation in preventing third-down conversions, allowing just 29.1 percent of those attempted to be successful. However, UF is 66th nationally in preventing fourth-down conversions, allowing a 52.2 percent success rate.
» Florida is No. 11 nationally and fifth in the SEC in total defense (318.2 yards per game). The Gators are also No. 25 nationally and fifth in the SEC in scoring defense (20.5 points per game).
» UF’s pass defense is allowing just 176.5 yards per game, good for fourth in the SEC and 11th nationally.
» Florida State is No. 7 nationally in total defense (282.8 yards per game) and scoring defense (15.9 points per game). The Seminoles are No. 30 nationally in pass defense, allowing 198.5 yards per game.
» The Gators’ defense has forced the most turnovers in the SEC (315) since 2000. UF also has the most interceptions in the nation (76) since 2008.
» Florida State leads Florida nationally in two of the three major offensive statistical categories this season. The Seminoles score more points 32.6-27.3 (31st-62nd) than the Gators and acquire more passing yards per game 275.2-195.6 (25th-87th), but UF outrushes FSU 152.2-126.1 (65th-86th) on average. The teams have not played a common opponent this season.

SENIOR DAY

The Gators’ 2011 senior class consists of 19 players who have either spent four or five seasons wearing the Orange and Blue. The true senior class heads into the game with a four-year record of 40-12 (22-5 in The Swamp) including four victories against Tennessee, three over Georgia and a 2-1 record against Florida State. It is 3-0 in bowl games including wins in the 2011 Outback Bowl (vs. Penn State), 2010 Sugar Bowl (vs. Cincinnati) and 2009 BCS National Championship (vs. Oklahoma).

* John Brantley – #12 – QB – Ocala, Fla. (redshirt)
* Jeff Demps – #28 – RB – Winter Garden, Fla.
* William Green – #96 – DE – Hoover, Ala.
* Jaye Howard – #6 – DT – Apopka, Fla. (redshirt)
* Moses Jenkins – #36 – CB – Fort Lauderdale, Fla. (redshirt)
* David Lerner – #40 – P – Gainesville, Fla.
* Chris Rainey – #1 – RB – Lakeland, Fla. (redshirt)
* Deonte Thompson – #6 – WR – Belle Glade, Fla. (redshirt)
* Dan Wenger – #56 – G – Coral Springs, Fla. (redshirt)
* James Wilson – #66 – G – St. Augustine, Fla. (redshirt)
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* Phillip Bellino – #38 – RB – Boca Raton, Fla.
* Brian Biada – #31 – CB – Naples, Fla.
* Zack Brust – #98 – K – Jacksonville, Fla.
* Cody Hampton – #50 – LS – St. Petersburg, Fla.
* Newton Lizima – #45 – DB – Plantation, Fla.
* Minch Minchin – #33 – LB – Gainesville, Fla.
* Solomon Schoonover – #29 – WR – Aventura, Fla.
* William Steinmann – #87 – TE – Daytona Beach, Fla.
* Jason Traylor – #34 – FB – Melbourne, Fla.

INJURIES / ABSENCES

» Probable/Questionable: Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey (ankle), redshirt senior guard/center Dan Wenger (ankle), redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed (ankle), redshirt junior Sam linebacker Lerentee McCray (shoulder), senior defensive end William Green (undisclosed)
» Inactive: Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee), freshman CB Marcus Roberson (neck)

LAST TIME OUT

Florida State ended its six-year losing streak to Florida by drubbing the Gators 31-7 at Doak Campbell Stadium in Tallahassee, FL. UF held an early 7-3 lead on FSU but was outscored 28-0 the rest of the way, allowing the No. 22 Seminoles to cap their regular season on a high note. Florida State wound up earning a spot in the ACC Championship game with the victory because Maryland defeated North Carolina the same day. Florida’s sole touchdown came on a 20-yard pass from John Brantley to Robert Clark early in the first quarter. Christian Ponder torched the Gators for 221 yards and three touchdowns through the air, though UF did hold FSU to just 2.7 yards per carry on the ground.

PLAYERS TO KEEP AN EYE ON

FLORIDA
» Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (#12)…who has completed 58.9 percent of his passes (123-of-209) this season for 1,808 yards and 10 touchdowns but also threw three interceptions including one returned for a score. Brantley had missed 10 quarters of action after injuring his ankle against Alabama but returned with limited health and mobility against Georgia. He had a career-best game last week, throwing for 329 yards and four touchdowns against Furman. Brantley has thrown 114 passes without tossing an interception, the seventh-longest streak in school history (he also has the second-longest streak in UF history at 157 attempts without a pick).
» Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey (#1)…who has 1,093 yards of total offense this season with five touchdowns (including a punt block return). Rainey is averaging 5.3 yards per carry and 14.4 yards per reception and leads Florida in rushing this season. He became the first player in school history to have a rushing, receiving and return touchdown in the same game, achieved the school and SEC record for career punt blocks (five), and is the active leader in that category nationally. He also rushed for 100 yards or more in three-straight games, the first UF player to do so since Fred Taylor last accomplished that feat 14 years ago.
» Senior RB Jeff Demps (#2)…who is second on the Gators in carries (87) and rushing yards (547) this season but leads Florida in touchdowns scored (six). Injuries and poor run blocking have limited Demps’s effectiveness in 2011, but he continues to do whatever he can to help the team each week.
» Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose (#4)…who jumped to first on the Gators’ receiving list with a career-high 151 yards and two touchdowns last week against Furman. Debose had mirror image 65-yard touchdowns against Alabama and LSU earlier in the season. Fans have been waiting for Debose to emerge for some time, but his 423 receiving yards now lead the team. Additionally, his 28.2 yards per catch is the highest average in the SEC and second nationally.
» Redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed (#11)…who has vaulted up UF’s production chats with at least three receptions in four-straight weeks. Reed has also gone for 56 or more yards in three of the last four weeks and scored touchdowns against Georgia and Furman.
» Sophomore safety Matt Elam (#22)…who is the most valuable member of Florida’s secondary. He is second on the team in tackles (64) and at one point created turnovers in three-straight games (fumble-INT-INT). His 12 tackles against LSU a month ago marked a career high, and his 8.5 tackles for loss this season are a team-high.
» Defensive tackles sophomore Dominique Easley (#2) and redshirt senior Jaye Howard (#6)…who have solidified the interior of the Gators’ strongest unit. Howard is the team’s most experienced player on defense (28 starts), while Easley may be its most dynamic off the snap, with a first-step raved about by teammates and coaches alike. Howard and Easley have combined for 13.5 tackles for loss and four sacks.
» Linebackers junior Jon Bostic (#52) and redshirt sophomore will linebacker Jelani Jenkins (#3)…who are 1-3 on the team in tackles. Bostic (81) and Jenkins (60) have each excelled in different areas for Florida. The former has six tackles for a loss and three sacks while the latter has one sack, six pass breakups and a pick-six on the year.
» Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturigs (#19)…who has returned for Florida after missing eight games one year ago with an injured back. He is 21-for-25 in field goal attempts on the season (long: 55) and is perfect with 27 extra points, leading the Gators with 90 points scored this season. Sturgis is second in the nation with 21 field goals made but tied for 14th in kicking points.

FLORIDA STATE
» QB E.J. Manuel (#3)…who has passed for 2,352 passing yards with 16 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season. He has not thrown a pick since Oct. 29 and is completing 66.3 percent of his passes. Manuel can also make an impact on the ground and has rushed for 20 or more yards five times this season.
» RB Devonta Freeman (#8)…who is FSU’s leading rusher with 487 yards and six touchdowns on the year. He rushed for 100+ yards in consecutive games this year and at one point scored five touchdowns in four contests.
» WR Rashad Greene (#80)…who has more receptions (33) and yards (497) than any Florida player despite missing four games this season. He is complimented by WR Rodney Smith (#84), who has 511 receiving yards and four touchdowns of his own.
» LB Nigel Bradham (#13)…who leads the Seminoles defensively with 75 tackles (nine for loss), two sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
» CB Greg Reid (#5)…who is also Florida State’s dynamic returner and can change a game on a dime.

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Gators smoke Blazers 39-0 in The Swamp

Saturday night in The Swamp may not have been as electrifying as fans had hoped for going into the game, but the No. 18 Florida Gators (2-0) were plenty effective in their effort, earning the team’s first shutout since 2006 in a 39-0 defeat of the UAB Blazers (0-1) at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.

Redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey turned in a career performance, compiling 162 yards of total offense and a rushing touchdown on 16 carries and three receptions one week after scoring three touchdowns in a single game. As a team, the Gators posted 512 yards of total offense with the defense holding the Blazers to 300 less (212).

Led out of the tunnel by American flags, Florida commemorated September 11th throughout the evening with ribbons on the stadium’s orange walls, a pre-game video tribute, coaches wearing FBI hats, a stirring halftime rendition by the Pride of the Sunshine marching band, and a variety of other actions to remember those lost a decade ago.

Receiving the ball first, Gators redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose returned the opening kickoff 50 yards, and redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley followed that up with a wobbly 40-yard flea-flicker caught by redshirt freshman WR Quinton Dunbar just five yards from the end zone. Florida was unable to convert a touchdown, however, settling for the first of three field goals from redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis.

The Gators used Rainey and senior RB Jeff Demps almost exclusively on their next drive with the duo combining for 61 of 62 yards earned. Sturgis kicked a 35-yard field goal as Florida failed to take advantage of consecutive red zone opportunities.

After a three-and-out, UF got the ball back again and counted on Rainey and Demps to lead them down the field. A 32-yard touchdown run by Rainey was negated by a holding call on redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio, but Brantley hit redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson with a 24-yard strike to put the Gators on the Blazers’ 18-yard-line. Down at the three, freshman fullback Hunter Joyer took the first carry of his career in for a touchdown, giving Florida an early 13-0 in the first quarter.

Senior punter David Lerner saw action for the first time after a six-play, 27-yard drive stalled in the second, and the Gators added Sturgis’s third field goal of the contest on their next drive after sophomore RB Trey Burton impressed with three carries for 30 yards including a big 26-yard gain down to UAB’s four-yard-line.

Starting from their own 21, the Blazers were forced backward as junior linebacker Jon Bostic sniffed out a reverse and completed a 13-yard tackle for loss. Three plays later, UAB snapped the ball past their punter and UF earned a safety.

Receiving the ensuing kick at the Blazers’ 37-yard-line, the Gators charged right down the field. Brantley completed an 18-yard strike to Debose, and Burton finished the drive with a five-yard touchdown run to put Florida ahead 25-0 at the end of the first half.

UAB got the ball back to start the second half and began driving on UF, but sophomore safety Matt Elam stripped a 16-yard completion – the first forced fumble of his career – which was recovered by freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson for the defense’s first turnover of the young season.

Brantley found Dunbar over the middle for 18 yards and Burton took a draw play 12 yards in the ensuing seven-play, 72-yard scoring drive, but Rainey accounted for 42 of the yards including the 19-yard touchdown that gave the Gators a 32-0 lead.

The Blazers attempted a fake punt on their ensuing drive but fell a yard short of converting, turning the ball over to Florida just 36 yards from the end zone. Junior RB Mike Gillislee, who entered the game for Demps in the first half, carried the ball three-straight times for 19, four and 13 yards, his final rush resulting in a score.

The Gators took their foot off the pedal after that, entering their entire second-team offense and defense in the game and winding the clock down with their running game. Florida possessed the ball nearly 13 minutes longer than UAB (36:29-23:31) and achieved 17 more first downs (28-11) in the contest.

UF totaled 300 rushing yards on the evening and did not turn the ball over once. Sturgis, in addition to making all of his kicks, forced two touchbacks deep into the end zone.

Brantley finished a respectable 12/19 for 195 yards on the evening, and Dunbar was the team’s leading receiver with 58 yards. Rainey led the Gators with 119 yards on the ground, followed by Gillislee (79) and Burton (46). All three rushers averaged more than 7.2 yards per carry. Elam registered a team-high seven tackles; and Bostic added five.

Florida converted all seven of their red zone attempts but only scored touchdowns on four occasions. The Gators were 4/12 on third down and held the Blazers to 1/10 in the same scenario; however, UF’s defense did not register a sack the entire evening and the team has a whole committed nine penalties for 55 yards, a stat head coach Will Muschamp was none-too-pleased with after the game.

Saturday’s win marks the seventh-straight season that Florida has started 2-0, and the Gators hope to improve to 3-0 for the sixth consecutive year next week as they take on Tennessee at home. The game will air live on CBS at 3:30 p.m.

Photo Credit: John Raoux

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8/20: Muschamp discusses injuries, names position leaders, rewards walk-ons

With the Florida Gators now having completed training camp and headed into fall practice, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media early Saturday to provided updates on how the team is progressing on both sides of the ball heading into the 2011 season, which begins on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic.

STATEMENT ON COACH HILL

As allegations from a Yahoo! Sports report suggesting he could have been involved in the illegal and illicit recruiting of players while with the Miami Hurricanes, Florida wide receivers coach and recruiting coordinator Aubrey Hill received a vote of confidence from Muschamp on Saturday. “I’ve talked to Aubrey after the article came out. I feel very comfortable with he and I’s conversation,” he said. “I support Aubrey 100 percent. I’m glad he’s here at Florida, and that’s all I’m really going to comment on.”

BROWN INJURED, BACK SOON; BRANTLEY AND REED RESTING

Confirming a report from the Independent Florida Alligator, Muschamp noted that redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown has indeed been out with a knee injury but is respected to return to practice next week. “I expect him probably next Wednesday or Thursday of next week,” Muschamp said.

He also said that redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley got the day off to rest his sore back and will return to action for the team’s scrimmage on Wednesday, while redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed returned to practice Saturday after missing 3-4 days for a sore hamstring. “[Brantley] has had a very productive camp,” he said. “We felt like Wednesday’s scrimmage was much more important as far as progressing our offense further to get ready for game plan than this one and if we needed to take a day off, [Saturday] was the best day to do it.”

LEADING FOR STARTING JOBS

Plenty of positions are up for grabs this fall due to graduations, players leaving early and the new coaching staff implementing difference schemes than a year ago. On Saturday, Muschamp explained that a few more starting jobs have been coming into focus over the last week of camp.

Senior punter David Lerner is currently set to start over freshman Kyle Christy. Lerner, a walk-on who learned in late July that he has Chron’s disease, has been practicing through the health issue and was put on scholarship by Muschamp this week. “Kyle Christy has done some really good things, has got a tremendous leg,” he said, “but David has punted consistently better.”

Redshirt junior right tackle Matt Patchan, who had been competing with redshirt freshman Chaz Green for the starting gig, has currently taken the lead and the chance to solidify the right side of the line.

With junior Xavier Nixon holding down the starting left tackle job, redshirt sophomore Kyle Koehne (who was backing him up) has been moved to left guard and quickly jumped ahead of redshirt freshman Ian Silberman and redshirt senior James Wilson, both of whom were competing for the position.

Florida’s starting offensive line (for now) consists of: LT Nixon, LG Koehne, C redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison, RG redshirt sophomore Jon Halapio, RT Patchan.

WALK-ONS REWARDED

Three other Gators walk-ons in addition to Lerner earned scholarships from Muschamp this week. The coach informed redshirt sophomore safety Tim Clark, redshirt junior linebacker Scott Peek and senior OT/TE William Steinmann that they had all received the honor after performing well during the spring and summer. Muschamp, a former walk-on himself, described them as, “Four guys that have all been in our program for a number of years, have both demonstrated themselves well on-and-off-the-field, academically they’ve done an outstanding job.” Muschamp said they made the announcement in front of the team and it was very emotional for all involved.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On practices being closed: “It was hot out there today. Ya’ll glad it was closed today?”

» Muschamp said the team got in a lot of good work in Saturday including stuff in the red zone, on third down and with all four special teams units. He said the band was at practice (so it was not totally closed) and the team worked an end-of-game scenario with 5:18 left on the clock. The Gators were in “full game day operation,” which Muschamp said resulted in a “very productive day.”

» The team will take pictures on Sunday and have its next scrimmage on Wednesday. Thursday and Friday are when the Gators will start preparations for the Florida Atlantic game on Sept. 3.

» Muschamp said sophomore safety Matt Elam had an interception on Saturday and is easily the most consistent player at his position. Everyone else has “shown flashes” but is still competing and trying to earn a spot.

» On the defensive line: “I really like our guys, but we don’t’ have any depth. […] I feel very good about our talent level; we just don’t have any depth.”

» On redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose’s recent improvement: “Andre made a nice catch on a deep ball today. Andre, really the last couple of days, has taken a step forward. […] I was very pleased with Andre today. He made a nice play on the side – well-covered, well-thrown ball. He just continues to show the consistency in his performance, and I’m very pleased.”

» On the AP Top 25 preseason poll: “I could care less about the poll.” When told the phrase is “couldn’t” care less: “I was never very good in English, I’ll be honest with ya.”

» On offensive coordinator Charlie Weis: “Charlie’s experience speaks for itself, and his track record – you all know that. From the standpoint of him working with the players is probably his strongest point. You really talk to people that played for him – whether it was at Notre Dame, New England or Kansas City – the players have a great respect for him because he’s all about the players. He’s hard on them, he’s tough on them, it’s tough love, but they have a great respect because he has answers when things don’t go right.”

» On closing practices to hide details: “That’s why we’ve closed everything. I do think it is an advantage for us this season. […] We put a wild rumor out there about Wildcat. […] That’s why we’ve closed things.”

» On redshirt freshman Quinton Dunbar’s improvement this offseason: “The hardest thing for a young player is to consistently perform every day. You try to explain to them it’s your consistency in your performance [that’s important]. We’ve really challenged Quinton as far as, ‘OK, you want to be a starting receiver, I’m good with that. But to add your value as a player to this football team, you need to be on special teams.’ So when we have scout-look teams as far as our special teams, Quinton Dunbar’s the first guy that jumps in there if he’s not already on the special team. That to me shows tremendous strides and commitment to help our football team. He’s willing to go in there and give our guys a good look.”

» On comparisons between freshman QBs Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett: “Well, I think they are very similar. They’re both athletic, big, strong, big arms, good decision makers. They both have a certain command about themselves as quarterbacks. Jeff’s probably a little more of a scrambler and a runner, as opposed to Jacoby. But they are very similar quarterbacks. Their skill set is very similar. Talking to Charlie about our plan as we move forward is – will be a very similar plan as far as gaming for them and putting them in situations to be successful.”

» On his demeanor at practice: “I’m just myself. There is a key to every young man and you have to find that key. I’m going to be who I am, and I don’t plan anything. I just kind of do what I do.”

» On freshmen playing early: “I always feel like the further your position is away from the ball, the better chance you got to play because your athleticism takes over quicker as opposed to you being close. I think it’s hard for offensive and defensive linemen – I’m not saying it’s impossible because I’ve had guys do it – to come in and play because the bodies are bigger, it’s a faster game, it’s a more complicated game than they’re used to.”

» On if he thinks the team is coming together: “I do. I’m cautiously optimistic when I say that form the standpoint of, what real adversity have we faced? I do think that we’ve battled through some tough practices heat, exhaustion, fatigue; I think we’ve managed that. I wouldn’t say we’ve passed with flying colors, but we’ve managed that. What’s going to happen when we get down 14-0? How are we going to respond to that? That’s when you find out a lot about your team.”

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8/19: Thompson and Dunbar bond, Brantley’s progress, Hammond, Driskel, Brissett, Watkins

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 Friday to discuss how the team is progressing.

LERNER GETS A FULL RIDE

Though the news may not be so great for senior punter David Lerner on the health front, head coach Will Muschamp informed the walk-on Friday that he will be awarded a scholarship for his final season in the Orange & Blue. Lerner, who is competing with freshman Kyle Christy for the starting job, was said to have been emotional when learning of the team’s decision.

“I thought it was a great opportunity for him,” redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley said, according to The Gainesville Sun. “He’s been here for a few years now and he’s worked his tail off. I’m just happy to see it because he’s such a good kid.”

THOMPSON, DUNBAR FORM A STRONG BOND

The 2010 season is likely the most disappointed redshirt freshman wide receiver Quinton Dunbar will feel in an Orange & Blue uniform, but a strong friendship with redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson got him through the struggles and made him appreciative of the opportunity he has with the Gators. “Since I got on campus, Deonte grabbed me under his wing,” Dunbar said Friday. “That’s the only person I really hang around. We do everything together. He’s like my older brother. He teaches me route running, adjusting to the ball, just different things as a receiver.”

Part of the reason the relationship is so strong is that Dunbar leaned on Thompson to help him become a more consistent player after he was disappointed to learn that he would redshirt his freshman season. “Physically I was probably ready, but mentally I wasn’t ready,” Dunbar said, according to InsidetheGators.com. “I was immature. Some days I would come out wanting to practice, some days I didn’t. Some days I’d show up, some days I wouldn’t. So it was more of a maturity thing than a physical thing last year.”

Now Thompson, who sees himself as a leader this season as well as a mentor for his “little brother” Dunbar, hopes he can set a good example in his final year at Florida. “I’m not old, still young, but time is running out here,” he said.

BRANTLEY’s CONFIDENCE, IMPROVEMENT PRAISED

Ask anyone the main difference between Brantley’s demeanor in 2010 and 2011 and the default word that is always pointed to his confidence. Placed in a system that did not best utilize his skill set and forced to lead a young team that had just lost many veteran playmakers, Brantley’s improvement this offseason both on- and off-the-field is widely agreed upon by his teammates.

“He’s having a great camp, doing real well and [being] a great leader,” Thompson said. “He’s taking control of the team, and it’s been like that all summer. I’d just say his swag and confidence is higher than they have been in the past.” Dunbar was even more specific. “From the spring, I felt like he was more comfortable, so coming into fall it was expected because he was more comfortable in the spring,” he said. “One thing I will say is he’s more vocal than last yaer. Last year he wasn’t really into it. This year I’d say he’s more into it. More vocal. More happier.”

Though Dunbar would not co-sign the lofty prediction by redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard (who said that Brantley would be in the conversation for the Heisman Trophy), he did note that the signal caller is steadily improving. “He’s a work-in-progress,” he said. “He’s getting better each and every day, making his reads and making great throws. I won’t vouch for [the Heisman yet], but he’s getting better every day.” Dunbar also pointed to the fact that Brantley is not zoning in on one player but giving all of his teammates equal opportunities to help him out. “He’s throwing the ball in different places. He hits the tight ends and wide receivers, so he’s just feeding everyone,” he said. “He’s very confident in his offense and he’s very confident in [offensive coordinator Charlie] Weis and what Weis teaches him.”

For his part, Brantley is trying to lead by example and is obviously doing a good job based on the way his receivers react when his name is brought up. “We got a group of us leaders on offense and on defense. I consider myself one of those,” he said. “I just try to step up in practice every day and try to be that leader.”

WEIS LEAVING HIS MARK ON BRANTLEY

With an extensive history of developing quarterbacks and helping them mature at a rapid rate, Weis once again has another reclamation project in Brantley and, from how things sound early on, may very well already be succeeding. Brantley, who said Weis doesn’t yell but likes to “do his thing,” considers him “an all-around great coach. He knows when you can laugh a little bit in the meeting room to break everything up. He knows when to be serious.”

Though Weis is “very demanding” (“If a ball is just a little high, he’s telling us to get it down even if it’s a completed pass. He expects perfection, and that’s what great coaches do.”), Brantley notes that his impact on his game has been monumental already. “He’s a great coach, a real smart guy. I learn something new every day in that film room,” he said. “It’ll be the same play but he’ll pick out something new to teach us with. That’s what makes it interesting and fun to go in there and keep learning.”

One lesson Weis has taught Brantley is to pick himself up if he makes a mistake, brush his shoulder pads off and get ready for the next series. Redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond has noticed that Brantley is more comfortable, relaxed and settled in the pocket and can tell Weis’s lessons are already paying dividends. “He takes control,” Hammond said of Brantley. “Whether we’re progressing or it’s a bad [play], he just regroups and has short-term memory, moves on to the next play.”

DRISKEL AND BRISSETT BIRDS OF A FEATHER

Just like how “confidence” is a key word when players talk about Brantley, “progress” is used whenever the names of freshman QBs Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett are brought up. Below are some specific thoughts on the two young signal callers from their teammates.

Brantley: “They’ve done a great job. They’ve made a lot of progress also this camp. With helping them also helps me understand everything. I’m just glad I can be there to help them, and I’m happy to see that they’re progressing so well. […] [Brissett is] a little confused and everything but that’s normal. He’s worked really hard. He’s studied his playbook and when he goes in there and gets his reps, he does a fine job. […] Jeff, he does a little more mentally prepared just because he was here during the spring. Coach Weis puts them in good situation – plays they know they can run and everything. He keeps testing them each day and they keep doing well.”

Dunbar: “They both are working, getting better. I see a lot of potential in both of them. Both got mobility, so they’re getting better. They’re both the same – both of them got mobility, got nice arms – can throw the ball deep. Both of them are going to be good players here.”

Hammond: “Both of them are pretty much on-point. Being that Jacoby got here in the summer, he has to pick it up a little bit quicker, but he’s picking it up. Being that Driskel came in the spring, he has a little bit of a jump start, so he’s a little bit more comfortable with it. They’re both progressing and moving forward. […] If you ask me, they’re similar quarterbacks, just because they’re a little bit more mobile, they can scramble and get out of the pocket and make more things happen with their feet. It definitely brings a different type of style to the offense.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Thompson on if he has a nickname for being one of the older players: “The only person that gives us a hard time is Coach Weis. He gives me and [Chris] Rainey a hard time every day, says we’re the old guys and were playing college ball when he was in college.”

» Sophomore safety Jaylen Watkins on Muschamp being tough on the secondary: “He just tells us if we mess up, then it’s a touchdown. If the D-line messes up, we can cover them. We have nobody to cover us, so we have to be right on point.”

» Watkins on freshman De’Ante Saunders’s work at safety: “He looks pretty natural. Pop’s a good tackler, so if you can tackle and play corner, obviously you can cover.”

» Watkins on adjusting from cornerback to safety: “Just being more vocal. You have to be vocal; you have to know a lot. You can’t mess up. You play a bigger role in the defense.”

» Watkins on if the secondary’s communication is improving: “We’re pretty young on the back end, so it’s coming along pretty good. The past couple of days we’ve had great communication and great adjustment. The more we get the defense, the more vocal we get. All of us are starting to get it and become one, so that’s when we talk more.”

» Hammond on how long it took him to become consistent: “It just takes time. Coming off of my redshirt sophomore year when I was just basically playing special teams, I wanted to focus on catching and becoming a better all-around receiver. Coming off that year, I just tried to focus on that. I’ve just been getting better and progressing at it every day. All of us try as a whole, as receivers, to focus on being consistent and not have any drops at all. Nobody’s perfect and there’s always somewhere you can critique and get better at.”

» Hammond on specializing in pass blocking on the edges: “Blocking helps because it’s more than just catching the ball and scoring touchdowns. To be a good football team, you have to establish the run game. Part of that is springing plays – those big 60-yard runs – that contributes to a receiver blocking down field. I understand that’s a great deal of our offense and that’s what keeps things moving and opens up things for the passing game as well. So I focus on blocking just as well as catching the ball.”

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8/18: Christian comfortable, defense making adjustments, Lerner dealing with Crohn’s

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 Thursday to discuss how the team is progressing.

CHRISTIAN COMFORTABLE AS SECOND TIGHT END

It may have taken a talented freshman to go down for him to get more playing time, but redshirt freshman tight end Gerald Christian is happy to have the opportunity and plans to make the most of it. “You don’t want to wish injuries upon people, but since there have been injuries I’ve had to fill a bigger role, take more snaps in practice and show what I can do. I feel like it gave me more of an opportunity,” he said.

Moved to linebacker in the spring to help the team improve its depth, Christian was transitioned back to tight end at the end of those practice periods and has not been back since. “It was tough but after spring ball, they told me they wanted me to be more on the offensive side, so I’ve been good now,” he said.

With offensive coordinator Charlie Weis using the two tight end set “a lot,” Christian knows the time is now for him to make an impact. “I’ve just been busting my butt every day trying to make plays and show them that I can contribute to the team,” he said.

DEFENSE STILL MAKING ADJUSTMENTS

Head coach Will Muschamp’s defensive mantra has already been engrained in his players’ heads. “We just want to be physical – physical up front – we want to stop the run and play great defense,” junior linebacker Jon Bostic said when asked about the unit’s goals on Thursday.

As Muschamp has related previously, the strength of the defense will start in the trenches, and Bostic believes that similarities with the team’s schemes under former defensive coordinators Charlie Strong and Teryl Austin are helping the players adjust quickly. “Most of the stuff carried over from the two defenses in the past,” he said. “A lot of the concepts that we ran before were pretty much brought over to this defense. One more thing is that we’re going to be a lot more aggressive coming after the quarterback.”

To that end, Muschamp was critical of the defense’s consistency in the pass rush. Bostic echoed those sentiments with parallel thoughts. “We just got to have guys coming out day after day with their assignments,” he said. “We can’t come out one day be a dominant pass rusher, the next day not be a dominant pass rusher. We need the whole front seven out there; even the safeties are coming on blitzes, too. Everybody has got to be able to get home.”

Bostic also realizes that the entire defense needs to be on the same page and praised sophomore safety Matt Elam for his improved communication during fall practice. “Everybody’s got to work together, so we need the guys on the back end to be on the same page as the front seven. We all go tot communicate,” he said.

“Matt was always one of those guys who was kind of quiet on the back end; they needed him really to step up. These two-a-days, he’s really stepped up. With some guys going down and some position switching, every guy has had to keep everyone on the same page. Matt’s been doing a great job of getting the new safeties that have moved into that position into the right look.”

LERNER DEALING WITH CROHN’S

Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in late July after he began feeling sick around the 22nd of the month, senior punter David Lerner’s primary job – aside from getting the ball down the field – is staying hydrated and eating as much as he can whenever he can.

Down 15 pounds since being diagnosed, Lerner is pleased that team doctors were able to figure out his health issue quickly. “Within a week I knew I had Crohn’s,” he said. “The athletic training team and the doctors did an amazing job really helping me out. Within five days I knew what was going on and sometimes it can take literally months for people to find out that kind of stuff.”

Lerner received the support of the coaching staff, trainers and his teammates immediately, something that helped him get through a very scary episode in his life. “I didn’t have to really convince them at all to stay on the team,” he explained. “Two days after I got diagnosed, Coach called me and said, ‘Whatever you need we’ll get for you. We want you.’ He was very supportive in that. I was definitely depressed with everything that was going on, and that definitely gave me some hope.

“I was definitely very worried at first [that I might not be able to play], but then the doctor, Coach Muschamp, the training staff and really all the coaches were just very supportive and helpful. It was very, very emotionally helpful for me.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Christian on how the offense as a whole is doing: “Every area needs improvement – all positions can use improvement – but the offense we have has been clicking as team. We’re coming together and getting better every day.”

» Christian on redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley: “Right now Brantley, he’s been here the longest, he knows the offense the best and has more experience than everybody else. I’m not knocking the other quarterbacks; they’re good, too. I see Brantley as the starter the first game.”

» Christian on freshman QB Jeff Driskel: “Jeff is good, too. Jeff is really good. It’s good that we have younger players stepping up. I feel like if anything happens that he can fill the role. I trust him. […] He’s made a big improvement. He looks really good.”

» Christian on redshirt sophomore TE Jordan Reed: “He’s just real athletic, he’s a real athletic kid.”

» Christian on the tight end drills: ”We have Coach [Derek] Lewis, and he emphasizes a lot on us pads low, hand placement, keep your feet moving. When we first go through it, that’s all we do – blocking stuff. He’s trying to get us good and effective.”

» Bostic on how running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey compare and contrast: “Rainey is probably the more elusive one out of the two, he’s probably the better route runner. Demps, you give him a seam and he’s gone. He’s starting to pick up some of the elusiveness from Rainey, but both of them are pretty much similar.”

» Bostic on junior LB Dee Finely: “Dee Finely is a guy who moved from the safety position, and he’s done very well. He’s picked up a lot of things in these two-a-days, too.”

» Bostic on freshman S Chris Johnson, who is also playing some linebacker: “You can tell he’s an athlete. He’s just got a nose for the ball and can find the ball very well. He’s still new to the position, so he’s learning a lot out there. […] He’s one of those guys that can play both. He’s just got a head for the ball. He loves to hit, and I think that’s one of the reasons they brought him down in the box, because he’s real aggressive.”

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8/16: Muschamp’s updates on players, scrimmage

With the Florida Gators fully entrenched in fall practice and having completed their first scrimmage, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media early Tuesday and provided updates on how the team is progressing on both sides of the ball heading into the 2011 season, which begins on Sept. 3.

FRESHMEN ROBERSON, DRISKEL STEPPING UP

Every year there seems to be a few freshmen who take it upon themselves to earn major playing time in their first season. Two players who have already begun proving themselves, according to Muschamp, are four-star cornerback Marcus Roberson and five-star quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Competing with seniors, juniors, sophomores and fellow freshmen, Roberson in particular has stood out and could supplant all of them as the latest Florida freshman to start at cornerback. “I think he could possibly start. He’s played well,” Muschamp said. “We’re going to play the best players. I don’t care what grade they are, where they’re from, it don’t matter to me.”

Driskel, fighting with redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy and classmate Jacoby Brissett for the back-up QB job behind redshirt senior John Brantley, has emerged as the leader for the job after showcasing his intangibles during a great performance in the team’s first scrimmage on Saturday. Muschamp said Driskel completed approximately 70 percent of his passes during scrimmage while Brantley (who he again said is “far and ahead” of the pack) was around 60 percent.

“His growth process from spring, obviously he has worked extremely hard through the summer dedicating himself to the playbook and learning what to do and how to do it and why we’re doing it that way,” Muschamp said*. “He’s had a very good camp at this point.”

INDIVIDUAL PLAYER & POSITION UPDATES

» Redshirt junior Lerentee McCray – Listed as a defensive end, McCray has earned the starting strong-side linebacker job and is being backed up sophomore Darrin Kitchens. Muschamp said he can also play the buck position if needed, though it will not be his primary assignment. Sophomore Ronald Powell starts at buck linebacker, and redshirt sophomore Kendric Johnson has been backing him up.

» Senior punter David Lerner – Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and getting IVs regularly when participating in practices and workouts. Lerner is the likely back-up to freshman Kyle Christy, who enrolled in January and is expected to be the starter. “He was diagnosed with Crohn’s in July, and his body is taking to the medication. There have been a couple days where he hasn’t felt well, and I’ve just told him to take it to the house, just go and get some rest. He’s in high competition right now to be our starting punter – he and Kyle both. David has had a great camp. This is something he will battle and be fine.”

» Linebackers junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins – “Both of them have played, so they understand what it takes to be successful in this league. Both of them are extremely intelligent. God’s blessed both of them – they’ve got really good athletic ability. They’re both instinctive players and they like playing the game. And they’ve learned to be better communicators, in my opinion, from spring to now. That, to me, is where they’ve taken the next step as players. We need for both of them to have really, really good seasons, and I certainly think they’re both capable of having really good seasons.”

» Sophomore Sharrif Floyd – Listed as a defensive tackle, Floyd has spent most of his time at defensive end for depth reasons but is also being moved inside during rush situations. He joins senior William Green and redshirt junior Earl Okine as the team’s primary DEs.

» Redshirt senior Jaye Howard, redshirt junior Omar Hunter and sophomore Dominique Easley are all rotating inside at the nose tackle/three position. Redshirt freshman NT Leon Orr is also “coming along” because he has kept his weight down and improved his endurance.

» Redshirt senior wide receiver Deonte Thompson – “I want to say this about Deonte: He is a senior and a guy that we really challenged in the offseason about special teams and understanding, if you want to play after college and if you’re not the lead role at your position in the National Football League, you’ve got to play special teams. The guy has done a phenomenal job on special teams. He’s on our punt team; he’s on our kickoff coverage team. I’m very proud of his effort.”

» Freshman De’Ante Saunders – The cornerback has been spending time at nickel but will be worked out at safety soon as the team is in need of trustworthy tacklers. “Pop is playing well. He deserves the opportunity to be a starter at this point,” Muschamp said. “Pop has played more nickel than anything – more than even at corner. We need to shore up some things at safety as far as our tackling is concerned, our space play is concerned. Pop has got good instincts on the back end – when to play the ball, when not to play the ball. We’ve got to tackle better at that position; we cannot continue to miss tackles in the secondary.”

» Freshman Chris Johnson – Listed as a safety, the 5’9”, 205 lbs. Johnson will continue to be worked out at linebacker in order to improve depth at the position. “Chris Johnson is undersized but is a guy that can run and strike,” Muschamp said. “He’s instinctive in the box. He’s got natural box instincts. He comes down in the box and naturally gets it. That’s part of being a good linebacker – having some sort of instincts.”

» Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose – Currently in the second group of pass catchers because he continues to be inconsistent in his performance practice-in and practice-out. “[He’s] got to block better, got to catch the ball better, got to run routes better – there’s a lot of things,” Muschamp said. “But it’s consistency in your performance. You can have one great day, and the next day has got to be a great day. You can’t be up-and-down in your performance in this league. The teams are too good.”

» Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finley – “Had a good scrimmage yesterday, did some nice things, had an interception. He’s a guy that’s got to continue to progress.”

» Redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Taylor – “[He] is an instinctive, tough player and has done a nice job with some things. Mike has got to continue working on football off the field. He likes sticking his face in there; he likes the physicality of the game, but we’ve got to play smarter at that position.”

» Redshirt freshman tight end Gerald Christian – “We feel like he’s a very good on-the-ball tight end, blocking. He can also do some things as far as movement is concerned because he’s really a tight end and a fullback. Some tight ends can’t move very well, they don’t move very well as far as the point-of-attack and blocking. Fullbacks do. Some fullbacks can’t line up on the line of scrimmage and block the edge because they don’t have the length to block against some of the defensive ends and outside ‘backers they play against. Gerald can do both, and we will use him to do both.”

» Senior tackle William Steinmann – A walk-on who has only seen action in 18 games over three seasons, Steinmann is also being tried out at tight end as an additional blocker.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On the grind of fall practice: “The older players understand the grind of camp, they understand how to work through camp. The younger players generally let the external circumstances – the heat, the fatigue, the soreness – soak in a little bit, and that’s when they lose their mental focus. Those are things we’ve got to battle through at this point.”

» On the difference between running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey: “About 0.4 seconds maybe, I don’t know. Jeff I would say is a little bit bigger stature-wise. The other day he did a really nice job chipping one of our defensive ends coming out on protection. I thought he may have cracked his ribs – he turned him upside down.”

» The team worked on end-of-game situations with hopes of putting a bit of pressure on the players in order to test their resolve. The scrimmage consisted of 130 snaps.

» The heat index was 118 degrees on the field Tuesday morning during practice. Muschamp understood the heat and wanted his team to play in those conditions. “You find out a lot about your leadership especially when you face some adversity. We put them in some adverse situations on both sides of the ball,” he said. “You find out a lot about your football team at this time. We’re going to use the heat to our advantage. We ought to be used to playing in the heat and when its hot. When we started camp, we worked early in the morning and late at night to avoid [the heat]. Now it’s time to shore up and get ready for that – we’re going to use that to our advantage.”

» Muschamp said a few prominent individuals recently met with the team including the Southeastern Conference head of officiating Steve Shaw, University of Florida president Bernie Machen, former Gators safety Lawrence Wright and Iraqi war veteran Lt. Greg Gadson (who inspired the New York Giants in 2008).

» On inheriting a roster and not recruiting it himself: “At the end of the day, they’re Florida’s players. They’re not my players.”

* Driskel quote courtesy of InsidetheGators.com

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Florida football’s 2011 media day – Muschamp

With the Florida Gators finally beginning 2011 fall practice on Saturday, head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and dozens of other players met with the media to discuss the upcoming season. The Gators will take the field Saturday but all practices will be closed to both fans and the media.

STAT TO CARE ABOUT: TURNOVER MARGIN

Muschamp made it a point throughout both his media session to explain hat turnover margin is the only statistic that will be a primary focal point for all members of the coaching staff, whether on the offense, defense or special teams.

“The stat I emphasized with our team is turnover margin. Last year, the top 10 teams in turnover margin, six of them played in BCS games,” he said. “The critical factor I try to emphasize with our football team is turnover margin and big play ratio. When you’re dealing in that world, you’re talking about game-changing, field position-changing, vertical field-possession changing momentum in the game. We got to take control of the ball offensively and create what we call a ball hawk defense.”

Asked later if focusing on turnover margin made the team more defensively oriented than Florida football has been historically, Muschamp disagreed. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that. Turnover margin is something that affects both sides,” he noted. “We’ve got to have great ball security offensively, and we’ve got to create some turnovers on defense. On special teams, control the vertical field position. But from my chair, that affects all of us and how we play. It controls the field position; it controls the momentum of the game.”

FOUR TEAM GOALS HEADING INTO THE SEASON

When it comes to what he looks for in not only a successful player but more specifically a leader, Muschamp has those characteristics defined. He believes each represents a goal that the players should individually achieve by the time the season begins.

“We talk about leadership, and we define it to our players as: No. 1 – You got to be a productive player. If you’re not producing and you’re not making plays, it’s hard to be a leader. [No. 2] – You can’t have a bad day. You can’t come, ‘I hope that guy didn’t get hurt.’ So when you come to work, you can’t just say, ‘Well Coach, I just didn’t play good today.’ You got to play well all the time. [No. 3] – You got to positively affect everybody in the organization. [No. 4] – You got to stay humble in what you do. So you can’t be a negative guy that sits in the locker room and complains about how we’re practicing, how hot it is, or what we’re doing offensively or defensively. Stay humble and move forward with the mistakes and don’t make them again.”

INJURY UPDATES

All four of the injured players the Gators were worried about heading into 2011 have been cleared in one way or another. Redshirt freshman running back Mack Brown (broken fibula) will need to be careful with his endurance but is cleared to practice and will be “worked up to speed.” Redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan (wrist) has been cleared for the field as well, but coaches will “make sure that we get out there and he’s ready to roll as far as contact and things are concerned.” Senior tackle William Steinmann (meniscus tear) is cleared for everything but contact (Aug. 15), and redshirt sophomore long snapper Christopher Guido (hernia surgery) will be good to go on Aug. 10.

BUILDING THE OFFENSIVE LINE

Muschamp continues to be worried about depth on three fronts, starting with the offensive line. Florida did not have much of an opportunity to build such depth in the spring as many players were injured and others were just putting their feet in the water for the first time.

“Obviously with the moving parts we had going through spring ball, that’s something we need to gel and we need to gel early,” Muschamp said. “We need to get five guys playing well together. And you’d like to build that number to seven, eight, nine, 10 guys if you can, but build depth on the offensive line of scrimmage.”

Overall, however, he is pleased with the development of the guys he got to see in spring. Muschamp praised redshirt sophomore guard Jon Halapio for his toughness and effort, junior tackle Xavier Nixon for being up to 290 lbs. but remaining athletic with more punch and power, and redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison for his transition from guard to center – “that’s a tough deal to do, do make the calls. We put an awful lot on the center.” He was also excited about redshirt freshman Ian Silberman’s move to guard, and redshirt freshman Chaz Green’s growth at tackle.

BUILDING THE FRONT SEVEN

Just like on offense, Muschamp hopes his defensive line rotation is something that can be solidified by the time fall camp comes to a close. With plenty of depth at defensive tackle including the two veterans – redshirt senior Jaye Howard and redshirt junior Omar Hunter – he said that sophomore Sharrif Floyd will mainly play on the inside but will also see some time at defensive end. Senior DE William Green will primarily play there but also get some time at outside linebacker, too.

Linebacker is another position in which depth is a concern for Muschamp. Aside from junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins, he is looking to fill in the blanks. Helping him do just that might be redshirt freshman Michael Taylor, who stood out to him as a “tough, physical kid” who “understands a little more what we’re asking of him.” Muschamp also noted that redshirt sophomore Dee Finely is progressing from his move from the secondary: “When your position moves closer to the ball, the game happens a lot faster. He’s been a guy that’s shown some flashes and was very productive for us early in spring.”

Obviously sophomore buck LB Ronald Powell will be counted on heavily in the pass rush, but Green and redshirt junior DE Lerentee McCray will also both work on getting to the quarterback. “Lerentee has done some nice things. Willie Green has done some nice things. But, consistently we haven’t seen enough,” Muschamp said. He did, however, have some extra praise for McCray. “Lerentee has got a great motor. He is very passionate about playing at Florida. It’s important to him to be a Gator,” he said. “He’s a guy that can give us some pass rushing plays, plays extremely hard. He’s tough, and he sticks his face in there. He’s a guy that you really appreciate coaching; he’s always up in the meeting rooms to watch film, ask questions. We’re expecting him to have a really good year.”

BRANTLEY AND THE OFFENSE

Asked how well he and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis are meshing together, Muschamp noted the duo shares the same offensive philosophy and have a great working relationship. “We want to be a running football team, have the play actions off of it, but still be able to spread the field and create plays in space for our playmakers,” he said. “I’ve got great confidence where we are and where we’re headed with our offense.”

His confidence, of course, begins with redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley, who he believes should have complete trust in himself considering that Weis has all the faith in the world in regards to his abilities on the field. “He’s got great confidence in John; that should give John great confidence. That ought to give him great confidence as a quarterback, and I think it does,” Muschamp said.

He added there is “no question” that Brantley is the starter and noted that sophomore Tyler Murphy is currently the back up with freshmen Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett fighting for that role. “John is the starter. I say create some separation behind John; we need to find who is our backup quarterback going into the season, how are we going to tailor offense for the backup quarterback. And that’s a decision we need to make as quickly as we can in camp,” Muschamp explained.

FINDING A TRUSTWORTHY SECONDARY

With the Gators losing three veterans in the secondary, Muschamp has placed an emphasis on solidifying the positions, whether that is with older or younger players. “Secondary, I really like our athleticism,” he said. “I like starting with athleticism. I’d rather start with that than experience if I could take one of the two.”

He also shared his thoughts on four players in particular…

Sophomore safety Matt Elam: “Obviously, he plays safety and nickel, but he’s a guy who’s shown some play-making abilities. If you look at a defensive back and you look at critical factors of being able to play in space, that means you’ve got to be able to tackle and cover them, have physical toughness to play the position. He can spin in the box and play in the box and play in the deep part of the field. He judges the ball extremely well. He’s bright, he’s intelligent, and he can get in and out of the chase.”

Junior safety Josh Evans: “[He] has certainly been another guy that’s shown that he can do that.”

Redshirt freshman safety Josh Shaw: “[He] is certainly a guy who I think can do that, but he’s got to do it more consistently.

Sophomore cornerback Jaylen Watkins: “[He] is a young man we played at corner and safety in the spring and I think can give us a little position multiplicity in what he can do.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Florida will be holding split-squad practices on the first few days of camp in order “to let younger players have a better opportunity to learn.” NCAA rules state that players can only practice once per day over the course of the first five days of practice. Therefore, Muschamp will have the older players practice early and plans to film them. The younger players will then watch the film and go out in the afternoon and practice. “Now they’re able to, at least for two practices, get a better idea of what is going to be expected on the practice field,” he said. Monday is the team’s first day as a full unit.

» On how younger players can also be leaders: “I’m not really worried about looking for senior leadership. You can be a sophomore, you can be a freshman and be a great leader. I’ve seen guys do that – positively affect the organization with how they play and how they approach things every day. We’ve got some guys, especially that sophomore class, that we’re counting on being very productive players and they need to be really good leaders on top of that.”

» On not allowing assistant coaches to speak to the media yet: “I do think it’s important right now that there’s one message for our football team, and I’m the one that knows that the best.”

» On having an open doors policy with former Gators: “I have open arms for every letterman that comes back here. They are welcome to come to any practices; it’s not closed to them. They can come to every practice if they want to. But when you have guys like Kevin Carter, who was in yesterday, Fred Taylor, Mike Peterson, Tim Tebow, I mean all these guys have come back in the summer. Percy Harvin, the list goes on, of guys that come back anytime so they can talk about their time at Florida and the expectations of playing at Florida. I’ve got a guy on my staff, Terry Jackson and Aubrey Hill, that played at Florida. They understand the expectation of what it takes to be successful here.”

» On that dirty word “potential:” “Potential? That means you really haven’t done anything. God blessed you with an awful lot of ability, you take advantage of it. Guys that get labeled with potential in our program don’t last long.”

» On being ranked No. 23 preseason: “I could care less.”

» On the future of sophomore Trey Burton: “I think he fits very well with what we want to do. He’s going to play what we call the F position. That position is going to be a full back, it’s going to be a slot receiver, it’s going to be a match-up on a linebacker outside, and it’s going to motion and create leverage in the run and pass game. He’s going to do so many things for us. He’s a guy that is going to be catching the football, he’s going to be blocking, he’s going to be carrying it. He was a short-yardage situation guy in the spring that was probably our best short yardage back. It is kind of limitless what he’s going to be doing in our offense.”

» Muschamp noted that replacing Chas Henry at punter will be difficult but that freshman Kyle Christy has the inside leg on the job. “[He’s] a young man that came in mid-year, very excited about him,” he said. Muschamp also mentioned, however, that senior David Lerner would have a fair shot at the gig.

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