9/7: Quinn talks defense, evaluates players

With the Florida Gators preparing for their second game of the 2011 season (Sept. 10 vs. UAB), defensive coordinator Dan Quinn met with the media on Wednesday to discuss the Gators defense and evaluate some of Florida’s standout players.

LOOKING FOR THE TURNOVERS

After the game and during media on Monday, head coach Will Muschamp stressed how important turnovers were, a statement that Quinn supported Wednesday evening. “To me it’s a topic that I feel so strongly about – it’s just taking the ball away. I thought we could have had more attempts on the ball – what we call rips and strips,” he said. “On a good game, where you’re really getting a lot of attempts at the ball, I’d like to see that number drastically increase. [...] We feel like there are some unique ways [to create turnovers] – maybe we see on tape where a ball carrier carries it loosely and we target that guy. Some of the tipped balls and those kinds of things [could be luck] but in the run game we feel it is something we can do better.”

Though the Gators were unable to take the ball away on Saturday, they did perform well in an area that Florida struggled with one year ago. “I didn’t think there was a lot of missed tackles out there,” he noted. “For the first time out and the first ball game, as a coach, that’s always one of the things you look to see as a defensive coach. Are these guys tackling and finishing on plays? I was encouraged by some of that.”

BACK TO SCHOOL

He may have spent his last 10 years coaching in the NFL, but Quinn also spent some time as a college coach from 1994-2000 with William & Mary, the Virginia Military Institute and Hofstra. After dealing with million-dollar salaried professional athletes who spend hours upon hours working on their game each day, he has noticed one major difference about coaching at the college level. “You have to be really creative in your meeting time. It really tests you in your preparation,” he said. “That’s kind of been one of the things that coming in I knew was going to be a challenge for me – to condense everything – and that’s what I’ve tried to do.”

Quinn feels like he has been succeeding at his new role so far and is having a good time doing it. “It is a lot of fun, it really is. When you have the energy of some of these young guys – where they want to stay after, do more, come in, watch tape. There’s a lot of questions. All of us as coaches kind of see ourselves as teachers and that’s kind of why we got into it,” he said. “Not only just for the love of football but for the ability to impact some young guys and help them out. To me it’s been a lot of fun going through training camp, helping the young guys develop. […] It’s a cool feeling as a coach to see a guy come through, learn it and now put the skills to work.”

WEEKLY ADJUSTMENTS

Facing so many different teams throughout the course of a season can be quite difficult on a defense – especially one in its first season under a new head coach and coordinator. Quinn realized early on that this would be an issue and believes the Gators are prepared for the obstacle. “I think each team presents unique challenges. Sometimes there is carryover. This team has as similar concept to maybe these three or four teams,” he explained. “I think that’s part of what you do in training camp without necessarily telling the players. That way there’s a little more recall maybe when you get to that type of offense when you get to the regular season, or a certain package of plays perhaps against a certain type of player.”

During training camp, Florida threw as much as possible at the players in order to expose them to plenty of looks and help with recall all season. “I think it was a hard camp. We wanted it to be both hard mentally and physically – just put the pressure on and we kept installing and kept installing knowing there was a lot in,” Quinn said. “We pull some of those clips from training camp [and say], ‘This week we’re going to play this coverage or this pressure just like we did back in training camp.’ And then when you can put it on now you say, ‘Remember this?’ And then you play it and there’s some recall there.”

TURNING UP THE PRESSURE

The Gators notched a pair of sacks on Saturday, but Quinn obviously wants to see more pressure – especially from the defensive line that he is counting on to get to the quarterback and make him feel uncomfortable every play. “We talk about the outside guys trying to collapse the pocket on the tackles and the inside guys you’ll hear us use the [phrase] ‘push the pocket’ so the quarterback doesn’t have a chance to hitch up in the pocket,” he said.

Even if the front seven doesn’t always create sacks, there are plenty of other ways they can be effective and help out the rest of the defense. “We talk about affecting the QB every week. Sometimes it’s hits on the QB – and we don’t necessarily put a number on the sacks. How many hits we can get, how many pressures we can get, batted balls – those are things that can affect a QB,” Quinn explained. “Certainly with a talented QB, the more hits, the more pressure is certainly the formula for us.”

DEALING WITH A YOUNG SECONDARY

Nearly every player in the Gators’ secondary this season is an underclassman, and the defense is counting on them big-time to help solidify what is expected to be a productive starting front seven. Quinn knows the youth can be an issue but hopes that intense game-week preparations can help reduce some of the inexperience. “There’s good and bad with a young player. You have a fresh slate to say, ‘This is how we’re going to go about our business to play ball.’ And then the other time you’re trying to catch them up on techniques all through training camp, especially the rookies who had their first exposure in training camp,” he said. “On the back end with Travaris [Robinson] and Will working with these guys, they’ve done a terrific job getting these guys up to speed.“

He also addressed the fact that Florida started a freshman at safety in week one but said the decision was not made haphazardly. “There’s a lot of communication that goes on there. When we play those guys, we have a high level of confidence that they’re going to go in there and they’re going to be able to communicate, run the package and do it right otherwise we wouldn’t put them out there. Although they are young, we have a lot of confidence in them, we really do,” he said.

PLAYER EVALUATIONS

Freshman CB Marcus Roberson: “To me that’s one of the things, when you look at a corner, a guy that has speed and length with some cover ability. I think that gives you traits to be a good corner. And then if you have speed and length – and I think he’s got a little bit of football savvy to him which I like as a young guy. I think he’s got a chance to be a really good player.”

Sophomore S Matt Elam: “In Matt Elam, although he’s a sophomore, we think he’s like our biggest vet back there. I think Matt has some traits to be a really talented safety, and I’m looking forward to him.”

Sophomore CB Cody Riggs: “I’ve always loved the competitive fire of Cody.”

Junior S Josh Evans: “Josh Evan is another one who has terrific size and speed, so I’m hoping he can pull through and do some stuff.”

Freshman S De’Ante “Pop” Saunders: “The one guy that I thought has really come on – he’s changed positions during training camp – is Pop Saunders. From playing corner and safety and nickel, he’s done a good job. […] For him – going through the spring practice as a young player – made a huge difference. Think about all the experience that you gain and the practice that he gained from coming in early. That’s one player that it really benefited him coming in early because he had more of a chance to learn the defense and had some more reps at it. I’m very encouraged. Any time you have a safety that has corner cover skills, that’s really what you’re looking for.”

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely: “I’ve always liked the energy that he brings to the field.”

Redshirt freshman LB Michael Taylor: “Mike Taylor is a guy that I think can provide some versatility, he can play in the regular package, he can play in the nickel package. I think he’s got good instincts, and he’s a player we’re hoping to develop.”

Redshirt junior defensive end Earl Okine: “As a tall guy, he’s got length, and sometimes as a defensive lineman, especially as a two-gap defensive lineman, you look for a guy who has got length who can keep the blockers off him. Earl’s a tall guy, he played with good effort, and we feel like he’s kind of developing in the system here to play both 3-4 and 4-3.”

Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley: “Dominique had a really good camp, and he’s kind of playing what we play our three – our tackle position. Sometimes he lines up all the way on the tackle, sometimes he lines up inside.”

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Gators Halapio, Okine involved in car crash

Florida Gators redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio and redshirt junior defensive tackle Earl Okine were involved in a crash on I-10 in Madison County on Sunday.

The car they were driving “hit small trees and bushes in the median,” according to WCTV, but both players appear to be unharmed after emergency medical personnel dispatched to the scene evaluated the two young men.

A Florida spokesman confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel Sunday evening that the players were not injured in the crash. Expectations are that both will be at practice Monday.

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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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The Countdown: Florida Gators roster (99-90)

With the 2010-11 athletic season now in the books and the 2011-12 season about to begin, the focus has shifted from some of the school’s smaller sports to, of course, Florida Gators football. In this new series, OGGOA will take a look at every player of substance on the roster, counting down by jersey number, until the season begins.

99 – Omar Hunter (Buford, GA)
Redshirt junior nose tackle
6’1” 305 lbs.

Quick Bio: A Parade and EA Sports All-American out of high school, Hunter is a five-star recruit who redshirted in 2008. He majors in social & behavioral sciences.

Career Stats (29 games): 40 tackles (17 solo, 4.5 for loss), one pass break up, one blocked field goal

2010 Season: Hunter started six games last year but played in every contest and spent some time on special teams. He amassed 23 tackles and had his best game against Kentucky when he recorded three tackles and had his first career pass break up.

2011 Outlook: In the process of losing weight and fighting through injuries, Hunter was limited during the spring but is expected to jockey with sophomore Sharrif Floyd for the starting job at nose in Florida’s 3-4 set. He hopes to serve as a veteran presence for a unit that could be one of the Gators’ strengths come the fall and has set out to prove to the coaching staff that he can be relied upon. “The message I tried to send was that I was going to be there whether I was hurt or not,” he told ESPN.com. “I’m always going to have their backs and I’m always going to push through injuries for them.”

98 – Zach Brust (Jacksonville, FL)
Senior kicker
6’1” 168 lbs.

Quick Bio: A walk-on who enrolled at Florida in 2007, Brust is majoring in building construction and set to play his final season in the Orange and Blue.

Career Stats (four games): 26 kickoffs for 1,562 yards (60.1 average), one missed XP

2010 Season: With redshirt junior Caleb Strugis out due to an injured back, Brust was the Gators’ kickoff specialist against Georgia, Vanderbilt, South Carolina and Appalachian State. He missed an extra point in the latter game.

2011 Outlook: Due to Strugis having nearly fully recovered from his back injuries, Brust will likely once again be relegated to back-up duty.

97 – Brad Phillips (Gainesville, FL)
Sophomore kicker
5’10 178 lbs.

Quick Bio: A walk-on who enrolled at Florida in 2010, Phillips is a former National Honor Society president who is studying pre-pharmacy at UF.

Career Stats (three games): Nine kickoffs for 572 yards (63.6 average)

2010 Season: Like Brust, Phillips filled in for Sturgis on kickoffs, playing against Alabama, LSU and Mississippi State.

2011 Outlook: Also like Brust, Phillips will be a back-up for Strugis should he get injured or the team decides there is a better option to kick the ball off.

96 – William Green (Hoover, AL)
Senior defensive end
6’4” 245 lbs.

Quick Bio: A Parade and EA Sports All-American out of high school, Green is a four-star recruit who was a member of the Rivals100 and ESPN 150 in 2008. He is studying social & behavioral sciences and is set to graduate after this season. Green has played in 39 games during his college career, missing just one in 2008, but has only made one start.

Career Stats (39 games): 32 tackles (21 solo, nine for loss), two sacks

2010 Season: Green played every game in 2010 and broke out with three tackles and a sack against Appalachian State. He amassed 13 takedowns on the season (11 on his own) and had four tackles for a total loss of 15 yards.

2011 Outlook: Praised by new head coach Will Muschamp for his leadership and work ethic both after practice and in Gator Gatherings throughout the state, Green was listed as a starting defensive end on the team’s spring depth chart and is expected to hold that job going into fall. With redshirt freshman Chris Martin having decided to transfer, Green will be counted on more than ever to play extensively at defensive end while some of the younger players behind him develop.

93 – Kedric Johnson (Palmetto, FL)
Redshirt sophomore defensive end
6’4” 225 lbs.

Quick Bio: A three-star recruit coming out of high school, Johnson (like his line mates) is studying social & behavioral sciences at UF. He redshirted in 2009 even though he dressed for the first seven games of the season.

Career Stats/2010 Season: Johnson played in all 13 games last year, registering a total of four tackles (two solo, one for loss) and one pass breakup with most of his work coming on the special teams units.

2011 Outlook: After being cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana on Jan. 9, Johnson hoped to participate in spring practice but was unable to do so after spraining his knee. He was held out of the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut and left off of the spring depth chart due to his injury. He will likely remain a special teams performer this year.

85 – Lynden Trail (Miami, FL)
Redshirt freshman defensive end
6’7” 217 lbs.

Quick Bio: One of the Gators’ most charismatic players, Trail was a four-star prospect coming out of high school. He married his high school sweetheart before enrolling at Florida and currently majors in social & behavioral sciences.

2010 Season: Trail dressed for the first two games but redshirted in order to retain his four years of eligibility.

2011 Outlook: With the size and speed to be explosive off the end, Trail spent time at buck linebacker in the spring and hopes to see the field extensively in 2011.

91 – Earl Okine (Gainesville, FL)
Redshirt junior defensive tackle
6’7” 282 lbs.

Quick Bio: Third-team All-State coming out of high school, Okine was a four-star recruit who redshirted his freshman season after dressing for six games and saw his first game action in 2009. He is majoring in social & behavioral sciences and hopes to have found a final position after being shuffled around during his career.

Career Stats (16 games): Seven tackles (five solo, one for loss), one sack

2010 Season: Seeing action in just five games during his redshirt freshman season, Okine played in 11 contests in 2010 but missed the final two (against Florida State and Penn State) after suffering a concussion in November. He had moved to blocking tight end at one point during fall practice but was transitioned back to the defensive line.

2011 Outlook: Okine worked at both tackle and end during the spring but missed some practice after having what Muschamp termed as a “medical procedure” on his wrist. He was listed in the spring depth chart as a back-up to Floyd at DT but will have to fight to see major playing time there; he could have additional opportunities at end.

THE COUNTDOWN: 99-90 | 89-80 | 79-70 | 69-60 | 59-50 | 49-40 |
39-30 | 29-20 | 19-10 | 9-1

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4/1: Health of Florida’s linemen a concern, etc.

With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice now in full swing, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media at the conclusion of the third week on Friday. Maintaining a serious and balanced demeanor, Muschamp discussed a number of topics including the team’s health at the line of scrimmage, how many days of practice have actually been successful and how both players and coaches are performing thus far.

OFFENSIVE LINE BANGED UP

An ongoing story throughout spring practice is that linemen on both sides of the ball are missing much-needed time on the field due to injury. Another player was officially added to that list Friday. Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Nick Alajajian, who wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday that he tore his meniscus in practice, will officially miss the remainder of the spring after undergoing surgery that will sideline him for approximately three months. Also currently out of action is junior tackle Xavier Nixon, who sprained his ankle but should be back in action on Monday.

Asked how many players are functional now on the offensive line, Muschamp was quite forthcoming in his reply. “We’re working about seven. That’s total bodies, too. That’s all we got,” he said. “Injuries are part of the game. There’s nobody feeling sorry for the Gators right now, I can tell you that. You got to have other guys step up. One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. Somebody else has got to step up. You build depth on your football team through these situations; you find out a lot more about your football team in these situations. It’s something that happens. We don’t have any excuses around here.”

Because Florida is getting thin up front on both sides of the ball, the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut on April 9 may be a bit of a mix-and-match between the two squads. “We need to have a good functional day within teaching our schemes. We’re too thin to divide up,” Muschamp said. “I don’t want to get a guy matched up in a bad mismatch issue and you can’t get the ball off in some situations. That certainly can happen, especially as thin as we are. That’s the operation we’re going to have. We met as a staff [Friday] morning, talked about the spring game and the procedures we will go through.”

PLAYMAKERS PROVIDING A MEASURE OF CONSISTENCY

The Gators had a tough time making dynamic plays on offense in 2010, but Muschamp was happy to discuss how some of his offensive playmakers have performed so far in practice. Speaking of the wide receivers, he called redshirt juniors Frankie Hammond, Jr. and Omarius Hines the most consistent while raving about sophomore Quinton Dunbar’s ability to stretch the field in the vertical passing game. “He’s a guy that’s really a weapon outside,” said Muschamp of Dunbar. He also noted that redshirt senior Deonte Thompson “has done some nice things” and that redshirt sophomore Andre Debose (sprained ankle) will be back in action early next week.

Above anyone else, Muschamp went out of his way to praise redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed’s progress. “Jordan Reed is having a really good spring at tight end,” he said. “He’s a match-up issue for a defense. What are you going to put on him in your mans and your zones? He’s able to stretch the field vertically, block on the perimeter, block on the edge, block at the point of attack. I’ve been very pleased with his spring.” Getting the ball to these players will be redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley, of whom Muschamp also offered positive reviews. “He’s managing out football team very well,” he said. “He’s got a lot on his plate. It’s a quarterback system as far as in the run game and pass game. We’re very pleased with where he is at this point.”

PRACTICING HARD AND INCREASING FLEXIBILITY

Out of the 10 practices that Florida has held up to this point, Muschamp said that nine have been great. The other? He doesn’t think the team made much progress in that one. However, he thinks the team is responding great overall. “The guys are working very hard. We’ve had great off days of watching film and learning,” he said. “For the most part, they’re paying attention to great detail in what we’re trying to do and learning what we do. It’s not just about learning what to do, learning why we do it is important, too.”

Stressing the ability for his players to perform at multiple positions, Muschamp noted that redshirt junior defensive end Lerentee McCray has also been playing some SAM linebacker and that redshirt junior defensive tackle Earl Okine has also seen time at end. “There’s been some pleasant surprises for us in some cross-training work,” he said. The biggest surprise is certainly redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison, who moved from guard to center and is learning the position at a fast pace. “Jon Harrison at center is a guy that’s done a nice job,” Muschamp said. “There’s an awful lot on the center as far as snapping and blocking. If you’ve never done it before, there’s an awful lot to it. I’ve been pleased with his progress.”

NOTES & QUOTES

» Sophomore running back Mack Brown had successful surgery on a broken fibula and remains on track to return to action in July.

» On what has been worked on recently in practice: “We’ve really [done] a lot of situational work as far as red zone, third down, coming off the goal line, end of game situations that come up. We’ve got a very experienced staff of guys that have come up with a lot of different situations that we’ll practice and go through. Because in this league, we’re going to have four or five games that will come down to the end of the game, and you’ve got to be good at the end of the game. [It’s about] making good decisions – not just as coaches but as players.”

» On if four-star QB Jacoby Brissett has received any teaching yet: “Jacoby came up during his spring break and spent three or four days with us sitting in the meetings and being out at practice. He will spend more time obviously when summer comes in. We’ve got a video playbook that we go through with our players that we put together on both sides of the ball that’s more teaching terminology, formations, sets, routes, run game. We have a pretty extensive video that you can learn from so when you get here you’re familiar with the terminology.”

» On allowing redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey to talk to the media after he was shunned in 2010: “I don’t know about last year. Chris is going to be a productive football player for us. I trust him. Chris Rainey has worked tremendously hard since I’ve been here. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. There’s been nothing that has been any glitch as far as how he’s performed on- and off-the-field for us since I’ve been at the University of Florida. That’s really all I go off of. We all go through a maturing stage in our life. Whatever happened, maybe he grew up from and learned from.”

» On offensive line coach Frank Verducci: “Frank is a great teacher. He’s not a holler and a screamer. Most of these offensive line coaches, they just want to hear themselves talk. Frank doe s a great job of teaching; he teaches the players very professionally. He does a great job of communicating with players about what to do and how to do it, demands great effort. I’ve been very pleased with their execution up to this point.” He also said that Verducci and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis have a noticeably great working relationship that is already paying dividends for the team.

» On defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson: “Travaris Robinson is an outstanding football coach. He has tremendous knowledge and appeals to young people. They gravitate to him as a coach, as a person. He does a phenomenal job on the field as far as coaching, getting the message across and the players playing for him. Motivation of players is as much important to me as far as teaching is concerned, that’s part of it. He certainly inspires learning in our group.”

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3/29: Brown hurt, Brantley leads, Demps around

Eight days into spring football practice, Florida Gators head coach Will Muschamp is starting to get a feel for his team. On Tuesday, he provided some injury updates, talked about the quarterback situation, updated the status of a missing player and provided a bunch of information about the team in general.

INJURY UPDATES

Redshirt freshman running back Mack Brown (broken fibula): “Mack Brown sustained an injury Friday in practice. Broke a fibula, which is a non-weight bearing bone. It is a three-month procedure, and he will be in fine.” Brown will have surgery on Wednesday and should be active in July.

Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose (sprained ankle): Muschamp called his injury “nothing serious,” indicating that he will be back at full speed sooner than later.

Brown and Debose join junior RB Mike Gillislee (stress fracture in foot – limited for spring), redshirt sophomore defensive end Kendric Johnson (sprained knee – out for spring) and defensive tackles redshirt senior Jaye Howard (ankle scope) and redshirt junior Earl Okine (wrist) on Florida’s injured list.

BRANTLEY STEPPING GAME, LEADERSHIP UP

Coming off a rough first season as the starter, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley is doing well in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis‘s system. While Brantley is proving to be ahead of his primary competition – redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy and freshman Jeff Driskel – he still has a way to go in order to be 100 percent comfortable.

“John, in the sense of learning a new offense, is a freshman again as far as the different ball handling and different things Charlie has him doing,” Muschamp said. “I’ve been very pleased with how he’s managed our football team and made plays down the field vertically.” Asked if he was already anointed the team’s starter, Muschamp deflected the question. “John’s had a good spring. He’s playing well right now. He’s doing a nice job managing our offense. We’re in practice eight, and we’ve got a lot of time to go,” he said.

DEMPS WITH TEAM – JUST NOT PRACTICING

Though senior RB Jeff Demps is spending the vast majority of his time practicing with the men’s track and field team for their outdoor season, Muschamp explained that he has been around the football practice facility often, is doing what he can to get engrained with the new program and will get to work with football as soon as track ends.

“He’ll work through the whole summer. He’s been a part of all of our meetings and all of our walkthroughs, so he’s been our building. He’s been working on football,” he said. “He’s been a part of what we’re trying to do. Mentally he has an idea of what we’re going to ask him to do in the fall. This summer, after the outdoor season is over, our players will conduct seven-on-seven and team drills throughout the summer on their own without coaches. He’ll be involved with that. When we start camp in August, he’ll still be competing for the starting job.”

Muschamp also discussed his philosophy about dual-sport athletes like Demps and incoming freshman QB Jacoby Brissett. Specifically of Demps, he said, “If a young man wants to play two sports here, as long as he handles what he’s supposed to off the field and academically, I’m 100 percent for it as long as it helps the University of Florida.”

TEAM NOTES & QUOTES

» Redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey continues to separate himself from the pack, impressing his coaches as well as his teammates. “[He] has really had a good spring. He’s a guy that makes an awful lot of plays. Getting the ball deeper to him in the backfield helps him. He’s got great vision, cut-back ability and bounce ability. You got to be really gap-sound on him and the run game.”

» Muschamp said the offensive line has “progressed well” overall.

» A number of players were listed as having standout performances on both sides of the ball. “[Tight end] Jordan Reed did some really nice things last Friday as far as catching the ball vertically down the field. [WR] Quinton Dunbar made some plays Saturday in the scrimmage.” Muschamp also pointed out sophomore defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley as well as junior linebacker Jon Bostic, redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins, redshirt junior defensive end Lerentee McCray, sophomore safety Matt Elam and redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown as players who have impressed him.

» Muschamp said senior kicker Caleb Sturgis played well on Saturday and that he is “very pleased with his progress.” He also noted that freshman punter Kyle Christy was strong over the weekend.

» On how quickly the team is picking up the new systems: “We feel comfortable with where we are. It’s all relative. I’ve been pleased so far with retention on both sides of the ball and in special teams.”

» On Murphy and Driskel: “Both of them have made some plays. As far as the ability, the athleticism, the arm talent, the mental capacity to learn and to do things the right way – are all there [for Driskel]. He’s in his eighth college practice, and he’s in an offense where there’s a lot on the quarterback. […] There’s been some bright spots in both of those guys and a bright future in both of those guys.”

» On position flexibility: “We’re going to play the best players. Play the best players that give us the opportunity to be successful and win football games. […] You’ve got to be able to move guys around to find out if they can to do it because you don’t even know until you try a guy at a different spot. […] We’re just trying to experiment to build depth on our football team to get the best 11 on the field instead of just plugging a guy in because he’s a backup.”

» In addition to Dunbar, Muschamp said four other receivers have stood out: Debose, redshirt senior Deonte Thompson, redshirt junior Omarius Hines and redshirt junior Frankie Hammond, Jr.. He believes the team is in need of consistency past those five.

» On if he has any concerns about the size of sophomore CB Cody Riggs: “Cody’s a good football player. He’s got a tremendous heart [and] all the ability as far as playing hard and playing fast and doing the things you got to do to be a good football player. […] It’s not about how tall you are. It’s about if you make plays or not.”

» On the health of sophomore LB Neiron Ball: “He had a procedure done today and he’s going to be fine. We’re just working through that with him right now and his family. It’s an unfortunate situation but he’s a fine young man. Things happen in life sometimes that you don’t understand, but he’s handled this as well as you can handle it. We’re all praying for him and his family right now. He’s going to be fine; the prognosis is very positive and we feel very comfortable about where he is right now. […] I’m not worried about his football future. I’m worried about his overall health right now. The least part of my mind right now is worried about his football future.”

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Gators continue to roll through spring practice

With the men’s basketball team’s deep run in the 2011 NCAA Tournament dominating the front page over the last week, Florida Gators football took a backseat for once in people’s minds. Even so, football continued to make strides during spring practice and plenty occurred with the team throughout the last seven days.

CONGRATULATING THE BASKETBALL TEAM

Florida head coach Will Muschamp took a moment before he began talking about the football team on Friday to praise head basketball coach Billy Donovan and the efforts of his team. “I want to congratulate Billy Donovan and our basketball program with a great game [against BYU],” he said. “It’s a great example of competing and playing defense and coming together for a common purpose. That was exciting to watch.”

RAINEY CONTINUES TO STAND OUT

After a few days of spring practice, Muschamp pointed to redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey as one of the team’s most impressive players. He did the exact same thing on Friday. “I think Chris has had a phenomenal spring. Here’s a guy who’s a senior [and] has played a lot of football – some really good football – for the Gators, and he’s really worked his tail off as far as day-to-day going in and doing things you’ve got to do to be successful,” he said. “He’s enjoying getting the ball deeper I the backfield to have a chance for his vision and great cutback ability [to pay dividends]. You have to be very gap-sound defensively when he carries the football. He can take the ball all the way. I’m pleased with his progress.”

Muschamp also spoke about how offensive coordinator Charlie Weis will use Rainey’s talents to maximize what the team can do offensively. “Charlie Weis’ philosophy is [to] get the ball in the playmakers’ hands and create matchups,” he said. “Chris will be spread all throughout the field. The slot, outside, depending on how people want to play us defensively, he presents issues. You match a linebacker with him, you’ve got a matchup problem. If you put a secondary guy on him, generally, we we’re going to gain a matchup [advantage] somewhere else. He makes you show your hand defensively a little bit.”

INJURY UPDATES

Junior RB Mike Gillislee (foot): Stress fracture; will be limited remainder of the spring

Redshirt sophomore defensive end Kendric Johnson (knee): Sprained; will not participate for the remainder of the spring

Gillislee and Johnson join defensive tackles redshirt senior Jaye Howard (ankle) and redshirt junior Earl Okine (wrist) on UF’s spring injured list.

QUOTES

Muschamp on four-star quarterback commit Jacoby Brissett possibly playing basketball: “Billy has been a little busy. We haven’t had a whole lot of conversation, but in the recruiting process, that door is open for Jacoby. We’re going to let him make that decision. Once we get done with spring and Billy gets done winning the whole thing there, we’ll sit down and talk about it. […] We’ve been very honest and forthright with that situation. It’s hard, especially at that position, but we’ve told him from the beginning that if that’s something he wants to do, we’ll certainly make that accommodation to make sure it happens.” This quote above comes courtesy of The Gainesville Sun

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3/22: Muschamp’s thoughts from spring practice

With the Florida Gators spring practice for the 2011 season underway, head coach Will Muschamp met the media Tuesday afternoon to discuss how individual players are performing, the injury statuses of others, the team’s health and how players are responding to so much information being thrown at them. OGGOA has compiled some of the most important news, notes and quotes from his availability.

DEBOSE’s POTENTIAL TALENT IS UNDENIABLE

From injuries and ailments to what former head coach Urban Meyer called an inability to learn the entire playbook, redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose has yet to live up to the five-star billing he came out of high school with. However, when Debose did see the field in 2010, he often made electric plays including two fantastic kickoff return touchdowns in clutch situations. Muschamp explained how Debose is progressing and what he needs to do to succeed in offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’s system.

“I’ve been pleased with his athleticism in the offseason,” he said. “Being a consistent worker all the time, he’s got to understand it’s a day-to-day thing. It’s not just one day here, one day the next. His consistency in his performance is what I’m stressing on, but athletically, he’s what we want at the wideout position.”

Asked if he saw Debose’s potential, Muschamp dismissed the notion. “Potential is a bad word. It means you haven’t done it,” he said. “He’s got to continue to progress to be the football player he needs to be. God’s blessed him with an awful lot of ability, but he’s got to use that ability. He’s worked hard in the offseason. He had a really good offseason program, and I’m proud of the progress he’s made up to this point. Now it’s time to be productive on the field. That’s what I’m looking for, consistent production on the field.”

OFFENSIVE LINE STEPPING UP

One of Muschamp and Weis’s immediate knocks on Florida’s returning roster was the lack of depth on both the offense and defensive lines. Though that is certainly the case, the unit performed quite well on Tuesday and showed signs of promise.

“We have some guys that can be very productive, but also we’re throwing a lot at them on their side of the ball coupled with what we’re doing defensively,” Muschamp said. “So you’ve got a lot of thinking going on right now. I’ve seen some productive things. We had some good creases in the run game today, as far as running the football. Chris [Rainey] got loose a couple times; Mack [Brown] made a couple nice runs. We’re getting a hat on a hat in the running game, and a lot of that goes to the offensive line.”

He also took a moment out to compliment the offensive line coach Weis brought with him to the Gators. “Frank Verducci is an outstanding teacher. He does a really good job coaching the players,” he said.

QUARTERBACKS STILL ADJUSTING

For redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley, Weis and his pro-style offense was a godsend. Now that everything is in place, all that is left is for him to go out and win that starting job outright by setting himself apart from everyone else. There is no doubt he has the upper hand as of press time.

“John’s done some nice things throwing the ball,” Muschamp said. “We’re kind of re-learning everything as far as playing under center more. [He] threw some nice balls today. He’s been the most consistent, and [the other QBs have] been kind of spotty from that point forward – behind him.

“John’s a mature player. He’s ahead of the other guys simply because of experience and he’s very talented. We just need to continue to progress at that position.”

INJURY UPDATES / POSITION CHANGES

INJURIES
Redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard (ankle): “We went ahead and did a scope on Jaye Howard Monday, to clean up some things in his ankle that have kind of been an issue for the last couple of months. His timetable is uncertain, it was just a scope.”

Redshirt junior DT Earl Okine (wrist): “He had a medical procedure, and he’s going to be fine. Could have probably gone today, but we held him for precautionary reasons.”

POSITION CHANGES
Sophomore F-position/fullback Trey Burton: “He’s doing a nice job. He’s adjusting well in what he’s doing as far as the blocking and the things. Slipping him out of the backfield, Charlie’s using him in a lot of different ways. He fits well in what we do. He’s a smart, productive football player.”

Sophomore linebacker/tight end Gerald Christian: “He’s done fine. We’ve worked some bigger personnel sets [Tuesday on] offense, and he repped at tight end as well, which we said we were going to do that from the beginning. He’s a tough, physical football player. He likes the game; he likes contact. We just need to have more guys that can be productive at that position.”

QUOTES

On the players’ weights: “Every player has got a prescribed weight. It’s [decided] through myself, the position coach and Mickey [Marotti]. Every player has a certain weight that they should meet. We have a very fit football team right now. We have very few guys that have weight issues as far as being overweight. You can probably count them on one hand, which is unusual. Most of the guys are in shape. We had a good five-week offseason program, and those guys did an outstanding job of running. They’re in good condition at this point.”

On the team’s aptitude: “It’s all new for everybody. Everybody’s a freshman a little bit, on both sides of the ball.”

On slowing down the installations: “As a staff, we need to sit down and make sure that we’re not doing so much right now that it’s slowing us down in how we’re playing and [with] the physicality we need to play with on both sides of the ball. […] We’ve got a lot of guys swimming right now. We’ve thrown an awful lot at them – on both sides of the ball. They’re seeing a lot of looks right now. Just an awful lot is going on in their mind right now. We’ve thrown a bunch at them. They won’t see as many looks throughout the season as they’ve probably seen the last four days.“

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