With the Florida Gators beginning weekly preparations for their first game on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Tuesday to discuss how the team is progressing.
RIGGS READY FOR HIS SECOND SEASON
By all accounts, sophomore cornerback Cody Riggs played well as a freshman in 2010, but that does not mean there was nothing for him to improve going into his second year. Specifically, Riggs noted Tuesday that he made it a point to gain some significant weight in order to be a tougher player for wide receivers to get open against. “I’ve gotten more physical this year. I’ve also put on some weight so I’m able to handle bigger receivers,” he said. “I put on 15 pounds since last year. I’ve gotten stronger in the weight room and on the field it’s showing.”
Citing his game experience from last season and his tenacity for trying to improve each and every practice, Riggs still believes he has a shot to earn a starting role in Saturday’s season opener against the Florida Atlantic Owls. “It’s all up for grabs,” he said. “It’s up to Coach [Will] Muschamp whoever starts this week.” He does admit, however, that some of the younger players at his position are doing well and can be relatively interchangeable when necessary. “We have a lot of talent back there,” he said. “If someone goes down, the next person comes in and we’re not going to miss a beat.”
Riggs, who prides himself “on bothering receivers up and down the field,” also believes the secondary as a whole will be making plenty of plays throughout the year. “We get after the ball a lot in practice,” he said. “We just try to make as many plays as possible. Whenever the ball is our way, we just try to make a play on it.”
PLAYERS RESPECT FLORIDA ATLANTIC’s ABILITY
Though FAU’s own head coach, Howard Schnellenberger
, admitted Monday that his team is probably not going to win Saturday’s game against Florida, the players on the home team see things a bit differently. To them, the Owls are just like any other opponent that they will have to play at the top of their game to take down.
“I have a lot of respect for their team and the way they play,” redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. “They’re a hard-nosed team and they like to run the ball. They’re not going to come in here afraid of us, so we’re going to have to play to our best to beat them.” Redshirt freshman wide receiver Quinton Dunbar co-signed Jenkins’s thoughts. “They got pretty good athletes,” he said. “I feel like they got nice size, nice corners, so we just got to come out and play our game. We can’t slack on them.”
JENKINS LEARNING TO BECOME MORE VOCAL
With a relatively quiet demeanor off the field, Jenkins has been forced to have a loud voice on the field not only to direct his team during the game but also to help lead a defense filled with a lot of younger players. He says the transformation has not been “too difficult” for him to undergo this year. “We have a lot of checks, we have a lot of signals as a defense that force you to be vocal,” he said. “You’re always talking out there, always communicating, so it hasn’t been that difficult. [...] People count on you on the field to make a lot of calls, even off the field they’re always listening to you. The more you know the defense, the more you’re talking always helping each other out.”
LEARNING TO LOVE BLOCKING
When redshirt sophomore Jordan Reed was finally named a full-time tight end, he envisioned catching plenty of passes, making some great plays and hauling in some receptions for touchdowns. There was one part of his duties, however, that has been the toughest for him to learn thus far. “Blocking. I was a quarterback before, so I never had to be physical,” he said. “Now I’m learning to block and everything, so that’s probably [been] the hardest. I don’t think anybody likes blocking. You got to learn to love it, but you’re never going to like it.”
It is a good thing that Reed is learning to block well because offensive coordinator Charlie Weis loves to feature the tight end in his offense, something Reed is perfectly aware of. “From what I heard from the past about his offenses, I knew that he used the tight end a lot, so I was pretty excited,” Reed said of Weis agreeing to let him play it full-time. “I just got to go out there and make plays. Hopefully he’ll try to get me the ball.”
REDSHIRT FRESHMAN SENSATION’s TIME TO SHINE?
Dunbar’s name has popped up over and over again throughout the offseason as the player who has stepped up the most during practice and training camp. He showed some flashes of his ability during the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut in the spring and is ready to contribute this year however he is needed. “Deep passes come into play,” he said, “but I’m an overall receiver – short, deep, medium – it doesn’t matter. I’ve been working on every route.”
Speaking about both the offense of himself and his personal goals, Dunbar believes the season opener can do a lot of good for the Gators. “[We just have to] come out clicking, with great timing, doing good to get ready for the season,” he said. “Personally for myself, it’s just to get one game under my belt, get game action and get used to game speed.”
He also discussed the advantages of having Weis on the field this year as opposed to up in a box watching the game from above. “He’s closer to the field so he can see some things out there that he probably can’t see from the box. That’s probably a big advantage,” Dunbar said. “This is a new offense, so [he can] continue to show us things during the game. It’s very helpful. If I see something out there that I don’t understand, I see the offensive coordinator there so I can ask him.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Riggs on redshirt junior CB Jeremy Brown (knee) missing time: “I’m sure it hurts him a lot. Jeremy’s a great player and we miss him a lot.”
» Riggs on Muschamp’s demeanor this week: “Still as fired up as always. He’s always trying to make us better.”
» Dunbar said that Weis is “an aggressive coach but at the same time he teaches you.” He recounted being yelled at by Weis a few times and said he usually makes a confused face that sometimes gets him even angrier.
» Reed said he was able to knock down redshirt sophomore LB Dee Finely once during spring practice. “It felt good,” he said, “but not better than catching the ball.”
» Reed said the offense is using “a lot” of two tight end sets with redshirt freshman Gerald Christian playing opposite him.