9/7: Hammond, Bostic comment on the Gators

With the Florida Gators in the middle of preparations for their second game of the season on Sept. 10 at home against UAB, a few prominent players were made available to the media on Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing.

PERIMETER BLOCKING A BIG PLUS

Running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey got most of the praise for the offense’s dominant season opening performance against Florida Atlantic. However, as offensive coordinator Charlie Weis pointed out Tuesday and redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. confirmed Wednesday, the perimeter blocking of the pass catchers on outside runs and swing passes was also quite clutch.

“We just embraced [blocking] because [Weis has] put so much emphasis on Demps and Rainey and their speed,” Hammond said. “We know that we don’t have to hold the blocks for that long because they’ll get behind us real quick. He put emphasis on just block, letting them run, get up the field and do what they do. […]

“It’s just trusting the offense and knowing your assignment and what you have to do. When you see it happen and you see him spring and he’s going and you see the number run by you, just knowing that you blocked for your teammate and you’re doing everything to help the team win, it’s a great feeling.”

FRESHMEN STAND OUT TO BOSTIC

Junior mike linebacker Jon Bostic has lot to deal with game-in and game-out, but if one of his younger teammates steps up as much as he thinks he can, things could be a bit easier going forward. Redshirt freshman LB Michael Taylor, who stayed off the field in 2010 but has turned some heads so far this year, may be integral to the unit’s success going forward. “One thing about him – he attacks real well,” Bostic said. “He’s one of those guys – when he sees it, he’s just going to go. He’s got a trigger. […] He’s real important [to the team.] We tell him that every day. He’s just one play away. Anything can happen and he’s in the game. We’re going to need him as the season goes along.”

Bostic has been equally impressed with freshman fullback Hunter Joyer, whose strength and effort have already stood out to him. “Physical. He’s real physical,” he said of Joyer. “The first time I went against him, I came in the hole and I hit him, and I came back and told Jelani [Jenkins]. I said, ‘Have you hit Hunter Joyer yet?’ He’s like, ‘No.’ I’m like, ‘He didn’t move.’” After Bostic chuckled at Joyer’s strength, he explained why he is so important. “He’s quiet – goes out every day and works hard. He’s one of those guys people always look over. They see Rainey scoring, Demps scoring, but he’s that guy that puts in the extra work and gets them to the next level. “

DEFENSE GOOD BUT TURNOVERS NEEDED

The Gators defense held FAU to 30 net rushing yards on Saturday, a fact that Bostic said the defense took a lot of pride in when watching the film. “That’s our main focus every week – is to stop the run,” he said. “We want to get them in second-and-long, third-and-long, but that first down is where we really want to stop the run.”

However, when it came to game-changing plays in the form of turnovers, he was aware that Florida undoubtedly fell short. “Even though we held them to limited rushing yards and limited passing yards, that’s one thing we need to stress every game,” he said. “We need at least three turnovers a game. That’s our goal every game.” The Gators may have come a bit closer to that goal had Jenkins not dropped a ball that hit him in the hands. “We tell him every day that he can’t catch,” Bostic said laughing.

One thing Jenkins is succeeding at is improving his on-field communication. According to Bostic, the two veteran linebackers are so in-sync that sometimes they do not even need to say anything to each other. “The communication between us is real good, especially with me and Jelani – for some reason we may not even have to talk all the time,” he said. “I may look at him or he may look at me and it’s like I know what he’s thinking, he knows what I’m thinking. We’re trying to get communication like that between all of us.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Hammond on redshirt sophomore WR Andre Debose’s improvement: “He looks a lot more comfortable. He’s making more plays and he’s just coming along. He’s catching the ball, making plays and knowing his assignments. He’s making an improvement. He’s been in the playbook, he’s been working, he’s been making more plays and getting more confident and it’s just carried to the games.”

» Hammond on if Weis’s teachings hold more water than other coaches he’s had: “Yeah but at the same time, if we have a correction or a dilemma, we’re not scared to go up and ask him and say, ‘Well I think this. I’ve seen this. I’ve seen that.’ He’ll break it down. He’ll coach it up. We’ll have our little disputes, but at the end of the day we’ll get it all squared away. When he says something in installs, he’s run that play forever, so I’m pretty sure he knows the ins-and-outs of it and he’s seen it work at the top level so, it works.”

» Bostic on the linebackers’ effort on Saturday: “I’d say we played pretty good. We were aggressive coming down hill. We still have a lot of things we can work on footwork-wise, technique, getting all the calls out. Overall we did pretty well.”

» Bostic on one thing that his unit can improve: “Basically just knowing what we’re doing on every play, getting more comfortable in there. Even though we may be comfortable in practice, getting under the lights and in front of another team, you start thinking a little bit more. We just have to relax when we’re out there.”

» Bostic on if Demps or Rainey ever surprise him: “Yeah. Every time. Like when Demps will break off a run, you say it every time, ‘That guy can run.’ With Rainey, you never know what to expect. He’ll put a move on you to the left or right, you never know what you’re going to get out of him.”

» Bostic on the improvement of the offense: “Our offense did keep us off the field a lot more than we were used to. […] One thing going in, we were like, ‘We were on the field forever last year.’ This year we were pissed off at them in the first half. We were like, ‘Can we play?’ I think end of the second quarter I was in like 12 plays at the most.”

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9/5: Will Muschamp’s Monday press conference

Head coach Will Muschamp meets with the media each Monday to wrap-up the previous Saturday’s game and look ahead to the Florida Gators next opponent. Below are some of the most important notes and quotes from this week’s availability.

OPENING STATEMENT AND PLAYER AWARDS

Opening statement: “I thought it was a solid performance. I was really pleased with our mental focus coming into the game and how our kids approached the game, understanding we’ll play better people throughout the year to be realistic here. I thought for a first ball game we had some hiccups here and there, some things we got to get cleaned up, a lot to teach from the tape but a lot of positives as well.”

Offensive Players of the Game: RBs redshirt senior Chris Rainey and senior Jeff Demps
Scrap Iron Award (best offensive lineman): Redshirt senior transfer guard Dan Wenger
Big Play Award: Demps
Extra Effort Award: Junior left tackle Xavier Nixon
Defensive Player of the Game: Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley
Hard Hat Award (big hit): Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins
Special Teams Player of the Week: Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis
ST Big Play Award: Sophomore wide receiver Solomon Patton
Scout Team Players of the Week: Offense-Evan Holmes (fr.), Hygens Succes (jr.); Defense-Michael McNeely (fr.); Special Teams-Solomon Schoonover (sr.)

SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week: Redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard

INJURY UPDATES

Sophomore RB Trey Burton (bruise) and redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson (head) “should be fine” going into next week’s game. Redshirt junior WR Omarius Hines (hamstring) is expected to return this week.

Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee) and sophomore WR Robert Clark (hamstring) will be either probable or questionable based on how they perform throughout the week in both practice and the training room.

A TAKE ON ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM

Muschamp provided his perspective on Saturday’s opponent, Alabama-Birmingham. He said he is familiar with head coach Neal Calloway and knows that he “understands about toughness” in regards to a football team’s mentality. Muschamp expects a one-back offense behind a very experienced offensive line that has combined for 118 starts and is returning all five starters from a year ago. He said UAB moved the ball on every opponent they faced one year ago, noting that offensive coordinator Kim Helton played at and graduated from Florida before beginning his coaching career. Muschamp said a new defensive coordinator, Tommy West, will provide the Gators with some unknowns heading into the game and that UAB’s rugby-style punt team will be an something Florida will be prepared for going into the contest.

NOTES & QUOTES

» In regards to sophomore DT Sharrif Floyd’s NCAA eligibility and status, Muschamp partially deflected the question but seemed confident that all would work out in the end. “He’s fine. I have no comment on that at this point,” he said.”

» On if 32 combined touches were too many for Demps and Rainey: “A little of that had to do with Trey [being injured], but we scored 41 points, so we were kind of happy about that.”

» On redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley’s performance: “I thought John was outstanding. I thought he directed the offense, got us in and out of the right runs and passes – no different than I felt watching the film. I thought he was very accurate with the ball, took it to the right places with what they were giving us –t hey were playing more of a sink, soft coverage taking away some vertical things down the field. We hit swing passes all night.”

» On the 10th anniversary of September 11th: “That’s a tough deal. Obviously an attack on our country, to go through what I know a lot of people close to me went through with that is just a tough deal. To have to think through all of that happening – it seems like it was yesterday to me, not 10 years ago now. It’s a tough deal.”

» On how he dealt with his team that weekend: “Getting our team ready was an afterthought after that happened to me. It was more about circling the wagons, understanding why it happened, explaining it to young men why something like that happens. You can’t. You can’t think rationally with irrational people. What happened was totally irrational.”

» On freshman fullback Hunter Joyer’s performance: “We planned on playing him. He’s really progressed well. He really, for a first ball game going out there, was very productive for us in protections, in blocking. A guy that I’m very excited about having on our football team. He gives you a lot of variety of what he can do. He’s very tough; he’s going to be a really good football player for us and we’re very pleased with where he is right now in his progress.”

» Muschamp said that redshirt sophomore WR Andre Debose is getting better and better each time he sees him and is one back-up who really stood out to him on Saturday. “Andre Debose continues to make progress,” he said, “made a really nice catch on third own there on the seven-cut on our sideline.” Defensively Muschamp shouted out freshmen safety De’Ante Saunders, cornerback Marucs Roberson linebacker Graham Stewart and redshirt LB Michael Taylor as players who caught his eye.

» On not getting any turnovers but giving up three: “Yeah, it was a huge concern. That’s something we’re trying to emphasize I think in camp. We did a decent job with that. We were minus-three in turnovers and we were plus-eight in explosives. We had 10 explosives offensively and gave up two defensively. Those are the two factors that we can talk about – all the others you want to talk about – those are the two most critical ones: big play ratio and turnovers.”

» On whether or not he is pleased with how the team has bought into his blue collar mentality: “I want to credit Urban [Meyer] and his staff. A lot of that credit goes to Mickey [Marotti] in the weight room because that’s really where the foundation of your team [is set]. Coaches can only touch the athletes so many times out of the year by the rules. Mickey is with them 12 months out of the year. Certainly his work ethic, his approach and what they’ve been engrained through this program – and that’s why I wanted to retain Mickey for the job he does. They knew how to work, they knew how to compete, they knew how to work out, they knew how go to the practice field every day and have a business-like approach to what we’re trying to do. They certainly have bought in from day one, in my opinion. Some better than others and the ones that didn’t as much aren’t here anymore. I feel very comfortable where we are as far as the work ethic and the approach. Can we do it consistently? We’ve got some young guys that have got to display that over a period of time. We’re talking about one football game at this time. We’ve got a long season ahead of us. That’s the big challenge, and I’m going to challenge the football team today. ‘You’ve got to do it consistently. Now you’ve shown you can, now it’s a week-in, week-out deal. It’s a day-in, day-out. You can’t just show up some days because you’re excited because it’s the first game. It’s got to be week-in, week-out.”

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

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

ABSENCES AND INJURIES

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

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

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

THE DEMPS AND RAINEY SHOW

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

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

BRANTLEY’s STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

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

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

SECONDARY YOUNG BUT DEFENSE STOUT

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

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

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

OTHER NOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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The Countdown: Florida Gators roster (9-1)

With just one day to go until the Florida Gators‘ 2011-12 football season gets underway, the final part of OGGOA‘s new series, The Countdown, takes a look at those players expected to contribute on the field wearing jersey numbers ranging from 9-1.

9 – Joshua Shaw (Palmdale, CA)
Redshirt freshman safety
6’3” 197 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: An early enrollee as a freshman, Shaw only saw the field against South Florida partially due to Florida’s crowded secondary. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and considered the No. 3 cornerback in the nation by Rivals. Choosing the Gators over teams like LSU and Ohio State, Shaw is now a social and behavioral sciences major looking to make an impact.

2011 Outlook: Shaw entered fall practice as a back-up safety vying for a starting job. However, the emergence of true freshmanDe’Ante Saunders and inconsistencies from the entire unit may reduce his time on the field in 2011. Shaw has as good an opportunity as any to break free from the pack by proving he can be effective and consistent in practice and could wind up with plenty of playing time as the season progresses.

84 9 – Quinton Dunbar (Miami, FL)
Redshirt freshman wide receiver
6’1” 184 lbs.

Dunbar previously wore No. 84. Read his section by clicking here.

8 – Trey Burton (Venice, FL)
Sophomore running back
6’3” 229 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: A three-star quarterback recruit, Burton was never expected to spend a large amount of time at that position but wound up doing so as a freshman. A social and behavioral sciences major who plans to switch to business, he was a member of the 2010 SEC All-Freshman Team as a do-everything player last year. Burton spent time behind center as well as at wide receiver, tight end, fullback and as a member of special teams on kickoff coverage. He ran for a team-high 11 touchdowns and broke Tim Tebow’s school record with six touchdowns in a single game (Kentucky). Those six scores were also good for the second-most points scored in a game in SEC history. Burton also came up big against Georgia, totaling 145 all-purpose yards in an important victory.

2011 Outlook: The Gators’ most versatile offensive player, Burton is listed as running back but will also play other roles including full back, tight end and wide receiver. He will be asked to block more than he was a year ago will be used plenty by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. “What Trey gives me…I’m a formation/personnel guy as far as attacks go. Trey gives me a lot of versatility within one personnel group,” Weis said. “Sometimes people don’t understand the magnitude of what that means. He lets you do a lot of things.”

8 – Jeremy Brown (Orlando, FL)
Redshirt junior cornerback
5’10” 187 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star recruit, Brown was sidelined by back problems for two full seasons and earned a redshirt as a freshman. The social and behavioral sciences major made it a point to rehab his back as much as possible during and after the 2009 season and sought to earn a starting role on the team when Joe Haden declared early for the NFL.

2010 Season: Entering camp with an opportunity to win the job across from Janoris Jenkins, Brown eventually wound up doing so and started 10 contests. He missed the final two regular season games with a hamstring injury but played in the Outback Bowl to end the season. He finished the year with 15 tackles and three interceptions.

2011 Outlook: Looking to begin the 2011 season as the oldest starter in the secondary, Brown has been hampered with a knee problem and may miss at least the first game of the season. He will have to fend off a number of young players to win the job outright but will likely be able to do so as coaches noted during the spring that he was impressing during camp.

7 – Ronald Powell (Moreno Valley, CA)
Sophomore buck linebacker
6’4” 248 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: Considered the No. 1 overall prospect coming out of high school by Rivals, Powell was a five-star recruit who played defensive end and tight end in high school. The social and behavioral sciences major fit in as the strong side linebacker in 2010 and was one of just six true freshmen to appear in very game. He finished the season with 25 tackles and one sack, proving that he had a bright future as a dominant force in the SEC.

2011 Outlook: New head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will be counting on Powell big-time in 2011. Named the team’s starting buck linebacker, he will play with his hand in the dirt in 4-3 formations and up as a linebacker in 3-4 sets. Powell’s combination of quickness, agility and athleticism makes him the perfect fit for a position made famous by players under Muschamp like Jason Taylor and Sergio Kindle. Though only in his second year, he is expected to be a major contributor to a unit that hopes to be one of Florida’s strengths this season.

7 – Robert Clark (Palm Beach Gardens, FL)
Sophomore wide receiver
5’9” 173 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: A three-star pass catcher who was teammates with Matt Elam and Gerald Christian at Dwyer High School, Clark was an early enrollee and the first freshman to impress former head coach Urban Meyer one spring ago. He saw limited time on the field in 2010 but caught seven passes for 69 yards and a touchdown.

2011 Outlook: Not much has been said about Clark this offseason. He was not listed as one of the receivers on the Gators’ first two-deep fall depth chart, but Christian believes he will still see time this season. “They don’t have him with the first team and stuff, but every time Robert gets reps he makes the most of it,” he said last month. “He’s not a starter, but I think he’ll get time as an inside guy. One thing about Robert – he doesn’t whine or anything, he just goes hard and gives whatever he has all the time. That’s why I think he makes a big impression on coaches.”

6 – Jaye Howard (Apopka, FL)
Redshirt senior defensive tackle
6’3” 303 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star defensive end in high school who has switched to play on the inside, Howard is a social and behavioral sciences major who took a redshirt as a freshman in 2007. He played in nine games in 2008 but earned his first four starts in 2009, registering 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks as he continued to find his niche with the team.

2010 Season: Stepping into a real starting role for the first time in his career, Howard started eight contests (he missed two due to injury) during his redshirt junior campaign. He was the team’s player of the game twice (Miami-OH, Kentucky) and again nabbed 29 tackles on the season but this time grabbed 2.5 sacks including two in the season opener. Howard’s injury cut into his effectiveness during the year.

2011 Outlook: The true veteran of the defense, Howard has taken a leadership role in the offseason and feels the added responsibility to play at the top of his game. Scouts believe he has the size and strength to succeed at the next level but will be watching his 2011 campaign closely for major signs of improvement. He is Florida’s starting nose tackle heading into the season and is excited about the team’s direction on defense. “I’ve become more accustomed to playing a 3-4 now. It fits my body type and it’s working well with our team, so it’s going to look good this season,” he said.

6 – Deonte Thompson (Belle Glade, FL)
Redshirt senior wide receiver
6’0” 200 lbs.

Quick Bio: A U.S. Army All-American who was considered one of the best wide receivers coming out of high school, Thompson is a humanities and letters major who redshirted as a freshman but began making strides in 2008. Used sparingly as a redshirt freshman, Thompson posted 269 yards and three touchdowns as the Gators went on to win their second national title in two years. He returned in 2009 as a 12-game starter but was plagued by drops, catching just 24 balls for 343 yards and four touchdowns in Florida’s one-loss season.

2010 Season: Looking to rid himself of the stereotype of having butterfingers, Thompson had a rough start dropping a great pass in the season opener. The Gators’ offense – especially the passing game – struggled all year but he did wind up with career highs in receptions (38) and yards (570) but only found the end zone once. He started 12 of 13 games and became a reliable third-down target and first-down maker for classmate John Brantley. In just the first two games of the season he caught nine passes for 107 yards – all for first downs.

2011 Outlook: With Brantley having apparently been rejuvenated by Weis’s pro-style offense, Thompson hopes to make the most of his final year at Florida. He is listed on the team’s first depth chart as the starting Z receiver and has also formed a strong bond with Dunbar, who many expect to have a breakout season. He has also found a role as a standout on special teams, something Muschamp praised recently. “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,” he said. “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.”

5 – Marcus Roberson (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Freshman cornerback
6’0” 184 lbs.

Quick Bio: One of the last players to join the Gators’ 2011 recruiting class, Roberson was ranked as a four-star prospect and one of the best players at his position in the country.

2011 Outlook: Following in the footsteps of Haden and Jenkins, Roberson could very well be the third player in team history to start from day one at cornerback. Whether or not he starts on Saturday will be determined by how well he practiced this week, but he has received universal praise from his teammates and coaches throughout fall practice. “When a guy does have speed and length, sometimes it enables you to play a little different style and match up on some bigger receivers at times,” Quinn said of Roberson. “He has that, and I’m really looking forward to seeing him develop. He’s come into camp and he’s really had a good training camp. He’s made an impression on me.”

4 – Andre Debose (Sanford, FL)
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver
5’11” 191 lbs.

Quick Bio: Hailed as the “next Percy Harvin” (a moniker he detested) before even committing to Florida, Debose was a five-star recruit and one of the best players in the country during his time in high school. After injuring himself in track during his senior year of high school, he had surgery and redshirted the 2009 season, putting on hold the hopes of fans that he would electrify the Gators.

2010 Season: Finally healthy, Debose struggled in picking up Meyer’s offense and did not receive too much time on the field at his natural position of wide receiver. He played in certain packages and picked up 96 yards on 10 receptions but made his greatest impact in 2010 as a kick returner. Debose fielded 21 balls and brought them back for a total of 587 yards with two touchdowns including a dynamic 99-yard return at home against LSU.

2011 Outlook: Debose committed himself to the team in the offseason and has been praised by Muschamp recently as “flashing” with some dynamic touchdown catches in practices and scrimmages. “It’s something that happened over the summer. I really just took football to another level. I have really made football a priority of mine,” Debose said. “I’ve studied a lot more. I’ve really dove into the playbook, so I feel like I have a nice grasp of it. We’ll know the truth once we get on the field and practice what you’ve been studying the whole time.” He is listed as the second-team X receiver and primary kick returner and could finally be in position for a breakout season. “He just continues to show the consistency in his performance, and I’m very pleased,” Muschamp said of him.

4 73 – Sharrif Floyd (Philadelphia, PA)
Sophomore defensive tackle
6’3” 295 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: A five-star recruit and a unanimous top-five player in the nation as a high school senior, Floyd had 23 tackles including 6.5 for loss as a freshman, impressing his teammates, coaches and opponents. He was named to the 2010 SEC All-Freshman Team by league coaches and started Florida’s final game of the season against Penn State. He played in all 13 games in 2010 and had a career-high seven tackles against Vanderbilt.

2011 Outlook: Floyd has experienced some changes this offseason. He shed No. 73 for No. 4 (hence why he was not included in The Countdown Nos. 79-70) but just recently switched back to his old number. More importantly, he moved from defensive tackle to defensive end (for at least this season) but will continue to rotate inside from time to time. As a full-time starter in just his second year, Floyd is expected to be a major contributor to the Gators’ defense and is excited about his new role. “You can’t get double-teamed at that position; I’m loving it. I’m getting a feel for it, learning everything I can get, learning the situations and everything like that. It’s a good opportunity for me, and I’m going to take advantage of it,” he said.

3 – Jelani Jenkins (Olney, MD)
Redshirt sophomore linebacker
6’0” 230 lbs.

Quick Bio: An Under-Armour All-American, Jenkins was a five-star recruit and the No. 1 player at his position as a high schooler when he committed in 2009. He dressed for all 14 games as a true freshman but only participated in two and took a redshirt while he made the honor roll as a social and behavioral sciences major.

2010 Season: Jenkins stepped into a starting role as a redshirt freshman, playing in all 13 and starting 11 contests. He notched a career-high 11 tackles against South Carolina and finished with 76 on the season, good enough for second on the defense and most by a freshman. Jenkins also recovered a fumble, grabbed an interception and sacked the quarterback twice during his first full season on the field, proving that he will be an important part of Florida’s defense for the next few years.

2011 Outlook: The starting will linebacker, Jenkins talent is of little doubt but the coaching staff has asked him to be more of a leader both on- and off-the-field 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.” He has been succeeding in this regard and, along with junior Jon Bostic, is a key member of the Gators’ linebacking corps.

2 – Dominique Easley (Staten Island, NY)
Sophomore defensive tackle
6’2” 282 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: Another five-star from Florida’s amazing 2011 recruiting class, Easley struggled during his freshman season. Dealing with bouts of homesickness while also (reportedly) displaying some immaturity, the No. 2 defensive tackle prospect did not see the field much but showed flashes when he did get the opportunity to get in the game.

2011 Outlook: With a renewed attitude and mindset, Easley has been one of the most talked about players this offseason. Coaches and teammates have raved up and down about his lightning quick first step, noting that he has a penchant for getting through the offensive line almost immediately after the ball is snapped. He is set to start at defensive tackle in the opener and attributes his redemption to a decision he made in the offseason. “[Muschamp] just told me that I have a fresh start. My plan was to do a fresh start, too, start from the beginning and start the right way,” he explained. “Maturity – I matured a lot and [started] making better choices. […] I had to get used to it. I had to break myself in.”

1 – Chris Rainey (Lakeland, FL)
Redshirt senior running back
5’9” 174 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star recruit coming out of high school, Rainey committed to the Gators alongside a number of his teammates (including the Pouncey brothers) and is the only one his age from Lakeland remaining on the squad. A humanities and letters major, Rainey took a medical redshirt as a freshman due to his shoulder injury but bounced back in a big way in 2008, rushing for a career-high 652 yards (7.5 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. He started catching some balls in 2009 as well, totaling 736 yards and six touchdowns in a solid redshirt sophomore campaign.

2010 Season: After catching six balls for 34 yards and a touchdown in the season opener and playing sparingly in the second game, Rainey was suspended five contests after being arrested but returned and finished the season as the team’s primary playmaker in the final six games. He was moved to receiver to start the season but wound up taking a lot of snaps at running back toward the end of the year due to injuries. Rainey only scored five touchdowns but totaled 582 yards of offense and brought back nine punts for 67 yards in just eight games. He also posted 148 yards as a kickoff returner against Georgia.

2011 Outlook: Moved back to running back, Rainey will be part of an explosive backfield duo with senior Jeff Demps. The pair is listed as co-starters and, according to Weis, could really do some special things for the team in 2011. Rainey recently discussed maturing in the offseason and keeping his focus on football. “I see everything like a man [now]. I do everything [more] professional,” he explained about his changed mindset. “[I] think first. I would do something before I [thought] about it [before].” He is also excited about playing in a pro-style offense again. “I feel super-good, great,” Rainey said. “You can see the whole field, so you know how the scheme works, where to cut and stuff like that.”

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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8/31: Quinn discusses defense before opener

With the Florida Gators now in final preparations for the first game of the 2011 season (Sept. 3 vs. Florida Atlantic), defensive coordinator Dan Quinn met with the media on Wednesday to discuss his defense’s preparation heading into the opening game.

FRONT SEVEN REALLY COMING ALONG

As head coach Will Muschamp has preached for quite some time, in the Southeastern Conference, it all starts in the trenches. According to Quinn, that is the part of his defensive unit that makes him feel the most confident heading into the season – and for good reason. Not only are the players talented but they (especially the defensive linemen) have proven to be flexible as well.

“One of the good things about the big guys inside is that all the guys are playing more than one position – some are playing nose tackle and defensive tackle, some are playing defensive tackle and defensive end,” he said of the interior linemen. “I’m pleased with the progress of those four guys. Having the ability to make them interchangeable adds value to our defense. I’m encouraged with where they’re at; we’re certainly a work in progress, but I’m encouraged with where we’re at and where we’re headed with that group.” Quinn continued, “You want to put out the best guys and sometimes it might just be for the opponent that you’re playing. Some of it would tie in to a game plan situation and other times, say you had an injury, now a guy is down and you’ve cross-trained a guy to play two spots. [Rather than] having never played there, [he] can step in and keep rolling.”

Perhaps more than any other player in that grouping, sophomore Sharrif Floyd has truly stepped up and moved from his more natural position of defensive tackle to defensive end. “He’s certainly really picked it up well,” Quinn said. “We play him both at D-end in our base package and sometimes at defensive tackle in our nickel package. He’s done a terrific job at that.”

As for the linebackers, junior Jon Bostic has been the one stepping up and making the calls defensively at the Mike position. Quinn believes he is doing a great job thus far and has high hopes for him this season. “He’ll make the checks at the line. In our system, that’s what the Mike does, and Jon has done a good job with that,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in him, I really do. I think he’s got a high football IQ. You can tell he gets concepts fast. He’s done a good job through training camp leading the defense, making the calls, making the checks. He’s off to a really good start.”

Though Bostic has stood out and there are some others who have shined as well, the depth at the linebacker position is a point of contention. Nevertheless, Quinn feels confident about the starters and a few of the primary reserves. “[Redshirt junior Sam LB Lerentee McCray is] a guy that kind of plays two positions as well. We see him as an outside linebacker who can also be a rush end,” Quinn said. “As the inside linebackers go – with Jelani [Jenkins] and Jon – and we’ve had good experience with Michael Taylor and Dee Finley inside – those guys have both played both spots inside as you went through spring and now through training camp, sometimes you played one at Mike, one at Will. We felt it was the best thing to do to get balance and more experience in the system.”

YOUNG SECONDARY PROVIDING A CHALLENGE

With the season just days away, it is still a mystery which players besides sophomore safety Matt Elam will start in the secondary. Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee) is injured, junior S Josh Evans has fallen behind some freshman and no one has truly stepped up and grabbed a hold of a starting job aside from Elam. Quinn said Wednesday that he was still evaluating tape on the cornerbacks but understands the struggles.

“When you have some guys who haven’t played a whole lot, sometimes the roles will emerge as it gets forward. It’s becoming more clear although each day we kind of assess it and say, ‘OK, who’s going to give us the best options to win depending on the package,’” he said. “We have some really talented young guys who need to play and establish some experience. I’m looking forward to seeing them pull through because I think the leadership capabilities are there. As you guys know, sometimes it’s easier to lead when you have some games under your belt.”

Elam earlier in the day noted that he was a bit uncomfortable in the secondary because he did not know who would be playing next to him. Quinn responded to his concerns. “It’s important for all the guys to be able to work together,” he said. “We have a really big emphasis on communication, not just with our secondary but with our whole defense. Sometimes it’s good for those guys to get in a rhythm together, but it’s also important for everybody to understand the rules and communicate together.”

Then he explained why Elam was the one who has been the standout back there. “One of the things you look at [defensive backs] and at safet[ies] is a guy who can make plays on the ball. That was early to me in my evaluation of Matt,” he said. “This was a guy who did a good job of – not only was a good tackler and a good player, he had football savvy – he could really take the ball away. As a defensive player, that’s a critical skill to have and it adds so much value to your team.”

PROUD OF PLAYERS, EXCITED FOR FIRST GAME

One thing Quinn conveyed consistently on Wednesday was that he is very pleased with the overall effort and talent that he is seeing from his defensive players. “The cool part about these guys is they’re eager, they’re willing to learn and they’re into it. They want more information. They want to talk the technique; they want to watch the film,” he explained. “That part has been really fun. You can feel the energy of some of these young guys and they’re so anxious to get started and get playing. Now that game week is here, they even sense a heightened intensity.”

That intensity has translated to Quinn himself, who is pumped about being back in college football after spending such a long time in the NFL. “It’s been different for me for sure. We’ve had the scrimmages and, in my mind, I’ve kind of seen those as preseason games to really get a hard evaluation,” he said. “I’m so excited to get started here. The whole purpose of me coming here was working with Will and be a part of these guys and get going. Now that the season is finally here, I can’t wait.”

He also took some time to discuss both how he felt his unit has progressed as well as his overall defensive strategy. “Through training camp – it was a really good camp. There was toughness, there was finishing. It’s been a big package; we had a big playbook. Now after you install everything, you can kind of pick and choose some of the packages you like for each ball game,” he said. “I’m encouraged about the way the guys are approaching the game in practice. It’s been physical and fast; that’s how our style is, that’s how we want to play. I’m anxious to get started and get going into the season, I really am.”

He added, “[We will be] going after the ball. I’d like us to be a team that is mentally and physically tough. I hope that when you see the tape you say, ‘These guys are really physical. They play with great effort, you can see the toughness shine through on tape and they really attack the ball.’ [...] Anybody would like to have that kind of pride about a defense, and certainly that’s what we’re striving for.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

On the team’s best pass rushers so far: “I certainly think the guys from the outside during training camp that’s provided [pass rush] for us have been [William] Green and McCray and [Ronald] Powell. Inside certainly [Dominique] Easley and Floyd are two that stood out to me of the interior rushers, and we’re anxious to get those guys going on third down.”

On the emergence of freshman CB Marcus Roberson: “With corners, at times when a guy has speed and length, it helps you as a cover guy. He has some of the traits to help him in coverage, but he’s still young and learning in the system and developing. But when a guy does have speed and length, sometimes it enables you to play a little different style and match up on some bigger receivers at times. He has that, and I’m really looking forward to seeing him develop. He’s come into camp and he’s really had a good training camp. He’s made an impression on me.”

On combining the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses into one playbook: “I think it may look harder at times than it is. When you combine both the 3-4 and the 4-3 packages, it adds some value in terms of how the offense will have to prepare against you. That’s one thing that Will and I have always believed in. There may not be a thousand calls in each package, but we felt like it’s enough for this game to do what’s best.”

On letting his players play but not opening the playbook too much: “As you’re going into your first game, you want to give your guys the best chance to play fast and physical, and that’s what we’ll do in this week’s game.”

On coaching on the field instead of upstairs: “Mostly on the field. I like to be able to talk to the guys and make the adjustments right there, so that’s what I’ll be doing.”

On his relationship with Muschamp: “One of the good parts about Will, even though he’s doing a terrific job as head coach, he’s still in the defensive meetings. All the calls are still there. We’re together a good bit of the day – 18 hours sometimes we’re right there side-by-side. We really see things a lot alike, and that was true even before I got here, since we had worked together before.”

On how and why he and Muschamp might disagree: “Probably something with my background defensive line and pass rushing, and his background with the secondary and coverage. He may want it a little bit different than I would see it, and vice versa from the back end. If he says it’s how we’re going to do it, that’s how we’re going to do it.”

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8/30: Riggs competing, respect for FAU, Jenkins leading, Reed blocking, Dunbar’s opening

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.

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

With the Florida Gators in the middle of preseason practice preparing for their first game on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS

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

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

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

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

EASLEY STEPPING UP ON THE INSIDE

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

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

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

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

“THEY’RE LIKE TWINS”

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

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

DEFENDERS EXCITED ABOUT SCHEMES

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

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

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

NOTES AND QUOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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