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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Countdown: Florida Gators roster (29-20)

With under 20 days to go until the Florida Gators‘ 2011-12 football season gets underway, the eighth 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 29-20.

28 – Jeff Demps (Winter Garden, FL)
Senior running back
5’7” 191 lbs.

Quick Bio: Arguably the fastest student-athlete in the country, Demps left South Lake High School as a four-star recruit and is a social & behavioral sciences major in his final year at the University of Florida. He played in all 28 games (drawing 17 starts) during his first two years with the Gators, scoring seven touchdowns on the ground each season and rushing for a total of 1,350 yards.

2010 Season: Demps was never the same after spraining his left foot while carrying the ball a career-high 26 times against Tennessee in the third week of the season. Through that game he had accumulated 310 rushing yards but only amassed 241 the remainder of the season, missing three games completely and carrying the ball fewer than 10 times in six of the seven contests he participated in. Demps still finished the season with a team-high 927 all-purpose yards.

2011 Outlook: Seriously considering not returning to the team in order to pursue a full-time career as a sprinter, Demps ultimately decided to rejoin the squad for his final season. He will be the starting running back again but should have his burden eased a bit by redshirt junior Chris Rainey returning to the backfield. “Both Jeff and Chris have been very impressive,” head coach Will Muschamp said. “We do a nice job on the perimeter blocking with our wideouts. We create some one-on-ones with people who aren’t used to tackling as much as far as corners and secondary people. When those guys get the ball on the edge, they’re fun to watch.” Though he hoped to accomplish the feat in 2010, Demps could eclipse 1,000 yards rushing for the first time in his career; the feat has not been accomplished by a Florida running back since 2004 (Ciatrick Fason).

26 – De’Ante Saunders (DeLand, FL)
Freshman cornerback
5’8” 192 lbs.

Quick Bio: An early enrollee, Saunders was a highly-recruited three-star prospect coming out of high school who participated in the Under Armour All-American Game.

2011 Outlook: A player who Muschamp said is “going to be a really good player for Florida” after the Orange & Blue Debut in April, Saunders is not likely to earn a starting role this year but could see significant playing time both on defense and special teams. After being cited for misdemeanor marijuana possession in May, he has quit smoking (according to his attorney Huntley Johnson) and was disciplined internally. Muschamp recently praised his work filling in at cornerback and hopes to see continued improvement this fall.

25 – Gideon Ajagbe (Coconut Grove, FL)
Redshirt freshman linebacker
6’3” 227 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: Earning a medical redshirt after tearing his rotator cuff in preseason camp last year, Ajagbe is a three-star recruit who is majoring in social & behavioral sciences and is hoping to see his first field time this year.

2011 Outlook: With very little depth at linebacker, Ajagbe is competing with a number of other youngsters for one of the starting outside roles. His athleticism has impressed coaches this offseason after a complete recovery from surgery slightly less than one year ago.

24 – Josh Evans (Irvington, NJ)
Junior safety
6’1” 199 lbs.

Quick Bio: One of only five true juniors on the roster, Evans has appeared in 21 games over two seasons and notched 20 tackles as well as one interception. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school who chose Florida over Oklahoma (among others).

2010 Season: Appearing in all 13 of the Gators’ games one year ago, Evans also earned three starts including the Outback Bowl against Penn State. He collected a career-high four tackles in that contest and grabbed his first career interception against Vanderbilt just a few weeks earlier.

2011 Outlook: With both of Florida’s starting safeties no longer with the team, Evans moves into a permanent starting role in his third season alongside sophomore Matt Elam. Muschamp recently said he needs to get his assignments down and work a little more on communication, but noted before fall practice that he has “certainly been another guy that’s shown he can [make plays and be athletic].”

23 – Mike Gillislee (DeLand, FL)
Junior running back
5’11” 198 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star running back coming out of high school who was listed as the No. 7 player at his position by Rivals, Gillislee has participated in 25 of 27 games over his first two seasons and enters his true junior season still looking to the lion’s share of time in the backfield.

2010 Season: After carrying the ball 31 times for 267 yards and a touchdown during his freshman season, Gillislee toted the rock 58 times for 328 yards and seven scores last year. He scored two touchdowns each against Tennessee and Vanderbilt, notched a career-best and team-high 50-yard kickoff return and took snaps as a gunner on the kickoff and punt coverage units.

2011 Outlook: Stuck behind Demps and Rainey in the backfield, Gillislee will once again have to earn his playing time on offense. He hurt his foot in the spring but is practicing at full speed in the fall. Nevertheless, he is a step behind Demps and Rainey and will have to pick things up to put a dent into their game-by-game carries.

22 – Matt Elam (Palm Beach Gardens, FL)
Sophomore safety
5’10” 206 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: A five-star prospect coming out of Dwyer High School now majoring in social & behavioral sciences, Elam played as a reserve safety and key special teams member in all 13 games as a freshman. He was on the starting unit for kickoff coverage and kickoff returns and registered 22 tackles (16 solo, 1.5 for a loss) while earning a sack, fumble recovery and pass deflection on the year.

2011 Outlook: Like Evans, Elam is penned in as a starting safety this year and will likely take over the “strong” spot previously occupied by Ahmad Black. He has been the most impressive and consistent member of the secondary in the offseason, drawing rave reviews from his coaches and teammates on both sides of the ball not only for his play but also his improved leadership. “I love being an underdog. It pushes me harder. The whole team knows we’re underdogs, and it makes us practice harder and stick together,” he said during Florida media day. “Being an underdog is very important to us. People don’t know what goes on around here. The coaches are great. We’re more as a team. We’re closer. And we’re the underdogs, so we’re working harder.”

21 – Jabari Gorman (Miami, FL)
Freshman safety
5’9” 183 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star recruit and the No. 10 safety in the nation coming out of high school, Gorman is a sports medicine major who was highly recruited but always wanted to play for the Gators.

2011 Outlook: Not a candidate to get significant playing time this year, Gorman could still see his fair share on special teams or if he impresses over the next two weeks. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins said he has “been coming through” for the secondary recently when asked to single out young players who have made an impact in his mind.

20 – Valdez Showers (Madison Heights, MI)
Freshman defensive back
5’11” 198 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star prospect coming out of high school who is focused on both football and academics, Showers was the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Michigan and was also honored as The Detroit News’ Player of the Year.

2011 Outlook: Originally slated as a cornerback, Showers was moved to safety by Muschamp due to his size (5’11”) and is hoping to sneak his way into some playing time as Elam, Evans, sophomore Jaylen Watkins, redshirt freshman Joshua Shaw and sophomore Cody Riggs jockey for position.

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8/11: Christian, Sturgis, Jenkins, Bostic speak

With the Florida Gators having completed their first two-a-day practice of the 2011 season, a number of prominent players from all three units met with the media on Thursday to discuss how the team is progressing early on in camp.

CHRISTIAN’s TURN TO STEP UP

With freshman tight end A.C. Leonard going down with a torn meniscus and set to miss up to the entire season due to the injury, the onus is on sophomore Gerald Christian to play at an even higher level now that he will permanently play across from or in relief of starter redshirt sophomore Jordan Reed. Christian is unfazed by the increased responsibility. “Any time a man goes down, it puts pressure on the other players to step up,” he said. “I feel good. I like this offense a lot better than last year. It fits me and what I do. Out of high school I did the H-back and was a motion-type man.”

He also believes that the new offense gives the team a wide variety of options that may not have always been available last year. “Since we have two speedsters – Chris Rainey and [Jeff] Demps – we can spread the field like we’re running the ball and then we can also fake the play action and do play action passes; me and Jordan running routes; [Quinton] Dunbar, Frankie Hammond and Deonte Thompson – they’re fast too, can thrown the ball to them.” Hammond has impressed him in particular. “[He] has been looking really, really good,” Christian said. “He’s been consistent every day catching balls.”

STURGIS HEALTHY AND KICKING AGAIN

After missing most of 2010 due to multiple back injuries, redshirt junior kicker Caleb Strugis is healthy once again and not limited “at all” in his range of motion. “A lot has healed, and I’ve been taking better care of [my back],” he said. “Every day I go in and see AP, our athletic trainer, and he just has a routine for me everything I need to do – stretching, cold tank, massages.”

Sturgis explained Thursday that his back was so bad last year that it eventually “got to the point where I couldn’t [sleep].” He continued, “At the beginning of the season it was bearable and then it got worse and worse. […] I noticed it midway through camp, but I think it was one of those things that I progressively made it worse.” He said he is hitting field goals fine from upwards of 50 yards and is anxious to begin playing football again.

LINEBACKERS STILL SHAKING OUT

Aside from junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins holding down the fort on the inside, Florida’s starting linebacker situation remains very much up in the air. One thing Gators fans can be sure of is that Bostic and Jenkins communicate well both on and off the field, a quality that will certainly help the unit going forward.

Both players mentioned Thursday that redshirt junior Lerentee McCray (a defensive end who is also playing SAM linebacker) is spending a good amount of time playing with the starting unit at the latter position. Others rotating in and out of the outside roles include redshirt freshman Michael Taylor, redshirt sophomore Dee Finely, sophomore Darrin KitchensGideon Ajagbe and freshman Graham Stewart. “We’re all learning at the same pace; we’re all stepping up,” Jenkins said. “They have a lot of talent. Most of the stuff that they have to work on is just the mental aspect because they don’t have the most experience. As soon as they get it down so they can play fast, I think they’ll be fine.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

Christian on how Leonard is holding up: “He’s doing fine. I talked to him – he’s fine.”

Christian on sophomore wide receiver Robert Clark: “They don’t have him with the first team and stuff, but every time Robert gets reps he makes the most of it. He’s not a starter, but I think he’ll get time as an inside guy.”

Christian on Clark’s mentality: “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.”

Christian on what running two tight end sets allows: “We can run the ball – we have two points on either side so we can run the ball to either side. We have a H-back tight end, which is me, so I can always come off the ball and move into the fullback position and block off the edge.”

Sturgis on watching the Mississippi State game from the sideline:
“Any time your team loses, it’s tough to watch. That was pretty hard. It was hard putting Chas [Henry] through that – he hadn’t kicked since high school. He turned around after that though.”

Sturgis on losing Henry: “There’s no replacing Chas, he was the best punter in the country I think for a few years. There’s no replacing him, but Kyle [Christy] is a good freshman, and I think if he matures a little bit he’ll be good.”

Bostic on if Florida is a “young” team: “Somewhat, but a lot of the guys are really stepping up. Some of the sophomores are taking that leadership role.”

Bostic on how comfortable he is with the defense now in the fall: “Throughout the spring, I picked up the defense very easily. Even these two-a-days I still have a little rust on me where there is some stuff I have to work on.”

Jenkins on the defensive transition: “It’s a completely different system. It’s completely new, but we’re still able to run a lot of different pressures off of it.”

Jenkins on the percent of time the defense will be in the 3-4: “I think we’re going to be mainly in the 3-4 for running situations but I’m not too sure. The way we’re practicing, you can’t really tell what we’re going to be doing during the season.”

Jenkins noted that freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson has “been doing a good job” while others like freshman Jabari Gorman “have been coming through.” He also commented on a few second- and third-year players. “They’re just ballers from the get-go. Matt Elam and Cody Riggs and Josh Evans, they’re all guys that have a little bit more experience but are holding it down in the secondary.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

8/10: Muschamp evaluates team, says Leonard out 6-8 weeks, Burton moving to tight end

With the Florida Gators fully entrenched in fall practice, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday and provided updates on how the team is progressing going into the 2011 season, which begins on Sept. 3.

LEONARD OUT UP TO TWO MONTHS

Though the word had been going around for a few days, Muschamp confirmed that freshman tight end A.C. Leonard, who enrolled early and impressed during the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut, will miss 6-8 weeks after undergoing surgery for a torn meniscus he suffered on Saturday. That time frame would likely keep him off the field for 3-5 games and may result in a medical redshirt for him this year if the team decides he is not healthy enough to return until even later in the season.

“It’s a noncontact injury — [he] planted on it wrong,” Muschamp said. “Nobody was near him or around him. We’re very disappointed. It’s going to be a 6-8 week process. We’ll make a decision on his playing this year at that time. He’s up to speed on everything we’re doing. He’ll be involved in the meetings and will start the rehab immediately. It’s a scope procedure. We feel like we can get him back if he heals quickly like a lot of guys do nowadays. We’ll make a determination on his playing status at that time.”

Leonard, who had surgery Wednesday morning, was listed as the team’s No. 2 tight end on the spring depth chart behind redshirt sophomore Jordan Reed. Sophomore Gerald Christian, who worked mostly at linebacker in the spring but was moved back in April, was ahead of Leonard anyway when fall camp began.

In order to increase depth at the position, Muschamp also announced that freshman defensive end Clay Burton would be switching over to offense (for at least this year) and redshirt junior wide receiver Omarius Hines (who played some tight end in 2010) will see time at the position in certain situations. Burton spent time at tight end in high school and has experience playing the position.

Burton switched his number from 86 to 88 as a result of his position change seeing as redshirt junior TE Josh Postell is already wearing No. 86 on offense.

DEMPS AND RAINEY LEADING BACKS

It should come as no surprise that the team’s oldest running backs, senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey are leading the way for the unit in fall practice. Nevertheless, Muschamp made it a point to compliment how well they are doing through the first five practices.

“Both Jeff and Chris have been very impressive,” he said. “We do a nice job on the perimeter blocking with our wideouts. We create some one-on-ones with people who aren’t used to tackling as much as far as corners and secondary people. When those guys get the ball on the edge, they’re fun to watch.”

Muschamp wants his tailbacks to “score touchdowns” and “protect well,” noting that the team will have a lot of different one-back and two-back formations this year. With that being said, as of now, it looks like Demps and Rainey will be the ones primarily playing the position as the other two running backs are a bit behind.

“Right now Chris and Jeff certainly have distanced themselves from the pack,” he said. “Mike [Gillislee] and Mack [Brown] got some making up to do as far as Mack missed most of spring, Mike missed all of spring. Mentally, as far as getting back into it, and also physically. It’s been a long time since they’ve had contact. I think they’re progressing well, but certainly Jeff and Chris have distanced themselves.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Muschamp thanked lacrosse head coach Amanda O’Leary for the temporary use of their practice field for a change of scenery. He expects to practice 12-14 times there before returning to the football practice fields and The Swamp for a few scrimmages.

» On redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard: “It has been good to get him back in the fold. He’s a load inside; got to get him to consistently give good effort all the time.”

» On redshirt freshman right tackle Chaz Green: “Chaz Green is a guy who has really stepped forward. [He] gets a lot of movement up front and does a nice job at the tackle position.”

» On redshirt sophomore WR Andre Debose: “Andre Debose made a very nice play in the back of the end zone today. We had a red zone period. [He] really went up and got the ball, a well-thrown ball.”

» On how he is managing the depth chart: “We change the depth chart everyday based on your last performance. We’re trying to promote consistency in your performance – it’s got to be an everyday thing in this league.”

» On the depth of the offensive line: “We just don’t have the numbers. I think we have 13 scholarship offensive linemen; you need 18. You’re missing a whole unit.”

» On redshirt junior Caleb Sturgis’s progression from a back injury: “He didn’t do any kickoffs in the spring. He kicked field goals and PATs. We haven’t really done a full kickoff unit. He has been kicking some kickoffs but not at the tempo we’re going to have him. He is strong; he had no issues in the summer as far as his workouts. We changed his routine a little bit [he’s not doing squats anymore] as far as the things he did, but he’s been kicking the ball extremely well thus far in camp.”

» On linebackers junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins: “The two inside backers defensively are outstanding. They’re very intelligent, very smart, great communicators.”

» Other players Muschamp singled out as being pleased with include redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley; wide receivers redshirt senior Deonte Thompson, redshirt junior Frankie Hammond, Jr. and redshirt freshman Quinton Dunbar; safeties sophomore Matt Elam, junior Josh Evans, redshirt freshman Joshua Shaw and sophomore Jaylen Watkins; and defensive ends redshirt junior Lerentee McCray and redshirt sophomore Kendric Johnson.

» On the freshman wall: “Freshmen hit a wall sometimes. We’ll get to that 12th, 14th, 16th practice. To consistently do it over and over again, for some guys, is hard. I’m not saying it hasn’t happened That generally is something you’re looking for – when they hit that wall. We have to just push them through that and hopefully they continue to get better.”

» On if the team has had any heat issues: “No, we have not. [Knocks on desk] We had a couple coaches who might have had a heat issue.” Muschamp added that there are tents on the practice field to keep players on the shade when they’re not active.

» On if two-a-days are necessary for college football: “That’s a personal preference. I feel like you do to push them through some things.”

» Muschamp said bringing in older players as walk-ons (considering the team is under the scholarship limit) is certainly a possibility, but those players would have to be hard workers and effective in their role.

This post will be updated in the near future.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Florida football’s 2011 media day – Players

With the Florida Gators finally beginning 2011 fall practice on Saturday, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and a handful other players met with the media to discuss the upcoming season. The Gators took the field for the first time on Saturday but all practices will be closed to both fans and the media.

BRANTLEY READY TO STEP UP ON AND OFF THE FIELD

There is no question that the 2010 season was tumultuous for Brantley, but with a new coaching staff and a renewed sense of trust in his abilities, he is more focused than ever heading into 2011. “My confidence is a lot higher now since when the new coaches arrived,” he said Friday. “When the new coaching staff got here, it was all new to me. Now that I have spring football under my belt and have had all summer to study the playbook, I think as a team we’re ready to go. We’re excited about this camp and this season.”

Part of Brantley’s learning curve was learning how to overcome adversity – something he faced plenty of one year ago. “I definitely learned last year, that when things aren’t going right or when things did go wrong to just forget about it and move on,” he said. “Keep my head up and keep looking forward. If your head is down, other people’s heads are going to go down. You just have to keep moving.“

The other portion of his newfound confidence has to do with the brand new offense being installed by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. “During spring ball he tried to get our offense down and pound that in our heads,” Brantley said. “I think during this camp and during this upcoming season he’s going to teach me a lot more about watching film and preparing for games.”

He also realizes that it is up to the entire team to embrace the pro-style offense and move forward with the new system. “In the spring, that new offense was a challenge for us. It was a new challenge that we had to face, and we all took it on,” Brantley noted. “We’re excited about it now that we’ve gotten a little deeper into it. We know it better and are just more excited to get going again. Summer is over now, and we’re excited finally to get back on the field and actually play football.”

DEMPS ALMOST LEFT. REALLY.

Senior running back Jeff Demps, in Italy running with the U.S. National Team, admitted Friday that he did give serious consideration to not returning to the football team this season. “It was close, but maybe not as close as some people thought,” Demps said. “There were people saying I wasn’t going to play football this year. Once I got back, I talked to my parents and talked to my coaches and decided to come back and play football for my senior year.”

Though he does have designs on running track professionally, Demps still believes he can succeed at his first dream, playing in the NFL. “Hopefully, I can play at the next level,” he said. “Hopefully, I have options.”

Another notable occurrence Friday was the new Gators roster, in which it is noted that Demps changed his jersey number from two to 28. “I just felt like No. 2 was more of an all-purpose back’s number,” he told The Gainesville Sun. “I wanted to wear a tailback’s number this year.”

NEW STAFF MAKING AN IMPACT

Ranked No. 23 in the USA Today coaches preseason poll, Florida is certainly facing lowered expectations in 2011 compared to 2010, something Brantley certainly does not mind. “We’re going to go out there like we have every season and just try to be our best. That is all we can do,” he said. “We can go out there every day, try to win that day, try to get better each practice and if that happens, we’ll be able to get back to where we were.”

Redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins, from a defensive perspective, is also looking forward to learning under a staff with plenty of NFL experience under their belt. “I’m trying to take as much knowledge as I can from them and prepare for this season and eventually for the NFL. That’s really a goal I set for myself and where I want to be,” he said. “Everything they’re giving us is new; it’s like a clean slate. I’m really looking forward to the season and what’s next. I’m ready to be out there, going hard and giving it everything I’ve got.”

Like Jenkins, junior LB Jon Bostic is pleased with the new staff and believes one mantra in particular has really stuck with the team. “One philosophy is to play together as a team. That’s what I saw. They were trying to get everyone back together,” he said. “A lot of the stuff that we did in the offseason, weightlifting and everything, brought the team a lot closer together.”

DEBOSE EXCITED FOR A NEW OPPORTUNITY

One of the criticisms of redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose a year ago was that he had difficulties learning the playbook and committing fully to improving for the team. On Friday, Debose said all of that has changed and he is finally comfortable with himself as a football player and his role with the squad.

“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,” he 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.”

Now what he describes as “under the radar” Debose no longer has to worry about “being ‘the man’ and always having everybody with their eye on [me],” instead he can concentrate on simpy being the best he can be. “Mentally, I’m 100 percent more prepared than I was last year. Last year I still had a lot of doubts in my mind about my injury and everything,” he explained. “Every year [since] I came to Florida I’ve always had something on my mind coming into the season.”

ELAM IS CONFIDENT, FOCUSED AND READY

Stepping into a leadership role himself, sophomore safety Matt Elam knows his team no longer has the hype surrounding it that it did one year ago. Nevertheless, he is quite sure that the underdog role will suit him and his teammates quite well.

“I love being an underdog. It pushes me harder. The whole team knows we’re underdogs, and it makes us practice harder and stick together. Being an underdog is very important to us,” he said. “People don’t know what goes on around here. The coaches are great. We’re more as a team. We’re closer. And we’re the underdogs, so we’re working harder.”

Being an underdog will not be enough for the Gators to succeed right away. However, the team’s youth and athleticism could go a long way to helping them reach their goals. “We’re young, but we’re fast. I think we’re the fastest team in the country,” he said. “We’re learning a lot from each other. We’re learning what everybody does best, so if we put all that together we can become great. It’s all about confidence. If you have confidence, you’ll do great things.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Brantley on redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed: “Jordan Reed is probably one of our best athletes on the team. Having him at tight end creates mismatches on linebackers, and we’re excited about that. He has bought into that position, and I’m excited for him to be playing at tight end.”

» Brantley on redshirt freshman wide receiver Quinton Dunbar: “Quinton made a lot of plays during the spring, and that definitely boosted my confidence with him. He can run any route, catch any ball. We’re hoping for big things out of him, and I think that he will be able to prevail.”

» Brantley on redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey: “Chris was definitely a little different this summer. He was kind of quiet; he was a leader, but quiet. He just worked hard every day, went out there with a great attitude and that definitely showed with him. It spreads throughout the team, that kind of confidence.”

» Brantley on his offensive line: “I have a lot of confidence with my O- line. I’ve been with them for a couple of years now – they’re a real close bunch, and I’m close with all of them. They are all fairly new to playing, but I think they’re going to be very hungry and ready to learn.”

» Brantley on the team being underrated entering the season: “We’re never relaxed. We are trying to compete every day to win. The next two weeks during camp, we’re going to try and get better every day. It doesn’t matter if we’re 80th or first in the polls – we’re going to keep doing the same thing and keep getting better each day.”

» Brantley on Muschamp’s all-around energy and intensity: “He’s just not intense on the field; he’s very intense in the meeting room. I’ve heard him through the doors sometimes coaching. It’s awesome. That keeps everyone awake and in tune. Everyone is listening to him.”

» Brantley on sophomore TE Gerald Christian: “He brings a lot. When people see Gerald in there they might think run, but he’s a great athlete. He has great hands and he’s very able to go out for passes. That helps you out because you never know what could happen when he’s in.”

» Redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. on emerging as a big play guy: “It’s on all of our minds because everybody wants to be that go-to guy and right now all of us are out there working and grinding. We’re going into camp and nothing is set in stone.”

» Redshirt sophomore guard Jon Halapio on the hardest part of camp: “Just staying healthy. We need everybody to stay healthy on the offensive and defensive lines. We just want to be healthy on both sides. […] We definitely have something to prove. We have a lot of young guys on the offensive line that need to step up this season. We need to stay healthy. We’re excited that we have Matt Patchan back, he’s a real good football player right now. We just need to stay healthy and have everybody step up.”

» Sophomore running back Trey Burton on if he is used to succeeding in short-yardage situations: “I had 30 rushing touchdowns my junior year and more than half of them were from the goal-line. So, I was used in short-yardage.”

» Burton on what the coaches are telling him about play time: “They’re telling me they will line me up at a bunch of different positions and they are going to try to get me the ball as much as possible.”

» Redshirt junior defensive end Lerentee McCray on his goals: “Taking advantage of every opportunity I get to step on the field and helping this team win. Helping the team win is the main goal.”

» McCray on giving advice to underclassmen: “The most advice I give my teammates is to come in and work hard. Don’t let me down. I won’t let you down. It’s a brotherhood-type thing, I’ve got your back, and you’ve got my back. That’s the main thing we’ve been working on this offseason.”

» Redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis on how he improved recently: “One thing we did this offseason was work with the snappers and holders. I worked a lot with John Crofoot, he’s my holder, and just try to go out there every day that way you get muscle memory and comfortable and next thing you know you’re in games and it doesn’t feel any different. That’s been good. I felt like I had to start over this year because I missed so much time but I think that was a good thing because you can develop some bad habits over time and I think that allowed me to fix some of those.”

» Bostic on becoming a leader: “I’ll probably be taking on more of a leadership role. Me and Jelani coming in we were both quiet players. We let our talk be our play but this year we’ve been trying to be leaders on the defense.”

» Bostic on helping the younger players: “Just bring them along. They’re part of this too. We’re one team. We can’t leave anyone behind. We have a goal to get to Atlanta and we have to make sure that everybody is there. We can’t leave one person behind. We have to bring them along because if someone goes down they have to get in the game.”

» Bostic on Elam becoming a leader, too: “This offseason, how much he’s stepped up. Once he realized Ahmad Balck, Will Hill, they’re gone. It’s his turn. He’s just taking that big step, taking that leadership role. He wasn’t one of those big vocal guys in the back of the defense, but now he’s taking that on.”

» Senior defensive end William Green on his leadership role: “I’m looking forward to it. I’ve been telling the underclassmen to take advantage of every opportunity. When you meet with your coaches actually do that and embrace it.”

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Florida football’s 2011 media day – Muschamp

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

STAT TO CARE ABOUT: TURNOVER MARGIN

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

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

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

FOUR TEAM GOALS HEADING INTO THE SEASON

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

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

INJURY UPDATES

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

BUILDING THE OFFENSIVE LINE

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

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

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

BUILDING THE FRONT SEVEN

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

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

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

BRANTLEY AND THE OFFENSE

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

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

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

FINDING A TRUSTWORTHY SECONDARY

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

He also shared his thoughts on four players in particular…

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

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

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

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

NOTES AND QUOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

 Page 19 of 27  « First  ... « 17  18  19  20  21 » ...  Last »