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.”

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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.

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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.”

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Florida football’s 2011 media day – Muschamp

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

STAT TO CARE ABOUT: TURNOVER MARGIN

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

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

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

FOUR TEAM GOALS HEADING INTO THE SEASON

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

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

INJURY UPDATES

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

BUILDING THE OFFENSIVE LINE

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

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

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

BUILDING THE FRONT SEVEN

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

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

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

BRANTLEY AND THE OFFENSE

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

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

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

FINDING A TRUSTWORTHY SECONDARY

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

He also shared his thoughts on four players in particular…

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

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

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

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

NOTES AND QUOTES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Gator Charity Challenge an immense success

Raising money for charity while allowing fans the opportunity to see the team compete over a month before the 2011 season is set to begin, the Florida Gators held the fourth-annual Gator Charity Challenge at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Friday night.

With six teams going head-to-head in three events – sled push, tug-of-war and torpedo hold – only one could be victorious. That group was the Go Gettas, led by team captains sophomore running back Trey Burton, redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr., redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison, redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard and redshirt sophomore linebacker Jelani Jenkins.

The Go Gettas won the sled push, tied for second in the tug-of-war and came in second in the torpedo hold to win the event, which supported the Salvation Army of Alachua County.

Fans donated more than 650 pounds of canned food and tons of personal hygiene products that will be passed out to those in need.

The strength & conditioning event undoubtedly took a toll on the team, but everyone in attendance got a lift when a walk-on fullback won the individual push-up competition.

Junior Jesse Schmitt, who is listed at 5’7” and 175 lbs. on the official roster, walked on to the team last year and outlasted both redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey and redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown in the finals of the push-up event.

“I did my training [for the Marines] last summer, so we did a lot of push-ups there,’’ Schmitt told University of Florida senior writer Scott Carter. “That certainly helps. I’ve got a lower body weight than most of those guys by at least 100 pounds, so that comes in handy. These guys are incredible. They are just athletic freaks. It’s great to work out with them. It makes it hard to keep up.”

Speical thanks to the Orlando Sentinel for the video above.

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Recapping Florida’s 2011 Friday Night Lights

Mixing pomp and circumstance with football drills and relationship building, the Florida Gators use their annual Friday Night Lights camp at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as both a recruiting tool and means of evaluating some of the best high school football players in the country. The Gators often pull in some recruits over the FNL weekend but also find diamonds in the rough as recruits get coached up while getting to know each other.

The Swamp will once again filled with some of the top young talent in the nation on July 22, so much so that covering every player that plans to step on the field is a near impossibility. Below is a recap of the 2011 event which includes much of what was learned Friday evening in Gainesville, FL.

» Florida did not receive any commitments at the event, though that is not necessarily a negative. The Gators’ 15-member recruiting class is believed to be slightly larger already with a few silent commits in the fold. Most importantly, Florida’s new coaching staff made a positive impression on those in attendance and may have set themselves up for some big names to give their respective pledges in the near future.

» Five-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs (Olney, MD) was the standout performer, hauling in catches, showcasing his athleticism and even performing a few Gator Chomps after scoring a touchdown. The No. 2 wide receiver in the 2012 class, No. 8 overall prospect and No. 1 player in his state, Diggs has 36 offers but has not narrowed his choices down yet. Former high school teammates with Gators redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins, Diggs stayed in Gainesville overnight and will get more personal time with coaches on Saturday. “It was a big stage out there tonight,” he told The Gainesville Sun. “I didn’t come down here for no reason. I had a feeling about Florida. I just knew it was going to be live, and that’s what I love.”

» Florida’s current commitments and players did what they could to help sway recruits to the Orange & Blue throughout the course of the evening. Most notable among them was sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell, who was in the ear of four-star defensive end Jordan Jenkins (Hamilton, GA) all night long. The two reportedly got along great and developed a solid relationship at the event.

» Gators defensive coaches spent a ton of time with four-star defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (Forest City, NC), sticking by his side until he left the field and eventually headed home. Close friends with recent three-star safety commit Rhaheim Ledbetter (Boiling Springs, NC) and top Florida target four-star DE Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, NC), Watkins has spoken with the duo about all playing college together. He is also seriously considering South Carolina and Clemson.

» Though he did make it down to Gainesville, five-star Florida State DE commit Dante Fowler, Jr. (St. Petersburg, FL) remains solid to UF’s rival. He has expressed interest in Florida lately even though his father has no desire to see him wearing the Orange & Blue. The Gators are nevertheless pursuing Fowler in hopes of turning him, but he reiterated on Friday that his commitment to FSU is solid as of right now.

» Former Florida players in attendance included running back Fred Taylor, quarterback Chris Leak and wide receivers Jemalle Cornelius and Jacquez Green. Taylor, who visited with his son, 2013 RB prospect Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, FL), served as a coach at the camp and was excited to finally bring his son to The Swamp. Cornelius and Green visited with players from the high schools they coach at and also had a good time. The younger Taylor showcased good hands and solid agility at the event, but it is unknown if the Gators have presented him with an offer yet.

» Five-star athlete Nelson Agholor (Tampa, FL) was planning to visit but ended up cancelling after he received a phone call from the hosts of the ESPN/Nike Gridiron Kings event in Orlando, FL, who asked him to fill in for a player who dropped out. Agholor, who has yet to narrow down his list which may or may not include Florida depending who you talk to, was just one of a few players who did not make it. Three-star cornerback Chris Bivins (Gainesville, FL) also took part in another event, and four-star cornerback Tracy Howard (Miramar, FL) stopped by for a few hours but left before FNL began. Four-star offensive tackle Avery Young (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) was planning on going but simply could not find a ride. He is believed to be a heavy UF lean.

» Having shortened his list to Florida, Southern California and South Carolina, four-star defensive end Tyriq McCord (Tampa, FL) still has a ways to go in his recruitment (he does not plan to make an official announcement until January). Nevertheless, his time in Gainesville was well spent as he was able to continue developing his relationship with the coaches, who hope to earn his commitment as soon as possible McCord is one of the Gators’ top targets going forward.

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Four Gators on media’s Preseason All-SEC Teams

Four Florida Gators student-athletes were named to the 2011 Preseason All-SEC Teams on Thursday, as voted on by 167 members of the media currently in attendance at the 2011 SEC Media Days in Birmingham, AL.

Florida, whose players were some of the league’s highest vote getters one year ago, only placed redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis on the second team. Junior linebacker Jon Bostic and sophomores defensive tackle Dominique Easley and all-purpose player Trey Burton received third team nominations.

The Gators were also chosen to finish third in the Southeastern Conference‘s East Division (with 12 first-place votes – South Carolina received 114).

Last week, the conference’s coaches picked six Florida players for their Preseason All-SEC Teams. Senior running back Jeff Demps (second team), redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins (third team) and redshirt sophomore specialist Andre Debose joined Sturgis, Bostic and Burton, who were voted into identical spots.

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Six Gators named to Preseason All-SEC Teams

Six members of the Florida Gators football team were named to the 2011 Preseason All-SEC Teams on Thursday, as previously voted on by the conference’s coaches.

Florida, which had a league-high 10 players elected to the 2010 teams, only had one (redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey) remaining on its 2011 roster due to seven players graduating, one leaving early for the NFL and another being dismissed.

Rainey was left off the 2011 teams, which featured just one senior and five underclassmen from the Gators.

Senior running back Jeff Demps and redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis were honored with All-SEC Second Team nominations, while linebackers junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins along with specialists redshirt sophomore Andre Debose and sophomore Trey Burton were named to the All-SEC Third Team.

Florida was one of three teams (Auburn, Mississippi State) not to have a single player on the All-SEC First Team and sported the seventh most nominations overall coming in well behind leaders Arkansas (14) and Alabama (13).

This year’s All-SEC Teams were announced one week prior to the 2011 SEC Football Media Days, which take place next week in Hoover, AL. The Gators will be represented by head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt seniors quarterback John Brantley and wide receiver Denote Thompson, and senior defensive end William Green

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