With the Florida Gators preparing for their first Southeastern Conference game of 2011 on Saturday against the Tennessee Volunteers, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn spoke about the Gators defense and also evaluated some of Florida’s standout players.
DEFENDING TENNESSEE THROUGH THE AIR
Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray is looking like a top-notch signal caller through the first two games of the season. Having completed 78.5 percent of his passes for nearly 700 yards and seven touchdowns, Branty “certainly passes efficiently like a NFL quarterback,” Quinn said Wednesday. “It’s one thing that really jumps out to you,” he added. “When you put their tape on, it’s how efficient they are in throwing the ball. You can tell that they’re starting to get together as a quarterback and receivers [group].”
Unfortunately for Florida, the Volunteers’ passing game will be attacking the Gators’ weakness – their extremely young secondary. Quinn noted that Florida will have to do a great job schematically and with on-field communication in order to win the aerial battle. “Really when you’re facing a really efficient offense like these guys, you really got to be on point with communication and you got to be on your stuff,” he said. “Because they really are efficient, if we’re playing a certain coverage or a certain technique, it’s got to be communicated really fast. That’s one of the things we’ve been working on hard since we started here all the way through training camp.”
One positive for the Gators is that all offseason the defense has been able to go against Florida’s offense which, like Tennessee’s, features the same personnel in multiple package. Quinn sees this as a huge advantage for UF heading into the game. “One thing that’s great about our team is that there’s really great competition at practice,” he said. “One thing that you like [is] whether you’re a linebacker that has to cover Chris Rainey or a safety that has to cover Jordan Reed. That competition prepares you a little bit for what you’re going to face down the road. Not just from this club but from all the teams. We certainly enjoy going against our offense, and I hope they feel the same way getting the competition in practice. That’s a valuable part of what we do.”
DEALING WITH THE VOLS ON THE GROUND
“Although their stats are really high, they do have a run game, too. I’ve coached against their line coach before and have a lot of respect for the way they run the ball. Certainly they’ll try to establish that too,” he said. “I thought [their offensive line] was one unit that really improved when you watched their first two ball games of the year. Although they may be young like us at some spots, I think they’re a talented group, too. I really think on both sides the line of scrimmage is going to be a fun match-up to watch. They play hard, physical and tough, and our guys do, too.”
Once Florida gets that under control, they will also have to find a way to get to Bray consistently. The Gators registered two sacks in their season opener against Florida Atlantic but did not earn any against UAB’s passer last weekend.
“Sometimes you’ll hear me talk about affecting the quarterback. In our rush, we kind of talk about hits on the QB. We also use a term called a ‘reset’ where the quarterback has to move in the pocket, reset his feet and make a harder throw,” Quinn explained. “Some people talk about getting the quarterback off the spot, where he can’t just go to his five-step drop and then make his throws. Some of it will be pressure; some of it will be with our four-man rush. We certainly need to do a better job of collapsing the pocket from the outside in with our defensive ends.”
AFFECTING THE QUARTERBACK THE ENTIRE DEFENSE’s JOB
The return of sophomore defensive end Sharrif Floyd will help in that goal, Quinn said, but the defense as a whole (everyone from the defensive tackles to the safeties) must step up to rattle Bray from multiple standpoints. “I think he’s a big part of it but, like I said, and this is going to sound unusual, it might be the disguise of a coverage where the quarterback might have to wait a little longer [that does the trick]. This week’s match-up is really affecting the quarterback with our whole defense. Although [Floyd’s] going to be a part of it, in a way we’re all tying together to do it
“It might be a linebacker who is blitzing or a safety who is showing one coverage and playing something different to affect the QB. At the end of the day, you want to make it hard on a quarterback. Sometimes that’s with the four man rush where you get hits on the guy and he can really feel it. Sometimes it’s the mental pressure you can put on him. Those are kind of some of the games you play as a defensive coach when you go against a talented offense.”
PICKING WEIS’s BRAIN
Quinn was a big name when it came to defensive coaches in the NFL. He was very revered and praised by such players as Jason Taylor as the best position coach he ever had. However, even Quinn would agree that offensive coordinator Charlie Weis is at another level in terms of reverence and appreciation for what he has accomplished in his career. When Weis decided to leave Kansas City for Florida, many were surprised and wondered how he would handle being second-fiddle to head coach Will Muschamp. So far so good, Quinn explains.
“The great thing about Charlie, when he stepped into that role, there was no doubt that he was in support of Will. That’s a real credit to him,” he said. “It’s a good person for Will to talk to and say, ‘Hey, in this situation, have you been there?’ And he’s kind of done that. It has been good for me too, to be honest with you. If I have a question about something, Charlie is, in my opinion, one of the sharpest offensive coordinators in football at any level. If I have a question, ‘How would you see us playing this? How would you [attack] this?’ Not only for Will but he’s also been a good resource for me from a football standpoint.”
In fact, Quinn will pick Weis’s brain often not just for schematic considerations but also specific concepts like the best ways to defend a two-minute drill, for example. “In my opinion, he’s been on teams that were the best in the world at [two-minute drills],” Quinn said. “Certainly during the week of game planning, we’re both dealing with our own issues on our side of the ball. But certainly if it would come up, I would certainly ask him.”
PLAYER EVALUATIONS, NOTES AND QUOTES
» On what area of the defense he is most frustrated with: “There’s a lot of areas that we really need to come along at. To me, I think affecting the quarterback is one that’s a big emphasis for us. Even more importantly than that is taking the ball away. Coach and I made a big emphasis on that, and it’s something we so strongly believe in – being a ball hawk, getting your hands on balls and being disruptive. If I had to circle one area that I would aim for improvement, it would be taking the ball away.“
» On Floyd’s ability and what it means for him to return to the team: “Any time you have a guy with size and with length to him – Sharrif’s a big guy. He’s got some size but he’s got some speed to move. He’s a defensive tackle who can also play D-end. We line him up in multiple spots. He’s a good technician. He’s strong when he gets his hands on you. He’s very heavy handed. He’s a good inside pass rusher. He’s such an outstanding teammate. He’s a terrific teammate and everybody’s looking forward to having him back out there. We certainly missed not having him out there.”
» Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (who has returned from a knee injury and has gotten much healthier over the last two weeks): “Jeremy looked good on the early part of the week. It’s good to see him back out there. He’s been gone for so long so now it was just cool to kind of get him back in the mix. I think we’ll find out more as we go further on during the week and as he gets through the whole week and then kind of make the decisions from there.”
» Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley’s dancing: “For me, I think he brings a lot of energy to our defense. That has certainly been brought up a lot lately. To be honest with you, I don’t notice it as much maybe as the next guy because I’ve been around him so much. You see him and that’s just Ease. He does bring a lot of energy and juice to the defense.”
» Sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell needing to step up: “At that position, which is called our buck, it’s kind of a unique spot. It’s a guy who can stand up at rush, play over the tight end, and it’s really one of our featured spots where we play to the open side of the defense a lot. That guy is counted on to be one of our big rushers. With Ron, we’re certainly looking for more production from his as a rusher; it’s something we’ve been working really hard at through training camp and over the start of the season. I’m looking forward to seeing him develop and move forward in that way. It’s a little bit of the system. You’re up in a three-point, you’re down. It’s just for him feeling more comfortable and playing all the different techniques. When you first start, it’s like you can be so many different things it’s kind of hard to master something. Now that he’s been playing in the system all the way through spring and training camp and now he’s got some experience with two games under his belt, I think we’ll see that production increase.”
» Redshirt freshman DE Lynden Trail, who is healthy but did not dress for Saturday’s game due to his performance in practice: “[We’re] just looking to increase his performance right now. No disciplinary action along those lines. Just looking to get more out of Lynden, and I think we’re getting that this week.”
» On if he is excited to open SEC play even though his players say Tennessee is a nameless and faceless opponent: “I’m certainly looking forward to it. That’s part of the reason why you come to a place like Florida, for the opportunity to play in cool games like this. Our approach has been that we take the same approach each week in how we prepare, how we study, how hard we practice and that kind of thing. But you definitely feel a buzz about the opponent and that kind of stuff.”