With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice now in full swing, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media at the conclusion of the third week on Friday. Maintaining a serious and balanced demeanor, Muschamp discussed a number of topics including the team’s health at the line of scrimmage, how many days of practice have actually been successful and how both players and coaches are performing thus far.
OFFENSIVE LINE BANGED UP
An ongoing story throughout spring practice is that linemen on both sides of the ball are missing much-needed time on the field due to injury. Another player was officially added to that list Friday. Redshirt sophomore offensive lineman Nick Alajajian, who wrote on his Facebook page Wednesday that he tore his meniscus in practice, will officially miss the remainder of the spring after undergoing surgery that will sideline him for approximately three months. Also currently out of action is junior tackle Xavier Nixon, who sprained his ankle but should be back in action on Monday.
Asked how many players are functional now on the offensive line, Muschamp was quite forthcoming in his reply. “We’re working about seven. That’s total bodies, too. That’s all we got,” he said. “Injuries are part of the game. There’s nobody feeling sorry for the Gators right now, I can tell you that. You got to have other guys step up. One man’s misfortune is another man’s opportunity. Somebody else has got to step up. You build depth on your football team through these situations; you find out a lot more about your football team in these situations. It’s something that happens. We don’t have any excuses around here.”
Because Florida is getting thin up front on both sides of the ball, the 2011 Orange & Blue Debut on April 9 may be a bit of a mix-and-match between the two squads. “We need to have a good functional day within teaching our schemes. We’re too thin to divide up,” Muschamp said. “I don’t want to get a guy matched up in a bad mismatch issue and you can’t get the ball off in some situations. That certainly can happen, especially as thin as we are. That’s the operation we’re going to have. We met as a staff [Friday] morning, talked about the spring game and the procedures we will go through.”
PLAYMAKERS PROVIDING A MEASURE OF CONSISTENCY
The Gators had a tough time making dynamic plays on offense in 2010, but Muschamp was happy to discuss how some of his offensive playmakers have performed so far in practice. Speaking of the wide receivers, he called redshirt juniors Frankie Hammond, Jr. and Omarius Hines the most consistent while raving about sophomore Quinton Dunbar’s ability to stretch the field in the vertical passing game. “He’s a guy that’s really a weapon outside,” said Muschamp of Dunbar. He also noted that redshirt senior Deonte Thompson “has done some nice things” and that redshirt sophomore Andre Debose (sprained ankle) will be back in action early next week.
Above anyone else, Muschamp went out of his way to praise redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed’s progress. “Jordan Reed is having a really good spring at tight end,” he said. “He’s a match-up issue for a defense. What are you going to put on him in your mans and your zones? He’s able to stretch the field vertically, block on the perimeter, block on the edge, block at the point of attack. I’ve been very pleased with his spring.” Getting the ball to these players will be redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley, of whom Muschamp also offered positive reviews. “He’s managing out football team very well,” he said. “He’s got a lot on his plate. It’s a quarterback system as far as in the run game and pass game. We’re very pleased with where he is at this point.”
Out of the 10 practices that Florida has held up to this point, Muschamp said that nine have been great. The other? He doesn’t think the team made much progress in that one. However, he thinks the team is responding great overall. “The guys are working very hard. We’ve had great off days of watching film and learning,” he said. “For the most part, they’re paying attention to great detail in what we’re trying to do and learning what we do. It’s not just about learning what to do, learning why we do it is important, too.”
Stressing the ability for his players to perform at multiple positions, Muschamp noted that redshirt junior defensive end Lerentee McCray has also been playing some SAM linebacker and that redshirt junior defensive tackle Earl Okine has also seen time at end. “There’s been some pleasant surprises for us in some cross-training work,” he said. The biggest surprise is certainly redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison, who moved from guard to center and is learning the position at a fast pace. “Jon Harrison at center is a guy that’s done a nice job,” Muschamp said. “There’s an awful lot on the center as far as snapping and blocking. If you’ve never done it before, there’s an awful lot to it. I’ve been pleased with his progress.”
S & QUOTES
» Sophomore running back Mack Brown had successful surgery on a broken fibula and remains on track to return to action in July.
» On what has been worked on recently in practice: “We’ve really [done] a lot of situational work as far as red zone, third down, coming off the goal line, end of game situations that come up. We’ve got a very experienced staff of guys that have come up with a lot of different situations that we’ll practice and go through. Because in this league, we’re going to have four or five games that will come down to the end of the game, and you’ve got to be good at the end of the game. [It’s about] making good decisions – not just as coaches but as players.”
» On if four-star QB Jacoby Brissett has received any teaching yet: “Jacoby came up during his spring break and spent three or four days with us sitting in the meetings and being out at practice. He will spend more time obviously when summer comes in. We’ve got a video playbook that we go through with our players that we put together on both sides of the ball that’s more teaching terminology, formations, sets, routes, run game. We have a pretty extensive video that you can learn from so when you get here you’re familiar with the terminology.”
» On allowing redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey to talk to the media after he was shunned in 2010: “I don’t know about last year. Chris is going to be a productive football player for us. I trust him. Chris Rainey has worked tremendously hard since I’ve been here. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do. There’s been nothing that has been any glitch as far as how he’s performed on- and off-the-field for us since I’ve been at the University of Florida. That’s really all I go off of. We all go through a maturing stage in our life. Whatever happened, maybe he grew up from and learned from.”
» On offensive line coach Frank Verducci: “Frank is a great teacher. He’s not a holler and a screamer. Most of these offensive line coaches, they just want to hear themselves talk. Frank doe s a great job of teaching; he teaches the players very professionally. He does a great job of communicating with players about what to do and how to do it, demands great effort. I’ve been very pleased with their execution up to this point.” He also said that Verducci and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis have a noticeably great working relationship that is already paying dividends for the team.
» On defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson: “Travaris Robinson is an outstanding football coach. He has tremendous knowledge and appeals to young people. They gravitate to him as a coach, as a person. He does a phenomenal job on the field as far as coaching, getting the message across and the players playing for him. Motivation of players is as much important to me as far as teaching is concerned, that’s part of it. He certainly inspires learning in our group.”