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
» 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