Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

For as much as the Florida Gators accomplished on the field in 2011 (check out Saturday’s post), the Gator Nation was making plenty of news off of it as well. From former players ending their accomplished careers to coaches and current players being part of some of the biggest news stories this year, Florida was spread all over the sports landscape in 2011. Below are OGGOA‘s Top 11 Off the Field Stories of the Year.

11 » LEGAL ISSUES/EMBARRASSMENTS HANG OVER PROGRAM
Like 2009 and 2010, Florida could not escape its share of unfortunate arrests and embarrassing incidents in 2011. It started simply enough early in February when a pair of Gators swimmers – Lily Ramirez and Daniela Victoria – were arrested and indefinitely suspended from the team after being accused of shoplifting from Nordstrom at the Orlando Mall. Next up was Florida senior outfielder Bryson Smith, who was picked up on March 13 for driving under the influence. Oakland Raiders wide receiver Louis Murphy was arrested in Gainesville, FL three weeks later and charged with a trio of misdemeanors for failing to obey a police officer, possession of a drug (Viagra) without a valid prescription and resisting arrest without violence. The month of April was a tough one for the basketball team. Forwards Erik Murphy and Cody Larson were arrested in St. Augustine, FL and charged with third-degree felony burglary charges after allegedly breaking into a car, and team manager Josh Adel was also arrested for principal to burglary for allegedly serving as a lookout. Charges against the players were eventually reduced and each settled their respective case, while Adel had all charges against him dropped. Additionally, former Florida F Dan Wener was charged with a DUI even though he blew below the legal limit (0.08) on the Breathalyzer twice. The State Attorney’s Office eventually dropped his charges due to insufficient evidence to sustain a conviction.

Unfortunately the year of brushes with the law was just getting started for the Gators. It surfaced on April 24 via a news report that both linebacker Chris Martin and defensive end Kendric Johnson were cited with misdemeanors for possessing approximately two grams of marijuana each in their respective vehicles on separate occasions. Former Florida WR Reche Caldwell was arrested one month later for possession of marijuana and driving with a suspended license. Gators runner Andries Dumisane Hlaselo had the darkest arrest of the year, being picked up in June after being accused of rape and sexual assault. He was immediately dismissed from the team. The Florida football team had the remainder of the year’s arrests. Sophomore safety Matt Elam was cited for underage drinking for the second time in as many years in July, and an August report noted that freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders was cited for misdemeanor possession of marijuana in May. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely was arrested on Sept. 13 on a first-degree misdemeanor for driving a scooter with a suspended license as well as a third-degree felony for resisting arrest without violence, and freshman cornerback Marcus Roberson was served with a written arrest for underage drinking just one day later. Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley had the last brush with the law of 2011 as he was accused of attacking a former Alabama player early in October but was cleared of the charges one month later. All-in-all, for every positive thing accomplished by the Gators in 2011, there always seemed to be something negative about the program just around the corner.

10 » SIX BECOME A PART OF THE GATOR NATION IN THE SKY; THREE SUFFER SERIOUS MEDICAL ISSUES DURING THE YEAR
It would be difficult to recount everything that Gator Nation has gone through in 2011 without remembering those close to the University of Florida who left us for a better place or suffered through serious medical issues in the past year. Young and old, these Gators departed too soon or had plenty to deal with as the year went on. Jimmy Carnes (76), a former Gators track and field coach, passed away in March after losing a four-year battle with prostate cancer. Former linebacker/safety and three-time Super Bowl winner Godfrey Myles (42) suffered a massive heart attack in June and, while in the hospital on life support, had a stroke that took his life. Former punter and 12-year NFL veteran Don Chandler (76) also lost a long battle with cancer in August. Mike Heimerdinger (58), who was diagnosed with cancer early in the year, passed away in October. He was a former graduate assistant and wide receivers coach at Florida and won consecutive SEC titles with the team from 1984-85. Ending the year on a sad note, beloved Gainesville, FL businessman and former Gators long snapper Harold Monk III (42) died suddenly in December. OGGOA once again sends our deepest condolences to the families and friends of these men.

Florida freshman linebacker Neiron Ball was the first of three members of the Gators family to suffer serious health issues during the year. He was rushed to the hospital in February after a blood vessel in his brain ruptured as part of a congenital vascular condition. The doctors were able to stop the bleeding and Ball was released from the hospital four days later, but he was forced to miss the entire season for recovery purposes. In the middle of the year, Miami Heat guard/forward Mike Miller was lucky enough to have his wife give birth to a daughter named Jaylen. Unfortunately for the family, she was forced to spend two weeks in a pediatric intensive care unit after doctors found that she had five holes in her heart upon being born. The Millers eventually brought Jaylen home with them in a bit of a coincidence considering they actually donated $1 million to a pediatric intensive care unit at children’s hospital in his home town in 2007. Later that month, former Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, which he is currently still recovering from and will continue to do so over the next few months.

Continue Reading » Top 11 for 2011: Off the Field Stories of the Year

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TWO BITS: Watkins on flier, Trail’s transfer

1 » The NCAA is currently looking into an event soon to be held at The Firepit Grill of Fort Myers, FL, which is being promoted with a flier (picture) featuring the names of four college football players including Florida Gators sophomore defensive back Jaylen Watkins. According to The News-Press, Marcus Price (known as DJ LowKey) tweeted out a picture of the flier featuring Watkins’s name along with three others – Clemson’s Sammy Watkins (his brother), West Virginia’s Brodrick Jenkins and South Florida’s Spencer Boyd. The paper reports that Watkins immediately contacted Price with a text message “telling him his name couldn’t be used to promote the party.” However, “Price said the players initially gave him permission to use their names on the advertisement.” He added that the players were not paid but rather have been invited to the event in order to be honored as some sort of “homecoming.”

2 » Former Florida defensive end Lynden Trail, who recently decided to transfer, is currently in the process of narrowing down his next destination. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Trail recently visited Florida A&M but is looking at a number of opportunities. OGGOA spoke with Trail on Tuesday, and he indicated that – though he is “wide open” – he is currently considering a number of historically black colleges and universities and junior colleges. The idea being that he can immediately play football but “more importantly get my degree.”

Extra BIT » DJ Steve Porter recently created an auto-tune mash-up of a number of ESPN analyst Skip Bayless’s comments about Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow. Already a YouTube hit with more than 300,000 views, you can take a look at his work:

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OGGOA Week In Review: Nov. 27 – Dec. 4

Considering so much has gone on over the past week in regards to the Florida Gators, the OGGOA Week In Review returns for its second edition. (Yes, it covers an eight-day period, but let’s just all agree to ignore that.) Be sure to check out all of the posts that have been written this week just in case you happened to miss a thing or two.

OGGOA COLUMNS
» An in-depth look at former Florida head coach Urban Meyer going to the Ohio State Buckeyes was published in the latest edition of The Silver Lining. The 3,500-word piece looks at Meyer’s decision from every possible angle (some tidbits you will not find elsewhere are included) and provides you with all the information you need in order to draw your own conclusion.

» OGGOA had the unique opportunity to review “The Play That Changed College Football,” the latest edition of the ESPN documentary series SEC Storied.

» Following Florida basketball’s loss to the No. 3/4 Syracuse Orange, former Gators forward Adam Allen posted the latest edition of Allen’s Alley, explaining in what areas Florida has room for improvement.

EXTRA
While Al Michaels and Bob Costas are discussing the Denver Broncos improving to 6-1 this season with quarterback Tim Tebow starting, former Gators wide receiver now NBC color commentator Cris Collinsworth does the Gator Chomp. (Thanks to OGGOA follower Chaz.)

FOOTBALL
» Meyer agreed to coach the Buckeyes beginning in 2012. His signing was officially announced prior to OSU introducing him at an on-campus press conference. In between, UF athletic director Jeremy Foley wished Meyer the best of luck with his new employer.

» Two Gators – redshirt freshmen safety Joshua Shaw and defensive end Lynden Traildecided to transfer on Tuesday. Shaw and Trail each chose to transfer for different reasons, and OGGOA also spoke with Trail for an exclusive interview about his decision and promise to remain a Florida fan.

» Former Gators quarterback Tim Tebow was announced as the cover athlete for the premiere edition of NFL Magazine, set to go on sale Dec. 13 for $4.99.

» OGGOA confirmed that strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti would join Meyer and has already left the program for the Buckeyes.

» Florida announced that it accepted an invitation to the 2012 Gator Bowl.

» While on the media teleconference to officially accept the bowl bid, Gators head coach Will Muschamp confirmed Marotti’s departure, said sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley will undergo surgery on his ACL Wednesday and discussed a number of other topics relating to the bowl game.

» Florida four-star running back recruit Mike Davis (Stone Mountain, GA) decommitted from the Gators after a significant miscommunication with the coaching staff and completely eliminated UF from his list.

BASKETBALL
» One of the greatest television commercials to feature a college coach was published on OGGOA for your enjoyment. Florida head coach Billy Donovan does a press conference praising the variety of offerings from Florida Gulf Seafood.

» Donovan earned his 400th career win as UF routed the Stetson Hatters 96-70 Monday evening. Freshman guard Bradley Beal led the way with career-highs of 22 points and 10 rebounds. He also discussed what winning his 400th college basketball game meant on a number of levels.

» It was determined that junior forward Erik Murphy did not tear his meniscus but rather had a deep bone bruise and may be able to return for the Arizona game on Wednesday.

» Despite it being a close game throughout, the Gators fell to the Orange 72-68 on the road in Syracuse, NY. Junior G Kenny Boynton started slow but finished with 22 points on 9-of-16 shooting.

» Following Florida’s loss to Syracuse, Donovan pointed to turnovers, poor rebounding and players missing in action as the reasons why UF struggled. Redshirt junior G Mike Rosario was benched during the contest because Donovan was not pleased with where his head was at heading into and during the game.

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DE Lynden Trail: “It was time for me to go.”

Redshirt freshman defensive end Lynden Trail has been on quite a journey during his time with the Florida Gators.

From doing whatever he could to keep the highly touted 2010 recruiting class together to marrying his wife to putting smiles on fans’ faces with his planking pictures over the summer, Trail has accomplished a lot during his time in the orange and blue.

In fact, he’s done everything except actually step on the field and play football for the Gators.

On Monday, Trail decided to transfer from Florida, a school that he remains passionate about and plans to continue following no matter where he winds up. He will remain to be a fan of the Gators but realized that his time was up in Gainesville, FL.

“I just spoke with my mother for a minute about it and told [the coaches] today. The coaching staff handled it very professionally, and I did it on my end as well,” he explained to OGGOA Monday. “They told me they loved me. I told them I loved them, too. I just told them I thought this decision is what was best for me, and they respected everything.

“When I spoke with my mother, the thing she wanted to know was why was I not at least on the sideline with the team. These were questions I couldn’t answer. They were left up to the coaching staff. I respect every decision that they made and have been positive about a lot of things throughout this journey here with Gator Nation. I just kept hoping and praying and things just did not work out the way I wanted them to.”

Head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn each said this year that Trail was not playing well enough in practice to play let alone dress for the team.

Trail himself confirmed that the coaches told him this but maintained that he was playing to the best of his ability and trying his hardest to improve with each practice.

After redshirting his first year and not playing a down in his second season with the team, he knew it was time to take the next step in his life.

“My mother has always taught me to plan for the future,” Trail said. “I’m just trying to make the best move for me and my wife right now because my family is depending on me to come out with a degree or come out with a NFL contract. To stay in one spot and not make progress, I had to do what I had to do.”

Trail does not know where he is headed for the next chapter of his life but is not going to picky. He chose to stay in-state when committing to Florida but will be happy to go to whatever school provides him with the best opportunity going forward.

“Coming out of high school I always felt like I had to stay in Florida. As of right now, my mindset is that I just have to go somewhere that’s going to let me play, give me an opportunity to show them what I can do and get some film,” he said.

He could not speak to the specific reasons why nine other players in addition to him have transferred this season but said a lot of it probably has to do with mental makeup.

“I feel like, coming in, there are a lot of four and five star recruits, therefore everybody is highly recruited. In high school, they have this persona of being the big man on campus,” he explained. “Due to the fact that everybody probably wasn’t getting the attention that they wanted or needed, it probably played a big issue in a lot of things. The level of competition is great, but at the same time, many feel that they should be starting or at least playing, and that can play with an athlete’s mind.”

Though Trail was not sure the exact reasons why fellow redshirt freshman safety Joshua Shaw also decided to transfer Monday, he guessed that it had to do with his distance from home and the fact that he was not too pleased with his spot in the rotation at safety.

He may no longer be wearing orange and blue in 2012, but he was adamant that the colors will continue to course through his veins no matter where he winds up.

“I still love Gator Nation. I still love all my teammates that are here, and I will keep in contact with a lot of them. I will still keep in contact with a lot of Gator fans, who I now consider Gator friends,” Trail said passionately.

“I do want them to know that I’m not leaving because I don’t like the school. I’m leaving because my time is up and I’m just looking for a better opportunity. Overall it was time for me to go somewhere else where I can get an opportunity to step on the field.

“I still love Gator Nation.”

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S Shaw, DE Trail to transfer from Florida Gators

Two more Florida Gators football players – redshirt freshmen safety Joshua Shaw and defensive end Lynden Trail have decided to leave the program, The Gainesville Sun’s Pat Dooley confirmed Tuesday.

Both four-star recruits from Florida’s heralded 2010 recruiting class, Shaw and Trail are the 10th and 11 players to depart since head coach Will Muschamp took over.

“We wish Lynden and Josh the best of luck in the future and we certainly appreciate their contributions to the football program,” Muschamp said in a school release.

Shaw registered 22 tackles (one for loss) and a pass breakup in 10 games this year, while Trail never saw the field and did not even dress for the vast majority of contests.

“I have enjoyed my time at Florida but I feel like I need to be closer to my family right now,” Shaw said in the same school release. “This is not a football decision, this is a family decision. I need to be with my family.”

Each player came into the program with a previous relationship. Shaw (Palmdale, CA) was close to and from the same state as sophomore defensive end Ronald Powell (Moreno Valley, CA), and Trail attended the same high school as redshirt freshman wide receiver Quinton Dunbar (Booker T. Washington).

“I have decided that I would like to pursue opportunities elsewhere,” Trail said. “I want to thank the fans and Gator Nation for their support. I’ll always be a Gator at heart.”

Trail also wrote about his decision on his Twitter account Tuesday.

GATORNATION I LOVE YALL AND LOVED ALL YALL SUPPORT I LOVED THE COACHES MY TEAMMATES AND THE STUDENTS HERE ONCE A GATOR ALWAYS A GATOR <3

[and]

I have nothing negative to say about UF I LOVE THE PROGRAM THE STUDENTS THE FRIENDS I MADE AND OVERALL THE FANS #GATORNATION

The duo join DE Chris Martin, WR Chris Dunkley, WR Javares McRoy, running back Mike Blakely, tight end Michael McFarland, linebacker Dee Finely, TE Gerald Christian and WR Robert Clark as players who transferred this season. Cornerback Janoris Jenkins was dismissed from the team following two marijuana arrests in less than 90 days.

Additionally, redshirt junior offensive lineman Daivd Young announced that he plans to graduate and will not participate in his final year of eligibility. Young saw action in all 12 games so far this season.

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11/9: Watkins steps up, Patchan improving

With the Florida Gators finally earning a victory on Saturday after a difficult four-game losing streak, a number of players were made available to the media Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing heading into Saturday’s game on the road against the No. 13 South Carolina Gamecocks.

WATKINS STEPS UP AND EARNS PRAISE

After allowing a touchdown against Georgia, sophomore defensive back Jaylen Watkins worked hard in practice last week on his head turns and ability to play the ball while it is in the air. That paid off Saturday against Vanderbilt as Watkins became a disruptive player who earned praise from head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn this week.

“It was good to see him get some pass breakups in the ballgame. I was real pleased to see him do that,” Quinn said Wednesday evening.

Watkins attributed his improvement to preparation. “All week [Quinn] told me to get the ball off guys in the Georgia game. I was in two good positions and didn’t get the ball off. I think I was in good positions [against Vanderbilt and did my job],” he said. Watkins added that he stayed after practice to work on getting his head around and learning to play the ball better in the air. “Trying not to get a pass interference, timing when the ball is coming and actually getting it down when it’s coming [are the most difficult parts of playing the position,” he added.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Junior linebacker Jon Bostic on redshirt freshman Michael Taylor: “He’s growing up every week. He was asked to step up last week and that is what he did.”

» Bostic on redshirt senior defensive tackle Jaye Howard: “Leadership. With him being a senior, him being here the longest out of everyone, he’s seen everything. He’s been here during the good times and the bad times. He’s the one keeping everybody going and everybody up.”

» Bostic on beating a team with a winning record: “It’s important. It doesn’t change from week-to-week. Every week we want to go out and win.”

» Watkins on sophomore safety Matt Elam: “Matt is a leader. When we play teams that do the option and all that, we move him down to nickel to get him on the edge because he’s strong and smart.”

» Redshirt sophomore tackle Matt Patchan on returning and playing better: “I’m not perfect, so I always have to get better. That’s the way I approach every day. Everything I do in practice and in the games is to make improvements and get better.”

» Patchan on offensive line coach Frank Verducci: “Coach is a great coach. He really knows the technique part of it. It’s good that he’s an NFL type guy so he comes in and we get to learn that way. It’s really impressive. I like working with him.”

Redshirt junior DT Omar Hunter on beating South Carolina and/or FSU: “Those are big wins. Any time you can line up against South Carolina or FSU, those are big games. We always want to win those games.”

» Quinn on redshirt freshman defensive end Lynden Trail: “We’re hoping to keep developing him. Right now he hasn’t cracked the two-deep in that way, but he’s out there practicing and working hard at it. [...] For us inside it was more just controlling blocks, being productive as a rusher, where he can make some more plays.”

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9/24: Florida at Kentucky post-game notes

The No. 15 Florida Gators (4-0, 2-0 SEC) won on the road in impressive fashion, routing the Kentucky Wildcats (2-2, 0-1 SEC) 48-10 on Saturday. OGGOA takes a look at some of the notable occurrences before, during and after Saturday’s game with notes and quotes from both head coach Will Muschamp and the players.

DOUBLE TROUBLE IN THE BACKFIELD

Impressive in Florida’s season opener, senior running back Jeff Demps became an afterthought the last two weeks as redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey ran away with all of the acclaim. Demps obviously wanted to make sure that would not be the case much longer as he exploded for a career-high 157 yards on 10 carries with two touchdowns Saturday evening. Rainey did his fair share of running too, totaling 105 yards on 15 touches out of the backfield on Saturday.

Here’s what else the duo has done and what they can still accomplish this year:

» Demps/Rainey each ran for 100 yards on Saturday, the first time a pair of Florida players have done so since Tim Tebow/Percy Harvin in the 2009 BCS Championship.
» Demps has 320 rushing yards through four games in 2011 and is on pace to break his single-season mark by 220 yards.
» Rainey has 411 yards on the ground and 214 more through the air. His 625 total yards are more than he accounted for over eight games in 2010 and puts him well on pace to top his 2009 total of 736 yards.
» The 405 yards the Gators rushed for on Saturday is the sixth-most in school history and most as a team in a single game since 1989.
» Florida has had a player run for 100+ yards in four-straight games; the school record for 100-yard games is five consecutive contests.

GOING AFTER THE BALL ON DEFENSE

Muschamp has stressed over and over again that he wants Florida to be a “ball hawk defense,” and that is exactly what the Gators were Saturday. UF has doubled their forced turnovers over the last three games, stripping one against UAB, intercepting two balls in the Tennessee game and acquiring the ball four times against Kentucky.

Florida’s defensive tackles recovered a pair of fumbles – redshirt junior Omar Hunter fell on one and redshirt senior Jaye Howard caught another in the air, returning it two yards for a touchdown – and the Gators also nabbed two interceptions. Sophomore safety Matt Elam got his second in as many games (and third turnover in three weeks), and redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Taylor also saw a ball fall into his hands.

Junior LB Jon Bostic also deserves praise for an outstanding performance Saturday. He set career-highs in total tackles (10) and solo tackles (eight) and hit Kentucky QB Morgan Newton for a sack that caused the fumble caught by Howard. Bostic now has sacks in consecutive games for the first time in his career.

MUSCHAMP’s GAME RECAP

Early in his post-game media availability, Muschamp provides his own quick recap of the game as he sees it from offense, defense and special teams.

“[I’m] very pleased with how we responded in the game. The defense created four turnovers setting up 24 points, we rushed for 400 yards, had two backs each go over 100 yards [and took] what the defense gives you, which Charlie [Weis] has done an outstanding job of in our first four games. Very pleased with that in the run game especially. [...] [ I’m] pleased with the turnovers and being able to run the football. Understand this is a line of scrimmage league, and you’ve got to be able to do that. As we move forward here, we’re 4-0 and we still have a lot of things to improve on.”

TURNOVERS AND MISCUES

The Gators kept their penalties to a minimum on Saturday (just five for 45 yards after averaging 11.3 for 90 yards over the first three weeks), but Florida still coughed the ball up three times. Freshman quarterback Jeff Driskel – in for temporarily injured redshirt senior John Brantley fumbled the ball as he was being sacked and threw an interception to end the first half. Junior RB Mike Gillislee, carrying the ball a bit to low, fumbled it after bumping into a referee stationed in the middle of the field.

Lucky for the duo, they made up for their mistakes with an explosive play later in the game. Gillislee broke out for a 60-yard reverse-field touchdown run and aided by Driskel, who threw a great block, on his way down the field.

INJURIES AND ABSENCES

Three Gators starters got dinged up on Saturday in Lexington, but none of the three injuries appears to be too serious. Brantley was hit hard in the midsection and missed the final few minutes of the first half before returning after halftime. He said after the game that he just had the wind knocked out of him. Rainey appears to come up lame after his right leg got twisted during a tackle, but he returned to the field shortly after and played the remainder of the contest. The only player who did not come back from injury was redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio, who hurt his right leg and limped off the field.

There were also three notable players who did not see the field on Saturday. Redshirt sophomores tight end Jordan Reed (lower body) and wide receiver Andre Debose (ankle) traveled with the team but did not dress, while redshirt freshman defensive end Lynden Trail (performance) was left off the travel roster and remained in Gainesville, FL. “Both of those guys – we went through preparation – the decision really wasn’t made until Friday that they would not play,” Muschamp said. “We will be back to full board as far as our team is concerned on Monday.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Sophomore RB Trey Burton, who scored six touchdowns against the Wildcats in 2010, found the end zone for his seventh career score against Kentucky on Saturday.

» Florida allowed an opponent to score in the first quarter for the first time this season, giving up a field goal at the very end of the quarter.

» The Gators have scored nearly as many points in the first quarter through four games in 2011 (54) as they did in that same time period in the entire 2010 season (56).

» Muschamp said it was his call to bring Driskel in the game at the end of the first half and added that it would’ve been a great throw to the end zone if the receiver had held onto the ball better. “We’ve got to get Jeff ready to play in the game,” he said. In this league it’s tough to have one guy go through the whole season. I felt that we made the right decision though it was not the right result there before the half.”

» Muschamp on scoring 21 points very quickly: “Whenever you play on the road, they need to match your surge. When you play on the road, there’s a little momentum for the home team. You’ve got to bring a different surge to the game, a different momentum to the game. You got to create momentum for your football team and I think we did that for the most part.”

» Muschamp on Driskel’s two turnovers: “You learn and you grow through these situations and Jeff is going to be fine.”

» Elam on his interception:* “To win football games, you need to get turnovers. [The quarterback] is eventually going to throw me the ball if I just stay patient. Quarterbacks always make mistakes, overthrowing balls, tipped balls, things like that. I basically kept my eyes on the quarterback. It gives me a lot of confidence. When you make interceptions, those are big plays. It helps the offense, helps us get touchdowns.”

» Howard on his fumble recovery and touchdown:* “All I saw was Bostic hammer [Newton]. If we do that, it takes pressure off the offense. It just brings energy to everyone.”

» Hunter on wrestling with a teammate for the fumble recovery:* “We both had our hands on it. I just had to take it away from him,’’ Hunter said. “I didn’t know I was taking it away from him, but I wasn’t leaving without the ball.”

* Quotes courtesy of the University of Florida

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9/14: Quinn talks defense, evaluates players

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

For the Gators to be successful, it all starts with stopping the run, getting pressure on the passer and creating turnovers – three things that are paramount to any team putting together a standout performance. Quinn was quick to note that even though the Volunteers are making their money through the air, they can also run the ball quite well.

“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.”

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