Snell’s Slant: Gators are bought in, ready to work

By Shannon Snell – OnlyGators.com Featured Columnist

Hello, everyone. Did you miss me? After a long, boring summer of sports that really, honestly do not interest me one bit, college football almost back and soon to be gracing our beautiful high definition television screens once again.

Quite a few things have changed on the college sports landscape since you last heard from me following the Florida State loss, and the Florida football team has a legitimate opportunity to surprise some doubters as the 2014 season progresses.

I got the chance to do something this offseason that I have not done since I stopped playing for the Gators in 2003. I hung around with the team and met some of the current players. And most importantly, I came away impressed.

Continue Reading » Snell’s Slant: Gators are bought in, ready to work

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8/25: Easley discusses himself, Elam, Halapio; Demps not worried about Brantley

With the Florida Gators in the middle of preseason practice preparing for their first game on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Thursday to discuss how the team is progressing.

EASLEY ALL GROWS UP

His first season at Florida was a rough one for sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley. Inactive for some games (including not traveling with the team for a few away contests) and said to have somewhat of an attitude problem, he did not get on the field much and was a candidate to transfer. His teammates and coaches calmed him down a bit toward the end of the year, and Easley eventually got over his woes and decided to remain with the Gators. On Thursday, he opened up a bit about that time in his life and explained how he has moved forward.

“[It was a] freshman thing. Every freshman goes through it,” he said. “[I was] home sick basically. Basically just home sick.” Easley explained a bit of what head coach Will Muschamp said to him upon taking over the team. “He just told me that I have a fresh start. My plan was to do a fresh start, too, start from the beginning and start the right way. Maturity – I matured a lot and [started] making better choices. […] I had to get used to it. I had to break myself in.”

Redshirt junior DT Omar Hunter recalled Easley’s struggles and agreed that he is a changed man this year. “Wow. Ten steps forward. Big. He’s definitely more mature,” he said. “[Easley] has the right mind going into the season; he knows we’re counting on him to play a lot. He’s definitely stepping it up. He is just going out and working hard. He’s not talking as much. And when he does talk, he’s not complaining about anything. He’s just having fun and going out and playing. […] Dominique, he’s a good guy. You can get along with him easy. He comes out, talks to everyone, he’s a good teammate.”

Hunter also talked about some of the people who helped Easley right the ship. “I know a few guys – one of our strength coaches, Coach Mark Campbell – that’s like his mentor. They talk all the time. He put his arm around him and talked to him a lot. Me too. I love Ease, like I said, him and Sharrif [Floyd] come in last year, I know the pressure that was on them to play. I felt that same pressure my freshman and I know what they were going through so I talked to them a little bit too.”

“BAD” SCRIMMAGE NOT SO TERRIBLE

Though no one would come out and say that he was exaggerating per se, both Easley and Howard said they did not believe the team’s scrimmage on Wednesday was as bad as Muschamp made it out to be in his evening media availability.

“From my perspective, everything went good. We came out obviously some things went bad, every team certain things go bad, but from the way I look at it, everything went good,” Easley said. Hunter added, “It was OK. I think both sides of the ball could have did a little bit better, but I think for the most part it was OK. We still got to come together as a team a little bit more and be a little bit mentally sharp on our plays, but it was OK.”

Easley said that the team has “actually…gotten way better since the first two scrimmages” even though he knows the team is “not perfect yet but we will be there soon.” Hunter thinks the team needs to focus on “sharpening up mentally, getting all our plays down, [and] being able to make the right adjustments we need to make in crunch time situations.”

Overall though, Easley believes Muschamp was less angry and more disappointed in the outing. “He seemed a little bit upset because some plays went wrong, some people didn’t know what they were supposed to be doing, but that happens everywhere,” he said. “He just wants us to know that we’re not who we’re supposed to be yet and we’re going to be there soon, we just got to keep going at it.”

BRANTLEY SHOULD BE FINE, DEMPS SAYS

With redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley on the mend with a sore back, senior running back Jeff Demps noted on Thursday that he is confident he will be ready to face Florida Atlantic in the first game of the season. “I don’t think it’s that serious,” he said. The back-ups are ready, but I doubt that John is going to miss that game.”

He also explained that, while Brantley did have his reps limited during the scrimmage and has missed a few practices, he is using that time wisely.

“He’s been practicing. Last night he was limited, but throughout camp he’s been going full-go, he said. “Yeah, uh-huh, his back has been kind of bothering him. I’m not concerned. With him and his back issue, I think they’re giving him a chance to get back in the playbook and pick up the offense even better.”

HIGH PRAISE FOR ELAM

Given his first real opportunity to speak to the media since stepping on campus, Easley was also very vocal when it came to what sophomore safety Matt Elam brings to the team day-in and day-out. “My opinion – this is my opinion – I think he’s the best thing out there. He works hard at everything he does,” he said. “Basically he’s relentless every play; he doesn’t take off not one snap. [He’s the best] I see out there. Period. His whole plan is to beat that snap every play. He’s just a smart player. He can read the field, like he’s our quarterback of the defense.”

OFFENSIVE LINE STEPPING UP

Considered one of the potentially weakest units on the team going into the offseason due to its youth and relative lack of depth, the Gators offensive line has been a highlight for the ream recently according to Muschamp and the players.

Demps said Thursday that the chemistry amount the unit is apparent. “They’re playing together now. All over the summer they were having events – just the line hanging out and getting closer together,” he explained. “You can tell it now because, like I said, they’re playing like a unit.”

Offering up a similar story about the line was Easley, who specifically tries to go against redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio in practice each day. “That’s like a family there. The offensive line, I’d say that’s like the strongest group of our team right now,” he explained. “Everything is all together. Everybody knows what page each other’s on. No matter where we’re at, if we’re off or on the field… Nobody knows this but every Thursday or Wednesday they have dinner together, and they’ve been doing that since I’d say the end of spring.”

Easley added that Halapio is “the strongest guy” he faces but that neither of the two men usually get the best of each other over the course of a day’s activities. “We’re working each other. He’s working me, I’m working him, so we’re just getting each other better,” Esaley said. “He wins, I win, he wins, I win, I love going against him. We just try to get each other better.”

And how did he respond to Halapio’s comments from Wednesday stating that Easley never seems to get tired on the field and has become a relentless player? “I just have fun,” he responded. “You’ll always see me dancing. I just try to keep dancing and just have fun, not think about the tiredness.”

HUNTER’s GOT JOKES

Asked if he was concerned about Brantley having his reps limited in practice due to a sore back, Hunter quipped that he “didn’t even know he was not healthy,” saying that when he rushed the passer he didn’t look at the jersey and just assumed it was him.

Hunter also talked about being excited for the season to begin. “I’m so ready to hit someobody other than my teammates,” he said. “I’m just really feeling the itch to hit somebody. I might hit Demps today.”

Asked if redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey did a good job blocking a pass rusher recently, he said that the player is getting better” and though he “didn’t like to do it before, I think he enjoys it now.” As to whether or not Demps recently took out a defensive end in a recent practice? “I do believe that. He’s a little sneaky.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Easley on if the defense is dominating the offense in the trenches: “Everybody’s doing good, but we emphasize that it starts with up front first, so we’re trying to make that statement.”

» Easley on how he has improved the most: “[I’m] more about the game. More about reading people, reading the offensive lineman, just becoming a wiser defensive lineman.”

» Easley on playing nose tackle vs. three-technique: “I’ve played the nose since I got here last year, but I just started playing the three-technique this summer. I’m playing both equally.”

» Easley on Halapio saying he’s not a good dancer: “I try.”

» Easley on how much the team can improve with another week of practice: “Seven days better.”

» Easley on how the defensive line has improved from a year ago: “Extremely good. Technique-wise, we’re way much wiser. As far as reading the offensive lineman, we’re better coached at that.”

» Hunter on being a leader as an older guy: “It’s kind of weird, but I enjoy it. I kind of look at myself as a leader in that aspect. I’ve been through a lot more things than these younger guys have went through. Grabbing younger guys and kind of pulling them in the right way, I like that.”

» Hunter on his passion for football now vs. last year: “I love football now. I wouldn’t say it was a struggle. I enjoyed my teammates last year and I enjoyed it last year, but this year a new energy and a new life with the coaches being here, and I enjoy it.”

» Hunter on taking a leadership role: “I feel like I’m one of the older guys. Myself, Willie Green and Jaye Howard, we are the three older guys on the defensive line, so when things are going wrong, people are looking to us to lead them. I do take that challenge on.”

» Hunter on getting to this point in his career with a new staff: “It’s fun. It’s something new. Something that re-motivated me to practice hard and play harder. This new fresh start over, it just made me focus more and [made] me more hungry.”

» Demps on his health: “Everything is good. I’ve been taking care of my body pretty good, so I’m feeling pretty healthy. I’ve been going through all the practices.”

» Demps on picking up the offense: “Some days it was easier than some other days, but it’s tough for me to miss the whole spring and then try to come back and learn it all in a couple weeks. My position coach, Coach [Charlie] Weis and the assistants have been helping me out.”

» Demps on his ability to pass protect: “It’s getting better. I still have some stuff to learn, but I think it’s getting better day by day.”

» Demps on junior RB Mike Gillislee and redshirt freshman RB Mack Brown: “They look pretty good. They’ve been running with the twos, but they still look pretty good to me. They’re running hard and just going through everything. [They’re working on] probably being more mentally focused, learning their plays also.”

» Demps on playing with Rainey at the same time: “It feels good. It takes some pressure off of me and him. Instead of worrying about one they got to worry about two now.”

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Carter (1/2): “It’s the kind of pressure you want.”

There are few former Florida Gators football players more accomplished than defensive end Kevin Carter. A three-time Southeastern Conference champion who was named first-team All-SEC twice (1993-94) and earned first-team All-American honors his senior year (1994), Carter is a member of the University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame (as a Gator Great) and went on to a storied 14-year NFL career.

After being selected with the No. 6 overall pick in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft by the St. Louis Rams, Carter ended up a two-time Pro Bowler (1999, 2002) who was named the Rams’ most valuable player in 1998 and won Super Bowl XXXIV.

The consummate team player, Carter played both end and tackle in the NFL and registered 104.5 career sacks including a league-high 17 during St. Louis’ 1999 Super Bowl run. He never missed a game due to injury or otherwise and retired from the NFL after fulfilling his dreams and earning the immense respect of his peers.

Last week, Carter sat down with OGGOA for a 45-minute exclusive interview that touched on his time at Florida, extensive NFL career, charitable efforts and new gig as a television analyst for the SEC Gridiron Live program. OGGOA caught up with Carter while at his home and, even though he was in the middle of getting a brand new deck built, he stepped inside to reminisce about his career and look ahead to new beginnings.

This is part one of our interview with Carter; the second half will be posted Saturday.

ADAM SILVERSTEIN: You were born in Miami and grew up living in Tallahassee. What was it that got you to end up playing at Florida rather than for Miami or Florida State?
KEVIN CARTER: “Growing up, I didn’t really grow up a Seminoles fan – I actually grew up a big Georgia Bulldogs fan as a kid, when Georgia won the national championship with Hershel Walker back in 1981. That was more of who I followed as far as being a fan. When it came time for me to go to school, I went to a couple of game at Florida State, took a visit there, got to know some of the players and knew a lot of the guys who were going to go there, but it just never felt like home. It felt too much like being at home. For me, I was looking to kind of get away, be on my own but still close enough for mom’s cooking.

“Academically, Florida State didn’t really have what I wanted to major in. I wanted to do something in the medical field, something medical science-related, possibly pharmacy. I wanted to be at a place that had not only everything that I wanted in a football school but also everything that I needed for my life, academically as well. For me it came down to Notre Dame and Florida. When I met Coach [Steve] Spurrier, I was pretty sold after I talked to him. I was really impressed just by the man he was, his candor and how he lived his life. I liked his style. He was a little cocky – not arrogant but just sure, very process-oriented and driven. I was really impressed by that at 17-years-old. He sold me.”

AS: Your career with Florida speaks for itself, but almost every former Gator I talk to has one game where they felt they performed on a different level that really sticks out in their mind. Which one was that for you?
KC: “The Tennessee game in Knoxville my senior year, 1994, when we went up to Neyland Stadium. They had a big, strong offensive line with all of these big, big guys and [the media was] talking about how this offensive line was going to overpower us and how James Stewart was going to have a big game against us. They were the favorite in the SEC East, and we had just come off of a good year, but a shootout in The Swamp a year prior. We went up there; we took it as a personal challenge. Like I said, we were supposedly outmatched, upfront especially. We took it upon ourselves – me and Ellis Johnson and Henry McMillan, Johnny Church, Mark Campbell – we really took it upon ourselves to go out there and shut up all the critics, come out and really lead the way on defense. We actually ended up winning that game 31-0, so it was a pretty dominating performance on defense.”

Read the rest of part one of our interview with Kevin Carter…after the break!
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