10/11: Weis on Gillislee, flexibility, Gators’ offense

As the Florida Gators prepare for their second-straight road test on Oct. 4 against the No. 24 Auburn Tigers, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis met with the media on Tuesday to discuss Saturday’s loss and the upcoming contest in Auburn, AL.

WHY GILLISLEE DESERVES MORE TIME

Junior running back Mike Gillislee has continued to prove to his coaches, teammates and fans that he deserves to carry the ball more often. After his performance on Saturday against LSU, Gillislee showed that hard work, determination and positive attitude can really pay off in the long run.

“He’s probably the perfect example of a team guy. Most of these guys they all have illusions of grandeur like they’re the best guy on the team,” Weis said on Tuesday. “You come in and now all of a sudden you have [Chris] Rainey and [Jeff] Demps ahead of you that are playing very well. You’re kind of waiting in the wings and just playing hard in practice every day, never opening your mouth and just going hard every single snap that you get and on special teams.

“All of a sudden, you get in there and you start getting more reps and more reps and you produce. He’s a lesson to a lot of these guys that are backups to see what can happen if you’re prepared to be ready, and they call your number and you produce. That’s going to get him on the field more.”

Another reason that Gillislee will get an increased workload? Unlike Rainey and Demps, he has seen success running between the tackles in Southeastern Conference play. Though he only weighs in at 205 lbs., Gillislee has proven he is better suited and better equipped physically to run the ball inside than the starters.

“He likes to run in there. Most running backs can’t get to the outside fast enough,” Weis said. “He likes it in there. He likes contact. Most running backs don’t like contact. They prefer not to get hit rather than get hit. Getting hit is part of his game. There’s times where, if he has a choice to make somebody miss and try to dance or try to run through somebody, he’s one of those guys were a lot of times he’ll try to run them over. He plays way bigger than his size.”

BECOMING A MORE FLEXIBLE COORDINATOR

With his starting quarterback out at least one more week and an offense that has only scored 21 combined points against top of the top teams in the country, Weis realizes that the Gators have to make some changes. It did not help that he had to start his third signal-caller on Saturday with a limited package of plays that did not allow Florida to pass the ball as much as he wanted.

“If you score 10 or 11 points on a weekly basis, you’re going to lose most of them – if not all of them. What we have to do is be more aggressive. You’re in that catch-22 when you’re dealing with inexperience at the quarterback position. We will be more aggressive [this week],” he said.

Weis also explained why he was unable to keep the offensive momentum going two weeks ago when redshirt senior John Brantley went down and freshman Jeff Driskel was forced to enter the game. He placed the blame on his lack of preparation.

“Let’s go back two weeks. John gets hurt. What you could do is you could have a better auxiliary plan in place so that if John goes down, we’re going to go just to this auxiliary plan,” he said. “But to be honest with you, I thought we were going to have to throw the ball to win – as you saw what our game plan was. You don’t go into that auxiliary plan with guys that have been here for three days saying, ‘OK we’re going to let you throw it on this defense on every snap.’ It’s quite a drastic change from what the plan really was to win the game.”

Part of Weis’s auxiliary plan against LSU was using RB Trey Burton behind center for many of the running plays. He said that Burton was a viable option for the team and will be one going forward if UF must continue using young quarterbacks.

“You better have, especially going into that game, you better have some options, some versatility within your package,” he explained. “I wasn’t going to wait around and let us be stagnant. […] We had the package. I used it the second series. Didn’t intend to use it quite so early, but what you didn’t want to do was – it was already 7-0 – you don’t want to let the game get away from you too quickly.“

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On freshman QBs Driskel and Jacoby Brissett: “I like both these guys. I like them a lot. I don’t like one of them a lot. I like both of them a lot. They both have attributes to be a very good quarterback. […] I’d love Brantley to be here this week, but you can only play one quarterback at a time. Right now my job is to make sure I just get those guys ready to go.”

» On learning about Brissett’s presence during recruiting: “I was scrambling a bit to help get him here, but one of the things that I liked the most besides watching him on tape was actually watching him play basketball. I watched his basketball team, which was really good. But I watched him play on his basketball team and watched his presence and his command playing basketball. It’s so much easier when you can watch a guy physically doing it. That’s something that’s different. Presence is not something that you can watch on tape. You can watch production, but you can’t watch presence.”

» On rumors about redshirt freshman QB Tyler Murphy transferring: “He’s been with me for the last five hours, so that would be news to me.”

» On if he’s concerned about the blocking of tight ends and running backs: “If you can’t block then you can never be a regular player. You can never be an every-down player. Because a running back who can’t pick up the blitz, you have to take him out when there’s a blitz. A tight end who can’t block the run, you’re going to be looking for somebody better. And the same is true for wide receivers. If they can run and catch but they can’t block anyone, you can’t play them on a regular basis because you’re going to run the ball at least half the time.”

» On if his offense is physically capable of matching up with teams like Alabama and LSU: “That’s a moot point because I’m just worried about Auburn. That’s what I’m worried about. Hopefully we’ll get to revisit that question down the road. Hopefully that question has some merit this year. Right now, we can’t be worrying about that. We have to be worrying about Auburn.”

» On the improvement of redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan: “He’s played with a lot of physicality. That’s what’s got him more time. Matt is a physical player, but when he knows what he’s doing and can really turn it loose, he can be a dominant physical presence. That’s what he’s shown to earn himself more playing time. In that last game, he was one of the players for us that stood out and played with physicality the whole game.”

» On if his offensive line is undersized: “It depends on who you’re playing against. If you really look out our offensive line versus LSU last week, no, they weren’t undersized. It depends on the opponent and how big they are versus how big you are. I’ve been with offensive lines where everyone averaged 280 and I’ve been with offensive lines where everyone averaged 315. And I’ve won with both of them. Size isn’t always the factor.”

» On if using so many special packages early has hurt his playbook: “Now [other teams] practice that and you do other stuff. That’s part of coaching. There’s other things you can do off of the same thing. We only ran a handful of things.”

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9/21: Jenkins communicates, Wenger beams

With the Florida Gators in the middle of preparing for their first road game of the 2011 season, a few prominent players were made available to the media on Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing heading into their showdown with the Kentucky Wildcats on Sept. 24 at 7:00 p.m. in Lexington, KY.

COMMUNICATION THE KEY TO SUCCESS ON DEFENSE

One reason why the Gators have not struggled too much within the defensive front seven is the top-notch communication between linebackers redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins and junior Jon Bostic. Asked Wednesday why he and Bostic communicate so well, Jenkins said their relationship on- and off-the-field has a lot to do with it.

“The Mike and the Will [linebackers] – they’re kind of like playing the same role pretty much in this defense, and the Sam is completely different from the Mike and the Will. We’re always in the meeting room together. We’ve been in the meeting room together since coach strong was there. We’ve always been working together in the meeting room and taking it onto the field,” he said.

Jenkins also described how the improved connection has paid dividends on the field. “Playing in The Swamp on defense, you really need to be able to communicate really well because it gets really loud. Without us communicating, giving hand signals and always knowing what each other is doing, we could have been put in real bad situations,” he said. “We made a few bad plays because we didn’t communicate well in The Swamp. We got to keep getting better at it, but I think it has helped us out from last year where we were young and we weren’t communicating as well as we are now.”

PROUD OF THE YOUNG O-LINEMEN

Redshirt senior transfer left guard Dan Wenger may only be spending one year at Florida, but he is certainly the veteran in a young group of offensive linemen. Asked about how some of his teammates performed on Saturday, Wenger beamed when discussing two of them in particular.

Talking about what redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison did well, Wenger said, “Everything. He played an awesome game. Played his tail off and couldn’t be [happier] for him just for everything he did and the way he’s coming into himself as a player.”

In regards to redshirt junior right tackle Matt Patchan’s personality, Wenger called him a “wildcard,” saying that “you never know what to expect from him just as far as what he might say or do sometimes.” However, he also noted that Patchan is a “hard worker” and an “awesome guy” who he would “give the shirt off my back” for anytime.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Jenkins on being much improved in his second year on the field: “I’m really enjoying the scheme and I’m loving the players I have around me. I can’t do any of it without them. I’m enjoying the coaching. All around it’s a really great start of the season.”

» Jenkins said he has gotten some grief for his dropped interceptions – “Yeah, they’re joking about it a little bit.” – but he does plan to work on his catching with a ball machine, something he hasn’t used much since high school. “I think it’s just bad luck,” he said of his drops. “When you play both ways in high school and then come to college and only play defense, you don’t see the ball as much.”

» Jenkins on sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley clotheslining sophomore safety Matt Elam after the latter’s interception: “We’re used to it. He’ll closthelsline us in practice.”

» Jenkins on if Easley had the same energy last year: “He was the same last year. I’m not exactly sure everything that was going through his head with last year’s scenario and all that, but he was always a playful guy, always having fun out there.”

» Wenger on problems the team had against Tennessee: “In my opinion, I can’t speak for anyone but myself, just being able to finish. We had some opportunities where we were placed in very good positions and we just didn’t capitalize. I’m going to put that on myself as far as me needing to play better. That’s what I’m focusing on this week in practice, just ironing out some of those little things.”

» Wenger if he is disappointed that the team had to use a play-action and fourth-down play to score in the red zone: “We want to pride ourselves on being able to move the football. We can move it all the way in the run game from backed up on our own one, but not being able to punch it in? That’s the most important thing.”

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9/6: Weis discusses FAU, players, philosophy

With the Florida Gators preparing for their second game of the 2011 season (Sept. 10 vs. UAB), offensive coordinator Charlie Weis met with the media on Tuesday to discuss Saturday’s 41-3 victory over Florida Atlantic and the team’s upcoming game.

QUARTERBACK EVALUATIONS

Redshirt senior John Brantley: “I thought he managed the team as well for an opener as you can possibly do. He had only one error that I would question his mental on the whole evening. For a first rattle out of the box, to have minimal mental mistakes at the quarterback position, that’s a very good start. I thought that he showed very good accuracy; he showed very good poise. There were a lot of things to be pleased about. Now, turning the ball over twice, that’s not what we’re looking for.”

Freshman Jeff Driskel: “He’s very, very athletic. The one thing with a young guy – I don’t encourage this from No. 12 by the way – the one thing with a young guy who is very athletic is you allow him to [tuck the ball and run]. You don’t discourage him from pulling the ball down and going because a lot of times that’s better than the alternative of them trying to force the ball down the field and have something bad happen.”

OVERCOMING MISTAKES

Weis believes in the mental aspect of football just as much as the physical. To this end, he has a particular method in which he likes to coach up his players while sitting on the sideline, one he has abided by throughout his coaching career.

“When I’m on the field you can sit there and just have a conversation and go over things and it’s kind of settling for [the players],” he said. “As a matter of fact, when they first come off the field, I don’t talk to them. Whether it was good or bad, I don’t talk to them. If it was good, I let the players all celebrate together so that I’m not looking for the kudos. If it’s bad at the same time the camera’s there looking to see what you’re going to say. That’s not the time. Let them get to the bench, let them go ahead and sit down. Then you come over and say, ‘OK, what were you thinking?’ And there might be an adjective or two in there.”

That is how he dealt with Driskel, who entered in the game in the second quarter and – on the first pass of his career – threw an interception. “We wanted to get him in when we felt that the game was still competitive. We weren’t looking to get him in for 20 plays. We were looking to get his feet wet, which is what we did,” Weis explained. “You couldn’t have choreographed it really any better. He comes in, he’s nervous, first time out, 90,000 people in The Swamp, it’s exciting for a kid at that position. But you saw how much more poised he looked the next time he came out there. He kind of got it out of his system. Will [Muschamp]’s plan, which I agreed with 100 percent, was, ‘Let’s try to get one of the young guys some experience so that – who knows when it’s going to be or if it’s going to happen or when it’s going to happen – you have to have the next guy ready to go.’ We didn’t want the first snaps that the backup quarterback got in a super-pressure situation.”

Speaking specifically about Saturday’s game, Weis said the turnovers were undoubtedly an issue. “When you have a minus-three turnover ratio for a game, usually you’re going to lose. That’s one of our points of emphasis [this week],” he explained. Weis added that there were three other potential turnovers during the game as the ball was put on the ground by redshirt sophomore center Jonotthan Harrison (bad snap), senior running back Jeff Demps (fumble) and redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. (ball popped out early). “Ball possession I think is a critical factor and one of the points that we’re emphasizing this week,” he noted.

RUNNING WITH THE BACKS

Between Demps, redshirt senior Chris Rainey and junior Mike Gillislee, the Gators combined for 203 yards of rushing and gained it on 7.25 yards per carry. For the first few quarters, Florida was gaining almost all of its rushing yards on the edges but that fact did not irk Weis one bit. “Everything starts with the run game. It’s obvious we’ve got a couple of dynamic guys with the ball in their hands,” he said. “I think what people don’t understand is sometimes they get more enamored with ‘Were the yards made inside or were the yards made outside?’ versus setting up the defense. I have no problem running the ball inside and getting a couple yards a pop over and over again because it now constricts the defense and opens up the outside runs.”

Weis noted that the offensive line and tight ends played quite well throughout most of the game but one other position group really helped spring the backs into the open field. “I was exceptionally pleased with the downfield blocking with the wide receivers,” he said. “That’s one of the things we’ve challenged them [to do] – we can’t play with receivers who don’t block down the field.”

Asked how pleased he was about the performances of Demps and Rainey, Weis smiled but also said he plans to be effectively cautious with them long-term. “I tried to forewarn you of what I expected and what I expected was basically what you saw. They’re both exceptional football players,” he said. “Our job is to make sure that we utilize them enough and not too much, and I think that’s important. Because you’re going to play a 14-game season, which is what we intend to do. If you’re going to play a 14-game season, then you have to worry about the stamina of guys that aren’t 230 pounds.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Weis believes that only touchdowns count as successful red zone possessions. “Sixty percent touchdowns in the red zone – that’s not a good number,” he said. “People will say 80 percent with the interception, but I don’t consider a field goal in the red zone a conversion. That’s a win for the defense.”

» On redshirt freshman right tackle Chaz Green becoming a starter: “He really struggled in the spring. He was also kind of a one-man gang because you had no X[avier Nixon] for half the spring, no [Matt] Patchan for the whole spring as far as full-time go. He was like a man in his own country. Once he got into that rotation with those other guys and competition started getting better and better. He’s a very competitive person and I think the competition made him play better.”

» With Tommy West stepping in as UAB’s new defensive coordinator after a year off, Weis said he had to go back to tape of Memphis in 2009 (in addition to watching UAB’s players from last year) in order to prepare for the unknown defense he will face. “The one thing about UAB is, once again for the second week in a row, we have no evidence for sure what they’re going to do on defense,” he said. “You have two volumes of stuff right here.”

» Weis joked about Rainey’s comment that Florida only ran six offensive plays and explained that the Gators did a lot more than that during the Florida Atlantic game – even if they didn’t give away everything just yet. “First of all, [the players] don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just calling plays. They’re just running the plays,” he said. “For Rainey to try to give you an analysis of what we’re doing – that’s comical in its own right. For him, there were six plays that had No. 1 attached to it, so as far as he’s concerned, those were the only six plays that existed. He forgot about all those other ones that [No.] 1 wasn’t getting the ball. We obviously didn’t throw out the kitchen sink there, but we did enough things in there. We upped the tempo, we went in and out of modes, we went in and out of personnel groupings. There was enough for our first game right there to let them kind of get a feel for the different things that we would like to do.”

» Though he scripts anywhere from 12-24 plays for each game, Weis explained that a lot of times you have to go with the flow and change things up early on. “Sometimes you run it down just the way you have it. Now there’s been other games where it just hasn’t gone very well, where it might be after three series you say, ‘Welp, let’s scrap this and go on to something else,’” he said.

» On first downs not always being the most important thing on offense, speaking specifically about the plays after Harrison’s bad snap: “When the ball is down, unlike what everyone else is thinking, I’m not trying to get the first down. I’m trying to get into field goal range. I’m trying to get points. It’s third-and-25, we get 18 [yards], that was one of our non-conversions on third down, but to me that was a conversion because that got us points. That 18-yard comeback to Quinton [Dunbar] on the left sideline got it close enough where [Caleb] Sturgis could go ahead and get three on the board right there.”

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9/3: Gators vs. Owls post-game news & notes

With the No. 22/23 Florida Gators‘ 2011 season opener against the Florida Atlantic Owls now in the books, OGGOA takes a look at some of the notable occurrences before, during and after Saturday’s 41-3 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

ABSENCES AND INJURIES

Perhaps the most important moment of the evening came before the game started when Florida announced that sophomore defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd was ineligible and would not play. The Gators will not allow Floyd to rejoin the team until he is cleared by the NCAA, and the University of Florida would not immediately provide many specifics.

Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee) and redshirt junior wide receiver Omarius Hines (hamstring) were questionable going into the game and wound up inactive. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely (shoulder) ended up playing after it was originally thought he would miss the contest. Sophomore WR Robert Clark (hamstring) did not dress either.

Florida did not escape the Florida Atlantic contest unscathed. Sophomore running back Trey Burton appeared to injure his hip in the first quarter and did not return, likely for precautionary reasons. Redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson, catching a ball low to the ground, suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit that popped his off and left him on the ground holding his head. Thompson rose and left the field under his own power but did not return.

THE DEMPS AND RAINEY SHOW

The Gators’ offense rolled on Saturday due in large part to dominant performances by running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey. The duo combined for 272 yards of offense and five total touchdowns with Rainey grabbing three on a rush, reception and special teams return on a punt block by sophomore WR Solomon Patton.

The pair ran up the middle and off-tackle, caught passes in the flats and were simply all over the field making both explosive cuts (Demps) and awe-inspiring spin moves (Rainey). Demps even ran the opening kickoff back 88 yards for a touchdown until it was called back due to a holding penalty.

BRANTLEY’s STEP IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Hoping to shake the rust off and rebound from a rough first season as a starter, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley played quite well on Saturday, completing 21-of-30 passes for 229 yards and a touchdown. However, Brantley also threw two interceptions in the contest. His first was tipped and eventually brought down, but his second was picked off in the end zone as he tried to fit the ball into traffic for a touchdown.

Florida’s offense, though dynamic, did not go deep into the playbook on Saturday and many of Brantley’s completions were on short passes. That being said, he also made some impressive throws and definitely showed an increased level of confidence, something he can improve on each week.

SECONDARY YOUNG BUT DEFENSE STOUT

Not only did the Gators hold the Owls to three points, they barely let them move the ball until the game was already over. Florida held FAU to just 30 rushing yards and 137 yards of total offense on Saturday. Though UF did not achieve any turnovers in the contest, they succeeded in turning a first-and-goal from the four into a 27-yard field goal and did not let Florida Atlantic capitalize on either of the other two interceptions they grabbed.

The young secondary – consisting of safeties sophomore Matt Elam and freshman De’Ante Saunders as well as cornerbacks sophomore Jaylen Watkins, sophomore Cody Riggs and freshman Marcus Roberson – played well but did make some mistakes.

Redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard and sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell each had a sack, while redshirt sophomore LB Jelani Jenkins led the Gators with five total tackles including a powerful hit felt by the entire stadium. Elam, Howard and redshirt junior LB Lerentee McCray each had four tackles.

OTHER NOTES

» Muschamp said after the game that Florida’s blue jerseys would be their standard going forward but that seniors on the team wanted to wear the orange on opening night. A Gainesville, FL native himself, Muschamp often used to see the Gators don orange jerseys at The Swamp.

» Redshirt senior transfer Dan Wenger started at left guard ahead of redshirt sophomore Kyle Koehne and redshirt freshman Chaz Green began the game at right tackle instead of redshirt junior Matt Patchan.

» Florida honored soccer stars Abby Wambach and Heather Mitts of the 2011 U.S. Women’s National Team during a break in the first quarter. The crowd chanted “U-S-A” for the duo, which has been in Gainesville all weekend.

» Former safety Ahmad Black, who was waived by Tampa Bay on Saturday, was on the sideline for the game. Former defensive end Kevin Carter was an honorary captain.

» The Gators sold out 137 consecutive home games before Saturday’s contest, which was only filled with 88,708 fans, according to UF.

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8/29: Muschamp on injuries, coaches, position separation and standouts before opener

With the Florida Gators now in final preparations for the first game of the 2011 season (Sept. 3 vs. Florida Atlantic), head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss a number of topics relating to the team and their opening game.

OPENING STATEMENT AND INJURY REPORT

“I’m excited for the first game; I’m excited for game week. I know that the players are and we are as a staff. Starting off with Florida Atlantic, offensively they are a pro-style attack with multiple formations. I think that Coach [Howard] Schnellenberger does an outstanding job of teaching the quarterback and what they want to do offensively. That obviously is their success and defensively they have more of a four-down team and now they have changed their personnel listing the possible three down, so we’ll prepare for both of those as we work through the week here.

“Obviously, anytime there is a first game there is some unknown on both sides of the ball and I think we’ve got some ourselves but I’m very pleased with our preparation at this point. Last Thursday and Friday, we came back and had a little better day from Wednesday. We had good meetings last night, very attentive and I thought the guys were bouncing around a little bit as far as the walkthroughs and things that we were doing. I’m real pleased at where we are at this point.”

OUT: Freshman tight end A.C. Leonoard (torn meniscus)

QUESTIONABLE: Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee), redshirt junior wide receiver Omarius Hines (hamstring), redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finley (shoulder)

ACTIVE: Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (back)

COACHING POSITIONS, JOBS ON GAME DAY

Though many offensive coordinators spend their game days up in a box overlooking the field, Charlie Weis will be stationed on the sidelines this year along with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and most of the other position coaches. “I feel that it’s important to have Charlie on the field from the standpoint of the first year on offense,” Muschamp explained. “John is a senior but it’s the first year of going through the adjustments that happen in the first year. I’ve been through it before, the growing pains of something happens on game days that you’re not prepared for. We’ve got to get them up, we’ve got to get them calmed down. We’ve got to say this is what’s happening.”

Defensively, Muschamp reiterated that Quinn will be making the calls on defense though he will “be on the headsets and I’ll certainly make suggestions when I feel I have to look at some things.” Filling up the box upstairs will be running backs coach Brian White and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson Of White, Muschamp said he has experience of watching a game from that vantage point and “does an outstanding job of communicating what is happening with the other team’s defense. In regards to Robinson, Muschamp said he “is the same with knowing our defense very well” and that he needs his eyes up in the box.

As a whole, he reiterated that there is not much more he could have asked for from his staff after their first offseason together. “I’ve been very pleased with how we’ve come together and understanding where we are headed with this thing. First of all, philosophically being on the same page and that starts with offensively and defensively, special teams, recruiting and public relations. It’s everything,” he said. “I think that they understand and they know what I want done in the program and how we want things done in the program as far as discipline is concerned, how we approach practice, how we approach our players, how we handle the situations. I’ve been very pleased with the results to this point, but again, we are measured on game day.”

READY AND RARING TO GO

The team may not be there yet, according to Muschamp, but they will be. He said it all starts “with today and finish[es] through Thursday and having a good walk-through on Friday.” To his dismay, the Gators will be playing an evening game rather than an early afternoon game, something that he would prefer. “We’re going to get ready and try to play the game and unfortunately it’s at 7 p.m. I wish we were playing at 1 p.m., but that’s the way it is and we’re looking forward to doing that,” he said. Asked why the game time matters, Muschamp indicated he preferred earlier contests because of the motiviation players have in the morning. “You wake up and you’re ready to play and that’s kind of the way you feel but once you get out there at night with the great atmosphere – we’re going to have we’ve got the best fans in the country so I’m excited about that, they are going to be excited about that,” he said. “They’re going to be excited at 7:00; they’re going to be excited 1:00. They’d be excited at 11:30 a.m. if we played then so I will be fine.”

In the long run though, Muschamp just wants to get out on the field and relieve some of the light anxiety he is facing as a first-hear head coach. “I’m emotional every day. I’m excited about it, but more than anything is to just focus on the task at hand. It’s coaching well, it’s making good decisions for your football team, preparing well during the week,” he said. “Come Friday, the preparation is done, it’s just a mental game from that standpoint moving on to game day and going out and winning the football game. That’s what we’re looking forward to doing. I’m not nervous. ‘Anxious’ would probably be a better word.”

WORK IN PROGRESS: OFFENSIVE LINE AND SECONDARY

During his introductory press conference and before each semester so far this year, Muschamp has repeated that the offensive line and secondary are the two units that need the most cohesion in order for a team to be successful. Unfortunately for Florida, those are the two areas that the team is having the greatest difficulty finding players to separate themselves from the pack. “The bottom line with me is that you have to earn the right to start, so if a guy doesn’t practice, he’s not going to start,” Muschamp said Monday. “A guy has got to get out there and practice and compete and play the right way when we start our football game.”

In the depth chart released a few hours after his press conference concluded, Muschamp outlines exactly where certain players fall as of right now. He said he is pleased with junior Xavier Nixon, redshirt junior Matt Patchan and redshirt freshman Chaz Green at the tackle position and considers all three of them to be starters even though Nixon and Patchan will likely earn that title. The left guard and center position, however, remain up for grabs even though redshirt senior transfer Dan Wenger and redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison currently hold those respective positions. Muschamp said Wenger is pushing Harrison for the center job but redshirt sophomore Kyle Koehne is also making a case for Wenger’s left guard position, leaving both up in the air right now.

He is similarly concerned with the starting positions in the secondary, noting that every spot (left vs. right cornerback, left vs. right safety) is interchangeable. “all of those positions are a little bit up for grabs as far as who practices the best,” he said, except for sophomore Matt Elam who has locked down a starting job at safety. Take a look at the depth chart released today for a closer look at the alignment of the secondary.

In the end, his main goal is to see players finally separate themselves and claim a starting job rather than be just another good player who is not consistently leading the pack at their respective position. “We’ve got certain guys and I’d like to think they are competing very well and they’re competing to be the star. They all will play, and I can tell you that. So, who deserves to be the starter and jog out there to start the game? We’ll see what happens and how they progress through the week,” he said. “You can look at it as motivation, you can look at it as a lot of different things, but the bottom line is them understanding it is how you prepare is how you play. I’m young, but I’m old-fashioned and generally how you play is how you practice, too. That’s the way I view it and nobody, in my opinion, has separated themselves to be named the starter here Monday before our first game. Does that mean that we’re playing poorly? I don’t think so, that means we have not created a separation at the position as we have at other positions.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders: “He would be the front-runner today [to start at safety], but it’s about consistency and that’s the hardest thing for young players. It’s hard for them day-in and day-out to go out and consistently do it but I’m very pleased with him. I think he has in the intangibles as far as the instinct to play in the deep part of the field, tackling ability, coverage ability, playing the ball and a guy that I’m excited about playing for the Gators.”

» On restoring Brantley’s confidence this season: “I don’t know about restoring…I think that if more than anything when you have some sort of change you grow with that change and that’s what John has done. I’ve been very pleased through the off-season and his work ethic and his approach through spring practice and it’s catching on onto what we are trying to do. I think he feels more comfortable in the things that we’re doing and I’ve been very pleased in his progress. I think that John has built his confidence himself and I think that when you have a quarterback coach and an offensive coordinator like Charlie Weis, the track record speaks for itself and Charlie has confidence in a guy like John and that should bring confidence to John. I think that’s what is happening and I feel very comfortable for where we are right now.”

» On if the reserve quarterbacks, specifically freshman Jeff Driskel, will see the field: “We’ll cross that bridge we come to it. As far as the game is concerned, we’ll work through that but John is our starting quarterback and if it presents itself that somebody else plays then that will be fine and if it’s Jeff, it’s Jeff. At this point, it would be Jeff being the backup but certainly through the week we’re going to see the guys who are practicing best and who deserves to play. John Brantley is our starting quarterback.”

» On where fans can expect to see sophomore Trey Burton on the field: “At a bunch [of positions]. You better track him. He’s a guy that can line up in a fullback position, he can line up in the tailback position, he’ll line up in the slot, he’ll line up at tight end, he can be split out wide. He brings an awful lot of variety to your playing call because he’s smart and he gets football, he understands it. When you want to change something with him, you can say, ‘This is what we did yesterday, we’re just doing it from a different spot,’ and he understands that. Some guys have a harder time with that and he does not. We’re going to use him in a lot of different ways, he’s a very valuable member of our football team and on special teams he does a very good job.”

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8/24: Muschamp maddened by lack of execution

With the Florida Gators now having completed training camp and headed into fall practice, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media after Wednesday’s scrimmage and went off how the team is failing to progress on both sides of the ball heading into the 2011 season, which begins on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic.

MUSCHAMP’s RANT ON EXECUTION

Entering his media availability 30 minutes early, Muschamp sat down and went on a rant that lasted just over three-and-a-half minutes and was interrupted with only a few questions interjected between his statements. Here it is uncut:

Asked how scrimmage went Wednesday evening: “Not very well. We tried to do it just like a game with preparation as far as pre-game procedure – I thought that was fine. As far as the scrimmage was concerned, we did not execute very well. The mental toughness was not there. A very immature football team at this point. [We’re] not consistently performing at the level we need to perform at. I was just disappointed overall with the mental effort tonight. There were some procedure issues we should not be having at this point, defense, some mental mistakes we should not be having at this point. Just overall pretty displeased. […] Not what we were looking for tonight, that’s for sure.”

Asked if the team took a step backward: “Well it dang sure wasn’t a step forward. We just got to get on the film. We’re going to go out and have a good practice Thursday and Friday, get back Sunday night and get after it again. That’s all we can do – coach better and play better. It’s not a lack of effort, in my opinion, in those situations. It’s just a lack of focus on what you’re supposed to do and how you’re supposed to do it. We have no sense of urgency about what we do and how we do it and how we approach it. [It’s] very frustrating. And it’s not everybody. We’ve got a bunch of guys who do it the right way but not enough and not collectively enough guys doing it that way right at this point. We just got to find the guys who do it. I told the coaches, ‘We’re staying here tonight and we’re going to figure it out. We’re going to stay here as long as it’s going to take to figure out the guys who are going to play hard for the Gators, and the ones who don’t we’ll weed them out and go to the next guy.”

Asked if players will lose their current positions: “There ain’t no doubt. We’re going to figure it out. Tonight we’re going to look at the tape and get the guys that want to compete and play hard and the ones that don’t, we’ll go to the next guy.”

Asked if it is concerning to have these issues so close to the first game: “You just try to put people in situations, and it was frustrating that we didn’t execute the situations we needed to execute. Whether it was coming off the goal line, red zone, third down, 45 seconds to win the game – whatever it was we just didn’t do what we needed to do on either side of the ball. It was just disappointing. Coaches can’t play; the players got to play. We just need better effort, need to do a better job I guess from our standpoint as coaches evaluating what we’re doing and who we’re doing it with.”

BRANTLEY’s BACK AND INJURY CONCERNS

Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley was “not totally” healthy when participating in Wednesday’s scrimmage as he is still nursing a sore back and the coaching staff “went out there with the idea that we were going to [pull him early],” according to Muschamp. “He’s still a little sore,” he said. “Had a good day Tuesday. He repped a little bit early and then we had some of the other guys rep in there. He’s still sore in the back, but we feel like he’ll be fine. […] Based on the information I have, based on his Tuesday practice, a little soreness here and there. I just don’t have a whole lot to be concerned about at this point.”

Freshman tight end A.C. Leonard (torn meniscus): Out for the opener, a 6-8 week injury

Redshirt junior TE/wide receiver Omarius Hines (hamstring): Questionable for opener

Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (sprained knee): Held out recently but should be available for opener. “I’m hoping to get him back tomorrow or Friday or if not that definitely Sunday night.”

“I CANNOT WAIT FOR PRACTICE TOMORROW”

Muschamp said Wednesday’s effort at scrimmage “needs to be” a wake up call for some of the players on the team. Though he cautioned on multiple occasions that many of the players did show flashes and perform admirably, those who faltered or failed to impress him were also plentiful. “To me, any time you step on the field and you’re a competitor you compete. I hate to paint the brush that there was a lot of guys – there was a select few – because we had a bunch of guys compete and play hard. Proud of those guys; proud of their efforts,” he said. “You see things a as coach you don’t want to see. We didn’t finish very well, play very well at the point of attack, played too high on both lines of scrimmage. You just see things that displease you. And that’s what I saw coming from what I saw, and I told them that’s what I thought after.”

Faced with a tough decision – whether to cut the scrimmage short due to his displeasure or force his players to grind through it – Muschamp chose the latter method because he wanted to see what the Gators were made of at this juncture. “There are a couple different ways to do it. You can [stop it] or you can hope that your leadership takes over and realizes it is not going as well as you would like,” he explained. “Tonight we were doing a lot of situational work, so you’re working different groups. It’s not like the whole offense is over there together or the whole defense is over there together – and a lot of special teams work. You’ve got to work through it and you’ve got to let the players play.”

When it all comes down to it though, Muschamp wants Florida’s student-athletes to know the buck stops with them – not the coaching staff.

“Players need to lead. It’s their football team, not mine,” he said, “[but] I wasn’t questioning leadership tonight. We should have enough guys mentally tough enough to battle through what we needed to do and play smart football.”

Then he made a foreboding statement:

“We’re going to be in full gear and we’re going to strap it up and we’re going to get after it. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I cannot wait for practice tomorrow.”

SOME PLAYERS FLASHING

Muschamp refused to say specifically that any one player excelled or shined on Wednesday, but he did provide some comments on a few who “flashed” on a play here or there or have been impressing him recently. (He likes to go back and watch the tape before dishing out praise because while one play may stick out, that player could theoretically perform poorly the rest of the practice.)

“[Dominique] Easley plays hard inside. Sharrif Floyd plays hard. Those guys showed up to me,” he said specifically about Wednesday evening. “Andre Debose made a nice play across the middle today.”

On Easley, the sophomore defensive tackle: “Dominique’s a hard-playing guy, likes the game, plays hard, practices hard, takes a lot of pride in his performance. […] He’s got a very good first step, he certainly does. He’s got a very good anticipation. I tell Charlie [Weis], ‘Every snap, hard count him.’ We work on that an awful lot, and he’s doing a better job of holding in there on those sort of things. But he certainly has a great first step.”

Redshirt junior right tackle Matt Patchan: “Matt’s got some toughness to him. He likes playing the game. Certainly good to get him back and throw his hand in there. He’s a really good football player. He certainly brings some toughness to our team, so we got to continue to develop that with other guys around him and him to consistently do that all the time.”

Sophomore safety Matt Elam: “Matt’s just a really instinctive football player. He sees things on the back end. He’s able to get a good jump on the ball where other guys may not see it as quickly – it doesn’t naturally come to some guys as quickly. To me on the back end you’ve got to have some natural instincts. You’ve got to have natural instincts to play the ball, to understand about reception area – where the receiver is going to be, where the ball is being thrown, understand about angles. We can talk about coaching that all the time. Some guys get it, some guys don’t. That’s something that certainly comes very easy to him. […] I think he’s got great acceleration to the ball. When he sees it and he goes and gets it, he’s got that ‘umph’ He’s got that extra gear. He has some things that, from a coaching standpoint, you like to take credit for but are really just natural ability.”

Sophomore running back Trey Burton: “Trey’s lining up in a lot of different positions. He gives so much to our football team from a blocking standpoint in the run game and protections, catching the football and running the football. He’s been very effective in doing all of those things. We certainly use him as far as in the slot, mismatches outside, get him on a linebacker, slip him on the flat and wheel routes and the different stuff we do with him. We do an awful lot with him. He gets the game very well; it comes easy to him. I think he’s had a great camp.”

Redshirt junior linebacker Lerentee McCray: “At this point he’s played the best at the SAM, I’d say he’s been the most consistent guy. He also gives us some good pass rush. He does a nice job rushing the edge so he can give us some juice on the edge there.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On what he told Easley to “straighten him out” in the offseason: “I just told him it was going to be a certain way [and] if he didn’t like it, he could leave.”

» Muschamp said the Gators have been pumping crowd noise into camp since the fifth practice in order to help the team work on communication, signals, snap counts and general focus. He plans to do it for every single practice up until the first game.

» On if the team is ready to play a full game: “Well we need to be ready next Saturday night, so we’ll be ready.”

» On if he has already game planned for some teams: “We installed for the season during camp, so once we get through our base package, then we install for maybe some things that we don’t see our offense give us. Some of the different stuff maybe our offense doesn’t give us formation-wise, play-wise, route concept-wise for the team’s we’ve got to beat because we scout all of our opponents in the offseason. We’ve taken some time the last part of camp and into Tuesday and even into tonight to work on some opponent stuff.”

» On why he game plans so early: “You try to expose it to them so when you get into week one or week four or week eight or week 10 or whatever and you’ve practiced some of the looks. I don’t like to introduce something totally new concept-wise and learn it in a week and execute it on game day.”

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8/24: Koehne starting, a terrific trio, Easley stepping up, McCray and Green excited

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 Wednesday to discuss how the team is progressing.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS

Standing well over six feet each and weighing a combined 921 pounds, the redshirt sophomore trio of center Jonotthan Harrison and guards Jon Halapio and Kyle Koehne hope to be a force to be reckoned with this year. Those three men, who are roommates and best friends, will take up the entire interior of Florida’s offensive line this season if each retains their job through the remainder of fall practice.

“We’re all great friends. Ever since we first came here we’ve been kind of like a trio, hanging out all the time,” Koehne said Wednesday. “All three of us are roommates as well, so we’re with each other 24/7, talking to each other 24/7, so we got some good chemistry between the three of us.” Halapio believes the fact that all three are on the starting unit together will help the team this season. “When we go back at home, we sit on the couch and watch film on the 60 inch,” he said. “The chemistry is a lot better. We communicate a lot better on the field, so it’s good that we’re good friends off the field.”

Koehne, who was named the front runner to start at left guard on Saturday after switching from tackle following the first scrimmage, said Halapio has been instrumental in his transition. “He gives me advice all the time with plays, footwork and everything,” he said. “Halapio’s kind of been a good mentor for me being kind of new to guard.”

Halapio noted that his roommate “graded out highest out of the offensive line” following the first scrimmage and has been doing well overall this offseason. “He has a few plays where he’s killing guys. He has a few plays of that. He just really knows what he’s doing on the field and you can clearly see that on film,” he said.

EASLEY STEPPING UP ON THE INSIDE

Sophomore defensive tackle Dominique Easley was praised throughout the spring for his quick first step, but his work this fall had not been discussed much until Wednesday when Halapio addressed Florida’s pass rush problems by noting that the youngster has been a standout in that regard.

“I think they all have gotten better in the pass rush, especially Dominique Easley,” he said. “He’s a real good pass rusher and a real good run stopper. They all have gotten better in the pass rush, but I think Easley is the best right now. […]

“He’s just relentless. Since he’s been here, I’ve never seen him tired on- and off-the-field. He just doesn’t show it. He plays relentless and runs to the ball. I’ve never seen him tired; he just has a great motor. He’s really explosive off the ball. I don’t know if he knows the snap count, but he’s just really quick off the ball. I can’t even get out of my stance and then by the time I get out of my stance he’s already in my path.”

Redshirt junior linebacker Lerentee McCray would not go so far as to call Easley the best of the bunch, but he did pay him equal praise. “Dominique Easley is a real close friend of mine. He’s come along real good,” he said. “I couldn’t ask for a better nose tackle to come in and play in front of me. […] I would have to say he’s one of the best; I wouldn’t single him out as the best, but he’s definitely a good pass rusher.”

“THEY’RE LIKE TWINS”

Though he performed well in 2010, Halapio feels even more comfortable in the Gators’ new offense and thinks, obviously, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has a lot to do with that. “He’s a genius. He just thinks of different ways how to execute a play real good – the easiest way to execute a good play,” he explained. “He’s just a real good coach. He just thinks of different schemes, ways we can run the ball, different ways we can pass the ball, different ways we can disguise this, disguise that.”

Halapio deals with Weis plenty, but he is around offensive line coach Frank Verducci more. Luckily for him, he cannot tell much of a difference between the two, which is probably a good thing for the team as a whole. “They’re like twins,” Halapio said of Weis and Verducci. “[Weis] says one thing and we hear it again with Coach Verducci in the meeting room. When we meet as an offensive unit before we start individual meetings, they both get up there and they’re both saying the same thing. They’re like twins.”

DEFENDERS EXCITED ABOUT SCHEMES

McCray and senior defensive end William Green will see significantly more playing time in 2011 than they ever have before and both players are confident that head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s concepts will serve them well in the long run.

“As a player it makes you real excited and gives you a lot more opportunities to make some plays,” Green said. McCray co-signed. “This defensive scheme has helped me out a lot – just moving back and forth and just showcasing my talent and some of the stuff I can do,” he said.

McCray, who is slated as the starting SAM linebacker this year alongside junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins, is happy that his transition from end has gone smoothly. “I really feel comfortable pass rushing, but adapting back to the linebacker position has been coming along real good,” he said. “I’m real comfortable with our defense and all the schemes that the coach has. The blitz packages are working real good for me.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Koehne on when he knew things were clicking: “I was getting some compliments during film from Coach Verducci, so that was a good hint for it.”

» Koehne on his transition from tackle to guard: “It’s a big adjustment, especially going against the personnel that you face every day – going against Jaye Howard and Easley now instead of Ronald Powell. Those are two whole different types of players that I had to get used to and still am getting used to. There’s a lot of footwork change; every spot’s like a whole different world.”

» Koehne if he used to feel lost in the shuffle: “Every once in a while, but I just kept my eyes down the good path and I knew, if I kept working hard, I’d get a shot. I’ve capitalized on every opportunity I’ve been given.”

» Koehne on being named a starter^: “It was a great feeling. It made my family proud. It was a great thing to hear.”

» Halapio said redshirt freshman Chaz Green has been rotating at both tackle spots, giving junior left tackle Xavier Nixon and redshirt junior right tackle Matt Patchan breaks when needed.

» Halapio on Patchan’s intensity*: “Oh man, he’s…I think I told somebody this. When he runs off the ball, he’s just trying to poke somebody’s eyes out. He brings that nasty intensity offensive line character to our offensive line.”

» Halapio on if he is more comfortable being a leader: “I feel real comfortable. There are a lot of young guys on the team, a lot of players that are younger than me and they see me as a leader. It makes it easier because I’m older than them and they respect me.”

» Halapio on his advice to younger players: “I always tell them to get in the film room and watch the film a lot. I just came in knowing that I was going to start because of the depth and what we were going through last year. I knew that I was going to start and I didn’t take it as serious as I should have.”

» Halapio on the success of the Pounceys: “It feels real good to see all the former Gators doing their thing on the big time show, NFL and everything. I’m really happy for them boys; they deserve it. I still keep in contact with all of them. They wouldn’t’ big-time me like that.”

» Green on how sophomore Sharrif Floyd is playing at his new position: “He’s doing well at end. Things are a little different for him, but he’s made a good adjustment to it. End is different than tackle just because you’re in more space and you get different blocks at end. He had a learning curve there but he got used to it and is doing real well at it.”

» Green on his assessment of the defensive tackles: “They can be real dominant. All of those guys are real strong and real physical at the point of attack. We got a lot of experience with [Jaye] Howard and Hunter, so they can be pretty good this season.”

» Green on Bostic and Jenkins becoming more vocal: “Both of them have grown up a lot. They feel more comfortable taking charge, giving all the calls. I think they’ll both be a lot better this season.”

» McCray on who is working behind him at SAM linebacker:Darrin Kitchens and Gideon [Ajagbe] – they’re ready to take on the role when their name is called.”

» McCray on whether or not redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed is “tough to handle”: “Jordan Reed – I wouldn’t say he’s a load to handle – he’s got to handle me first. I play defense, so I like to take the aggression to the tight ends and let them know from the first play that they get on the grass that they’re going to have to deal with me all day. Coverage-wise, Jordan Reed is definitely a match-up that you got to take care of before you game plan. […] He’s definitely had some success. He’s a great player, so he’s always going to have success.”

» McCray said the offensive line has made a “drastic change since the spring” noting that it comes from a number of things including the “personnel, learning [of] the offense and their blocking schemes.” He also said the offense definitely “utilize[s] the personnel they have at each position. That’s one thing this offense does well.”

* Quote courtesy of the Orlando Sentinel. | ^ Quote courtesy of the Palm Beach Post.

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Did implicated players receive NCAA immunity?

When Yahoo! Sports released its extensive report on the illegal benefits scandal surrounding the Miami Hurricanes, seven players who were neither current nor former members of the team were also implicated. Among them were Florida Gators redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose and redshirt junior right tackle Matt Patchan.

On Thursday the University of Florida, after receiving approval from the NCAA, announced that both players were eligible for the 2011 season even though they were named in the report and may have received some form of improper benefits.

“We have been in communication with the NCAA and there are no eligibility issues with Andre Debose and Matt Patchan as it relates to recent reports. Andre, Matt nor the University of Florida will have any additional comments regarding this matter.”

According to CBSSports.com, the NCAA’s decision to approve the eligibility of Debose, Patchan and a number of other players named in the report may have been due to the organization using it’s “limited immunity” clause.

“Limited immunity” is a little-known procedure granted to NCAA investigators to get information from a player “when such an individual otherwise might be declared ineligible for intercollegiate competition,” according to the NCAA Manual.

The NCAA’s vice president of enforcement Roe Lach, without being overly specific, told CBSSports.com‘ Dennis Dodd that her organization did take a special step in order to move forward with its investigation.

“The enforcement staff has been given, by the membership, a pretty important investigative tool,” Lach said. She added that they are able to use said tool “when we think that’s really our only shot of getting that information.”

While no one at the NCAA will confirm that limited immunity has been used in this case, one source close to the investigation told CBSSports.com that “apparently they chose to give these guys limited immunity … which means they’re all eligible.”

It is unknown whether or not the NCAA specifically used this concept with Debose and Patchan or if the organization simply determined that neither was involved to an extent that was worth pursuing considering the extreme breadth and depth of its investigation.

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