With the Florida Gators fully entrenched in fall practice and now working with coaches off the field and crowd noise pumped in, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media late Saturday night and provided updates on how the team is progressing on both sides of the ball heading into the 2011 season, which begins on Sept. 3.
OFFENSIVE LINE COMING TOGETHER
Stuck with a depleted unit that is being rebuilt from the ground up, Muschamp, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and offensive line coach Frank Verducci are beginning to hone in on their rotation up front. Muschamp previously noted that he was looking for eight or nine players to bring in and out; Saturday he praised the unit for beginning to solidify and provided the following rough depth chart:
LT: Junior Xavier Nixon, redshirt sophomore Kyle Kohene
LG: Redshirt freshman Ian Silberman/redshirt senior James Wilson
C: Redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison, redshirt junior Sam Robey
RG: Redshirt sophomore Jon Halapio
RT: Redshirt junior Matt Patchan/redshirt freshman Chaz Green
The left guard and right tackle spots are still being decided. Robey is taking reps as the back-up center but is also being worked at both guard spots. The same goes for redshirt sophomore Nick Alajajian and redshirt senior transfer Dan Wenger, both of whom are also playing all three positions. Green can play both tackle positions but is still fighting for the starting job on the right side, leaving Kohene to be the back-up for Nixon.
“You’d like to have a deeper group. We think the two freshmen are going to be good players – Tommy Jordan and Trip Thurman – very pleased with both of those young men,” Muschamp said. “Their movement, their toughness, what they bring to the table. We’re excited about that group, but you’d like have 18 instead of 13.”
RETURNERS STILL BEING DEFINED
Though the coaching staff has a good idea who will be returning kicks and punts this year, the positions have not officially been won yet. Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose and sophomore WR Solomon Patton at the primary kick return men, but senior running back Jeff Demps has also been working at that position as well.
For punt returns, redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey (“He’s an electric guy with the ball in his hands.”) would be the starter if the season began today, but Patton, redshirt junior WR Frankie Hammond, Jr. and even redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed have been fielding punts. The Reed experiment is going well so far. “We’ve put him back there and we feel comfortable about it,” Muschamp said. “He has great ball judgment and catches the ball extremely well.”
The coach is not hesitant to put Demps, Rainey, Reed or any other starter on special teams, noting (like head coach Urban Meyer before him) that he plans to let his playmakers see the field as much as possible. “We’re going to play our best players on special teams,” he said. “Injuries happen – that’s part of the game. We’re going to play our best players on special teams. I told the guys that from the day one meeting. Our best guys are playing. If it affords us to win a football game, then we’re going to do it and that’s part of the game.”
PASS RUSH NOT CONSISTENT; MENTAL MISTAKES BEING MADE
He might be best versed in the secondary, but Muschamp knows that it all starts in the trenches (a mantra he has repeated throughout the offseason). With that said, he is none too pleased with the team’s lack of consistency getting the quarterback without having to blitz and hopes that improves in the near future. “We’ve got to get more consistent rushing. It’s just not consistently winning the one-on-ones. If you’re going to play coverage, the best pass defense in America is a pass rush,” he said. “You can’t do it with pressure all the time and create middle-field coverage and a lot of one-on-ones outside. You got to be smart in how you pressure, and you’ve got to be able to pressure with four guys. That’s something that, when we’ve been able to affect the quarterback, we’ve had four good ones rushing up front. Whoever got the one-on-one was going to win. That’s the best pass defense in America.”
As Florida continues to work to that end, Muschamp thinks senior defensive end William Green, redshirt junior DE Lerentee McCray and sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell have been solid thus far for the Gators.
Another thing Muschamp is wary of is overloading the team from a mental aspect. Already concerned with the mistakes being made during the first week of practice (“[I’m] pleased with our physical effort, not as pleased with our mental effort as much – a lot of mental mistakes and things we’ve got to get cleaned up.”), he is making a conscientious effort not to overload the team with too much too fast.
“That’s a fine line,” he said when asked if the 3-4 defense was being heavily installed. “You can’t do so much that your players are confused. We’re right now weeding things out on what we do to get our guys to play fast and get them ready for the season. What I don’t want to do during the season is install new stuff each week. That makes for a slow player on Saturday. We need to install for the season. We’ve game planned; we’ve looked at all our opponents so we have an idea within our scheme what we need to do to be successful. We’re trying to pare down right now where we are.”
Asked how he felt the team was progressing up to this point, Muschamp would neither say that the team was behind nor ahead of his projection. “We are where we are. It’s a little frustrating because we’re thin with our numbers – on both lines of scrimmage,” he said. “We’re pushing through that, and I think the guys have worked hard. Mentally we need to be sharper; we need to be mentally tougher in training camp. That’s where you build the toughness of your football team from that standpoint. Training camp is hard, it’s not easy, it’s not supposed to be easy.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On what the team has been doing recently in practice: “A lot of situational work in the last 4-5 practices – third down, coming out, a lot of special teams emphasis of different situations that are going to come up in different games, two minute situations, end of game, down a touchdown, down two scores, down three points – putting the offense and defense in those situations. We worked crowd noise for the first time tonight, worked a lot of up-tempo on both sides of the ball. I’ve been pleased with that. A lot of red zone work – we’ve been in the red zone the last four practices.”
» On units necessitating cohesion: “The offensive line position and secondary have got to be close knit as far as their communication and being on the same page for what we’re trying to do.”
» On Texas A&M possibly going to the SEC: “I’m trying to get pass rush. I could care less about what the Aggies are doing. I can certainly say that. I haven’t given it a whole lot of thought to be honest with you. Believe me, that decision is made way above my head, I can certainly tell you that.”
» On the team’s pass rush: “I’ve been thinking about that a lot more than I have the Ags, I can tell you that.”
» There are no other major injuries right now aside from that of freshman tight end A.C. Leonard (torn meniscus, 6-8 weeks). Muschamp said there are some bumps and bruises (hamstrings, shoulders, ankles) but “nobody will be out for any extended period of time to this point” while knocking on wood (his desk).
» Redshirting players is a decision the coaches will make a few games into the season. He said it is “too hard to project right now” with so many variables. The coaching staff has not yet discussed redshirts and it will not likely be a topic of conversation until after the team’s second scrimmage next Saturday (the first one is Monday).
» The back-up quarterbacks have not begun to separate themselves yet. “The scrimmage situation is a good evaluator for that,” Muschamp said. Over the course of the last four practices, the coaches have been off the field and letting the players play. Muschamp said the QBs have been identifying the mike linebacker well and communicating properly with their unit. “Obviously John [Brantley] has been way above the others, but I think all four at times have had nice moments.”
» As far as the secondary goes, Muschamp is emphasizing substitutions a lot for the nickel set and is pleased with the work of cornerbacks redshirt senior Moses Jenkins and freshmen De’Ante Saunders, Marcus Roberson and Louchiez Purifoy. He also singled at sophomore Matt Elam as the most consistent safety but said junior Josh Evans mentally needs to get his assignments down and work on communication. Muschamp praised sophomore Jaylen Watkins and redshirt freshman Joshua Shaw, adding that sophomore CB Cody Riggs will be getting some reps at safety after Monday’s scrimmage.
» Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finely has been “solid” at his position but is also playing “outstanding” on special teams, according to Muschamp. He missed Saturday evening’s practice due to an undisclosed injury, but the team expects him to be back in action on Monday.
» Freshman safety Chris Johnson (5’9”, 205 lbs.) has been taking reps inside at linebacker for the last few days.