The Countdown: Florida Gators roster (9-1)

With just one day to go until the Florida Gators‘ 2011-12 football season gets underway, the final part of OGGOA‘s new series, The Countdown, takes a look at those players expected to contribute on the field wearing jersey numbers ranging from 9-1.

9 – Joshua Shaw (Palmdale, CA)
Redshirt freshman safety
6’3” 197 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: An early enrollee as a freshman, Shaw only saw the field against South Florida partially due to Florida’s crowded secondary. He was a four-star recruit coming out of high school and considered the No. 3 cornerback in the nation by Rivals. Choosing the Gators over teams like LSU and Ohio State, Shaw is now a social and behavioral sciences major looking to make an impact.

2011 Outlook: Shaw entered fall practice as a back-up safety vying for a starting job. However, the emergence of true freshmanDe’Ante Saunders and inconsistencies from the entire unit may reduce his time on the field in 2011. Shaw has as good an opportunity as any to break free from the pack by proving he can be effective and consistent in practice and could wind up with plenty of playing time as the season progresses.

84 9 – Quinton Dunbar (Miami, FL)
Redshirt freshman wide receiver
6’1” 184 lbs.

Dunbar previously wore No. 84. Read his section by clicking here.

8 – Trey Burton (Venice, FL)
Sophomore running back
6’3” 229 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: A three-star quarterback recruit, Burton was never expected to spend a large amount of time at that position but wound up doing so as a freshman. A social and behavioral sciences major who plans to switch to business, he was a member of the 2010 SEC All-Freshman Team as a do-everything player last year. Burton spent time behind center as well as at wide receiver, tight end, fullback and as a member of special teams on kickoff coverage. He ran for a team-high 11 touchdowns and broke Tim Tebow’s school record with six touchdowns in a single game (Kentucky). Those six scores were also good for the second-most points scored in a game in SEC history. Burton also came up big against Georgia, totaling 145 all-purpose yards in an important victory.

2011 Outlook: The Gators’ most versatile offensive player, Burton is listed as running back but will also play other roles including full back, tight end and wide receiver. He will be asked to block more than he was a year ago will be used plenty by offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. “What Trey gives me…I’m a formation/personnel guy as far as attacks go. Trey gives me a lot of versatility within one personnel group,” Weis said. “Sometimes people don’t understand the magnitude of what that means. He lets you do a lot of things.”

8 – Jeremy Brown (Orlando, FL)
Redshirt junior cornerback
5’10” 187 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star recruit, Brown was sidelined by back problems for two full seasons and earned a redshirt as a freshman. The social and behavioral sciences major made it a point to rehab his back as much as possible during and after the 2009 season and sought to earn a starting role on the team when Joe Haden declared early for the NFL.

2010 Season: Entering camp with an opportunity to win the job across from Janoris Jenkins, Brown eventually wound up doing so and started 10 contests. He missed the final two regular season games with a hamstring injury but played in the Outback Bowl to end the season. He finished the year with 15 tackles and three interceptions.

2011 Outlook: Looking to begin the 2011 season as the oldest starter in the secondary, Brown has been hampered with a knee problem and may miss at least the first game of the season. He will have to fend off a number of young players to win the job outright but will likely be able to do so as coaches noted during the spring that he was impressing during camp.

7 – Ronald Powell (Moreno Valley, CA)
Sophomore buck linebacker
6’4” 248 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: Considered the No. 1 overall prospect coming out of high school by Rivals, Powell was a five-star recruit who played defensive end and tight end in high school. The social and behavioral sciences major fit in as the strong side linebacker in 2010 and was one of just six true freshmen to appear in very game. He finished the season with 25 tackles and one sack, proving that he had a bright future as a dominant force in the SEC.

2011 Outlook: New head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will be counting on Powell big-time in 2011. Named the team’s starting buck linebacker, he will play with his hand in the dirt in 4-3 formations and up as a linebacker in 3-4 sets. Powell’s combination of quickness, agility and athleticism makes him the perfect fit for a position made famous by players under Muschamp like Jason Taylor and Sergio Kindle. Though only in his second year, he is expected to be a major contributor to a unit that hopes to be one of Florida’s strengths this season.

7 – Robert Clark (Palm Beach Gardens, FL)
Sophomore wide receiver
5’9” 173 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: A three-star pass catcher who was teammates with Matt Elam and Gerald Christian at Dwyer High School, Clark was an early enrollee and the first freshman to impress former head coach Urban Meyer one spring ago. He saw limited time on the field in 2010 but caught seven passes for 69 yards and a touchdown.

2011 Outlook: Not much has been said about Clark this offseason. He was not listed as one of the receivers on the Gators’ first two-deep fall depth chart, but Christian believes he will still see time this season. “They don’t have him with the first team and stuff, but every time Robert gets reps he makes the most of it,” he said last month. “He’s not a starter, but I think he’ll get time as an inside guy. One thing about Robert – he doesn’t whine or anything, he just goes hard and gives whatever he has all the time. That’s why I think he makes a big impression on coaches.”

6 – Jaye Howard (Apopka, FL)
Redshirt senior defensive tackle
6’3” 303 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star defensive end in high school who has switched to play on the inside, Howard is a social and behavioral sciences major who took a redshirt as a freshman in 2007. He played in nine games in 2008 but earned his first four starts in 2009, registering 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks as he continued to find his niche with the team.

2010 Season: Stepping into a real starting role for the first time in his career, Howard started eight contests (he missed two due to injury) during his redshirt junior campaign. He was the team’s player of the game twice (Miami-OH, Kentucky) and again nabbed 29 tackles on the season but this time grabbed 2.5 sacks including two in the season opener. Howard’s injury cut into his effectiveness during the year.

2011 Outlook: The true veteran of the defense, Howard has taken a leadership role in the offseason and feels the added responsibility to play at the top of his game. Scouts believe he has the size and strength to succeed at the next level but will be watching his 2011 campaign closely for major signs of improvement. He is Florida’s starting nose tackle heading into the season and is excited about the team’s direction on defense. “I’ve become more accustomed to playing a 3-4 now. It fits my body type and it’s working well with our team, so it’s going to look good this season,” he said.

6 – Deonte Thompson (Belle Glade, FL)
Redshirt senior wide receiver
6’0” 200 lbs.

Quick Bio: A U.S. Army All-American who was considered one of the best wide receivers coming out of high school, Thompson is a humanities and letters major who redshirted as a freshman but began making strides in 2008. Used sparingly as a redshirt freshman, Thompson posted 269 yards and three touchdowns as the Gators went on to win their second national title in two years. He returned in 2009 as a 12-game starter but was plagued by drops, catching just 24 balls for 343 yards and four touchdowns in Florida’s one-loss season.

2010 Season: Looking to rid himself of the stereotype of having butterfingers, Thompson had a rough start dropping a great pass in the season opener. The Gators’ offense – especially the passing game – struggled all year but he did wind up with career highs in receptions (38) and yards (570) but only found the end zone once. He started 12 of 13 games and became a reliable third-down target and first-down maker for classmate John Brantley. In just the first two games of the season he caught nine passes for 107 yards – all for first downs.

2011 Outlook: With Brantley having apparently been rejuvenated by Weis’s pro-style offense, Thompson hopes to make the most of his final year at Florida. He is listed on the team’s first depth chart as the starting Z receiver and has also formed a strong bond with Dunbar, who many expect to have a breakout season. He has also found a role as a standout on special teams, something Muschamp praised recently. “I want to say this about Deonte: He is a senior and a guy that we really challenged in the offseason about special teams and understanding, if you want to play after college and if you’re not the lead role at your position in the National Football League, you’ve got to play special teams,” he said. “The guy has done a phenomenal job on special teams. He’s on our punt team; he’s on our kickoff coverage team. I’m very proud of his effort.”

5 – Marcus Roberson (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Freshman cornerback
6’0” 184 lbs.

Quick Bio: One of the last players to join the Gators’ 2011 recruiting class, Roberson was ranked as a four-star prospect and one of the best players at his position in the country.

2011 Outlook: Following in the footsteps of Haden and Jenkins, Roberson could very well be the third player in team history to start from day one at cornerback. Whether or not he starts on Saturday will be determined by how well he practiced this week, but he has received universal praise from his teammates and coaches throughout fall practice. “When a guy does have speed and length, sometimes it enables you to play a little different style and match up on some bigger receivers at times,” Quinn said of Roberson. “He has that, and I’m really looking forward to seeing him develop. He’s come into camp and he’s really had a good training camp. He’s made an impression on me.”

4 – Andre Debose (Sanford, FL)
Redshirt sophomore wide receiver
5’11” 191 lbs.

Quick Bio: Hailed as the “next Percy Harvin” (a moniker he detested) before even committing to Florida, Debose was a five-star recruit and one of the best players in the country during his time in high school. After injuring himself in track during his senior year of high school, he had surgery and redshirted the 2009 season, putting on hold the hopes of fans that he would electrify the Gators.

2010 Season: Finally healthy, Debose struggled in picking up Meyer’s offense and did not receive too much time on the field at his natural position of wide receiver. He played in certain packages and picked up 96 yards on 10 receptions but made his greatest impact in 2010 as a kick returner. Debose fielded 21 balls and brought them back for a total of 587 yards with two touchdowns including a dynamic 99-yard return at home against LSU.

2011 Outlook: Debose committed himself to the team in the offseason and has been praised by Muschamp recently as “flashing” with some dynamic touchdown catches in practices and scrimmages. “It’s something that happened over the summer. I really just took football to another level. I have really made football a priority of mine,” Debose said. “I’ve studied a lot more. I’ve really dove into the playbook, so I feel like I have a nice grasp of it. We’ll know the truth once we get on the field and practice what you’ve been studying the whole time.” He is listed as the second-team X receiver and primary kick returner and could finally be in position for a breakout season. “He just continues to show the consistency in his performance, and I’m very pleased,” Muschamp said of him.

4 73 – Sharrif Floyd (Philadelphia, PA)
Sophomore defensive tackle
6’3” 295 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: A five-star recruit and a unanimous top-five player in the nation as a high school senior, Floyd had 23 tackles including 6.5 for loss as a freshman, impressing his teammates, coaches and opponents. He was named to the 2010 SEC All-Freshman Team by league coaches and started Florida’s final game of the season against Penn State. He played in all 13 games in 2010 and had a career-high seven tackles against Vanderbilt.

2011 Outlook: Floyd has experienced some changes this offseason. He shed No. 73 for No. 4 (hence why he was not included in The Countdown Nos. 79-70) but just recently switched back to his old number. More importantly, he moved from defensive tackle to defensive end (for at least this season) but will continue to rotate inside from time to time. As a full-time starter in just his second year, Floyd is expected to be a major contributor to the Gators’ defense and is excited about his new role. “You can’t get double-teamed at that position; I’m loving it. I’m getting a feel for it, learning everything I can get, learning the situations and everything like that. It’s a good opportunity for me, and I’m going to take advantage of it,” he said.

3 – Jelani Jenkins (Olney, MD)
Redshirt sophomore linebacker
6’0” 230 lbs.

Quick Bio: An Under-Armour All-American, Jenkins was a five-star recruit and the No. 1 player at his position as a high schooler when he committed in 2009. He dressed for all 14 games as a true freshman but only participated in two and took a redshirt while he made the honor roll as a social and behavioral sciences major.

2010 Season: Jenkins stepped into a starting role as a redshirt freshman, playing in all 13 and starting 11 contests. He notched a career-high 11 tackles against South Carolina and finished with 76 on the season, good enough for second on the defense and most by a freshman. Jenkins also recovered a fumble, grabbed an interception and sacked the quarterback twice during his first full season on the field, proving that he will be an important part of Florida’s defense for the next few years.

2011 Outlook: The starting will linebacker, Jenkins talent is of little doubt but the coaching staff has asked him to be more of a leader both on- and off-the-field this year. “We have a lot of checks, we have a lot of signals as a defense that force you to be vocal,” he said. “You’re always talking out there, always communicating, so it hasn’t been that difficult. [...] People count on you on the field to make a lot of calls, even off the field they’re always listening to you. The more you know the defense, the more you’re talking always helping each other out.” He has been succeeding in this regard and, along with junior Jon Bostic, is a key member of the Gators’ linebacking corps.

2 – Dominique Easley (Staten Island, NY)
Sophomore defensive tackle
6’2” 282 lbs.

Quick Bio/2010 Season: Another five-star from Florida’s amazing 2011 recruiting class, Easley struggled during his freshman season. Dealing with bouts of homesickness while also (reportedly) displaying some immaturity, the No. 2 defensive tackle prospect did not see the field much but showed flashes when he did get the opportunity to get in the game.

2011 Outlook: With a renewed attitude and mindset, Easley has been one of the most talked about players this offseason. Coaches and teammates have raved up and down about his lightning quick first step, noting that he has a penchant for getting through the offensive line almost immediately after the ball is snapped. He is set to start at defensive tackle in the opener and attributes his redemption to a decision he made in the offseason. “[Muschamp] 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,” he explained. “Maturity – I matured a lot and [started] making better choices. […] I had to get used to it. I had to break myself in.”

1 – Chris Rainey (Lakeland, FL)
Redshirt senior running back
5’9” 174 lbs.

Quick Bio: A four-star recruit coming out of high school, Rainey committed to the Gators alongside a number of his teammates (including the Pouncey brothers) and is the only one his age from Lakeland remaining on the squad. A humanities and letters major, Rainey took a medical redshirt as a freshman due to his shoulder injury but bounced back in a big way in 2008, rushing for a career-high 652 yards (7.5 yards per carry) and four touchdowns. He started catching some balls in 2009 as well, totaling 736 yards and six touchdowns in a solid redshirt sophomore campaign.

2010 Season: After catching six balls for 34 yards and a touchdown in the season opener and playing sparingly in the second game, Rainey was suspended five contests after being arrested but returned and finished the season as the team’s primary playmaker in the final six games. He was moved to receiver to start the season but wound up taking a lot of snaps at running back toward the end of the year due to injuries. Rainey only scored five touchdowns but totaled 582 yards of offense and brought back nine punts for 67 yards in just eight games. He also posted 148 yards as a kickoff returner against Georgia.

2011 Outlook: Moved back to running back, Rainey will be part of an explosive backfield duo with senior Jeff Demps. The pair is listed as co-starters and, according to Weis, could really do some special things for the team in 2011. Rainey recently discussed maturing in the offseason and keeping his focus on football. “I see everything like a man [now]. I do everything [more] professional,” he explained about his changed mindset. “[I] think first. I would do something before I [thought] about it [before].” He is also excited about playing in a pro-style offense again. “I feel super-good, great,” Rainey said. “You can see the whole field, so you know how the scheme works, where to cut and stuff like that.”

THE COUNTDOWN: 99-90 | 89-80 | 79-70 | 69-60 | 59-50 | 49-40 |
39-30 | 29-20 | 19-10 | 9-1

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8/31: Quinn discusses defense before opener

With the Florida Gators now in final preparations for the first game of the 2011 season (Sept. 3 vs. Florida Atlantic), defensive coordinator Dan Quinn met with the media on Wednesday to discuss his defense’s preparation heading into the opening game.

FRONT SEVEN REALLY COMING ALONG

As head coach Will Muschamp has preached for quite some time, in the Southeastern Conference, it all starts in the trenches. According to Quinn, that is the part of his defensive unit that makes him feel the most confident heading into the season – and for good reason. Not only are the players talented but they (especially the defensive linemen) have proven to be flexible as well.

“One of the good things about the big guys inside is that all the guys are playing more than one position – some are playing nose tackle and defensive tackle, some are playing defensive tackle and defensive end,” he said of the interior linemen. “I’m pleased with the progress of those four guys. Having the ability to make them interchangeable adds value to our defense. I’m encouraged with where they’re at; we’re certainly a work in progress, but I’m encouraged with where we’re at and where we’re headed with that group.” Quinn continued, “You want to put out the best guys and sometimes it might just be for the opponent that you’re playing. Some of it would tie in to a game plan situation and other times, say you had an injury, now a guy is down and you’ve cross-trained a guy to play two spots. [Rather than] having never played there, [he] can step in and keep rolling.”

Perhaps more than any other player in that grouping, sophomore Sharrif Floyd has truly stepped up and moved from his more natural position of defensive tackle to defensive end. “He’s certainly really picked it up well,” Quinn said. “We play him both at D-end in our base package and sometimes at defensive tackle in our nickel package. He’s done a terrific job at that.”

As for the linebackers, junior Jon Bostic has been the one stepping up and making the calls defensively at the Mike position. Quinn believes he is doing a great job thus far and has high hopes for him this season. “He’ll make the checks at the line. In our system, that’s what the Mike does, and Jon has done a good job with that,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of confidence in him, I really do. I think he’s got a high football IQ. You can tell he gets concepts fast. He’s done a good job through training camp leading the defense, making the calls, making the checks. He’s off to a really good start.”

Though Bostic has stood out and there are some others who have shined as well, the depth at the linebacker position is a point of contention. Nevertheless, Quinn feels confident about the starters and a few of the primary reserves. “[Redshirt junior Sam LB Lerentee McCray is] a guy that kind of plays two positions as well. We see him as an outside linebacker who can also be a rush end,” Quinn said. “As the inside linebackers go – with Jelani [Jenkins] and Jon – and we’ve had good experience with Michael Taylor and Dee Finley inside – those guys have both played both spots inside as you went through spring and now through training camp, sometimes you played one at Mike, one at Will. We felt it was the best thing to do to get balance and more experience in the system.”

YOUNG SECONDARY PROVIDING A CHALLENGE

With the season just days away, it is still a mystery which players besides sophomore safety Matt Elam will start in the secondary. Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee) is injured, junior S Josh Evans has fallen behind some freshman and no one has truly stepped up and grabbed a hold of a starting job aside from Elam. Quinn said Wednesday that he was still evaluating tape on the cornerbacks but understands the struggles.

“When you have some guys who haven’t played a whole lot, sometimes the roles will emerge as it gets forward. It’s becoming more clear although each day we kind of assess it and say, ‘OK, who’s going to give us the best options to win depending on the package,’” he said. “We have some really talented young guys who need to play and establish some experience. I’m looking forward to seeing them pull through because I think the leadership capabilities are there. As you guys know, sometimes it’s easier to lead when you have some games under your belt.”

Elam earlier in the day noted that he was a bit uncomfortable in the secondary because he did not know who would be playing next to him. Quinn responded to his concerns. “It’s important for all the guys to be able to work together,” he said. “We have a really big emphasis on communication, not just with our secondary but with our whole defense. Sometimes it’s good for those guys to get in a rhythm together, but it’s also important for everybody to understand the rules and communicate together.”

Then he explained why Elam was the one who has been the standout back there. “One of the things you look at [defensive backs] and at safet[ies] is a guy who can make plays on the ball. That was early to me in my evaluation of Matt,” he said. “This was a guy who did a good job of – not only was a good tackler and a good player, he had football savvy – he could really take the ball away. As a defensive player, that’s a critical skill to have and it adds so much value to your team.”

PROUD OF PLAYERS, EXCITED FOR FIRST GAME

One thing Quinn conveyed consistently on Wednesday was that he is very pleased with the overall effort and talent that he is seeing from his defensive players. “The cool part about these guys is they’re eager, they’re willing to learn and they’re into it. They want more information. They want to talk the technique; they want to watch the film,” he explained. “That part has been really fun. You can feel the energy of some of these young guys and they’re so anxious to get started and get playing. Now that game week is here, they even sense a heightened intensity.”

That intensity has translated to Quinn himself, who is pumped about being back in college football after spending such a long time in the NFL. “It’s been different for me for sure. We’ve had the scrimmages and, in my mind, I’ve kind of seen those as preseason games to really get a hard evaluation,” he said. “I’m so excited to get started here. The whole purpose of me coming here was working with Will and be a part of these guys and get going. Now that the season is finally here, I can’t wait.”

He also took some time to discuss both how he felt his unit has progressed as well as his overall defensive strategy. “Through training camp – it was a really good camp. There was toughness, there was finishing. It’s been a big package; we had a big playbook. Now after you install everything, you can kind of pick and choose some of the packages you like for each ball game,” he said. “I’m encouraged about the way the guys are approaching the game in practice. It’s been physical and fast; that’s how our style is, that’s how we want to play. I’m anxious to get started and get going into the season, I really am.”

He added, “[We will be] going after the ball. I’d like us to be a team that is mentally and physically tough. I hope that when you see the tape you say, ‘These guys are really physical. They play with great effort, you can see the toughness shine through on tape and they really attack the ball.’ [...] Anybody would like to have that kind of pride about a defense, and certainly that’s what we’re striving for.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

On the team’s best pass rushers so far: “I certainly think the guys from the outside during training camp that’s provided [pass rush] for us have been [William] Green and McCray and [Ronald] Powell. Inside certainly [Dominique] Easley and Floyd are two that stood out to me of the interior rushers, and we’re anxious to get those guys going on third down.”

On the emergence of freshman CB Marcus Roberson: “With corners, at times when a guy has speed and length, it helps you as a cover guy. He has some of the traits to help him in coverage, but he’s still young and learning in the system and developing. But when a guy does have speed and length, sometimes it enables you to play a little different style and match up on some bigger receivers at times. He has that, and I’m really looking forward to seeing him develop. He’s come into camp and he’s really had a good training camp. He’s made an impression on me.”

On combining the 3-4 and 4-3 defenses into one playbook: “I think it may look harder at times than it is. When you combine both the 3-4 and the 4-3 packages, it adds some value in terms of how the offense will have to prepare against you. That’s one thing that Will and I have always believed in. There may not be a thousand calls in each package, but we felt like it’s enough for this game to do what’s best.”

On letting his players play but not opening the playbook too much: “As you’re going into your first game, you want to give your guys the best chance to play fast and physical, and that’s what we’ll do in this week’s game.”

On coaching on the field instead of upstairs: “Mostly on the field. I like to be able to talk to the guys and make the adjustments right there, so that’s what I’ll be doing.”

On his relationship with Muschamp: “One of the good parts about Will, even though he’s doing a terrific job as head coach, he’s still in the defensive meetings. All the calls are still there. We’re together a good bit of the day – 18 hours sometimes we’re right there side-by-side. We really see things a lot alike, and that was true even before I got here, since we had worked together before.”

On how and why he and Muschamp might disagree: “Probably something with my background defensive line and pass rushing, and his background with the secondary and coverage. He may want it a little bit different than I would see it, and vice versa from the back end. If he says it’s how we’re going to do it, that’s how we’re going to do it.”

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8/29: Brantley’s sore back, Burton’s primary fear, Bostic’s thoughts on the defense

With the Florida Gators beginning weekly preparations for their first game on Sept. 3 at home against Florida Atlantic, a number of prominent players were made available to the media on Monday to discuss how the team is progressing.

BRANTLEY’s BACK SHOULD NOT BE A PROBLEM

Confirming what head coach Will Muschamp indicated last week, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley said he has been having issues with his back recently but promised that, while he has missed some practice time, he will be a full-go for the game on Saturday. “I’ve been feeling good lately,” he said. “I’m ready to move forward. I’m not worried about it at all.”

STEPPING UP AS A TRUE LEADER AND MOTIVATOR

Saying he has become “probably a little more vocal, a little more comfortable with everything in the starting leadership role,” Brantley expressed that he has matured a lot in the offseason and figured out exactly what he needs to do from a leadership standpoint going forward. “You got to carry yourself very well off the field. You have to be a leader on- and off-the field – make sure everyone’s doing the right thing, going to class, doing their studies,” he said. “There’s no one way to do it – you just know what’s right and wrong.”

The miscues and mistakes from one year ago have aided him in that development. Now he is able to forget plays that (as he said) “killed the momentum” and “sucked the wind out of us” and move forward. “Last year definitely helped me grow up a lot. It matured me a whole bunch,” Brantley said. “I think I’ve grown up a lot. I’m ready for this season. I’m ready to deal with ups and downs if they come our way, and I’m excited.”

Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has also had a big role in changing Brantley’s mindset going into this season. “He mentions it to me – not too often but often enough – to keep forgetting about last year and just keep moving forward. Even this year, if something happens, you just got to forget about it,” he recalled. “You can’t beat yourself up about it. You got to play the next play no matter what happens the play before. You can’t have that hanging over your head because that can affect more plays in the future.”

BURTON SHARES HIS WORST FEAR

For “Mr. Versatile,” sophomore running back Trey Burton, there is only one thing he is scared of on the football field. “My worst fear is sitting on the bench,” he said Monday. “I told coach, I’ll do anything he wants me to do.” That is one of the reasons why Burton has accepted so many roles with the team – in order to stay on the field as much as possible and give the Gators their best chance to win.

Part of that versatility included Burton learning how to block when he is in the backfield. That has been a difficulty for him but something he continues to improve on. “I’m still trying to get comfortable with it because it’s a whole new different thing, especially at this level, it’s a lot harder,” he explained. “I’m going to always need to work on something, especially with stuff I’ve never really done before. […] Coach Weis tries to give everybody the ball as much as he can. You can’t touch the ball every play, so I have to be doing something else.”

Perhaps the most difficult thing for him to learn, however, is actually being handed the ball rather than taking it directly and running with it. “[It’s] a lot different. Probably the hardest thing I’ve had to work on this camp is receiving a handoff instead of just catching it from the center and running with it,” Burton said. “Last year we did a lot of reading defensive linemen and linebacker and stuff like that. This year it’s more smash-mouth football compar[atvely].”

“THE FORGOTTEN GATORS”

Motivation tactics are a dime a dozen these days, but junior linebacker Jon Bostic sounded genuine when talking about his team’s chances going into the 2011 season. Bostic noted that while nationally Florida may not be getting much respect, the atmosphere inside the locker room is one of hard work, top-notch effort and dedication to being the best the team can be this year.

“We’re not looking to back down from anybody. A lot of people are overlooking us right now, but we got to prepare each and every week to go play on Saturday,” he explained. “You can just see it. A lot of people from everywhere are just overlooking us. Everybody’s kind of like the forgotten Gators, you know. It doesn’t bother us at all. That’s how we’re trying to look at it. We’re trying to take it day-by-day, play-by-play.”

DEFENSE WORKING OUT THE KINKS

Following a rough scrimmage last week, Muschamp chastised the team for a lack of execution and making too many mistakes. Taking a look at the tape, Bostic said he understands why Muschamp was upset and thinks the team turned the corner at the end of the week.

“There was a lot of things that went wrong in the scrimmage. I didn’t think it was as bad as it was when I was out there, watching it back on film, but there was a lot of little mistakes that he gets tired of,” he explained. “A lot of people were still making those same errors from the first days of camp. He’s a little frustrated about that. We had a pretty good practice after that day. I don’t know exactly what it was, but a lot of people were making mistakes – even myself – but towards the end of last week we got everything fixed up and we’re ready to go.”

Bostic believes the younger players on the defensive side of the ball are really coming together in that regard. “At the beginning of camp, some guys were still lost because they were throwing a lot of things at some of the freshman,” he said. “Some of the guys came out a little confused, but you can see even last week a lot of those guys are picking that up and they’re not making the same mistakes they were making earlier in camp.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Brantley on if the fans will like the new offense: “I think they’re going to be very pleased. We’ve had a great camp, a great three weeks, and we’re excited just to get out there and play against someone else besides ourselves. We’re looking forward to showing our fans what new Gator football is doing.”

» Brantley on how he feels behind the offensive line: “Very comfortable. They’ve done a great job; they’ve made so much progress in camp and everything. I feel really comfortable behind them and trust them with everything.”

» Brantley on Weis’s specialty: “Coach Weis does a real great job of using what’s working. He’ll use the same thing until it doesn’t work anymore and then change it up.”

» Brantley on redshirt sophomore tight end Jordan Reed: “He’s going to be a huge weapon. He’s one of the best athletes out there on the field. We’re going to put him in positions to make plenty of plays. He’s just going to go out there and keep going hard every play.”

» Brantley on former offensive coordinator Steve Addazio: “I think Coach Addazio is a great coach and a great guy. I respect the man so much. We definitely miss him.”

» Brantley on his favorite targets at wideout: “They all are, to be honest with you. They’ve all had a great camp and made plenty of plays. I feel very comfortable getting them the ball. Probably Deonte [Thompson] and Frankie [Hammond, Jr.] – I’ve been around them the most and feel real comfortable with them.”

» Bostic on the difference between new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and last year’s DC Teryl Austin: “The variety of stuff he brings to the table. He’s one of those guys who brings multiple types of defenses – we can do different types of things with the linebackers, defensive line, the buck position, he has a lot of different things he can bring to the table.”

» Bostic on Brantley’s composure: “A lot of stuff went wrong on the offensive side of the ball [last year], but he kept his head high. A lot of people are saying his confidence may be down this year, but I didn’t see that at all this offseason. I saw one of those guys who walked around with his head high, anxious to get back on the field.”

» Sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell on if he thinks his position is the most critical: “On the field any position is key because we all work together. It takes all of us.”

» Powell on seniors returning to the team: “It’s meant a lot to us for guys like [Brantley] to come back and step up as a leader. Along with Jeff Demps and guys like them coming back. They’ve been there before and they know what it takes. Now they’re taking over and leading us in the right way. [Brantley is] a lot more vocal. He’s really taken control of the offense and taken control of the team.”

» Powell on the practice after the “bad” scrimmage last week: “Guys were coming in and really getting focused. [There were] a lot less mental errors. Guys just really working hard.”

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8/16: Muschamp’s updates on players, scrimmage

With the Florida Gators fully entrenched in fall practice and having completed their first scrimmage, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media early Tuesday and provided updates on how the team is progressing on both sides of the ball heading into the 2011 season, which begins on Sept. 3.

FRESHMEN ROBERSON, DRISKEL STEPPING UP

Every year there seems to be a few freshmen who take it upon themselves to earn major playing time in their first season. Two players who have already begun proving themselves, according to Muschamp, are four-star cornerback Marcus Roberson and five-star quarterback Jeff Driskel.

Competing with seniors, juniors, sophomores and fellow freshmen, Roberson in particular has stood out and could supplant all of them as the latest Florida freshman to start at cornerback. “I think he could possibly start. He’s played well,” Muschamp said. “We’re going to play the best players. I don’t care what grade they are, where they’re from, it don’t matter to me.”

Driskel, fighting with redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy and classmate Jacoby Brissett for the back-up QB job behind redshirt senior John Brantley, has emerged as the leader for the job after showcasing his intangibles during a great performance in the team’s first scrimmage on Saturday. Muschamp said Driskel completed approximately 70 percent of his passes during scrimmage while Brantley (who he again said is “far and ahead” of the pack) was around 60 percent.

“His growth process from spring, obviously he has worked extremely hard through the summer dedicating himself to the playbook and learning what to do and how to do it and why we’re doing it that way,” Muschamp said*. “He’s had a very good camp at this point.”

INDIVIDUAL PLAYER & POSITION UPDATES

» Redshirt junior Lerentee McCray – Listed as a defensive end, McCray has earned the starting strong-side linebacker job and is being backed up sophomore Darrin Kitchens. Muschamp said he can also play the buck position if needed, though it will not be his primary assignment. Sophomore Ronald Powell starts at buck linebacker, and redshirt sophomore Kendric Johnson has been backing him up.

» Senior punter David Lerner – Diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and getting IVs regularly when participating in practices and workouts. Lerner is the likely back-up to freshman Kyle Christy, who enrolled in January and is expected to be the starter. “He was diagnosed with Crohn’s in July, and his body is taking to the medication. There have been a couple days where he hasn’t felt well, and I’ve just told him to take it to the house, just go and get some rest. He’s in high competition right now to be our starting punter – he and Kyle both. David has had a great camp. This is something he will battle and be fine.”

» Linebackers junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins – “Both of them have played, so they understand what it takes to be successful in this league. Both of them are extremely intelligent. God’s blessed both of them – they’ve got really good athletic ability. They’re both instinctive players and they like playing the game. And they’ve learned to be better communicators, in my opinion, from spring to now. That, to me, is where they’ve taken the next step as players. We need for both of them to have really, really good seasons, and I certainly think they’re both capable of having really good seasons.”

» Sophomore Sharrif Floyd – Listed as a defensive tackle, Floyd has spent most of his time at defensive end for depth reasons but is also being moved inside during rush situations. He joins senior William Green and redshirt junior Earl Okine as the team’s primary DEs.

» Redshirt senior Jaye Howard, redshirt junior Omar Hunter and sophomore Dominique Easley are all rotating inside at the nose tackle/three position. Redshirt freshman NT Leon Orr is also “coming along” because he has kept his weight down and improved his endurance.

» Redshirt senior wide receiver Deonte Thompson – “I want to say this about Deonte: He is a senior and a guy that we really challenged in the offseason about special teams and understanding, if you want to play after college and if you’re not the lead role at your position in the National Football League, you’ve got to play special teams. The guy has done a phenomenal job on special teams. He’s on our punt team; he’s on our kickoff coverage team. I’m very proud of his effort.”

» Freshman De’Ante Saunders – The cornerback has been spending time at nickel but will be worked out at safety soon as the team is in need of trustworthy tacklers. “Pop is playing well. He deserves the opportunity to be a starter at this point,” Muschamp said. “Pop has played more nickel than anything – more than even at corner. We need to shore up some things at safety as far as our tackling is concerned, our space play is concerned. Pop has got good instincts on the back end – when to play the ball, when not to play the ball. We’ve got to tackle better at that position; we cannot continue to miss tackles in the secondary.”

» Freshman Chris Johnson – Listed as a safety, the 5’9”, 205 lbs. Johnson will continue to be worked out at linebacker in order to improve depth at the position. “Chris Johnson is undersized but is a guy that can run and strike,” Muschamp said. “He’s instinctive in the box. He’s got natural box instincts. He comes down in the box and naturally gets it. That’s part of being a good linebacker – having some sort of instincts.”

» Redshirt sophomore wide receiver Andre Debose – Currently in the second group of pass catchers because he continues to be inconsistent in his performance practice-in and practice-out. “[He's] got to block better, got to catch the ball better, got to run routes better – there’s a lot of things,” Muschamp said. “But it’s consistency in your performance. You can have one great day, and the next day has got to be a great day. You can’t be up-and-down in your performance in this league. The teams are too good.”

» Redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finley – “Had a good scrimmage yesterday, did some nice things, had an interception. He’s a guy that’s got to continue to progress.”

» Redshirt freshman linebacker Michael Taylor – “[He] is an instinctive, tough player and has done a nice job with some things. Mike has got to continue working on football off the field. He likes sticking his face in there; he likes the physicality of the game, but we’ve got to play smarter at that position.”

» Redshirt freshman tight end Gerald Christian – “We feel like he’s a very good on-the-ball tight end, blocking. He can also do some things as far as movement is concerned because he’s really a tight end and a fullback. Some tight ends can’t move very well, they don’t move very well as far as the point-of-attack and blocking. Fullbacks do. Some fullbacks can’t line up on the line of scrimmage and block the edge because they don’t have the length to block against some of the defensive ends and outside ‘backers they play against. Gerald can do both, and we will use him to do both.”

» Senior tackle William Steinmann – A walk-on who has only seen action in 18 games over three seasons, Steinmann is also being tried out at tight end as an additional blocker.

NOTES AND QUOTES

» On the grind of fall practice: “The older players understand the grind of camp, they understand how to work through camp. The younger players generally let the external circumstances – the heat, the fatigue, the soreness – soak in a little bit, and that’s when they lose their mental focus. Those are things we’ve got to battle through at this point.”

» On the difference between running backs senior Jeff Demps and redshirt senior Chris Rainey: “About 0.4 seconds maybe, I don’t know. Jeff I would say is a little bit bigger stature-wise. The other day he did a really nice job chipping one of our defensive ends coming out on protection. I thought he may have cracked his ribs – he turned him upside down.”

» The team worked on end-of-game situations with hopes of putting a bit of pressure on the players in order to test their resolve. The scrimmage consisted of 130 snaps.

» The heat index was 118 degrees on the field Tuesday morning during practice. Muschamp understood the heat and wanted his team to play in those conditions. “You find out a lot about your leadership especially when you face some adversity. We put them in some adverse situations on both sides of the ball,” he said. “You find out a lot about your football team at this time. We’re going to use the heat to our advantage. We ought to be used to playing in the heat and when its hot. When we started camp, we worked early in the morning and late at night to avoid [the heat]. Now it’s time to shore up and get ready for that – we’re going to use that to our advantage.”

» Muschamp said a few prominent individuals recently met with the team including the Southeastern Conference head of officiating Steve Shaw, University of Florida president Bernie Machen, former Gators safety Lawrence Wright and Iraqi war veteran Lt. Greg Gadson (who inspired the New York Giants in 2008).

» On inheriting a roster and not recruiting it himself: “At the end of the day, they’re Florida’s players. They’re not my players.”

* Driskel quote courtesy of InsidetheGators.com

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8/10: More from Muschamp on Wednesday

With the Florida Gators fully entrenched in fall practice, head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Tuesday and provided updates on how the team is progressing going into the 2011 season, which begins on Sept. 3.

POWELL’s EMERGENCE CONTINUES

One of the team’s most impressive freshmen a year ago, sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell has already had a rebirth with a new defense and a new position. Not only has he been impressing his teammates and coaches on the field, Powell has stood out as a leader off of it as well. “I think Ronald has done a nice job. He’s a power rusher, a very physical young man, a tough player, a tough young man,” Muschamp said. “He’s a guy I think has progressed well in what we’re doing. He practices hard; he practices with toughness. He plays the game the way it should be played.”

A five-star recruit and one of the top prospects coming out of high school in 2010, Powell has always been burdened with high expectations. He continues to take them in stride, and Muschamp believes his ability to do so is part of the reason why he is doing so well at such a young age. “We’ve created an interesting phenomenon with this recruiting business – these stars and all of these expectations. Some guys handle it better than others,” he said. “Ronald’s very bright, very intelligent. He’s a guy that football is very important to him. When you come in and you have all these accolades, it’s hard not to listen. You listen to some of it.

“I always tell the guys – that’s why you need to remove all the external stuff. It’s never as good as it seems, and it’s never as bad as it seems either. It’s somewhere in-between. Unfortunately, some guys listen to a lot of that stuff and all of a sudden they think they’re a little better than they really are. Transitioning from high school to college is hard – especially on the line of scrimmage. The game is a lot faster. It’s a lot bigger and a lot more complex.”

BACK-UP QUARTERBACKS IMPROVING

Though redshirt senior John Brantley has been named the team’s starting quarterback over and over again, the development of the three players behind him on the depth chart is important, especially if he struggles once again in 2011. To that end, Muschamp is very pleased with what he has seen from some of the younger signal callers.

Redshirt freshman Tyler Murphy: Brantley’s back-up, Murphy is a year older than the other two but has taken just as many snaps – none. “Tyler Murphy has done a really nice job of managing the offense. We did a move the field today where the coaches got off the field and let the players play. Tyler took us on a nice drive down the field.”

Freshman Jeff Driskel: Muschamp said the game is slowing down for him and he is beginning to read coverages better. “Jeff Driskel, the first five days have been very solid [for him]. [There has been] a lot of carryover from spring. He’s a lot more comfortable.”

Freshman Jacoby Brissett: Enrolling in the summer, Brissett is a little behind the eight ball but is catching up quickly. “Jacoby is doing an outstanding…the guy has got a big-time arm talent and great leadership ability. He’s going to be a really football player for the Gators. Obviously not going through spring and him just coming in the summer, he’s a little further behind just from the amount of being exposed to everything. He will catch up because he’s extremely intelligent.”

ROBERSON THE NEXT GREAT FRESHMAN CORNER?

Florida has had its share of successful freshman cornerbacks in recent years and if the opinions of his teammates and coaches mean anything (they do), Roberson may very well be seeing plenty of playing time in 2011.

“Marcus comes from a great high school program – he’s been very well-coached,” Muschamp explained. “Football is very important to him. He spends an awful lot of time studying the game, spending extra time in the meeting room. He’s always early to the meting room and gives great effort on the field.

“God’s blessed him. He’s got legnth, top-end speed and great ball skills. All the critical factors you’re looking for in a defensive back, he’s got. I’ve been very pleased in five practices; he’s got to continue to do it.”

OTHER EVALUATIONS

On redshirt senior transfer center Dan Wenger: “It’s been very beneficial for, especially in the summertime we can’t have any contact as far as football is concerned, so in essence he has been a coach on the field. He’s a guy who has been in this system for 3-4 years, understands it, very smart, wants to be a coach, wants to be a strength coach. His brother is a defensive coordinator at St. Thomas Aquinas. He’s got that blood in him, so that’s what he wants to do. You take all of those factors, and football is very important to Dan, and he’s been a very valuable part of what we’re trying to do in helping some of the young guys.”

On the team’s starting cornerbacks: “We’ve adjusted every day at corner so far right now. We’ve had combinations of Jeremy [Brown] and Cody Riggs, Jeremy and Moses [Jenkins], Moses and Jermey, all of those guys have repped. [De’Ante] “Pop” Saudners has repped with the first team. I’ve been very pleased with Marcus Roberson and Louchiez Purifoy and what they can do. They’re very good athletes; they’re learning our system. They did a good job studying this summer. I’m pleased with our athleticism, the experience is what concerns me, but I’ll take athleticism over that.”

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8/8: Wenger, Robey, McCray, Powell speak

With the Florida Gators heading into their first full contact practice ahead of the 2011 season, redshirt senior center Dan Wenger, redshirt junior C Sam Robey, redshirt junior defensive end Lerentee McCray and sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell met with the media to discuss how they are adjusting under the new coaches.

COACHING DIFFERENCES APPARENT

No matter who was asked, it is quite obvious that there are plenty of differences between the old coaching staff and new coaching staff – not necessarily in a good or bad way.

Asked how head coach Will Muschamp differs from Urban Meyer, McCray had some poignant thoughts. “He treats us like adults. He give us standards and then we’ve got to be held to those standards,” he said*. “If we mess up, that’s our fault. He doesn’t baby us and treat us like kids. He treats us like adults.”

Robey said the techniques of new offensive line coach Frank Verducci differ from the philosophy employed by Steve Addazio. “Coach Verducci’s great. It’s a whole different pace than Addazio,” he said. “It’s just more emphasis on our hands – a different type of coaching style.”

Perhaps no one can speak about the coaching style (at least offensively) better than Wenger, who transferred to Florida this year because of Verducci and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. He said that players need to be aware of one thing in order to stay on their good side. “We’re taught to just be always focused – always zeroed in on what we’re doing at the time,” he said. “There’s no room for slacking off – mentally or physically – whether it be in the classroom or on the field. Just be on top of everything and make sure you have your notebook out.”

WENGER HAPPY TO BE IN ORANGE & BLUE

From nearly never playing again to having a legitimate opportunity to see plenty of field time in 2011, Wenger could not be happier about his transition to playing for the Gators. After suffering two concussions while playing for Notre Dame, Wenger could not get clearance from doctors to return to the field. After visiting Florida and undergoing a battery of tests, he is finally good to go. “I went through probably seven hours of testing just for the concussions,” he said. “Then I had to drive back up here to Gainesville myself to do more testing.”

It was Wenger who reached out to Verducci when the NCAA gave him his clearance to play, and he is thrilled that Muschamp gave him an opportunity to play football once again. “I actually reached out to them. I had gotten the clearance from the NCAA; they had granted me a sixth year of eligibility,” he explained. “I received all my release papers. Once I told coach Verducci the situation, he brought it up to Coach Weis and Coach Muschamp, and they were all for it.”

After just a few weeks in Gainesville, Wenger already feels like a part of the team thanks to how inviting his teammates have been and how much they have looked to him for advice and help in learning the system. “It was pretty weird initially,” he admitted. “It was very surprising to me how welcoming the guys were. It wasn’t that awkwardness of, ‘Oh, here’s the new guy. He’s going to try to steal my position.’ I’m going to be a team guy – whatever needs to be done, whatever I can do to help us win I’m going to do. I’m not holding anything back, not holding any secrets. I played in this system under Coach Weis for four years, so any help I can give to anyone, I’m going to give it to them.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

Wenger on competing with redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison: “We’re pushing each other to our best abilities. He knows that I’m right behind him. […] It’s that good team competition that is going to build us stronger and make us better football players and a better team in general.”

McCray on the tone of practices: “The first couple of days, we’ve been going hard. We have to get in the groove of things and get back to football speed. We’ve been training for the whole summer, so we’ve got to get back into football shape right now.”

McCray on what has been accomplished so far: “Just getting the reads down, working on our technique and fundamentals, staying low, playing with pad level, DBs getting their coverages down, things like that, communication.”

McCray on also playing some linebacker: “It’s going pretty good right now. It’s a mental lapse sometimes, but I have to do it to help the team win.”

Powell on how he approached fall practice: “I definitely wanted to really understand what I was doing and why I was doing it. Really start working with my hands. I did a lot of footwork stuff, because I knew I was going to be asked to do a lot of coverage on the tight end and stuff like that.”

Powell on if he didn’t understand everything last year: “Coming in as a freshman, the game is so fast that really you’re just trying to get the play down. Now not only understanding the play but…Why do I have to use the blood technique on this? Why do I have to be back-and-forth? Stuff like that.”

Powell on how he has matured in the offseason: “To be honest, I was the type of guy that stayed to myself. If a guy wanted to talk to me, I wouldn’t talk to him. Now I have to step in and be a leader. I got to still be me – be friendly, ‘How’s your day going?’ Get to know guys and what they’re going through.”

Redshirt senior G James Wilson on how long he’s been healthy since joining the team: “I made it through my sophomore year halfway through…so I’ve probably made it through a full season [combined].”

Wilson on how he feels now: “The last time I really had any problem was spring ball. Ever since then it’s been nothing but good news.”

* Quote courtesy of the Palm Beach Post.

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Florida football’s 2011 media day – Muschamp

With the Florida Gators finally beginning 2011 fall practice on Saturday, head coach Will Muschamp, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and dozens of other players met with the media to discuss the upcoming season. The Gators will take the field Saturday but all practices will be closed to both fans and the media.

STAT TO CARE ABOUT: TURNOVER MARGIN

Muschamp made it a point throughout both his media session to explain hat turnover margin is the only statistic that will be a primary focal point for all members of the coaching staff, whether on the offense, defense or special teams.

“The stat I emphasized with our team is turnover margin. Last year, the top 10 teams in turnover margin, six of them played in BCS games,” he said. “The critical factor I try to emphasize with our football team is turnover margin and big play ratio. When you’re dealing in that world, you’re talking about game-changing, field position-changing, vertical field-possession changing momentum in the game. We got to take control of the ball offensively and create what we call a ball hawk defense.”

Asked later if focusing on turnover margin made the team more defensively oriented than Florida football has been historically, Muschamp disagreed. “I wouldn’t necessarily say that. Turnover margin is something that affects both sides,” he noted. “We’ve got to have great ball security offensively, and we’ve got to create some turnovers on defense. On special teams, control the vertical field position. But from my chair, that affects all of us and how we play. It controls the field position; it controls the momentum of the game.”

FOUR TEAM GOALS HEADING INTO THE SEASON

When it comes to what he looks for in not only a successful player but more specifically a leader, Muschamp has those characteristics defined. He believes each represents a goal that the players should individually achieve by the time the season begins.

“We talk about leadership, and we define it to our players as: No. 1 – You got to be a productive player. If you’re not producing and you’re not making plays, it’s hard to be a leader. [No. 2] – You can’t have a bad day. You can’t come, ‘I hope that guy didn’t get hurt.’ So when you come to work, you can’t just say, ‘Well Coach, I just didn’t play good today.’ You got to play well all the time. [No. 3] – You got to positively affect everybody in the organization. [No. 4] – You got to stay humble in what you do. So you can’t be a negative guy that sits in the locker room and complains about how we’re practicing, how hot it is, or what we’re doing offensively or defensively. Stay humble and move forward with the mistakes and don’t make them again.”

INJURY UPDATES

All four of the injured players the Gators were worried about heading into 2011 have been cleared in one way or another. Redshirt freshman running back Mack Brown (broken fibula) will need to be careful with his endurance but is cleared to practice and will be “worked up to speed.” Redshirt junior tackle Matt Patchan (wrist) has been cleared for the field as well, but coaches will “make sure that we get out there and he’s ready to roll as far as contact and things are concerned.” Senior tackle William Steinmann (meniscus tear) is cleared for everything but contact (Aug. 15), and redshirt sophomore long snapper Christopher Guido (hernia surgery) will be good to go on Aug. 10.

BUILDING THE OFFENSIVE LINE

Muschamp continues to be worried about depth on three fronts, starting with the offensive line. Florida did not have much of an opportunity to build such depth in the spring as many players were injured and others were just putting their feet in the water for the first time.

“Obviously with the moving parts we had going through spring ball, that’s something we need to gel and we need to gel early,” Muschamp said. “We need to get five guys playing well together. And you’d like to build that number to seven, eight, nine, 10 guys if you can, but build depth on the offensive line of scrimmage.”

Overall, however, he is pleased with the development of the guys he got to see in spring. Muschamp praised redshirt sophomore guard Jon Halapio for his toughness and effort, junior tackle Xavier Nixon for being up to 290 lbs. but remaining athletic with more punch and power, and redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison for his transition from guard to center – “that’s a tough deal to do, do make the calls. We put an awful lot on the center.” He was also excited about redshirt freshman Ian Silberman’s move to guard, and redshirt freshman Chaz Green’s growth at tackle.

BUILDING THE FRONT SEVEN

Just like on offense, Muschamp hopes his defensive line rotation is something that can be solidified by the time fall camp comes to a close. With plenty of depth at defensive tackle including the two veterans – redshirt senior Jaye Howard and redshirt junior Omar Hunter – he said that sophomore Sharrif Floyd will mainly play on the inside but will also see some time at defensive end. Senior DE William Green will primarily play there but also get some time at outside linebacker, too.

Linebacker is another position in which depth is a concern for Muschamp. Aside from junior Jon Bostic and redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins, he is looking to fill in the blanks. Helping him do just that might be redshirt freshman Michael Taylor, who stood out to him as a “tough, physical kid” who “understands a little more what we’re asking of him.” Muschamp also noted that redshirt sophomore Dee Finely is progressing from his move from the secondary: “When your position moves closer to the ball, the game happens a lot faster. He’s been a guy that’s shown some flashes and was very productive for us early in spring.”

Obviously sophomore buck LB Ronald Powell will be counted on heavily in the pass rush, but Green and redshirt junior DE Lerentee McCray will also both work on getting to the quarterback. “Lerentee has done some nice things. Willie Green has done some nice things. But, consistently we haven’t seen enough,” Muschamp said. He did, however, have some extra praise for McCray. “Lerentee has got a great motor. He is very passionate about playing at Florida. It’s important to him to be a Gator,” he said. “He’s a guy that can give us some pass rushing plays, plays extremely hard. He’s tough, and he sticks his face in there. He’s a guy that you really appreciate coaching; he’s always up in the meeting rooms to watch film, ask questions. We’re expecting him to have a really good year.”

BRANTLEY AND THE OFFENSE

Asked how well he and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis are meshing together, Muschamp noted the duo shares the same offensive philosophy and have a great working relationship. “We want to be a running football team, have the play actions off of it, but still be able to spread the field and create plays in space for our playmakers,” he said. “I’ve got great confidence where we are and where we’re headed with our offense.”

His confidence, of course, begins with redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley, who he believes should have complete trust in himself considering that Weis has all the faith in the world in regards to his abilities on the field. “He’s got great confidence in John; that should give John great confidence. That ought to give him great confidence as a quarterback, and I think it does,” Muschamp said.

He added there is “no question” that Brantley is the starter and noted that sophomore Tyler Murphy is currently the back up with freshmen Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett fighting for that role. “John is the starter. I say create some separation behind John; we need to find who is our backup quarterback going into the season, how are we going to tailor offense for the backup quarterback. And that’s a decision we need to make as quickly as we can in camp,” Muschamp explained.

FINDING A TRUSTWORTHY SECONDARY

With the Gators losing three veterans in the secondary, Muschamp has placed an emphasis on solidifying the positions, whether that is with older or younger players. “Secondary, I really like our athleticism,” he said. “I like starting with athleticism. I’d rather start with that than experience if I could take one of the two.”

He also shared his thoughts on four players in particular…

Sophomore safety Matt Elam: “Obviously, he plays safety and nickel, but he’s a guy who’s shown some play-making abilities. If you look at a defensive back and you look at critical factors of being able to play in space, that means you’ve got to be able to tackle and cover them, have physical toughness to play the position. He can spin in the box and play in the box and play in the deep part of the field. He judges the ball extremely well. He’s bright, he’s intelligent, and he can get in and out of the chase.”

Junior safety Josh Evans: “[He] has certainly been another guy that’s shown that he can do that.”

Redshirt freshman safety Josh Shaw: “[He] is certainly a guy who I think can do that, but he’s got to do it more consistently.

Sophomore cornerback Jaylen Watkins: “[He] is a young man we played at corner and safety in the spring and I think can give us a little position multiplicity in what he can do.”

NOTES AND QUOTES

» Florida will be holding split-squad practices on the first few days of camp in order “to let younger players have a better opportunity to learn.” NCAA rules state that players can only practice once per day over the course of the first five days of practice. Therefore, Muschamp will have the older players practice early and plans to film them. The younger players will then watch the film and go out in the afternoon and practice. “Now they’re able to, at least for two practices, get a better idea of what is going to be expected on the practice field,” he said. Monday is the team’s first day as a full unit.

» On how younger players can also be leaders: “I’m not really worried about looking for senior leadership. You can be a sophomore, you can be a freshman and be a great leader. I’ve seen guys do that – positively affect the organization with how they play and how they approach things every day. We’ve got some guys, especially that sophomore class, that we’re counting on being very productive players and they need to be really good leaders on top of that.”

» On not allowing assistant coaches to speak to the media yet: “I do think it’s important right now that there’s one message for our football team, and I’m the one that knows that the best.”

» On having an open doors policy with former Gators: “I have open arms for every letterman that comes back here. They are welcome to come to any practices; it’s not closed to them. They can come to every practice if they want to. But when you have guys like Kevin Carter, who was in yesterday, Fred Taylor, Mike Peterson, Tim Tebow, I mean all these guys have come back in the summer. Percy Harvin, the list goes on, of guys that come back anytime so they can talk about their time at Florida and the expectations of playing at Florida. I’ve got a guy on my staff, Terry Jackson and Aubrey Hill, that played at Florida. They understand the expectation of what it takes to be successful here.”

» On that dirty word “potential:” “Potential? That means you really haven’t done anything. God blessed you with an awful lot of ability, you take advantage of it. Guys that get labeled with potential in our program don’t last long.”

» On being ranked No. 23 preseason: “I could care less.”

» On the future of sophomore Trey Burton: “I think he fits very well with what we want to do. He’s going to play what we call the F position. That position is going to be a full back, it’s going to be a slot receiver, it’s going to be a match-up on a linebacker outside, and it’s going to motion and create leverage in the run and pass game. He’s going to do so many things for us. He’s a guy that is going to be catching the football, he’s going to be blocking, he’s going to be carrying it. He was a short-yardage situation guy in the spring that was probably our best short yardage back. It is kind of limitless what he’s going to be doing in our offense.”

» Muschamp noted that replacing Chas Henry at punter will be difficult but that freshman Kyle Christy has the inside leg on the job. “[He’s] a young man that came in mid-year, very excited about him,” he said. Muschamp also mentioned, however, that senior David Lerner would have a fair shot at the gig.

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Recapping Florida’s 2011 Friday Night Lights

Mixing pomp and circumstance with football drills and relationship building, the Florida Gators use their annual Friday Night Lights camp at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium as both a recruiting tool and means of evaluating some of the best high school football players in the country. The Gators often pull in some recruits over the FNL weekend but also find diamonds in the rough as recruits get coached up while getting to know each other.

The Swamp will once again filled with some of the top young talent in the nation on July 22, so much so that covering every player that plans to step on the field is a near impossibility. Below is a recap of the 2011 event which includes much of what was learned Friday evening in Gainesville, FL.

» Florida did not receive any commitments at the event, though that is not necessarily a negative. The Gators’ 15-member recruiting class is believed to be slightly larger already with a few silent commits in the fold. Most importantly, Florida’s new coaching staff made a positive impression on those in attendance and may have set themselves up for some big names to give their respective pledges in the near future.

» Five-star wide receiver Stefon Diggs (Olney, MD) was the standout performer, hauling in catches, showcasing his athleticism and even performing a few Gator Chomps after scoring a touchdown. The No. 2 wide receiver in the 2012 class, No. 8 overall prospect and No. 1 player in his state, Diggs has 36 offers but has not narrowed his choices down yet. Former high school teammates with Gators redshirt junior linebacker Jelani Jenkins, Diggs stayed in Gainesville overnight and will get more personal time with coaches on Saturday. “It was a big stage out there tonight,” he told The Gainesville Sun. “I didn’t come down here for no reason. I had a feeling about Florida. I just knew it was going to be live, and that’s what I love.”

» Florida’s current commitments and players did what they could to help sway recruits to the Orange & Blue throughout the course of the evening. Most notable among them was sophomore buck linebacker Ronald Powell, who was in the ear of four-star defensive end Jordan Jenkins (Hamilton, GA) all night long. The two reportedly got along great and developed a solid relationship at the event.

» Gators defensive coaches spent a ton of time with four-star defensive tackle Carlos Watkins (Forest City, NC), sticking by his side until he left the field and eventually headed home. Close friends with recent three-star safety commit Rhaheim Ledbetter (Boiling Springs, NC) and top Florida target four-star DE Jonathan Bullard (Shelby, NC), Watkins has spoken with the duo about all playing college together. He is also seriously considering South Carolina and Clemson.

» Though he did make it down to Gainesville, five-star Florida State DE commit Dante Fowler, Jr. (St. Petersburg, FL) remains solid to UF’s rival. He has expressed interest in Florida lately even though his father has no desire to see him wearing the Orange & Blue. The Gators are nevertheless pursuing Fowler in hopes of turning him, but he reiterated on Friday that his commitment to FSU is solid as of right now.

» Former Florida players in attendance included running back Fred Taylor, quarterback Chris Leak and wide receivers Jemalle Cornelius and Jacquez Green. Taylor, who visited with his son, 2013 RB prospect Kelvin Taylor (Belle Glade, FL), served as a coach at the camp and was excited to finally bring his son to The Swamp. Cornelius and Green visited with players from the high schools they coach at and also had a good time. The younger Taylor showcased good hands and solid agility at the event, but it is unknown if the Gators have presented him with an offer yet.

» Five-star athlete Nelson Agholor (Tampa, FL) was planning to visit but ended up cancelling after he received a phone call from the hosts of the ESPN/Nike Gridiron Kings event in Orlando, FL, who asked him to fill in for a player who dropped out. Agholor, who has yet to narrow down his list which may or may not include Florida depending who you talk to, was just one of a few players who did not make it. Three-star cornerback Chris Bivins (Gainesville, FL) also took part in another event, and four-star cornerback Tracy Howard (Miramar, FL) stopped by for a few hours but left before FNL began. Four-star offensive tackle Avery Young (Palm Beach Gardens, FL) was planning on going but simply could not find a ride. He is believed to be a heavy UF lean.

» Having shortened his list to Florida, Southern California and South Carolina, four-star defensive end Tyriq McCord (Tampa, FL) still has a ways to go in his recruitment (he does not plan to make an official announcement until January). Nevertheless, his time in Gainesville was well spent as he was able to continue developing his relationship with the coaches, who hope to earn his commitment as soon as possible McCord is one of the Gators’ top targets going forward.

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