Notre Dame C Wenger cleared to play at Florida

Granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after sustaining two concussions in 2010, Notre Dame Fighting Irish center Dan Wenger was not cleared to play in 2011 by team doctors and granted an unconditional release release by head coach Brian Kelly.

Wenger set his sights on joining the Florida Gators and had been spotted on campus recently attending classes. On Friday, he announced via his Facebook page that doctors have cleared him to play, meaning he will be able to compete with the team in 2011.

“Its official, next year you can find me in the SWAMP!!!” he wrote.

One of the reasons Wenger decided to transfer to play for the Gators was to be reunited with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and offensive line coach Frank Verducci, the two men who originally recruited him to the Irish.

In order to be immediately eligible and avoid sitting out a transfer season, Wenger has likely found a graduate degree program offered at Florida that was not available at Notre Dame. He is a graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High School (Coral Springs, FL) and started 13 games at center for the Irish in 2008.

Wenger will compete with redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison and redshirt junior Sam Robey at center and along the offensive line this summer.

Photo Credit: ChicagoNow/Unknown

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3/28: Gators experience offensive shake-ups

With the Florida Gators 2011 spring practice now in full swing, the school made a number of the team’s players available to the media as the third week of action began on Monday. There was a noticeable excitement in the air about the possibilities in Florida’s new offense under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, as evidenced by some of the notable news and quotes provided during the press sessions.

A NEW MAN IN THE MIDDLE

Known as one of the team’s most versatile lineman, redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison has a chance to prove that moniker is true after learning that he has been moved to center and will compete for the starting job with redshirt junior Sam Robey. “[I’m] playing center this year,” he said on Monday. “It’s going real good. It’s a big change from left guard, but I’m enjoying it so far and I’m just going to work at it all spring.”

Harrison, who has not manned the middle since his freshman year of high school, said coaches did not give him any specific reasoning for the move, noting that it was “for the betterment of the team” and that he was “shocked but…excited at the same time.”

With the ball now in his hands, Harrison understands that he has to shoulder additional responsibility from this point forward. “I have to learn the calls. Especially with this new offense and everything, I’m just adjusting to all these calls,” he said. “The center is actually required to make the IDs now and everything, so I’m getting used to that.”

OFFENSIVE LINE STILL ADJUSTING

As with any unit that loses the majority of its starters to graduation and the NFL Draft, Florida’s offensive line is still trying to find its identity. Harrison thinks the unit will come together rather quickly. “Offense as a whole, we’re looking real good. We’re going to be amazing,” he said. “I feel like this is just all going to mesh together as soon as we’re used to playing with each other and everything, especially with the young O-line. […] We’re young, but we worked together as the second string, a lot of us. So now we’re just bringing all that together on the first string,” he said.

Redshirt sophomore right guard Jon Halapio said that the schemes the offensive linemen are being taught are completely different from a year ago, something that is taking some getting used to. “Everything from point A to point B – blocking and everything – everything is different from last year,” he said. “Our offensive line coach [Frank Verducci] is not only teaching us techniques, now we’re learning the whole entire football play. We got to know what the quarterback is thinking, running back is thinking, wide receiver is thinking. We’re not just thinking about ourselves and our blocking schemes; we’ve got to know what everyone else is doing on the field.”

RAVING FOR RAINEY

No matter who you ask about the Gators’ offense these days, you will hear one thing for certain: redshirt senior running back Chris Rainey is having an awesome spring. Head coach Will Muschamp has said so on numerous occasions, and the guys blocking for him are coming to the same conclusion.

“Our offense really fits [Rainey] because he’s got so much speed,” redshirt freshman tackle Chaz Green said. “We got some things that can put him in some one-on-one match-ups, get him in some space. It will be good, with his speed, to use his athletic ability.”

Harrison and Halapio both agreed. “Chris Rainey’s doing real well in this offense,” the former said. “He’s so fast. He’s done real good from last year. His cuts are more sweet. His routes are precise. He’s just a good football player right now,” the latter added.

LEADERS EMERGING

With any change in regime and departure of a number of seniors comes a leadership void. Halapio noted how different the team is now “because we don’t have [Tim] Tebow, [Brandon] Spikes and the Pounceys.” He went out of his way to point out a few guys who are doing their best to lead the way. Offensively, Halapio said himself, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley and junior tackle Xavier Nixon are leading the way, while sophomores buck linebacker Ronald Powell and defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd are carrying the load on defense.

SECONDARY COMING TOGETHER

Both of Florida’s starting safeties departed in 2010, leaving sophomore Matt Elam as the most experienced valve in the defensive backfield. As part of his new responsibilities, he is slowly learning how to step up and be someone his teammates can count on. “There’s a lot of things I need to work on just being a leader. I’m not used to being vocal and everything like that,” he said. “I might have to take on that role and start doing that, being more vocal and being more of a leader, because I’m not used to that.”

Elam also said that he feels comfortable with the new staff and is happy that Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn are allowing him to blitz. “I love Muschamp. He’s a cool man. I’m learning a lot from him. I’m loving the coaching right now,” he said.

Redshirt senior cornerback Moses Jenkins, who OGGOA has been keeping tabs on since the website began, spoke about getting a new lease on his college career with a sixth year of eligibility. “I worked hard, came out the first game and injured myself,” he said of hurting his elbow in 2010 after missing most of 2009 due to a head injury. “It was kind of tough, but it’s football. Injuries happen and you’ve got to move forward.”

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Notre Dame C Wenger may transfer to Florida

Granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA after sustaining two concussions during fall practice in 2010, Notre Dame Fighting Irish center Dan Wenger has decided he would rather spend his final season in college elsewhere. According to the South Bend Tribune, Wenger requested and received an unconditional release from head coach Brian Kelly and has his sights set on joining the Florida Gators.

Should a transfer to Florida be accepted by the university, Wenger would reunite with offensive coordinator Charlie Weis and offensive line coach Frank Verducci, the two men who originally recruited him to the Irish.

Kelly accepted Wenger’s transfer because ND doctors would not clear him to play. “The young man still wants to play, and I’m not going to stand in the way,” he told the Tribune.

In order to be immediately eligible and avoid sitting out a transfer season, Wenger would have to find a graduate degree program offered at UF but not currently available at Notre Dame. He is a graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas High School (Coral Springs, FL) and started 13 games at center for the Irish in 2008.

Redshirt junior Sam Robey is currently listed as the Gators’ starting center. Should Wenger transfer, he would most likely be a reserve if he is able to be cleared medically.

OGGOA will update this story when more information is made available.

Photo Credit: ChicagoNow/Unknown

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9/8: Meyer’s teleconference and Gators notes

OGGOA had the opportunity to participate in Florida Gators head coach Urban Meyer’s Southeastern Conference teleconference on Wednesday (we will be doing so every week). Below are some notes from media availabilities with Meyer and other members of the team over the course of the day:

» Even though sophomore left tackle Xavier Nixon may be ready to play Saturday, redshirt senior right guard Maurice Hurt told reporters Wednesday that he believes he will continue starting at right tackle while normal starting RT redshirt senior Marcus Gilbert fills in on the left side. “We’re still getting some guys back and we’re still shuffling the rotation, but for now I think I’m going to be at right tackle,” Hurt said.

» Meyer noted that while it may not have appeared the Gators were trying to throw the ball deep and spread the field in the first three quarters, many of the called pass players were messed up before they could develop due to some of the miscues in the backfield. Additionally, he felt that the team was put in a hole yardage-wise due to some of the bad snaps that was tough to get out from on particular drives.

QUOTES FROM MEYER

Opening statement: “We’re 1-0 but a little disappointed from last week. The guys have come out with some urgency and worked real hard, so we’ll have to play a lot better or we won’t beat South Florida, an excellent team – one of the best quarterbacks we’ll face all year and very athletic on defense, so we better get our game right.”

On if the spread offense allows “little guys” to excel: “We don’t just look for smaller… We look for the best football players and adapt the system to them. So if a guy’s a little undersized – like a Brandon James or Chris Rainey or Jeff Demps – we certainly will not not take them because they don’t fit our system. We’ll make the system fit.”

On the new NCAA rule not allowing schools to offer scholarships to recruits until the summer of their senior year: “I think that’s all in good intent. The problem with rules is, when you make rules, you have to enforce them. But I think the purpose of the rule is very well thought out, and we’re obviously going to follow that rule.”

On redshirt sophomore Sam Robey’s health: “There is a chance he’ll get in [Saturday]. He’s 100 percent healthy now. He’s had injuries all training camp with a knee and then bursitis in his elbow. He practiced a full-go [Tuesday] and is on-call this weekend.”

On Nixon’s health: “We’re very positive from what he did [Tuesday] in practice. Today is a big day for him, but he looked really good [Tuesday] as did [redshirt senior defensive tackle Terron] Sanders and [redshirt senior left guard] Carl Johnson. So we’re expected to have those guys for Saturday.”

On redshirt sophomore Matt Patchan’s health: “He’s still in that pretty long cast. He’s still going to be a few weeks, but we wish we had him because he’s such an intense player.”

On South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels: “He’s a playmaker… He’s a mobile guy and every time there’s a guy that can move around back there, he can be trouble. […] He’s the man on offense that you have to contain. Once he gets out of that pocket, it can be trouble.”

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08/24: Florida Gators 2010 fall practice notes

The 2010 version of the Florida Gators is in the midst of their third week fall practice and, while the activities were once again closed to both the media and public, some notable things did occur Tuesday. OGGOA has compiled some of the key details.

POUNCEY MOVING OVER?

Senior center Mike Pouncey told the media Tuesday that he may be forced to play right tackle to start the season while a number of players at that position get healthy. “I might have to play tackle in the first couple of games,” he said. “We’ll see. We still don’t know. It doesn’t matter to me. I feel like I’m a great player wherever I play, and I just want to win. I didn’t expect it. I thought I was going to play center, but I’ll do whatever it takes to help us win games. If it means me having to play tackle, that’s what it’s going to be. […] [Sam] Robey is ready [to play center]. He’s been sitting behind me and my brother. He’s just waiting for his opportunity. If he gets it, I think he’s going to take full advantage of it.”

Left tackles redshirt sophomore Matt Patchan and sophomore Xavier Nixon may both miss the opening game (or more) with injuries, forcing senior right tackle Marcus Gilbert over. Pouncey would fill in for him on the right, and Robey would play center.

NO. 2 SPOT

With redshirt junior quarterback John Brantley taking the reigns of the team this year, head coach Urban Meyer and QB coach Scot Loeffler are searching for a primary backup. Competing for the job are freshmen Trey Burton and Tyler Murphy, and it was long assumed that Burton was in the process of winning the job outright. However, whether due to Burton’s involvement in other roles on the team or not, Murphy is the one who has been getting the majority of the No. 2 snaps behind center.

QUOTES

Pouncey on the freshman class’ swagger: “Everybody needs to come in with that type of attitude, but at the end of the day the freshmen need to shut their mouths and come play. They haven’t done nothing on Saturday and most of the fans don’t even know who they are. Until they prove themselves, they need to sit back and let the older guys play. That whole recruiting class is cocky.”

Offensive coordinator Steve Addazio on Burton: “He’s the total ballplayer. He lines up. He’s taking snaps, direct runs, playing that hip/fullback/flexed-out guy [like Aaron Hernandez]. He’s powerful, he’s smart, he’s a really good athlete. He’s got great hands. That’s been really fun to watch over the last five or six days. He’s just like, ‘Hey, I want to do whatever it takes to help this team and get on that football field.’ He does everything. He’s a fun guy to be around. […] Trey Burton has had a great week. He makes plays in a lot of different positions. It’s really fun to watch him develop right now. That guy is playing all over the field making plays. He’s playing it all. He’s a playmaker. So, that’s really cool. He’s really done a great job. He’s very versatile. Hernandez was very versatile. Trey is maybe slightly different. He can do a lot of things. It’s pretty amazing, really.”

Wide receivers coach Zach Azzanni on freshman WR Chris Dunkley: “He’s getting there. We’re spending extra time out there on the practice field trying to get him right mentally. It’s just mental stuff. Physically, he can do it, but mentally … he’s catching up – probably right where I thought he was: goes left when he’s supposed to go right a couple times. That’s to be expected when you’re coming back. He’ll be fine. We’ll get him going.”

Azzanni on freshman WR Robert Clark: “[He's] had an unbelievable camp for us. When you talk about a gritty, little tough kid – he’s everything you want in a football player. Scrappy. He’s everything that you love to coach. He’s had a really good camp. We’re really pleasantly surprised with Robert Clark. […] He’s a hybrid guy, an inside slot guy, absolutely. He’s the same as [Chris] Rainey. He does the same things a Rainey does.”

Special thanks to The Gainesville Sun and Palm Beach Post for the above quotations.

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