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.
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.”