The Florida Gators took the field for the team’s first fall practice under new head coach Will Muschamp, and the man himself provided an update afterwards touching on how certain players looked and some of his philosophies going forward. Florida will be stuck with wearing helmets only (no pads) for the first few practices due to NCAA rules. The Gators will be operating in split squads for the time being with the older players practicing early and the younger one later in the day.
MEDICAL REDSHIRTS HANDED OUT
Four 2010 freshmen – wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, running back Mack Brown, safety Josh Shaw and offensive lineman Ian Silberman – received medical hardship waivers from the NCAA last week, allowing them to keep four years of eligibility and enter the 2011 season as redshirt freshmen rather than sophomores.
TOP THREE WIDE RECEIVERS
Though not as big of a question mark going into the season like some of the other positions (namely the offensive line and linebackers), the Gators’ wide receivers have a unique opportunity to impress and either steal or solidify their rolls on the offense. Muschamp noted Saturday that three in particular have emerged from the group.
He labeled redshirt junior Frankie Hammond, Jr. as the team’s “most consistent receiver” overall. “Frankie really consistently has been our best receiver as far as catching the ball, finishing plays, [and] blocking,” Muschamp said.
The other duo – Dunbar and redshirt senior Deonte Thompson – have provided the explosion. “Quinton and Deonte have been our most vertical threats down the field, big-play receivers. [They] have created some more explosive plays for our offense.”
EARLY FRESHMEN STANDOUTS
With so many young faces on the field from Florida’s newest signing class, each has a unique opportunity to impress early and earn playing time during their first year. Muschamp pointed out a few in a short statement (annotations added for clarification).
“[Tight end] A.C. Leonard is a guy we’re excited about. [WR] Ja’Juan Story looks like a guy that eventually can help us. How quick that will happen, I don’t know. [Fullback] Hunter Joyer did some nice things for us. Both quarterbacks looked very good. [Offensive lineman] Trip Thurman has done some nice things for us in the offseason. We’re pleased with his flexibility, power and where he is as an athlete. Both corners – [Marcus] Roberson and [Louchiez] Purifoy – we think can be good players. They’re both athletic; they both looked good tonight. The safeties were solid. [Linebacker] Graham Stewart flashed, doing some things instinctively. Making some plays in space. He’s got some command and leadership to him.”
He also spoke about how freshman quarterback Jacoby Brissett looked on his first day. “Jacoby is very bright. Just after one day, I’m very pleased with where he is,” he said. “He’s certainly got a certain command about him. He’s a guy that is very well respected by his teammates. He’s an outstanding athlete, but he really can throw the football.”
DEVELOPING TEAM CHEMISTRY
In addition to strength and conditioning coordinator Mickey Marotti working the players hard and forcing them to bond over the summer, Muschamp explained that additional initiatives have been undertaken in hopes of bringing the team closer together.
“We took the locker room and we didn’t really do it by position or by class, we kind of separated it – young, old, offense, defense, guys that would never interact with each other unless they had to,” he said. “We put a players’ lounge back in the locker room. We built that and think that’s important. Terry Jackson, he’s our life skills director and spiritual development director, he’s going to have a lounge upstairs so the players have two different places to go and relax.”
Muschamp noted that the NCAA taking away athletic dormitories was a blow to creating team chemistry because players instinctively stick with guys from their own class and don’t venture outside of that comfort zone. ”You don’t get to know the other guys as well – especially if they’re on the other side of the ball,” he said. “We [also] tried to create some leadership groups this summer, they were made up of teams and it was a competition that Mickey created for them.”
NIXON’s GIRTH A KEY FACTOR FOR O-LINE’s SUCCESS
Earning a starting role as a freshman but falling off slightly as a sophomore, tackle Xavier Nixon’s main goal over the summer was gaining weight. Suffering through a sickness that actually caused him to drop some lbs., Nixon ended up succeeding his goal and is now up to 290 lbs. heading into fall camp. Muschamp said that getting bigger and stronger was a necessity for not only his success but also the entire unit’s.
“He’s an important player for us to have a good year offensively. As a football team, we needed him to have some girth [to play] in this league,” he said. “We’ve got to be able to run the ball, and you’ve got to be able to anchor and set edges. He’s certainly athletically has got all the tools to be successful. Him adding that girth and that strength and being able to sustain through our season is going to be critical for us.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
On the first day of practice: “It went OK. Everybody’s excited. We had some very good retention – especially with the older players. Some decent retention with some of the younger players.”
On if senior running back Jeff Demps looked a little lost coming back: “Looked great actually. Really good. I thought he looked great this morning. He and Chris [Rainey] both.”
On where the leadership will come from: “We have some younger guys that are going to be playing a lot, start. Those guys need to step into that role.”
On not being able to fully practice pass rush until later in the fall: “We’ll have three full scrimmages in the fall where we will have good tackling, crisp tackling, so we ought to be solid coming into the first game.”
On what stood out about the Gators’ pass rush in 2010: “I don’t know that we didn’t pressure the quarterback well; we didn’t sack the quarterback well.”
On Brown’s first day: “He was good. It’s hard on a running back when we’re [just] in helmets. He went and did everything.”
On redshirt junior T Matt Patchan’s return: “He can move around good, got his hands out there and on people. He was fine as far as all that. It’s hard to determine until they are truly able to put their pads on, play with pad level and strike. It’s very frustrating to be in helmets sometimes.”
On Alabama head coach Nick Saban’s misinformation rant: “If he wants to put something on a message board, somebody will have to put the computer on for him, show him how to use the mouse and probably keyboard it as well. He’s not very advanced as far as technology is concerned.”
On his own injury information policy: “Our policy really is we’re going to be as honest as we can. But it’s not the NFL; we don’t have to disclose anything. So that’s going to be my policy.”