With the Florida Gators now in final preparations for the first game of the 2011 season (Sept. 3 vs. Florida Atlantic), head coach Will Muschamp met with the media on Monday to discuss a number of topics relating to the team and their opening game.
OPENING STATEMENT AND INJURY REPORT
“I’m excited for the first game; I’m excited for game week. I know that the players are and we are as a staff. Starting off with Florida Atlantic, offensively they are a pro-style attack with multiple formations. I think that Coach [Howard] Schnellenberger does an outstanding job of teaching the quarterback and what they want to do offensively. That obviously is their success and defensively they have more of a four-down team and now they have changed their personnel listing the possible three down, so we’ll prepare for both of those as we work through the week here.
“Obviously, anytime there is a first game there is some unknown on both sides of the ball and I think we’ve got some ourselves but I’m very pleased with our preparation at this point. Last Thursday and Friday, we came back and had a little better day from Wednesday. We had good meetings last night, very attentive and I thought the guys were bouncing around a little bit as far as the walkthroughs and things that we were doing. I’m real pleased at where we are at this point.”
OUT: Freshman tight end A.C. Leonoard (torn meniscus)
QUESTIONABLE: Redshirt junior cornerback Jeremy Brown (knee), redshirt junior wide receiver Omarius Hines (hamstring), redshirt sophomore linebacker Dee Finley (shoulder)
ACTIVE: Redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley (back)
COACHING POSITIONS, JOBS ON GAME DAY
Though many offensive coordinators spend their game days up in a box overlooking the field, Charlie Weis will be stationed on the sidelines this year along with defensive coordinator Dan Quinn and most of the other position coaches. “I feel that it’s important to have Charlie on the field from the standpoint of the first year on offense,” Muschamp explained. “John is a senior but it’s the first year of going through the adjustments that happen in the first year. I’ve been through it before, the growing pains of something happens on game days that you’re not prepared for. We’ve got to get them up, we’ve got to get them calmed down. We’ve got to say this is what’s happening.”
Defensively, Muschamp reiterated that Quinn will be making the calls on defense though he will “be on the headsets and I’ll certainly make suggestions when I feel I have to look at some things.” Filling up the box upstairs will be running backs coach Brian White and defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson Of White, Muschamp said he has experience of watching a game from that vantage point and “does an outstanding job of communicating what is happening with the other team’s defense. In regards to Robinson, Muschamp said he “is the same with knowing our defense very well” and that he needs his eyes up in the box.
As a whole, he reiterated that there is not much more he could have asked for from his staff after their first offseason together. “I’ve been very pleased with how we’ve come together and understanding where we are headed with this thing. First of all, philosophically being on the same page and that starts with offensively and defensively, special teams, recruiting and public relations. It’s everything,” he said. “I think that they understand and they know what I want done in the program and how we want things done in the program as far as discipline is concerned, how we approach practice, how we approach our players, how we handle the situations. I’ve been very pleased with the results to this point, but again, we are measured on game day.”
READY AND RARING TO GO
The team may not be there yet, according to Muschamp, but they will be. He said it all starts “with today and finish[es] through Thursday and having a good walk-through on Friday.” To his dismay, the Gators will be playing an evening game rather than an early afternoon game, something that he would prefer. “We’re going to get ready and try to play the game and unfortunately it’s at 7 p.m. I wish we were playing at 1 p.m., but that’s the way it is and we’re looking forward to doing that,” he said. Asked why the game time matters, Muschamp indicated he preferred earlier contests because of the motiviation players have in the morning. “You wake up and you’re ready to play and that’s kind of the way you feel but once you get out there at night with the great atmosphere – we’re going to have we’ve got the best fans in the country so I’m excited about that, they are going to be excited about that,” he said. “They’re going to be excited at 7:00; they’re going to be excited 1:00. They’d be excited at 11:30 a.m. if we played then so I will be fine.”
In the long run though, Muschamp just wants to get out on the field and relieve some of the light anxiety he is facing as a first-hear head coach. “I’m emotional every day. I’m excited about it, but more than anything is to just focus on the task at hand. It’s coaching well, it’s making good decisions for your football team, preparing well during the week,” he said. “Come Friday, the preparation is done, it’s just a mental game from that standpoint moving on to game day and going out and winning the football game. That’s what we’re looking forward to doing. I’m not nervous. ‘Anxious’ would probably be a better word.”
WORK IN PROGRESS: OFFENSIVE LINE AND SECONDARY
During his introductory press conference and before each semester so far this year, Muschamp has repeated that the offensive line and secondary are the two units that need the most cohesion in order for a team to be successful. Unfortunately for Florida, those are the two areas that the team is having the greatest difficulty finding players to separate themselves from the pack. “The bottom line with me is that you have to earn the right to start, so if a guy doesn’t practice, he’s not going to start,” Muschamp said Monday. “A guy has got to get out there and practice and compete and play the right way when we start our football game.”
In the depth chart released a few hours after his press conference concluded, Muschamp outlines exactly where certain players fall as of right now. He said he is pleased with junior Xavier Nixon, redshirt junior Matt Patchan and redshirt freshman Chaz Green at the tackle position and considers all three of them to be starters even though Nixon and Patchan will likely earn that title. The left guard and center position, however, remain up for grabs even though redshirt senior transfer Dan Wenger and redshirt sophomore Jonotthan Harrison currently hold those respective positions. Muschamp said Wenger is pushing Harrison for the center job but redshirt sophomore Kyle Koehne is also making a case for Wenger’s left guard position, leaving both up in the air right now.
He is similarly concerned with the starting positions in the secondary, noting that every spot (left vs. right cornerback, left vs. right safety) is interchangeable. “all of those positions are a little bit up for grabs as far as who practices the best,” he said, except for sophomore Matt Elam who has locked down a starting job at safety. Take a look at the depth chart released today for a closer look at the alignment of the secondary.
In the end, his main goal is to see players finally separate themselves and claim a starting job rather than be just another good player who is not consistently leading the pack at their respective position. “We’ve got certain guys and I’d like to think they are competing very well and they’re competing to be the star. They all will play, and I can tell you that. So, who deserves to be the starter and jog out there to start the game? We’ll see what happens and how they progress through the week,” he said. “You can look at it as motivation, you can look at it as a lot of different things, but the bottom line is them understanding it is how you prepare is how you play. I’m young, but I’m old-fashioned and generally how you play is how you practice, too. That’s the way I view it and nobody, in my opinion, has separated themselves to be named the starter here Monday before our first game. Does that mean that we’re playing poorly? I don’t think so, that means we have not created a separation at the position as we have at other positions.”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On freshman defensive back De’Ante Saunders: “He would be the front-runner today [to start at safety], but it’s about consistency and that’s the hardest thing for young players. It’s hard for them day-in and day-out to go out and consistently do it but I’m very pleased with him. I think he has in the intangibles as far as the instinct to play in the deep part of the field, tackling ability, coverage ability, playing the ball and a guy that I’m excited about playing for the Gators.”
» On restoring Brantley’s confidence this season: “I don’t know about restoring…I think that if more than anything when you have some sort of change you grow with that change and that’s what John has done. I’ve been very pleased through the off-season and his work ethic and his approach through spring practice and it’s catching on onto what we are trying to do. I think he feels more comfortable in the things that we’re doing and I’ve been very pleased in his progress. I think that John has built his confidence himself and I think that when you have a quarterback coach and an offensive coordinator like Charlie Weis, the track record speaks for itself and Charlie has confidence in a guy like John and that should bring confidence to John. I think that’s what is happening and I feel very comfortable for where we are right now.”
» On if the reserve quarterbacks, specifically freshman Jeff Driskel, will see the field: “We’ll cross that bridge we come to it. As far as the game is concerned, we’ll work through that but John is our starting quarterback and if it presents itself that somebody else plays then that will be fine and if it’s Jeff, it’s Jeff. At this point, it would be Jeff being the backup but certainly through the week we’re going to see the guys who are practicing best and who deserves to play. John Brantley is our starting quarterback.”
» On where fans can expect to see sophomore Trey Burton on the field: “At a bunch [of positions]. You better track him. He’s a guy that can line up in a fullback position, he can line up in the tailback position, he’ll line up in the slot, he’ll line up at tight end, he can be split out wide. He brings an awful lot of variety to your playing call because he’s smart and he gets football, he understands it. When you want to change something with him, you can say, ‘This is what we did yesterday, we’re just doing it from a different spot,’ and he understands that. Some guys have a harder time with that and he does not. We’re going to use him in a lot of different ways, he’s a very valuable member of our football team and on special teams he does a very good job.”