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48 posts from August 2009

August 31, 2009

Decision to shelve Florida Gators receiver Andre Debose nearing

GAINESVILLE -- University of Florida football coach Urban Meyer indicated on Monday that freshman receiver Andre Debose might need surgery to correct an injured hamstring.

Meyer said Debose's injury is "very unique" but UF's coach was vague in describing the ailment. Meyer called it a "problem" with one of Debose's hamstring tendons and said a decision will be made in the next 24 hours on whether or not the freshman has surgery. 

"It's certainly not career ending, is what they told me," Meyer said. "It's just, do you fix it or do you give it time? He's had a lot of time."

Sounds like surgery to me. If that's the case, Debose will likely be redshirted this season.

Now, here's something to consider. If there's even a chance that Debose's body can heal itself, shouldn't UF allow that to happen? Give it two months to heal. If Debose is ready after two months, then he can still help the team this season. If Debose still needs surgery after two months, then perform the operation in November. There will still be plenty of time for Debose to rehab before next season.

-jo-

August 29, 2009

Several Florida Gators recruits playing on ESPN at noon

Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas is playing Upper Arlington (Ohio) High on ESPN. The game started at noon.

The Raiders lead 14-0 with more than seven minutes left in the first quarter. Looks like a nationally televised blowout for STA coach George Smith. St. Thomas is ranked No.1 in the nation.

Florida Gators recruit Cody Riggs, a senior cornerback for St. Thomas, intercepted his first pass of the season with 8:23 left in the first quater. The interception set up the Raiders' second touchdown, a three-yard run by Giovanni Bernard, another possible Gators recruit.

Offensive lineman Brandon Linder, another UF recruit, is dominating the line of scrimmage.

-jo-

Florida Gators freshman Andre Debose possibly out with tendon tear

GAINESVILLE -- A bit of breaking news to report this morning. Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer said after practice that the hamstring injury suffered by freshman receiver Andre Debose this summer might be worse than initially assumed.

Meyer told reporters that Debose might have a torn tendon and that UF's medical staff will know more about the injury on Monday. According to Meyer, Debose apparently injured his hamstring at the beginning of the summer during the FHSAA state track meet. Debose was considered one of the nation's top high school prospects last year.

“We found out there is some damage to his hamstring. It doesn’t happen very often," Meyer said. "It’s a tendon, and we’re going to evaluate the significance of it. It’s a real injury. We were worried it was just a tight hamstring, a hamstring pull or a hamstring strain. It might be something more. We’ll have more details on Monday.”

On National Signing Day, Meyer compared Debose to former Gator Percy Harvin. UF's coach had hoped that Debose could contribute at slot receiver this season but that option seems to be growing increasingly doubtful.

“There’s possibly a torn tendon," Meyer said. “I just found this out last night. It’s not a common injury. It must have happened in that state track meet. A lot of times you don’t MRI hamstrings, you just heal them and get going.”

--Miami Herald writer Mike McCall contributed to this report.

-jo-

Florida Gators conduct open practice on Saturday

Amending this blog post ... According to Florida, Saturday's practice wasn't open to the public or the media. The doors were opened for a former player barbecue. All apologies from the editorial staff at Gator Clause for crashing the party.

GAINESVILLE -- The University of Florida football team conducted an open practice on Saturday for the first time since the second day of preseason practice. Training camp and two-a-days were closed to the public.

Since Gator Clause appeared to be pretty much the only member of the Fourth Estate present for the event, we'll do our duty and pass along a few observations.

--Outside linebacker Dustin Doe is practicing with the team. Doe worked with the second-team defense on Saturday along with linebackers Jon Bostic and Lorenzo Edwards. Doe was previously suspended from the team--punishment for repeatedly driving with a suspended license. Doe might miss the season opener but I'd expect him back for Troy.

--Center Maurkice Pouncey watched contact drills from the sideline. Brother Mike Pouncey played center while James Wilson was the first-team right guard. Matt Patchan (left tackle), Carl Johnson (left guard) and Marcus Gilbert (right tackle) are the other first-team offensive linemen.

--Joe Haden fielded punts on Saturday with the second-team punt-return unit. Is Haden the second-team punt-return specialist? Wouldn't Chris Rainey or Andre Debose be better suited for the position?

--Freshman running back Mike Gillislee blocked a punt during special teams drills. He's pretty fast.

-jo-

August 28, 2009

UF commit Trey Burton is on your TV, maybe

By MIKE McCALL

If you have ESPNU, flip it on right now. UF quarterback commit Trey Burton's Venice High team is facing off against Chesapeake Oscar Smith High and Alabama quarterback commit Phillip Sims. Game kicked off at 7 p.m., and I'll have a post up later tonight about how Burton fared.

Fishing with Florida Gators defenders Lawrence Marsh and Brandon Spikes

Here's a public service announcement for anyone new to the blog...

Feature stories, game stories, notebooks and more about the Gators appear on this page of MiamiHerald.com. LINK! Bookmark it! We still save the best content for the newspaper.

In case you missed it in today's paper, here's an interesting story on the relationship between UF's Lawrence Marsh and Brandon Spikes. LINK! The two friends are fishing buddies.

Here's the young Mike McCall's daily contribution to The Miami Herald's college football practice rail: What's the back-up plan if Aaron Hernandez is injured? LINK!

In case you missed them, here are some feature stories that appeared in The Herald throughout training camp: Special attention for special teams, feature story on right tackle Marcus Gilbert of Coral Springs, Major competition a big bonus for Gators, Meyer has a roster that's all his, for once, Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes aim for perfect ending.

-jo-

August 27, 2009

Happy-hour social!!! Drink with fellow Miami Gators on Friday!

The Gator Club of Miami will meet on Friday in Coral Gables at Sports Exchange for the "Gator Miami Happy Hour of the Year!"

This is a big deal, folks. It's THE place to be from 5:30-8 p.m. Drinks are two-for-one. Same goes for appetizers and pizzas. Where else in Miami can you get a deal like that? After happy hour, who knows? Maybe you'll get lucky like back in your good ol' college days. 

Here's the website to Sports Exchange. LINK! The address is 45 Miracle Mile in Coral Gables. While you're there, openly taunt the 'Canes and flaunt the Gators' preseason No.1 ranking.

-jo-

Florida Gators Desmond Parks to redshirt plus other notes

GAINESVILLE -- Florida coach Urban Meyer said on Thursday that freshman tight end Desmond Parks will likely redshirt this season. Parks dislocated his kneecap this spring.

Thursday's news leaves UF with one tight end this season, Aaron Hernandez. Meyer said on Thursday that defensive end Justin Trattou could be used as a tight end during goal-line situations this season. If Hernandez is injured this season, then UF will likely play without a tight end and incorporate the fullback position into the base offense. Redshirt freshman T.J. Pridemore is the Gators' first-string fullback.

--Meyer said on Thursday that his primary go-to option inside the red zone are Hernandez, running back Jeff Demps and receiver Riley Cooper. Meyer said he would like to be able to rely on receiver Deonte Thompson this season but Thompson must first earn Meyer's trust.

--Defensive tackle Lawrence Marsh sprained his ankle on Thursday. He's out until Monday, according to Meyer.

-jo-

Breaking down the Florida Gators' 2009 starting line-up

GAINESVILLE -- OK, it's finally time to start writing about the fun stuff. Over the next week, Gator Clause will shift its focus from the BORING ankle-sprain updates of training camp to the GAME WEEK! discussions that get everyone excited. Let's start with a broad topic: Who's going to play?

Well, let's project the field...

OFFENSIVE LINE
Your projected starting offensive line: left tackle Matt Patchan, left guard Carl Johnson, center Maurkice Pouncey, right guard Mike Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert.

Guard James Wilson is the top reserve and Maurice Hurt will be in the rotation as well. Freshman Xavier Nixon could also see the field.

QUARTERBACK
Pretty clear cut here. Tim Tebow is the starter and John Brantley will likely receive a few more snaps this season than he did in 2008. Not too many, though. Timmy needs to keep his stats up! Because we all know Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy are going to put up some big numbers this season.

RUNNING BACKS
Sophomore Jeff Demps is the de facto starter but Meyer will give redshirt sophomore Chris Rainey plenty of love as well. Rainey didn't know much of the playbook last season but he still averaged 7.8 yards per carry (as did Demps). If Rainey can remain healthy for an entire season, he could have a breakout year. Of course, Rainey has been plagued by injuries ever since his sophomore year of high school.

Emmanuel Moody is the great unknown. It's time for this guy to produce. Now a redshirt junior, Moody's career (both at USC and at UF) has been slowed by ankle injuries.

RECEIVERS
The top four receivers are Riley Cooper, Deonte Thompson, David Nelson and Brandon James. For some reason, that combination of players doesn't exactly jump off the page. Maybe it's just me. Thompson needs to be a legitimate downfield threat or the Gators' offense will be handicapped. Offensive coordinator will Steve Addazio will need to be creative to get James involved. James is pretty small (5-6), so he's not going to be much of a target.

I wouldn't be surprised to see Frankie Hammond Jr. see the field at some point this season. He's an extraordinary athlete and despite only being a redshirt freshman, Hammond Jr. has a firm grasp of the Gators' playbook.

TIGHT END
We might as well list Aaron Hernandez as a receiver. After all, I wouldn't be surprised if Hernandez led the Gators in receiving this season. Keeping Hernandez healthy is key. There's no back-up.

FULLBACK
Hernandez will see some action at fullback but T.J. Pridemore will be used as well.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Carlos Dunlap and Jermaine Cunningham are the starting defensive ends but Justin Trattou, Duke Lemmens and William Green will get plenty of reps as well. Inside, Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders are the returning starters. Redshirt freshman Jaye Howard and redshirt freshman Omar Hunter will play regularly.  

LINEBACKERS
Your starting linebackers to the begin the season: strong-side linebacker A.J. Jones, middle linebacker Brandon Spikes and weak-side linebacker Ryan Stamper.

Brandon Hicks was the projected starter at the strong-side position at the beginning of training camp but Hicks will begin the season with a nagging ankle injury. Dustin Doe is the top reserve at weak-side linebacker. He's back with the team (was suspended for repeatedly driving with a suspended license) and should be ready to go by the Tennessee game. Freshman Jon Bostic will be the second-string linebacker in name only. If Spikes goes down in the middle then Stamper will slide inside.

CORNERBACKS
Joe Haden and Janoris Jenkins are entrenched at the two cornerback positions. They're not coming out of the game unless they're injured. Seniors Markihe Anderson and Wondy Pierre-Louis are the top reserves.

SAFETIES
Here's where things get interesting. Coach Urban Meyer has said all preseason that he has four starting safeties: Major Wright, Ahmad Black, Dorian Munroe and Will Hill. Munroe went down with a knee injury during two-a-days and probably won't be available until the LSU game. That leaves UF with three starting safeties. But, of course, you can't start three safeties.

Projecting the field, I'd say that Wright and Black are the every-down starters and Hill will be used often as a nickelback. Can UF play three safeties in some sort of zone coverage? Doubtful, at least according to Meyer. He has said all preseason that UF's defense is a man-defense. No zone. We'll see...

-jo-

RECRUITING: St. Thomas Aquinas cornerback Cody Riggs a top priority for Florida Gators?

GAINESVILLE -- Rumors are circulating on recruiting websites that prep cornerback Victor Hampton of Charlotte Independence (N.C.) High is no longer committed to the University of Florida.

Hampton, rated a four-star recruit by Rivals.com, recently visited Tennessee unofficially. The cornerback, who apparently still has plenty of work to do to qualify, transferred high schools this summer from powerhouse Charlotte (N.C.) Independence to upstart Darlington (S.C.) High. (Draw your own conclusions.)

If Hampton is out at Florida, then that means the Gators will go hard after Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas cornerback Cody Riggs, the son of former NFL star Gerald Riggs. Riggs led St. Thomas in interceptions in 2008 and is considered one of the top defensive back prospects in the nation. Here's a feature on Cody Riggs.

-jo-

August 25, 2009

James Wilson is no longer a bust

GAINESVILLE -- Florida offensive lineman James Wilson is a thoughtful guy. He's introspective, highly intelligent and, for the first time in college career, he isn't a bust.

Wilson, a redshirt sophomore, called himself a recruiting bust on Tuesday but said he is finally beginning to fulfill some of the lofty potential that was placed upon him when he signed with Florida three years ago. Wilson was a five-star prospect, according to Rivals.com, but his first two seasons at UF were disappointments. Wilson arrived at UF with a knee injury. Last year he suffered from micro-fractures in his feet.

Wilsonmug For the past week, Wilson practiced with the first-team offense while center Maurkice Pouncey rested a sore shoulder. Wilson played right guard during training camp while Mike Pouncey moved from right guard to center, stepping in for his injured twin brother.

"I'm 20 pounds lighter than I was in the spring and it makes things so much easier," Wilson said. "It's a huge relief. Just being about to go and be accountable to coaches and finally fly around."

Maurkice Pouncey practiced on Tuesday for the first time this fall, meaning Wilson was bumped back down the depth chart. The starting offensive line, according to Wilson: left tackle Matt Patchan, left guard Carl Johnson, center Maurkice Pouncey, right guard Mike Pouncey and right tackle Marcus Gilbert.

While he's not a starter, Wilson will play plenty this season. Ideally, UF rotates its top eight or nine offensive line throughout games to keep players fresh. Other reserve offensive linemen who are in the rotation include Maurice Hurt, Sam Robey and freshmen Xavier Nixon and Jonotthan Harrison.

If a starter goes down, regardless of the position, then Wilson will likely be the first player off the bench. Several of UF's offensive linemen are required to know more than one position. For example, Marcus Gilbert and Carl Johnson could play both tackle and guard while the Pouncey twins can play either center or guard.

After battling through a knee injury and micro-fractures in his feet, Wilson is happy he's finally able to contribute. He's also happy he didn't transfer to Wake Forest last year. Florida coach Urban Meyer said on Tuesday that Wilson was so close to transferring that his bags were packed. 

Wilson "I came in pretty highly ranked and I've been pretty much a bust since I've been here," Wilson said. "I just want to show my teammates that three years paid off and through everything I've been through I just want to start contributing. I just finally realized it was me and had to get myself right and do everything I can to get right and it's starting to pay off."

[PICTURED, A bust no more.]

Meyer said on Tuesday that he spoke to Wilson after practice and told him, "he can play this game a while if you just practice."

As for Wilson's decision to remain at Florida instead of transferring to Wake Forest, Meyer said, "He was gone. He was packed and ready to go.

"Like a lot of these guys, you want to run from something that's hard. If I had a list of every kid that wanted to quit or quit in the last 20 years ... as a matter of fact, I went through this, every receiver we've ever had at Florida at one point quit. Think about that. From Dallas Baker to [Riley] Cooper and all those guys in between. At some point every one of them. Because it's hard. The expectation level, especially on skill players, is -- this guys are all super stars in high school and they come here and they're not super stars. It takes a while to become a good player. The frustration runs out."

Jarred Fayson (Illinois) and Nyan Boateng (California) are the two receives who transferred. Both players are projected starters this season at their new schools.

FRANKIE HAMMOND JR. IMPROVING
Meyer said on Tuesday that redshirt freshman Frankie Hammond Jr. is the top reserve at receiver.

"Frankie Hammond is ahead of them," Meyer said. "Frankie Hammond and T.J. Lawrence are beginning to progress."

BRENDAN BEAL NOT TRANSFERRING
Internet rumors that linebacker Brendan Beal is transferring are false, according to Meyer. Beal is currently battling for the back-up spot at middle linebacker, according to Meyer.

"The one thing about Brendan Beal, a very smart guy. He just loves the game and wants to play and also get a great education," Meyer said. "He just wants to play and I can't blame him."

-jo-

Here's why Florida Gators coach Urban Meyer closes practice

GAINESVILLE -- Ever wonder why college football teams close practice to the media and fans? The reason why, according to Florida coach Urban Meyer: So he doesn't have to answer questions every day about position battles, schemes and individual players. During two-a-days, the constant scrutiny can become too much of a distraction.

"Some people say it's scheme and I think there's some truth to that," Meyer said. "For example, 'Why was so-and-so not running with the ones? Why was this guy doing this? Why was this guy doing this?' We're just too busy to worry about that. I don't want it in the media that ... Like, I'll have a parent say to me, 'You haven't mentioned my son in a couple weeks.' OK. I can only imagine if you come out to practice and say, 'OK. Jelani [Jenkins] is running with this group.' And I get a phone call from someone else. It's just distraction. Where in the spring it is not."

-jo-

How did Urban Meyer convince John Brantley to stick around?

GAINESVILLE -- Just read The Herald's story about two back-up quarterbacks down in Coral Gables planning to transfer. Ouch! Jacory Harris better stay healthy this season or it could be another long year for the 'Canes.

This got me thinking...How in the world did UF coach Urban Meyer keep back-up quarterback John Brantley around for so long with no chance of starting? Brantley, now a redshirt sophomore, has sat behind Tebow going on three seasons.

Compared to the two back-ups at Miami who are transferring -- Taylor Cook and Cannon Smith -- Brantley is an All-American. Yet, Brantley has stayed put. How much potential is locked in Brantley's arm? Many believe he is the third-best quarterback in the SEC right now.

I understand the situation at UF and UM is different. UM starter Jacory Harris is a sophomore and UF starter Tim Tebow is a senior. Also, Brantley was injured his freshman season and missed spring football during his redshirt freshman year do to another injury. Still, all things considered, it's remarkable that Brantley has remained in Gainesville.

-jo-

August 24, 2009

Florida Gators quarterback Tim Tebow received injections last season

GAINESVILLE -- On Monday, Florida quarterback Tim Tebow told reporters that he received pain-reducing injections before nearly every game last season.

Tebow said that he injured his shoulder during the first game of the season (Hawaii). Instead of undergoing surgery and missing the season, Tebow put off surgery until after the season and played through pain. Tebow received injections before every game after the first game of the season.

Tebow had surgery after the season and said he now feels better than he has in over two years. Tebow played with an injured shoulder during his sophomore season as well. It is common knowledge that Tebow received pain-reducing injections during his Heisman-winning season.

"It's more comfortable than it has been last year or the year before," Tebow said of his shoulder. "It's so much easier now. You can takes hit and smile instead of grunt."

Tebow said that his sore lower back is improving and shouldn't be a problem to begin the season. The quarterback said he injured his back "just overworking like I do everything -- over lifting, over training, over playing."

Tebow was held out during practice last week in order to rest his back but he said he likely would have sat out many of the plays regardless. Meyer often rests the Gators' key players -- Tebow, Brandon Spikes, Jeff Demps -- during full-contact drills, according to Tebow.

--Tebow on Monday's practice: "I felt good. Ran around head butting people."

--Defensive line coach Dan McCarney said on Monday that freshman defensive tackle Gary Brown is not prepared "for prime time" and will not play to begin the season. Brown reported to UF this summer well over 300 pounds and is still out of shape. As a guide, starting tackle Lawrence Marsh weighs 285 pounds.

--Tight end Aaron Hernandez on his daily struggle to block Florida's enormous defensive ends: "It's a constant struggle. I'm a lot lighter than defensive ends but I go hard I have decent technique."

--Hernandez on his expanded role and picking up the slack left by Percy Harvin: "You can't really replace a guy like Percy. It's just that I have to step up in my role, David Nelson has to step up, Deonte [Thompson], Carl Moore, everybody."

-jo-

Florida Gators safety Dorian Munroe has knee surgery

GAINESVILLE -- University of Florida redshirt senior Dorian Munroe recently had minor surgery to repair the meniscus in his right knee, the same knee that underwent surgery to rebuild his anterior-cruciate ligament last year. Florida coach Urban Meyer said on Monday that Munroe's surgery repaired damaged knee cartilage.

Munroe, a Miami native, was a projected starter last season before tearing his ACL during fall training camp. This latest setback will sideline Munroe four to five weeks, according to a university spokesman. Munroe is a back-up strong safety behind Ahmad Black.

-jo-

August 22, 2009

The game that almost was?

Urban Utah By Mike McCall

When you're in The Swamp or at home watching 73-point (okay, 63-point) favorite Florida beat poor Charleston Southern like a rag doll on Sept. 5, think about this:

UF toyed with the idea of playing Utah instead.

Urban Meyer said Saturday that the idea came up to host the Utes ("Well, we weren't going to go to Utah," he laughed) instead of Charleston Southern to open the season, but it fell through.

"I was not knee-deep in that," Meyer said. "That was [athletics director Jeremy Foley's] idea, and I think ESPN and all that. [Utah coach Kyle Whittingham] is one of my closest friends, and it was kind of exciting, but somehow they couldn't get everything worked out."

Meyer said he doesn't have a lot of input in the scheduling process, but he was asked about it and agreed. He added that he thinks the Gators will face Bowling Green, another of his former schools, in the coming years. Miami of Ohio, USF and Appalachian State are all heading to The Swamp next season.

The Utes finished No. 2 behind Florida last year, and are ranked No. 19 in the newly-released AP poll. They would have made for the most exciting non-conference game the Gators have played in quite some time, not including FSU and Miami, of course. This year, Utah could arguably have presented as much or more of a challenge than the Hurricanes or Seminoles--they definitely would have last season--and I wish we could have seen that.

However, there is really no reason for Florida to go looking for these games. The Gators don't need the help right now, but this might be a good idea in a few years when they aren't hands-down favorites to win it all.

What do you think? Want to see Florida schedule a team like Utah in the coming years? Want to see them go on the road for a change? Or do you want to keep slapping around these patsies and wait for the SEC competition?

At the end of the day, it's on the players to deal with whatever comes there way. I asked defensive tackle Terron Sanders what he'd like to do after Meyer's comments today.

"Most definitely (he would want to play Utah)," Sanders said. "The greater the challenge, the better for us. I like the fact that it feels like we ease into the SEC, but Troy is no walk-over team. I feel like the bigger the opponent we get before we walk into the SEC games, the better for us."

For your Saturday enjoyment:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w7Dk3qU741A

Florida Gators No.1 in AP poll; Plus the Ron Zook-Urban Meyer flap

GAINESVILLE -- As expected, the University of Florida is No.1 in the Associated Press Top 25. The poll was released on Saturday morning. The Gators received 58 of 60 first-place votes, which is a record for the preseason poll. The poll started in 1950.

Here's a link to the poll. LINK!

OK, all the polls have been released. Now, let's start the season already.

In other news...

TEBOW SORE
Florida coach Urban Meyer said on Saturday that quarterback Tim Tebow had a sore lower back this week. Meyer said that Tebow rested during "live situations" but hasn't missed a practice.

Meyer added that Tebow was "fine, 100 percent."

"He has been held out of live situations against the defense, mostly go get [back-up quarterback] Johnny Brantley reps," Meyer said.

RON ZOOK UPSET WITH MEYER'S COMMENTS
It appears Illinois coach Ron Zook took offense to Meyer's suggestion this week that UF freshmen were hazed during Zook's tenure at Florida. Zook released this statement in defense of the criticism:

"I was surprised to see that, once again, five years later, we're blamed for something else at Florida. But by now I guess I shouldn't be. This one was most disappointing because it implies we didn't look out for our players. From someone who wasn't there at the time. I can assure you I've never, ever been accused of that. I thought I was too much of a players' coach. The implication is incorrect. There is no place for hazing in college football and we've put a stop to that if we've ever seen it. I applaud Florida for fostering what they say is a wonderful family atmosphere. I would invite anyone to talk to any of our players here at Illinois and, although we don't look for media opportunities to brag about it, it is a wonderful family atmosphere."

Meyer addressed Zook's statement on Saturday.

"Some people said that they thought there was some criticism on Coach Zook," Meyer said. "There absolutely was not. That was about the locker room, the way the locker room was set up. Our staff has never been critical of any staff."

On Friday, Meyer said this about the locker room atmosphere before he arrived in Gainesville:

"This is a big-time college football program and we had some fights and stuff because they treat some freshmen like there were non-people," Meyer said. "Don't walk through here. We'll kick your tail, we'll shave your eyebrows. It took us awhile to break that great culture."

This is all nonsense, right? Moving on...

-jo-

The guy who got away from the Florida Gators

GAINESVILLE -- So, I've been away. Sorry, but I'm back.

The editorial board at Gator Clause was busy, busy, busy this week writing all the copy for our football special section, which hits news stands in a couple of weeks. Not only am I covering the Gators this season, but I'm Miami Herald's national football columnist. I love the new job, but it's a bunch of work (if you want to call it that.)

Anyway, I was pickingThe Herald's preseason Top 25 -- yes, UF is No.1 -- and trying to figure out where to put Illinois ... when it hit me. Man, Florida sure could use Jarred Fayson this season. Looking back, I bet coach Urban Meyer wishes he could have ironed out that whole fiasco a little differently.

-jo-

August 21, 2009

A smorgasbord of topics from Florida's Friday practice

Smorgasbord By MIKE McCALL

I've covered a ton of Florida football practices over the past few years, but Friday's had to have been one of the best interview-wise. There was lots of great insight on a range of topics from Urban Meyer and a few players, so let's get right to it.

First off, linebacker Dustin Doe has cleared up his legal issues and should return to the team soon, but Meyer isn't ready to bring him back aboard just yet. He said Doe is training on his own to get in shape, and he will likely suspend him for at least one game, if not more.

It's easy to see how the whole situation has irritated Meyer, as the charges were easily avoidable.

“He’s a good guy, but don’t drive," Meyer said. "Don’t drive. I don’t understand it, and I don’t want to make light of a guy’s career, because he has a lot of promise. The great thing is that it’s not over. We’re certainly not turning our back on a guy for that kind of situation, but we live in the United States of America, and there are laws. Follow the laws.”

Meyer also talked about his desire to give guys second and third chances, and how much it hurts to tell a player he has finally struck out.

“Awful. It’s one of the worst things, because we’ve seen what happens around here. We had a devastating thing happen a couple of years when the chances run out. It’s different than when we were all younger people. ‘Okay, you go somewhere else and do something else.’ Now, you get consumed and something tragic happens. We try not to do that often, we have around here, but it’s not something we’re proud of.”

The incident Meyer was referring to is that of defensive back Avery Atkins, who was found dead in his car at the age of 20 after a failed attempt to come back to the team. It's one thing to read these quotes from Meyer, but to watch him say it is another thing, and it makes you stop and think before criticizing his decisions to give people second chances.

Rainey primed for big year

According to lineman and high school teammate Mike Pouncey, Chris Rainey is going to show fans a new side this season. Namely, a side that knows the playbook. For the full story, check out my UF notebook in tomorrow's Herald.

The O-Line Shuffle

Mike also said his brother, Maurkice, is 100 percent healthy. Maurkice has been held out of most of the contact stuff with a shoulder injury, but Mike says it's just precautionary and he'll be back Monday.

In his brother's absence, Mike has been playing center, with the line looking like this:

Matt Patchan   Carl Johnson   Mike   James Wilson   Marcus Gilbert

and he expects the starting 5 to look like this:

Patchan   CJ   Maurkice   Mike   Gilbert

but it could also look like this:

CJ   Wilson   Maurkice   Mike   Gilbert

or this:

CJ   Maurkice   Sam Robey   Mike   Gilbert

This position battle should be fun to watch, but I'd put my money on the expected starting 5. If Mike played center while Maurkice was out, it means they're not seeing what they want from Robey, and Wilson hasn't been healthy long enough to make a real push and outperform Patchan just yet. Or as Meyer puts it, "We're not getting the full James."

Alli and Debose More de-stripings

For those of you on Stripe Watch, you can add two more names to the list. Receiver Stephen Alli--a GatorClause favorite--and lineman Nick Alajajian--a spellcheck disaster--both had the black stripes removed from their helmets Friday morning in a ceremony that no doubt included tiki torches, a fire walk and animal sacrifices.

Here's what Meyer had to say about Alli (pictured here with Andre Debose back in his striped days):

“Stephen Alli got his stripe off today, which was really, really cool. He’s kind of a crowd favorite because everyone knows he’s kind of raw. He goes as hard as he can, and he’s like a deer sometimes just flopping around out there, but he’s going to be a good player.”

Meyer stopped short of saying he expected Alli to play this year, but he's not ruling it out. As someone who enrolled after just three years of high school, Alli could probably use time to pack on some muscle, hone his route-running and learn the offense.

“I’d say no, but if he makes the jump he made from Week 1 to Week 2, it’s a possibility. I mean he’s doing things that only 6-6, 215-pound fast people can do. That’s jumping over people and making catches. It’s pretty cool, and our quarterbacks like that for some reason.”

One thing that has surprised me a little this offseason is the level of respect that the older players seem to have for the freshmen. All of the newbies I've talked to have said they haven't been picked on or hazed in the least, and it's really fostering a professional atmosphere. Meyer addressed this too, pointing out that it wasn't always this way, as predecessor Ron Zook left him a bit of a mess in that department.

“When we first got here five years ago, we had freshmen in a separate locker room," Meyer said. "It was a bunch of tin lockers over there, and think about this for a minute. This is a bigtime college football program, and we had some fights and stuff because they treat the freshmen like they weren’t people. ‘Don’t walk through here, we’ll kick your tail or shave your eyebrows.’ It took us a while to break that great culture we had here. It was tremendous. You don’t win many games, but you beat up freshmen and shaved eyebrows. It was absolutely unbelievable. Now I have a freshman who is going through some hard times, and he stood up in front of the team the other day with tears streaming from his eyes and said, ‘I want to thank the older guys for taking care of me.’ It’s called a team, not some silly nonsense.”

Obviously, there has been plenty of good news for Florida fans lately, and I think this is right up there as a huge sign of the program's health. These guys care about each other, and you're likely to see that carry onto the field this year. It's really remarkable when you consider all the starpower out there right now.

Haden calls Will Hill the best player on the defense

As if the safety logjam wasn't already interesting enough, cornerback Joe Haden said he and Brandon Spikes have been talking about how backup Will Hill has been the best player on the defense during the fall.

Hill hasn't been working at nickelback, so it'll be interesting to see how he's used. Could be at corner, could be in a three-safety package, or he could even beat out Major Wright or Ahmad Black for a starting job. There are no signs either way, though Black was briefly in Meyer's doghouse for skipping a team meal after coming into camp underweight. He was suspended for a few practices.

"I have no idea (how to get Hill on the field)," Haden said. "I leave it up to the coaches, that's why they coach. They're making the money."

Howard drawing praise

There's always plenty of praise flying around for guys during the spring and preseason, but one way to tell when it's for real is when you hear it from multiple people who offer it up freely.

Over the last two weeks, players and coaches alike have singled out defensive lineman Jaye Howard as a breakout player. Friday, Mike Pouncey and Carlos Dunlap did the same, saying they believe he'll end up a starter.

Howard is currently battling Terron Sanders for the defensive tackle spot alongside Lawrence Marsh, and though he has packed on some weight, he could still see a little time at end as well.

Dunlap No. 3 on Kiper's big board

Speaking of high praise, Dunlap got some of his own this week when NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper released his list of the top draft prospects. He listed Dunlap third behind Sam Bradford and Eric Berry.

Don't get me wrong, Dunlap is a freakish talent, but I'd like to see a little more proof on the field before making him a top-five pick. He does have the potential though, and he's taking the compliment in stride. He deflected most questions on the subject by talking about his teammates.

“Right now, I’m really just worried about the season and how our team performs," Dunlap said. "It’s an influence to work harder and meet everyone’s expectations. If they expect those things of me, I’m going to try and get the guy next to me to play up to that level too, so the harder he plays or the more plays he makes, it makes it easier for me to do the same.”

Misc.

Tony Dungy came and spoke to the team last night, offering advice that mostly centered around improving the players as men. Dungy, Mike Shanahan and Lou Holtz have all been guest speakers this offseason.

Meyer also said that Caleb Sturgis is giving Jonathan Phillips a run for his money at the starting kicker spot, which should be decided next week.

“Sturgis and our lawyer are going at it pretty good.”

August 15, 2009

Freshman running back "de-striped"

GAINESVILLE -- Florida Gators running back Mike Gillislee was the first newcomer of 2009 to lose his freshman helmet stripe, according to UF coach Urban Meyer.

Gillislee lost his stripe on Saturday during the Gators' first scrimmage of the preseason. Offensive lineman Jonotthan Harrison lost his stripe as well. Being "de-striped' by your upperclassmen teammates is a rite of passage for freshmen Gators.

INJURY UPDATE: Offensive guard James Wilson (ankle) and offensive tackle Matt Patchan (concussion) were held out of the scrimmage.

-jo-


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