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13 posts from March 2011

March 31, 2011

Still plenty of mysteries, but here are my guarantees about the UF offense

Rainey_td "Everything is different, but it's not that different. It's pretty much just like the spread, except it's not at all, and the terminology is new. Everyone has gotten a lot better, but they were all great last year so there wasn't that much room for improvement."

That, ladies and gentlemen, pretty much sums up every interview with Florida football players this spring. So, with practices closed and only this stuff to go on, what have we learned about the Gators? Very, very little.

Sure, post-practice chatter about things like Quinton Dunbar emerging as a playmaker and John Brantley looking like a perfect fit for a pro-style offense are positive, but it's all vague and could be completely false for all anyone knows.

But, after a few go-rounds dealing with the myths and occasional straight-up lies that come out of practices (like Joe Haden running the Wildcat a couple years back), I've got three things I think you can take to the bank when it comes to the 2011 Gators.

-First, I fully expect Chris Rainey to thrive. He's back at running back full-time after that silly little wide receiver experiment, and Will Muschamp praised Rainey's performance out of the I-formation so far. On Thursday, Rainey spoke to the media for the first time since his arrest in September for aggravated stalking, and he already seems like he learned how to keep his mouth shut. He had a knack for dropping controversial quotes in the past, and that loose tongue eventually landed him in trouble last season, albeit via text.

He should be a focal point of the offense, and despite his small frame, he's always been an excellent runner between the tackles because of his quickness. And now that he's taking handoffs deeper in the backfield, he says he has more of a chance to use his field vision.

“When I get the ball, I can just read the whole field and do whatever I want," Rainey said. "It's more freedom and a lot of fun. I tell them out there that it feels like high school again.”

-Second, the tight end position is about to gain a lot of importance. Jordan Reed became a playmaker last season more by virtue of his quarterback play, and even Aaron Hernandez was a hybrid player rather than a true tight end. Now, Reed is playing the traditional tight end role and says he isn't taking any reps at quarterback. He even said today he's not being used as a short-yardage option, which he previously said he'd be doing.

Instead, Reed said he's focused on improving his blocking, and with more two-receiver sets expected this year, his role in the passing game should increase. And frankly, he's one of the few real mismatches on this offense, so he has to get the ball.

-Third, there's no magic new Brantley in town. I expect him to be better than last season simply because he can't be worse, but not because he's touching the center's butt when he takes the snap rather than standing in the shotgun. At the end of the day, it will come down to Brantley finding open receivers and throwing footballs in their immediate vicinity, tasks he struggled mightily with last year.

The consensus between players and Muschamp is that Brantley looks really comfortable and awesome in the pro-style offense. For two years before last season, the consensus between players and Urban Meyer was that Brantley was extremely polished and could run the spread with ruthless efficiency. The latter certainly didn't pan out, and I'm not sold on the former until I see it.

It's the same Brantley in a new package, and the package doesn't change what he has to do to succeed. Take it from receiver Frankie Hammond: “He looks good, but from the spread to the I-formation, it really isn’t a difference in my opinion. He still has to make reads, still has to throw the ball around, now there are just more tight ends involved and a two-receiver set, which you didn’t see much in the spread.”

I'm not saying Brantley will be miserable, but going under center doesn't flip a switch. Yes, being more comfortable should help, but he also has an offensive line stacked with rookies, so that comfort may only last two seconds per play.

-Finally, so that I don't leave you on a depressing note, here are some tidbits.

Rainey on Charlie Weis' excitement working with Florida's pool of talent: “The first thing he said when he got here was that this is the most athletes he’s ever been around, so we felt good about that.”

Rainey on what to expect from the offense: "Fans are going to be happy again."

And, as I mentioned briefly up top, Dunbar is getting a lot of praise at receiver. I'm usually very hesitant to make too much of stuff like this when it comes out of closed practices, but everyone seems to love him. Hammond singled him out as the best young performer at the position and labeled him a great deep threat, and Muschamp has also talked him up a little bit. Add the fact that Carl Johnson said last season he didn't understand why Dunbar didn't get a chance during games, and the hype around the Booker T. Washington product may actually be legit.

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Agree/disagree with my guarantees? Have any of your own? How do you feel about Brantley? Does a new offensive style wipe away all the lowlights of 2010 for you?

March 26, 2011

Gators had the shots, just didn't make them

Kenny Boynton said it best: "Couldn't ask for anything more."

Boynton and backcourt partner Erving Walker had three late chances to win, take the lead and then tie Florida's Elite 8 matchup with Butler on three-pointers. They missed all three, handing the Bulldogs a 74-71 win and second straight appearance in the Final Four. Obviously a lot happened, and like with any NCAA Tournament game, a ton of factors could have changed the outcome. But those three shots will get the most attention, and I'm in what I can only assume is the minority in thinking the Gators handled them OK. Poor planning and execution, but Florida ended up with open shots and just didn't make them.

-The First Shot

With the game tied and 30 seconds left in regulation, Butler's Matt Howard missed a go-ahead free throw to set up a game-winning attempt. Walker dribbled the clock down to about five seconds, got a screen near the top of the key and threw up a shot from the right wing that just missed to send it to overtime.

A few things here. First, Florida didn't call a timeout, which I don't like at all, but there was a play on. The idea was for Walker to get a screen from Patric Young and either pull up or drive based on what his defender did. Butler's Andrew Smith backed down a bit, but at that point it didn't really matter since Walker had little time to drive. He pulled up from a few feet behind the arc but was open, and even though Walker had yet to hit a shot on the night, we've seen him make those before. There's no one on this team you'd rather have taking that shot than Walker -- I don't care what kind of game he's having.

Going inside wasn't a great option either. Chandler Parsons had zero points after the half, and while Alex Tyus looked good with 14, I'll take Erv anyday. The single best option was center Vernon Macklin, who had 25 points and dominated whenever he was on the floor, but he was on the bench because his poor free-throw-shooting makes him a liability late in games. Perhaps you could call time out, sub Macklin in at the beginning of that possession and get him the ball, but I'll take Big Shot Erv from three ahead of Macklin's knuckleball free throws.

Macklin said after the game that the combination of his four fouls and form from the charity stripe pretty much left Billy Donovan no choice but to sit him out.

-The Second Shot

Then, in overtime, the Gators again had the ball with 30 seconds left. This time they were down 1 and called a timeout, and the result was less of a play than the first time around. Walker got Boynton the ball on the left wing, and he launched a deep three that was just long with 19 seconds to go. Donovan said his only complaint would be that he'd like to see Boynton drive, but he was OK with the shot. So am I.

-The Third Shot

And for the final heave, down 3 with 10 seconds left, Walker came straight down and fired a bomb from straight away that came up short, and Butler wisely chucked it downcourt to pretty much end it. This shot had to be a three, and getting it up quick leaves time for a rebound and second shot if possible. Walker's shot was from pretty far out, but he's made them before. Sink that one and he's a hero who saves his best for the end of games. Miss and it's "Dammit Erv always takes stupid shots!"

That's what this came down to. Two players took three shots they're perfectly capable of making, and they didn't go down. Obviously any strategy that fails is subject to criticism, but the bottom line is that the top scorers on a No. 2 seed had chances to lift their team to the Final Four. They just didn't hit them, and that happens.

Guarantee you that if it ended on a missed turnoaround from Tyus, everyone would be complaining that it should be Walker taking the big shot. Everything gets second-and-third-guessed when it doesn't work out, but I think any of those three situations could have gotten the job done. One of those goes in and it's a different conversation.

All in all, great season and great run for this team. Next year will be very interesting as well since the starting frontcourt is graduating and guards Mike Rosario and Brad Beal join the fold, but what did you think about the way this one ended? Furious about the late-game management or are you on my side? I haven't found anyone who agrees with me yet, so I'd welcome you with open arms.

 

March 24, 2011

Gators join nation's Elite with win over BYU

Not the best of performances against a team that was essentially Jimmer Fredette & Friends, but Florida's 83-74 overtime win against BYU puts it in the Elite 8 and ONE win away from the Final Four. I don't care how strongly tinted your orange-and-blue shades are or how seriously you bought into this team's preseason hype -- looking at things at this point is damned impressive.

Yes, the Gators' road to Houston was paved with gold, as they snatched a tenuous 2-seed, had top dogs Pitt lose to Butler and got to face BYU without sexytime suspended forward Brandon Davies (I made this joke on Twitter but think it needs repeating: Is Davies the first athlete in history you can taunt by saying, "Hey, why don't you go have sex with your girlfriend again?") BUT, this is March Madness, and getting to the Elite 8 is not easy, much less a Final Four. The Gators are poised to do that now after surviving Fredette's 32 points and winning in an extra period that turned out to be pretty easy.

Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin did a pretty good job on Fredette despite that point total. He didn't score until late in the first half and didn't hit a three until the second, and while he got his points, they weren't easy, and that was kind of the plan anyway. No other Cougar scored in double figures (UF had four), depriving them of the support they got via Michael Loyd's 26 bench points in last year's win against Florida.

Two things stood out to me. First: Erving Walker's rebound near the end of regulation. Boynton missed a three with 25 seconds left, meaning Fredette could have had the ball for a final shot (I can see Billy Donovan screaming "NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!" in slow motion). Instead, Walker, who said he was supposed to be getting back down the other end for defense after the shot, took off toward the corner and corralled it. Chandler Parsons couldn't connect on his game-winner attempt, but the possession ran out the clock and kept Jimmer from doing something terrifying (like that three he nailed in the second half where he pulled up from Drew Brees' house and gave his Mormon fans the jolt of energy they've learned to survive on in lieu of caffeine).

The other thing was Alex Tyus. Where the hell did that come from? Nineteen points and 17 rebounds, a crazy shot block that came halfway up the backboard, and no huge mistakes in crunchtime. Honestly, that's the kind of game he should be having more often considering the fact that he's usually the best athlete on the floor, but Donovan will probably just take it when he can get it. If Tyus flips a switch and keeps that up while the other starters are playing well, the Gators suddenly get a lot more dangerous.

At the end of the day, Florida barely snuck by a smaller, less-talented squad tonight. The Gators should have been pounding the ball inside and using their size early rather than jacking up threes from all over the floor, but whatever. They figured things out late and got the win, and that's more than can be said for plenty of good teams who have already lost in this tournament.

Most importantly, they live to play another game, and they're in a spot plenty of great teams would kill to be in.

March 23, 2011

Gators set for showdown with their old pal Jimmer

Jimmer-fredette-florida Don't want to see Jimmer Fredette scoring on your Gators Thursday night? Easy. All you need is to go to New Orleans with a backpack full of the following items: a can of Red Bull, a fake beard, a roll of $1 bills and a camera. Kidnap him, drug him and take some compromising photos of him at a Bourbon St. strip club. That's three BYU Honor Code violations right there (just make sure it's an odd number of violations, as an even number would cancel out via the old double-negative rule).

Pretty easy, right? And if you fail, you still have all the necessary items for a classic night in Nawlins. Point is, there's really no stopping Jimmer, and I don't think it matters too much. Obviously, Florida can't afford to let him score 50 in their Sweet 16 matchup, but even in last year's 99-92 double-overtime loss to BYU in the first round, Fredette's 37 points didn't do all the damage. Michael Loyd, Jr. came off the bench to score 26 and actually had more points (12) than Jimmer (10) in the two overtimes.

Good news: Loyd is gone, and third-leading scorer Brandon Davies is suspended for the rest of the year for some out-of-wedlock lovemaking. Bad news: Fredette is better now than he was last year, and the Cougars still average more than 80 points a game, meaning that's about 52 points per game from non-Jimmers.

"It’s not like we’re going to say, ‘Alright, face-guard him and he’s not going to score,'" UF forward Chandler Parsons said. "He’s going to get his, he’s going to score points. The biggest thing is, he’s going to hit some ridiculous shots and we just gotta smack him on the butt and go down to the other end because we can’t hang our heads on shots he’s going to hit like that."

The likely man in charge of the early-game ass-slapping will be Kenny Boynton, who was full speed in practice Wednesday and ought to be fully recovered from the left ankle sprain he picked up against UCLA. Last year, Boynton did pretty well on Fredette (about as well as anyone can) and scored 27 himself, but all the work wore him out, and he ended up fouling out. Billy Donovan wants to avoid that this time around, so he'll also lean on Scottie Wilbekin and Casey Prather to help off the bench, in addition to likely support from Parsons and Erving Walker.

As far as BYU's approach, No. 2 scorer Jackson Emery is the next in line, but depending on how UF handles Fredette, anyone could go off. This is a good team, and coach Dave Rose said the Cougars' strategy in recent months has been to watch how opponents deal with Jimmer, then plan an attack strategy. If the Gators double-team Fredette on the perimeter, it's open season for the rest of Stormin Mormons. Take him one-on-one, and he'll probably burn you.

If it's me, I rotate Boynton and Wilbekin on Jimmer and focus on locking everyone else down. Let Fredette get his, but keep the Cougars from finding a solid second option. That sounds like the approach Donovan wants to take.

"They're getting over 80 points a game," he said. "Eighty points a game would lead the SEC in scoring, and it's because of the other guys around him, and that's what makes them such a great team is you may look at the scoring differential, but in a lot of ways they're balanced."

Two interesting moments from the press conference, when Parsons and Donovan were asked about the Davies' suspension.

Parsons: "I mean, rules are rules, so he knew what he was doing. I mean, it's something that we can't worry about really because he's not playing in the game tomorrow and that's really none of my business. Yeah, that's it." Laughter ensued.

Then, Donovan was asked how tough recruiting would be if he had to tell kids they weren't allowed to have premarital sex: "I'm not going to get into that. I mean, I don't know. First of all, I don't really talk about any of that stuff, either. I'll pass on that one."

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Alright, it's all set up for Thursday night's showdown. Florida is one step away from an Elite 8 matchup with either Wisconsin or Butler, and I have to say, I like the Gators' chances of getting to the Final Four. A lot can happen in March Madness, but I think an average defensive night and good offensive night gets UF through this next game, barring some transcendent performance from Jimmer (very possible).

How do you feel? What would you do about guarding Jimmer? And let's all pause for just a second and marvel at the fact that BYU has assembled a No. 3-seed caliber team despite that Honor Code. I fancy myself a pretty decent person, and my recent evaluation of those rules had me breaking seven of nine in a week. Is there a bigger recruiting handicap out there?

March 21, 2011

Pratice update: Powell buckles down, takes on "Buck" role

With Florida practices closed to the public, it's hard to learn much about the Gators, but here's what we got about the defense today:

-Ronald Powell seems pretty excited about his new role, and an excited, focused Powell should have you pretty jazzed up. The kid's a total freak, which isn't lost on his new coaches. This year he'll be playing the "Buck" position, a hybrid DE/LB spot pretty similar to what he did at times last season. D-coordinator Dan Quinn said it's patterned after what Charles Haley did with the 49ers back when I was in diapers, and Powell is pumped about it. He said he's watched film of Jason Taylor and Sergio Kindle to learn the role a little, but he doesn't know anyone who has played it personally.

“I’m loving it,” Powell said. “It’s more freedom. You don’t have to have your hand on the ground all the time. You can stand up, and it’s kind of my choice. … It’s the best position for me. If I could have picked any position, it would be the buck.”

That's good to hear from Powell, the nation's top overall recruit in 2010 who had some problems adjusting to his freshman year, when he and Dominique Easley skipped a practice and had trouble getting along with veterans. Powell calls that "a rough start," and he turned things around pretty quickly. Now, he could be the centerpiece of UF's defense.

-Jon Bostic and Jelani Jenkins said they've been working in a 3-4 during practice, and they're both happy with it. Jenkins, a HS running back, is most excited about the chance to fly around a little more, which he said the 3-4 offers.

“I like it a lot because it seems like it really frees up the linebackers and allows us to run a little bit,” Jenkins said.

-Gerald Christian is one of the most interesting guys to watch this spring (well, guys to not watch but think about what they might be doing behind those locked gates). He moved to LB from tight end this winter and was listed as a starter on the preliminary depth chart, which may or may not mean anything at all. Christian played some LB at Palm Beach Dwyer, and he said high school teammate and safety Matt Elam was glad to have him back on his side. He said the adjustment hasn't been tough for him, but he also admitted he would've preferred to work his way up the depth chart rather than starting out on top and having to hold everyone off. Also of note: he could be on offense in short-yardage situations at times this year.

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How excited are you for Powell? Anyone watch Christian in HS and have thoughts about him at LB? Any questions, just fire away and I'll check back.

March 17, 2011

One small step on the bracket, one giant leap for Florida's confidence

If that's what over-seeded looks like, then by all means, keep seeding.

It doesn't get much better than what Florida did with its first game in the NCAA Tournament on Thursday. The 79-51 win against UC Santa Barbara, which included a 24-point halftime lead (second best of the season after a 25-point cushion against NC A&T in November) should quiet some of the critics who said the Gators didn't deserve to be a No. 2 seed.

UCSB coach Bob Williams was certainly convinced, as he began his postgame press conference by saying, "They're really good. They're really good," and went on to say he thinks UF is better than the second-seeded Ohio State team the Gauchos lost to last year.

Now, it's important to remember that the Gauchos snuck into the Big Dance thanks to a three-game hot streak in the Big West Tournament, becoming the first No. 5 seed to ever win it. But guard Orlando Williams and forward James Nunnally are scoring threats against anyone, so this team wasn't a total joke. The Gators just made them look like one.

A 10-1 run to start the game, a 54 percent shooting night and Chandler Parsons' near triple-double (10 pts, 10 assists, seven rebounds in 27 minutes) were all very positive offensive signs, as was Erving Walker knocking down 4 of 6 threes. And on defense, they harried the Gauchos -- who shot nearly 50 percent in their conference tourney -- into 10 first-half turnovers and just 6-of-22 shooting before the half. By then, the game was all but over, and the lead grew to as high as 34 in the second half.

This was just about the best start UF could have hoped for, and it was especially encouraging to see them get a lead and make it grow rather than fumbling it away and winning late. That's the mark of a good team, and if they can add that component to the verstility and chemistry that's arleady in their lineup, this is a group you don't want to face.

The only negative to me was the crowd. Yes, there were plenty of Florida fans in the St. Pete Times Forum, but there weren't nearly as many as there should have been, and I hope that changes Saturday. Gators fans always want to talk "House of Horrors" and "We're a basketball school too," but I went to that school, covered many hoops games and was there tonight. It ain't no basketball school, and what I saw in Tampa today was not how a basketball school's fans travel to an NCAA Tournament game that's two hours away.

Barring a big second-half comeback, UCLA is next up, and I'll have more on that as we get closer to Round 2 (I refuse to refer to the play-in round as Round 1 like the NCAA does. Bite me.) Funny moment in the press conference: Walker said, "This should lead us into Michigan...excuse me, either UCLA or Michigan State." Oops. Looks like his bracket is gonna take a hit.

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Feeling pumped about your Gators? Predicting a Final Four run or still a little skeptical of this team? And if you were there, how did you feel about the fan support?

Know your foe: the UCSB Gauchos

Ucsb I feel guilty for just sitting courtside at the St. Pete Times Forum and watching free basketball all day before Florida and UC-Santa Barbara play tonight, so let's do some learning. Today's subject is one most of the Gators are probably still a little rusty on -- their opponent, the Gauchos.

We'll start at the top. A Gaucho is a cowboy, just more Spanish-sounding and maybe a little more badass. Their gym is called The Thunderdome, which is all kinds of awesome, and they play in the Big West Concerence, which they've won the past two years. This time was a bit of a surprise, as they became the lowest seed to win the tourney since a 6-seed won in 1996.

UCSB had a disappointing 15-13 regular season where its longest win streak was three games, but in the Big West Tourney, the Gauchos turned that around. They shot a blazing 49.7 percent from the field in those three games, beating Pacific, Cal State Northridge and Long Beach State -- teams against which they'd gone a combined 0-6 against this year.

The biggest reason for that turnaround was guard Orlando Johnson. At 6-foot-5, he's a matchup problem, and the kid is a natural scorer. In 61 career games, he's scored in double figures 60 times, with the lone exception being a 6-point showing in the regular-season finale. He went off at the Big West Tourney for 85 points in three games to take MVP, and he'll be the main focus of the Gators' defense tonight.

He'll be really dangerous if he's on the same hot streak that carried UCSB into this tournament, and it's clear he still has the confidence. Here's what he said about UF on Wednesday: "They're not that different, they just play on a bigger stage. I think once we get out there, our players will be able to do the talking."

His players are forward James Nunnally, forward Jaime Serna and guard Justin Joyner. Those four all have to play well for the Gauchos to become the first 15-seed to win since 2001. Nunnally (6-foot-6) is the No. 2 scoring option at 16.4 ppg, and Serna (6-foot-9) is next at 8 ppg. Serna was limited by a groin injury this season but has found his form of late, averaging 15 points across the conference semifinal and final. And Joyner is the assist/steal guy. He dropped 112 dimes (equal to UF leader Chandler Parsons) and had 50 steals (Erving Walker is Florida's best at 37).

Those are the big four names to watch tonight, and keep an eye out for Greg Somogyi. The Hungarian is 7-foot-3 but only plays 14 minutes per game. In that short time, though, he averages 1.9 blocks. But I wouldn't expect him to impact the game too much. This will really come down to whether Johnson can keep up his hot streak and get good support from Nunnally and Serna.

I really don't know who the best guy is to stick on Johnson. He can also play forward, and from watching his highlights, he will pop off from well behind the three-point line, and he's also good at scoring on the drive and cutting through the lane for putback dunks. If his size is too much for Kenny Boynton and Scottie Wilbekin, look for Parsons and maybe even Alex Tyus to match up with Johnson.

Now, to end with a little fun. First, UCSB alum Jim Rome already has his celebration planned in case of a win. And you need to watch these two videos from the Gauchos' athletics department, which sounds like a fun place to work. First, there's this Old Spice spoof starting Joyner, and then check out their take on Dos Equis Most Interesting Man In The World.

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That should have you primed for tonight's matchup. Anyone out there afraid of UCSB?

March 14, 2011

Breakdown of Gators depth chart for spring ball

Will Muschamp said he isn't sure this depth chart "is worth the paper it's printed on," but I hear Jeremy Foley is springing for some high-grade printer paper these days. At the very least, it makes for interesting discussion, so without me blabbing too much, here's what UF released today:

QB
Starter: John Brantley. 2nd String: Tyler Murphy/Jeff Driskel
There will be plenty of discussion about the quarterbacks later this week, and they'll be available for interviews Thursday, so I won't get too deep here. No surprise that it's Brantley. Muschamp and Charlie Weis both said Brantley is a good fit, both of them declined to say what they thought went wrong with him last year, and they also said it's open competition. Weis also praised Murphy and called Driskel "a classic drop-back quarterback." Can't wait to see what happens with this group, but we won't really know til August. Weis added that he went after Jacoby Brissett because the depth at QB wasn't as great as it sounded with that three-way battle last year. It appears both Jordan Reed and Trey Burton are moving away from quarterback full-time.

RB
Starter: Chris Rainey. 2nd String: Mike Gillislee/Mack Brown
Again, no surprises, other than the fact that the "Rainey's a receiver" charade is over. Jeff Demps is running track and Mike Blakely is out after surgery, so spring is really about making sure Rainey knows the plays. I wouldn't be shocked if Gillislee or Brown really establish themselves either.

WR
Starter: Frankie Hammond. 2nd String: Stephen Alli/Quinton Dunbar
Starter: Omarius Hines. 2nd String: Andre Debose
THEY GOT IT RIGHT! As far as the starters go, this is the common sense lineup. You're obviously wondering if they dumped Deonte Thompson off a bridge or something. More on that in a minute, but this could be a big year for Hammond and Hines if they head into the season like this.

TE
Starter: Jordan Reed. 2nd String: A.C. Leonard
So Reed is full-time TE now, which is good and bad. Good because he could be a great tight end, but bad because the quarterback position could completely fall apart again and he'll be in less of a position to help.

F
F-21: Trey Burton.
F-12: Michael McFarland, Josh Postell
F-11: Deonte Thompson, then Solomon Patton OR Robert Clark.
Just what the F is F? Get ready to dive into the mind of Charlie Weis. I asked him to break this down since there are no F's on my Playstation, and he was really nice and helpful about it (aka not the Weis I expected to meet after all the stories about how he's a jerk). Basically, these three are the real second-stringers at their positions, though it's a little more complicated than that.
The numbers correspond to the number of backs (first digit) and tight ends (second digit) in the formation, and one of these three will always be on the field when their combination comes up. So, Burton will be the second back in the backfield, leaving one tight end and two receivers. McFarland will be the second tight end, meaning one back and two receivers, and Thompson will play when there's one back and one tight end, leaving three receivers.
Weis quizzed me at the end of his response, asking me how many receivers are on the field in a 22 formation. I correctly answered one, then asked for a job. He declined.
So, these three will play quite a bit. I'd like to see Leonard take this spot from McFarland and Debose, Patton or Clark take it from Deonte, and there's plenty of time for that. The important thing is that these coaches seem to have identified Hammond and Hines as being better than Thompson (they are), though maybe this will be the kick in the ass Deonte needs.

OL
LT: Chaz Green, Kyle Koehne
LG: Jonotthan Harrison, Cole Gilliam
C: Sam Robey, Nick Alajajian
RG: Jon Halapio, William Steinmann
RT: Xavier Nixon, Ian Silberman
LOT of new faces, and this is going to be a real problem. Muschamp said he's concerned with the line on both sides of the ball, though offensively looks a little worse. Nixon has the most experience, and Halapio should be fine, but after that it's real questionable and this spring should decide a lot. Matt Patchan, David Young and James Wilson are all limited through spring.

DL
Buck: Ronald Powell, then Lerentee McCray/Lynden Trail
DT: Sharrif Floyd, Earl Okine
DT: Dominique Easley, Leon Orr
DE: William Green, then Chris Martin/Clay Burton
Depth issues, but a good bunch of talent. Omar Hunter and Jaye Howard are both limited, which is a GREAT thing in my opinion. They don't need much work, but the other guys do. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn couldn't tell us why Powell's spot is called the Buck, but it's a hybrid role that he should thrive in, and it's modeled after the also-dubiously-named "Elephant" position Charles Haley played with the 49ers. I love Powell and McCray there. Green could be good at the other DE spot, but that's certainly a question mark and Martin needs to come along quickly.
Good talent at tackle, and as long as everyone keeps their heads on straight, that could be a good position. Muschamp said he told Easley, who had some problems with not being BMOC last year: "You either do it our way or you leave."

LB
Strongside: Gerald Christian, Gideon Ajagbe
Middle: Jon Bostic, Michael Taylor
Weakside: Jelani Jenkins, then Dee Finley OR Darrin Kitchens
The obvious oddity is Christian, who's been moved from TE. Muschamp made the decision, and he likes Christian's size and speed to cover tight ends, which should work because he was one. This discussion also led to the quote of the day from Muschamp: "I trust Jack Daniels" (Christian's HS coach).
No surprises outside of that. Neiron Ball is out for spring, and Finley needs to step up and earn some playing time this spring.

DB
CB: Moses Jenkins, De'Ante Saunders
CB: Jeremy Brown, Cody Riggs
S: Matt Elam, Josh Shaw
S: Josh Evans, Tim Clark
Nickel: Elam, then Riggs OR Saunders
Janoris Jenkins is out for spring, which I also think is a good thing. The other guys need a lot of work, and they'll get it. No big surprises here. Jaylen Watkins is limited, and we don't know anything about Saunders yet, but I wouldn't be shocked if Cody Riggs made some noise. Muschamp spoke highly of Riggs on Monday, and with the lapses Brown had at the end of last year, the door is certainly open. This is basically a four-or-five way competition for the spot oppisite Janoris, and there will probably be plenty of chances to get interceptions in practice.
At safety, Elam and Evans were the sure-fire starters, and Shaw has moved over from corner.

Special Teams
K: Caleb Sturgis, Brad Phillips
P: Kyle Christy, David Lerner
PR: Chris Rainey, Frankie Hammond
KR: Andre Debose, Solomon Patton
LS: Christopher Guido, Drew Ferris
Sturgis is limited in spring, and breaking in a new punter after Chas Henry's departure is a concern. No surprise on the return men, and I think we're all excited about the Guido-Ferris battle.

---

Thoughts? What position battles are you most interested in?

March 13, 2011

"Over-seeded" Gators poised for deep run in NCAA Tourney

Florida got a brisk spanking from Kentucky in Sunday's SEC Championship, but in the words of the Notorious B.I.G., "It's all good baby bay-bay." That's because UF still landed a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament, prompting ESPN's Doug Gottlieb to call it "the most over-seeded team in the tournament" during a brief anti-Florida rant that no doubt followed a meal of urine-soaked Corn Flakes.

That comment probably bothered some of you, but I say take a step back. Regardless of what anyone thinks, the only thing that matters is the Gators are in a GRRRREAT position (cereal on the brain for me tonight).

First off, they're playing in Tampa (if you watched Eastbound & Down, you know what profanity-filled video clip I wanted to put here), which means good fan support. And the first-round opponent, 15-seed California Santa-Barbara, shouldn't be much of a problem. The Gauchos (18-13) snuck in by winning the Big West Tourmanent, becoming the first No. 5 seed to pull that off. I suppose you could make the argument that they're hot heading into the tourney, but the Gators have no business losing to a team like that.

After that, it's either No. 7 UCLA or No. 10 Michigan State for a trip to the Sweet 16 in New Orleans. A win there, and the likely opponent would be either No. 3 BYU or No. 6 St. John's, and both those teams are hurting. BYU, which knocked UF out of last year's tournament, is without forward Brandon Davies -- who committed the unforgiveable sin of premarital sex and was kicked off the team -- and SJU is missing forward D.J. Kennedy, who tore his ACL on Thursday.

And looking waaaay down the road, it'd probably be either No. 1 Pitt, No. 4 Wisconsin or No. 5 Kansas State (whom Florida beat this year) standing in the way of a Final Four trip. That's assuming a lot, but most analysts I've seen have the Gators penciled into the Elite 8, as will many females by virtue of that No. 2 seed and Chandler Parsons.

Meanwhile, Kentucky is a No. 4 seed and will likely face top overall seed Ohio State if they make the Sweet 16. A lot of good winning the SEC did them.

---

Thoughts? I expected a No. 2 seed if Florida won today, but this came as a surprise. A 3 would have made a bit more sense to me, but I'll stop short of Gottlieb-ing them. Over-seeded or not, it doesn't matter because the hand has been dealt. To me, it looks great. How do y'all feel?

 

March 09, 2011

Closed-door policy in effect for spring practices and Pro Day

As expected, Florida announced Wednesday that spring practices would be closed to everyone, but, not as expected, the Gators' Pro Day (March 15) will be closed to the public and open to the media. (Ha! Take that suckers! I get to watch Will Hill run windsprints in person and you don't!)

I'd imagine you're far more bummed about not being able to see practices, given the massive changes in store for Florida this year and the lack of starpower among the NFL hopefuls, but the Pro Day thing caught me off guard. Lots of other schools keep them closed, and this is either Florida following suit or responding to a direct request from its players.

UF released two statements on the decisions today:

Head coach Will Muschamp on spring practices:

"With a new coaching staff here teaching our system, we feel like minimizing our distractions is important. We realize that there is high interest from the fans, and we are extremely appreciative of the support that The Gator Nation gives us. We hope they understand that this decision has been made in the interest of helping our program be successful on Saturdays this fall by allowing our team to learn and develop together in this type of environment. We also respect that the media have a job to do and understand that this creates a challenge for them, so we ask for their patience with us as we work through our first spring practice here at Florida.”

Spokesman Steve McClain on Pro Day:

"Pro Day is an extremely important day for the career hopes of these players, and they’ve spent an enormous amount of time and energy preparing for it. We feel that creating a more private environment and minimizing potential distractions will help give them the best chance to perform up to their potential. We also feel like it’s become more important than ever for us to monitor who is around our team and student-athletes, and taking this step provides us an even greater ability to manage that."

I think Muschamp's comments are pretty standard and very agreeable, and McClain's make sense as well. The most interesting part to me is the last sentence, which screams "WE'RE SHOOTING AGENTS ON SIGHT FROM NOW ON!"

Not much to say about all this. Pro Day isn't a big deal since this is the least-anticipated one in quite a while, and I'll have a lot more on spring practice early next week, when a press conference is scheduled with Muschamp and Charlie Weis in advance of the first workout on March 16. But the red flag, at least for me and other reporters, is that this could be the dawn of a new day as far as media access with the Gators. Weis has never been a fan of reporters, and Muschamp came up under Nick Saban, who's also closely guarded. I'll spare you the soapbox rant, but if the program does become less accesible to reporters, it affects fans too.

---

You all cool with practices and Pro Day being closed? It essentially means no one will know anything about the formation of a new offense and defense, but it should make life a bit easier for the players and coaches. And with Pro Day, I promise to recount all the drama from every last epic drill.

March 06, 2011

O'Sullivan's March to Omaha: Gators pitchers burning everything in their path

STALKER(First off, check out the basketball post from last night if you missed it)

You know you have a baller pitching rotation when this is a disappointing outing: five innings, two runs, seven hits, four strikeouts, one walk.

Those were freshman Karsten Whitson's numbers from the Gators' 5-3 win Sunday that completed a sweep against Miami, and they were UF's worst of the weekend. On Friday, Brian Johnson went five scoreless innings, gave up just three hits, struck out nine and walked one. Saturday, Hudson Randall (pictured next to a very angry looking me during postgame interviews -- props to Daniel for getting me busted in stalkerface AGAIN) tossed seven scoreless, one-hit innings, fanned five and walked none.

So, on the season so far, these are the combined stats for the Phillies Gators' weekend starters: 50.1 IP, 5 runs, 53 strikeouts and five walks, and they've each contributed to a shutout (which ties UF's total from 2010). That is disgusting, filthy, dirty, nasty, grotesque stuff (can we use nauseating too?). It's too early in the season to have any meaningful comparisons around the country yet, but it's looking safe to say that Florida can count on having one of the nation's best staffs this year -- especially with these new bats sucking the juice out of the game.

And beyond those three, Tommy Toledo and Anthony DeSclafani are starting to really show something as well. DeSclafani tossed three innings of relief this weekend, striking out three and allowing just one hit (his only baserunner). He's looking like the favorite to take over the closing role vacated by Kevin Chapman, while Toledo could either be a solid midweek starter or top relief guy. He threw 2.2 perfect innings Sunday after a disappointing loss Tuesday to Florida State, where he alloved three runs and three walks in 2.1 innings.

It's funny listening to coach Kevin O'Sullivan after games. He's clearly happy with his pitchers but is sticking hard to the "We still have a lot of room for improvement" line. He's right not to let them get big-headed, but other than getting deeper into games, these guys can't be doing much more than they are right now. If I were the coach, I'd be walking around with a big-ass goofy grin all day long. And my team would probably lose. And these would be mandatory.

All this comes on top of the fact that the Gators have Preston Tucker (3-for-4 with a HR Sunday, hitting .435), Brian Johnson (who doubles as the No. 5 hitter and went 1-for-3 with a double Sunday, hitting .342) and Daniel Pigott (1-for-4 with a two-run double Sunday, hitting .514) absolutely stroking the ball. Leadoff man Nolan Fontana has cooled off bigtime -- going 3-for-27 after a 9-for-12 opening weekend -- and clean-up hitter Austin Maddox is at .256 with one homer, but odds are that some combination of those guys, catcher Mike Zunino and second baseman Josh Adams will always be hitting well enough to support this pitching staff.

There have been some mistakes, mainly on the basepaths, but in a sport where pitching and defense are becoming increasingly important, Florida is looking primed to actually live up to the mammoth hype they started the season with. Like I said, still too early to start making any meaningful comparisons or statements about this team, but this is definitely the best weekend rotation of all time.

For serious though, if you're in Gainesville and like pitching, get out to McKethan Stadium on the weekends and watch these guys play. Spring practices are going to be closed, and they're all far more accurate than John Brantley anyway.

---

Anyone come out for the Miami series? Hit me with your thoughts in the comments. I've gotten a few e-mails asking for baseball coverage, so now's your chance to shine people.

How do the Gators match up with UF's past Final Four teams? You decide.

Donovan Florida's regular season is in the books, and despite a few moments of extreme disappointment earlier in the year, the Gators are looking like the team we all thought they'd be when the season started.

They finished strong with a win at Vanderbilt on Saturday, a victory that ends the year in very positive fashion (except for this unfortunate incident). All five starters scored in double figures to clinch the first SEC title since 2007 -- back when UF was the Jesus of college basketball.

That got me thinking: Where does this team rank compared to some of the great Florida teams of the past? So, since I'm so popular and cool, I spent a large part of my Saturday night preparing a blind comparison between this team, the 2000 NCAA Tourney runners up and the national champions from 2006 and 2007.

Below, you'll find the four teams listed in random order and compared across the categories that I either thought were important or were easily researchable thanks to the wonders of this website.

So, take a look, try to figure out which seasons are most impressive to you, rank them, then click the "continue" link and see if anything surprises you. PLEASE don't sit there and try to figure out which is which based on clues because that's no fun, and it'll mean I sacrificed untold amounts of booze and women for nothing tonight.

Note: Numbers are from the regular season only. I used AP rankings for the wins and losses when applicable but went with RPI across the board so that every team has some context.

Here we go:

Team A
Record: 24-6, 10-6 SEC
RPI: 15
Vs. the Spread: 14-10
Vs. AP Top 25: 2-1
Scoring: 78.3 to 63.5 (14.8-pt margin of victory)
Best 5 Wins: By 9 vs. RPI #13, By 5 vs. RPI #17/AP #16, By 15 vs. RPI #41, By 15 at RPI #41, By 5 vs. RPI #85/AP #19.
Losses: By 4 at RPI #6, By 4 vs RPI #6/AP #10, By 4 at RPI #45, By 5 at RPI #56, By 6 at RPI #62, By 4 vs. RPI #62.

Team B
Record: 24-6, 13-3 SEC
RPI: 11
Vs. the Spread: 13-13
Vs. AP Top 25: 4-2
Scoring: 71.5 to 62.4 (9.1-pt margin)
Best 5 Wins: By 2 vs. RPI #12/AP #10, By 13 vs. RPI #16/AP #6, By 4 at RPI #23, By 10 at RPI #25/AP #21, By 4 vs. RPI #25/AP #23.
Losses: By 18 vs. RPI #2/AP #4, By 8 at RPI #12/AP #22, By 3 at RPI #53, By 7 at RPI #104, By 3 vs. RPI #128, By 3 vs. RPI #149.

Team C
Record: 23-6, 12-4 SEC
RPI: 9
Vs. the Spread: 14-9
Vs. AP Top 25: 4-4
Scoring: 83.8 to 68.9 (14.9-pt margin)
Best 5 Wins: By 17 vs. RPI #5/AP #11, By 25 vs. RPI #12/AP #24, By 29 vs. RPI #27/AP #11, By 2 vs. RPI #31, By 26 vs. RPI #41/AP #20.
Losses: By 15 at RPI #5/AP #22, By 3 at RPI #15/AP #8, By 2 vs. RPI #15/AP #16, By 11 vs. RPI #25/AP #22, By 2 at RPI #37, By 10 at RPI #41.

Team D
Record: 26-5, 13-3 SEC
RPI: 6
Vs. the Spread: 10-13-1
Vs. AP Top 25: 4-1
Scoring: 79.8 to 62.6 (17.2-pt margin)
Best 5 Wins: By 26 vs RPI #1/AP #3, By 16 vs. RPI #12, By 3 at RPI #13/AP #20, By 13 vs. RPI #13, By 10 vs. RPI #47/AP #24.
Losses: By 2 vs. RPI #11/AP #10, By 10 at RPI #12, By 4 at RPI #41, By 13 at RPI #47, By 10 at RPI #90.

Breakdown
OK, so I just did this research and typed it out, and I've already forgotten which team is which (I think one of them is the Monstars from Space Jam).

By overall record, it goes: D, B, A, C.
By RPI, it's: D, C, B, A.
Against the spread, it's: C, A, B, D.
Against the Top 25: D, B, A, C.
Margin of victory:  D, C, A, B.

As far as wins and losses, you can judge for yourself. Team B had the worst losses but is also the only one with five wins against the RPI Top 25, and though Team D probably wins those categories as well, C really beat the hell out of some people and had the "best" losses.

Hopefully you made your way through all those numbers. If so, towel off, grab a drink and click continue.

Continue reading "How do the Gators match up with UF's past Final Four teams? You decide." »

March 03, 2011

A lot will happen during Gators spring practices, we just might not get to see it

SIGN_WARNING_TRESPASSERS_WILL_BE_SHOT Good afternoon Clausers. First off, my sincere apology for walking out on you the last couple of weeks. But the good news is, daddy's home and he's ready to shower you with attention. Baseball season is heating up, basketball is headed to the postseason and spring football is right around the corner, so we'll have plenty to talk about.

Speaking of spring football, got some bad news for you. The Gainesville Sun's Robbie Andreu blogged that practices may be closed to the public (and media) this spring. It's based on rumors and the word on the street, but Robbie knows what he's talking about, so there's a good chance this happens.

Two thoughts on this: 1. Huge bummer: With a new coaching staff, there are going to be big changes on both sides of the ball. And there's a quarterback battle! And we can't watch any of it! 2. Smart move: With a new coaching staff, there are going to be big changes on both sides of the ball. And there's a quarterback battle! Why would you want anyone else watching that?

My job will totally suck if this happens because I'll have nothing to go off of besides the coaches' and players' words, which, in four seasons around this program, I have come to realize don't mean s***. We'll hear all the same BS we heard in the past. Remember all that "John Brantley is the most pure passer of all time" stuff everyone used to say? No one knew it wasn't true until we could actually see Brantley play, and this spring will be the same problem.

But I still agree with the decision if they go that route. How does having open practices benefit a program? Don't tell me fan support, not here at least. Y'all Gators fans are straight-up crazy for your team (I mean that lovingly) and you're going to buy your tickets and shirts whether you got to see Frankie Hammond do one-on-one drills or not. This way, they get to work on everything with minimal distractions.

Two more thoughts on this: 1. The Orange and Blue Game is going to be one of the most anticipated ever. It'll be the unveiling of Jeff Driskel and Brantley 2.0 and the first look at the offense Charlie Weis has cooked up. Will it be a ramshackle, cheaply thrown-together fast food offense or an impeccably thought-out five course meal? (Sorry).

2. I really want Will Muschamp to make a commercial for spring practice to parody Eric Cartman's Cartmanland on South Park: "Hey everybody! Check out the all new Florida Gators! It's our grand opening, and we've got more than three returning players who didn't make fools of themselves last year to go along with a ton of young talent! There will be new coaches and lots of surprises, and the best part is...you can't come! So come on down to spring practices, but don't plan on getting past the parking lot, because remember...[Now singing] So much to do at spring practice, but you can't come! Especially Stan and Kyle."

We'll talk more about the main questions heading into spring practice in the next week, it just looks like we won't have those questions answered until the fall. That clearly sucks, but how do you feel about the decision if practices are closed? Think it's a good idea? Would it affect your support of the team? If the only security system at practices was for the quarterbacks to throw footballs at the trespassers, would you just take your chances?

Me? I'll be sitting in the parking lot, relentlessly blaring this song. Should make for a pretty creepy time.


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