GAINESVILLE -- Here's a bunch of nuggets, notes & quotes from UF's media day Wednesday. The Gators open training camp this afternoon -- their first of 29 practices before their opener Sept. 5 against New Mexico State.
1. HOT AIR
Let’s get the skepticism out of the way first: Just like every offseason, the summer reports were GLOWING. Everyone is better, bigger, faster, stronger, nicer, etc. Team bonding is at an all-time high! Egos are gone! Everyone is committed to winning!
Now, these reports are hardly unique to Florida, but the Gators have cried wolf so many times the last several years that some things are best left unsaid. Still, plenty of things said yesterday were notable. Like...
2. I’M THE MAN, I’M THE MAN, I’M THE MAN
Following a frustrating sophomore season, tailback Kelvin Taylor said he has “a really big chip on [his] shoulder.” The junior is motivated to prove why he was “one of the top running backs coming out of high school.”
Taylor has clearly added muscle in his upper body and spent the summer working on catching the ball out of the backfield and hand-placement in pass protection.
“I'm just looking forward to being the man this year,” he said.
"I want to be the lead back. Being the lead back, being a leader for just for like me going into the season being like the lead back I'm just so thankful and ready to show everyone I can take on that responsibility and the bulk of carries. Now I got that chance and I'm probably [the most] focused I've ever been. Just now I'm ready to show everyone I can be the man and that I will be the man this year. I'm ready."
3. CALL ME CLUTCH
Sixth-year senior tight end Jake McGee is 100% healthy and has “no issues whatsoever” from his broken leg last season. McGee hasn’t recorded a catch since Nov. 30, 2013, but the senior is expected to be a valuable weapon in UF’s passing game in 2015.
In two seasons at Virginia, McGee was a third-down machine, tallying 27 catches for 299 yards and six touchdowns on the money down.
“I’ve always sort of been known as a clutch player,” he said.
“Third down, big situations in the game you always want the ball. It’s something you want to help the team with moving the chains or game-winning touchdowns, whatever it is. It’s one of those things when you want to step up and make an impact.”
4. FANTASTIC FOUR
A number of veterans identified four freshmen they think will absolutely contribute this season: DE CeCe Jefferson, OT Martez Ivey, WR Antonio Callaway and LB Rayshad Jackson.
McElwain noted that Ivey will begin at tackle, saying, “that's where we recruited him to play.”
Jackson -- a three-star Miami Norland standout -- was mentioned by several players as guy who can help a unit desperate for depth.
Freshmen tailbacks Jordan Scarlett (Taylor called him fast and strong) and Jordan Cronkite also received praise, as did newbie defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga.
Geoff Collins’ motto for the defense is B.D.N. - as in Best Defense in the Nation. Posters are plastered all over the locker room and Bryan Cox Jr. said wristbands could be on the way, too.
According to players, Collins hasn’t changed much of anything with the scheme of the defense, but he is emphasizing pressure and playmakers. He’s also brought a certain energy to a loaded unit.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right.? It wasn’t broke,” safety Keanu Neal said.
6. MASS EXODUS?
Junior safety Marcus Maye spoke extensively about the depth and talent in UF’s secondary. DBU has received a lot of internet play this offseason, but Maye was more excited about the overall growth and maturity of a “veteran” unit.
Maye said the group has set “really high expectations” because “we’ve seen each other grow. We’ve grown with each other. … It all should correlate [to success] when we get on the field.”
He dismissed any jealousy concerns over playing time or starting roles, and instead teased a mass exodus to the NFL next season.
“Four or five leaving is definitely a possibility. There’s a few guys that if they have a great year, they’ll move on to the next level. It’s been a journey.”
7. NO LOVE LOST
Redshirt sophomore Caleb Brantley is considered a potential breakout star, but the powerfully quick defensive tackle said he had high expectations last season but simply wasn’t afforded the opportunity to shine.
“I feel like I was ready last year but I only played like 15 snaps a game,” he said.
“I didn’t really get a chance. I’m playing a lot this year and I’m ready to show the world.”
Brantley, along with ends Alex McCalister and Bryan Cox Jr., didn’t shy away from expressing glee in a new position coach. Brad Lawing, now at Florida State, is a renowned technician and cursing hard-ass, but the group feels much more comfortable with new assistant Chris Rumph.
"Lawing was way stricter, man,” Brantley said. “Rumph is more of a let it rip and go make a play.”
Added McCalister: “Rumph is more of a father figure first and then a coach. He’s going to talk to you make sure everything’s straight. He’s never going to curse at you; he’s going to yell his butt off, but he never curse at you. You get it more with Coach Rumph because he’s laid back, but he knows how to bring the heat with it. … It’s just a different type of coaching coming from him. I’ve never had this before in a coach. It’s kind of cool."
8. KEEPING IT 100
Antonio Morrison’s knee rehab is ahead of schedule, but the All-SEC senior linebacker still isn’t guaranteed to play in 2015.
Morrison, who started 12 games last season and led UF in tackles, suffered a significant knee injury in Florida’s win in the Birmingham Bowl on Jan. 3. He’s had two surgeries since the injury and there’s no timetable for his return.
The details of Morrison’s injury remain clouded, and the senior shared his reluctance to talk about the injury.
“My parents don’t want that information disclosed,” he said, bluntly.
“I feel like y’all don’t need to know that. It’s not helping me in any way. My parents felt that way, and they don’t want to release any of that information. We kept it in. We got the training staff with the guys on our team. That’s how it was.”
9. BUILDING AN OL ROTATION
McElwain hopes to settle on an eight-man rotation by the end of training camp.
UF will cross-train a number of players, most notably, senior Trip Thurman, the only linemen on the roster with a single career start in FBS. Transfer Mason Halter will play at tackle, exclusively, and while Cam Dillard seems poised to start at center, he said he’s also training at both guard positions.
“What we need to do is develop eight solid guys,” originally,” McElwain said. “It’s a little bit like an NFL mentality where some guys have to be able to swing in some positions.”
10. QUICK HITTERS
McCalister called Brantley “a young Sharrif Floyd.” The defensive end also said he wants double-digit sacks this year to beat his best friend Dante Fowler’s 8.5 quarterback takedowns from a year ago. … WR Demarcus Robinson is eyeing “at least” 1,000 yards and 10 touchdowns. … Latroy Pittman said it’s “way past due, way past due” to bring an explosive offense back to UF. … Sophomore defensive back Quincy Wilson called last season a learning experience, but said now everything feels “like high school again.” … Co-DC Randy Shannon said the best 11 players will play on defense -- regardless of position. Shannon said UF could line up four DT or play three outside linebackers -- “The best players will play,” he said. … David Sharpie -- at 6-6, 350+ pounds -- is a massive man. … McElwain called star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III "arguably" the best defensive player in the country.
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