Time for the DEs to Step Up

January 8, 2009

Watch these highlights of Texas DE Brian Orakpo against Oklahoma:

The left tackle he’s often going against is Phil Loadholt, a 6-8, 337 lb man/mountain. Even with Orakpo’s freakish strength, going through Loadholt is not something that is going to happen consistently.

What you do see in that video is that you can go around him if you’ve got the speed to do it. Something that Kirk Herbstreit gets cut off from mentioning is that Loadholt doesn’t have the best lateral speed/quickness, an understandable condition for a guy his size.

Sam Bradford leaves games without once hitting the turf more often than not. If Florida is to get the pressure it craves, the ends are going to have to create it because clearly it’s possible.

Jermaine Cunningham, Justin Trattou, and Carlos Dunlap all need to have good games. The success of the defense as a whole could depend on getting some heat on Bradford, and they’re the guys who will need to do it.

(video via Dr. Saturday)


Gators on the All-SEC Team

December 9, 2008

Normally today is the day where I tell you which Gators made the all-SEC team for the week. Seeing as how the season is over, the all-SEC team for the whole season came out yesterday.

Tim Tebow, Brandon Spikes, and Phil Trautwein made the first team. Percy Harvin, Jermaine Cunningham, Carlos Dunlap, and Joe Haden made the second team. There is no third team, but Brandon James, Jonathan Phillips, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Pouncey, Jason Watkins, and Ahmad Black made honorable mention.

Tebow was named Offensive Player of the Year.

It’s somewhat puzzling to see Harvin on the second team behind LSU’s Brandon LaFell and Georgia’s A.J. Green, but I guess the selectors were looking for traditional receivers first. It’s great to see Black on there, considering he wasn’t even going to start until he was forced to by injury. All he did was tie for the second-most interceptions in the country with six.

All told, 13 Gators were recognized for excellence by the conference. Four of the five offensive linemen were recognized, all except Carl Johnson who did not play a full year at guard.

One name that will certainly be on this list next year (barring injury) is Janoris Jenkins. Man, is that guy good.


Honors and Injuries

December 2, 2008

First, the good news.

Tim Tebow was named SEC Offensive Player of the Week for his dominating performance against FSU, and Carlos Dunlap got SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week for getting two sacks and three tackles for loss overall. This extends Florida’s streak of having at least one player selected all-SEC after every win this season.

Now the injuries.

Florida will be down two defensive linemen against Alabama. Matt Patchan tore his MCL and is out for the year. I like his motor and all, but his most memorable plays this season have been personal foul penalties. He is also undersized still thanks to being accidentally shot over the summer and missing out on some conditioning work. He will need to bulk up to be better.

Brandon Antwine is the other, but it’s practically a miracle that he’s even been able to play after his devastating back injury a season ago. He has been playing well, and he’s a big wide body in the middle. He will be missed more of the two.

The one bit of good news on the defensive line is that Lawrence Marsh, who was at 70% against FSU, will be a full go for Alabama. That is great, especially considering the mammoth offensive line the Tide fields.

I didn’t mention Percy Harvin’s injury yesterday because there was no new news. Now there is, and it’s good news. Harvin and the trainers were upbeat yesterday, so it’s looking like he will go on Saturday. He’ll be in a boot for the short term and won’t be 100%, but he is really good on the fast track of the Georgia Dome.

If he goes, he’ll make his presence felt.


LSU Game Preview

October 9, 2008

I did this in conjunction with the LSU Football Community Leader on Bleacher Report, Justin Goar, and you can read his side of this here.

Game Preview:

This game is far more critical for Florida at this juncture of the season than it is for LSU. The unexpected loss to Ole Miss has made it so another conference loss prevents the Gators from controlling their own destiny in the East. Granted, Vandy won’t run the table and a loss for the Commodores will give UF that control back even with a loss to LSU, but the margin for error becomes razor thin with a defeat on Saturday.

It could have some significance in the court of public opinion as well. Some people, including Sports Illustrated’s Stewart Mandel, have begun beating the “Urban Meyer’s shine is wearing off” drum. A win here would definitely help boost his image, even though it shouldn’t need it after producing a national championship and a Heisman winner in his first three years.

LSU on the other hand, has very little to lose in my opinion. A loss only jeopardizes the Tigers’ national title chances, and given how seldom teams win two in a row, a repeat was always doubtful in my mind. A loss on the road at night with a freshman starting quarterback falls squarely in the “understandable” category, and even then running the table from here would keep LSU right in the race for the crystal football.

The one catch is that LSU hasn’t looked all that great so far. The blowouts over Appalachian State and North Texas were nice. However they needed a dramatic comeback to beat Auburn, something that sounds less appetizing every day now. The win over Mississippi State was not overly impressive either given that the Bulldogs scored 24 on them whereas they didn’t manage a single point against those same Auburn Tigers.

Florida will win if: the Gators play “Florida football.” I put that in quotes because I mean it how Meyer defines it: winning the field position battle, playing great on special teams, and beating the other guy on the lines. Outside of the Ole Miss game, Florida has done well with the first two. The third part has been more troublesome.

The offensive line has been hit hard by injuries at left guard, which has thrown off the play of senior left tackle Phil Trautwein too. It also had some shuffling going on before the season. Sophomore center Maurkice Pouncey was a guard last year, and his twin brother Mike, the starting right guard, was an emergency defensive lineman after practicing at center for most of the year. The defensive line has been better that last year, though it’s hard to be worse, but it has not been consistent with getting pressure.

It’s unlikely the offense will click back into “destroy” mode, as it had been in 2007, against LSU’s defense, so the special teams will have to have another great game. Brandon James will be the man of interest in that respect, and he will help with the field position battle too. Punter Chas Henry has been quietly outstanding as well, so the same thing applies. Kicker Jonathan Phillips has been perfect so far, but don’t expect him to be attempting anything beyond 40-43 yards.

Florida will lose if: they can’t stop the run. Charles Scott has been stellar this year, and an inability to stop the run played a huge part in LSU’s comeback win last season.

Florida’s defensive line has been improved as I mentioned, and relatively unknown guys to the national stage like Lawrence Marsh, Terron Sanders, and Justin Trattou will need to step up alongside the more known quantities, Jermaine Cunningham and Carlos Dunlap.

They will also need help from the linebackers. Brandon Spikes has been fantastic, but Dustin Doe is out recovering from surgery for a double hernia. The Gators get backup Ryan Stamper, who was out hurt against Arkansas, a utility guy who is able to play all of the linebacker positions. He excels in run coverage, so that’s a good thing. The third ‘backer is A.J. Jones, who has yet to really distinguish himself but is making more plays this year.

Even after Jarrett Lee’s performance in the comeback over Auburn, I’d rather force LSU’s inexperienced quarterbacks, both of whom will see the field on Saturday, to win the game instead of Scott. Good memories of JaMarcus Russell turning the ball over and bad memories of Jacob Hester picking up fourth down conversions probably drive that as much as anything.

The X factor: Kestahn Moore.

He is widely seen as the goat of the 2007 game thanks to his fumble, but he rushed for more than five yards a carry and was very effective. Once he got benched, UF could no longer control the ball or the clock, opening the door for LSU’s win.

This season his role has been diminished thanks to the emergences of Emmanuel Moody, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps, and he missed the Arkansas game with a pulled hamstring. He will be healthy for this weekend though.

I don’t expect him to get many carries, despite his success last season, but he can play a big role anyway. He is Florida’s best blocker among the backs and receivers, and if given the chance he can be the guy to have Tebow’s back. Blitzes have caused problems for Florida thus far, but Moore can pick them up with enough regularity to buy time and avoid sacks.

This is a pure speculative pick; I can easily see Meyer not even putting him on the field but for five or six plays. What I am saying is that if he is used to get those extra rushers and provide backup when someone on LSU’s defensive line inevitably beats one of UF’s offensive linemen, Florida’s offense could have one of its best days.

Tebow needs time to throw, and Moore can provide him with that.

Prediction: Florida 23 – LSU 20

I am an incurable optimist when it comes to the Gators, so you can take that forecast with however much salt you want. However I saw the offense starting to form a real identity for the first time this season against Arkansas, and it was not solely a function of the Razorbacks having a questionable defense.

The absence of Bo Pelini, the inexperience under center, and environment in the Swamp at night are all negatives for the Tigers. I am by no means counting the Bayou Bengals out as you can see by the score prediction, but I think with Florida needing this one more than LSU does, the Gators will find a way to get it done.


Gator News and Notes from Week 2 of Practice

August 14, 2008

Injury report

As most everyone has heard by now, two more players went down with ACL tears: OG Jim Barrie and LB Brendan Beal. Both were expected to contribute, but neither was going to start. It’s a hit on depth, but not much more than that.

In other injury news… Emmanuel Moody has been slowed by a thigh contusion. Louis Murphy has been in a boot recently with a mild ankle sprain, but he’s out of it now and back to jogging. Senior OL Jason Watkins, freshman S Will Hill, and sophomore DB Moses Jenkins have missed time with minor concussions. Junior CB Markihe Anderson and OL Maurice Hurt have missed some time with wrist injuries.

Freshmen DLs Omar Hunter and Matt Patchan are close to being ready for contact drills. Chris Rainey appears to be completely healed from his groin issue that he had been dealing with since track season. Percy Harvin is able to go through drills despite his heel injury but was held out of Wednesday’s scrimmage.

DT Torrey Davis is not injured, but he hasn’t been at practice either. Urban Meyer has said Davis will not be playing against Hawai’i because in addition to his academic issues, he’s gotten himself into some off-field issues too.

Offensive backfield

Kestahn Moore, as I expected, will be the starter at running back on August 30. However, Meyer plans on having him line up at fullback some to keep him on the field as much as possible. He’s the best blocker among the running backs, so it makes sense. It also gives the tiny guys like Brandon James and Rainey someone to pave the way while giving Dan Mullen a fullback who can both run the ball and catch passes.

Meyer has already said Moore has been a dynamic player for the offense this offseason, so I don’t think he’ll just be an early-season placeholder for Moody like many people I know seem to think he’ll be. He averaged over five yards a carry last year, so as long as he quits fumbling he’ll be a big part of the offense.

Neither Cameron Newton nor John Brantley has taken a firm grasp of the backup quarterback position. It’s an important question because Meyer has already said he wants to go back to a two-QB system to lighten the load on Tim Tebow. Who plays backup won’t likely be settled until right before the first game.

Most people I’ve seen around the ‘net expect to see Newton regardless in some of the 3rd-and-short situations this year to take some pounding for Tebow; considering he’s noticeably bigger than Tim I’d say it rings true, but we’ll see.

If Brantley takes the No. 2 job I don’t know that it will happen, because having Tebow as your No. 1, Brantley as your change of pace guy, and Newton as your hammer makes a three quarterback system. Meyer is bold, but he’s not that bold. I’d like to see more of the jumbo triple-I formation with Moore or Moody on short yardage situations myself.

First scrimmage

The Gators were supposed to have their first scrimmage on Tuesday, but too many guys were out injured. It was instead played Wednesday. You can see a video with highlights at Urban Meyer’s website. Just a warning to those of you at work, the site has auto-playing sound, so turn those speakers down before visiting.

The biggest news was the performance of veteran receiver Justin Williams at safety. After moving freshman T.J. Lawrence from safety back to receiver, the position he was recruited for, they tried Williams in the secondary. He hauled in two interceptions, both of which you can see in that video (he’s #7). The second one is particularly impressive. He still needs to learn to tackle, but the coaches are impressed with his baseline level of play.

With Harvin out, Brandon James has been the Mr. Do-Everything. He will probably take a larger role in the offense as he’s already been playing receiver some. If he does, that opens up some return duty for Jeffrey Demps, who has been doing some extra punt catching duty.

Charlie Strong was pleased with the defense, saying they looked better in the scrimmage than they did all of last year. Those are some mighty encouraging words, even if it was only a scrimmage.

The coaches say that the evaluation period is done, and from here on out they’re game planning for Hawai’i.

Defense

Lawrence Marsh appears to have one of the starting defensive tackle spots locked up, with JUCO transfer Troy Epps as his backup. Terron Sanders and Javier Estopinan figure to battle for the other starting spot, with freshmen Hunter, Patchan, and William Green also getting some playing time too. DE Justin Trattou lined up inside a few times last year and might again, so there are plenty of options in the middle.

LB Lorenzo Edwards is being slowed by injury, so it’s not looking likely after all that he’ll get a chance to play much. Strong confirmed that Carlos Dunlap has the edge over Trattou for starting at defensive end opposite Jermaine Cunningham.

Losing their stripes

Around the country, freshman are figuratively earning their stripes in fall practice. In Gainesville, they’re quite literally doing the opposite.

Meyer instituted a practice when he arrived in 2005 of having the “Gators” logo on the helmets of freshmen covered with a piece of black tape. The tape symbolizes the fact that they aren’t Gators simply by showing up; rather, they have to earn their way onto the team. Once a player has done enough in the coaches’ eyes to earn his spot, he “loses his stripe” as the veterans cheer their new teammate.

The first player to lose his stripe in 2006 was Percy Harvin. Last year, Major Wright was the first to lose his stripe after delivering a bone-rattling hit on Chris Rainey.

This season, DE William Green was the first to lose his stripe. I have not seen the story of how he did it, but I have seen that CB Janoris Jenkins lost his early on too. By the end of Tuesday, impressive young guys Demps and Frankie Hammond, Jr. also lost their stripes.

Players who enroll early in January do not have stripes in fall practice.


Gator Practice Roundup: August 4 and 5

August 6, 2008

I have been looking around at the reports for the first two days of Gator football practice and compiling them so you don’t have to.

The Gainesville Sun has the best coverage, natch, with articles, live updates from reporter Brandon Zimmerman on the message board, and videos. Other information comes from the Orlando Sentinel, Miami Herald, and Jacksonville’s Florida Times-Union. There are also a variety of pay sites covering practice, but I don’t subscribe to any of them.

Who’s there and who’s not?

Sophomore DT Torrey Davis is not at practice due to academic issues. He’s not kicked off the team or anything, just held out of practice. We likely won’t get any more updates on him until Summer B is done.

Freshman DB Adrian Bushell is also not practicing as he’s not been cleared academically by the NCAA Clearinghouse.

Redshirt sophomore safety Bryan Thomas is out of practice for now after a cyst was removed from his knee.

Ronnie Wilson, now preferring to be called “Ron” instead, is at practice as a defensive lineman in his old #70 jersey. He is on the practice roster, but Urban Meyer says he’s not fully back on the team and is still being evaluated.

Wilson has passed 20 credits since being booted from the team last year, and though he had a marijuana possession arrest in January, the charges were dropped in April. Contrary to some reports, Wilson has not been working out with the team over the past year according to senior DT Javier Estopinan.

Shuffling the deck

The beginning of practice before pads go on is typically a time when coaches try guys out at different positions.

Freshman WR T.J. Lawrence is practicing as a safety to help with depth issues, but Lawrence, aside from being a receiver, played safety in high school, though not his senior year, so the transition will be easier than it otherwise might have been. The main three guys playing the position are sophomore Major Wright, sophomore converted CB Ahmad Black, and freshman Will Hill. Black appears to be ahead of Hill for now, though Hill, wearing #10, is an impressive athlete.

Freshman DT Bryan Jones has been working with the offensive line.

RB/KR Brandon James has been seeing time at receiver and could possibly switch there permanently. Mon Williams is the only other running back who has lined up at receiver so far.

The rumors and rumblings that RB Kestahn Moore might switch to fullback are still persisting, but I personally doubt the only guy to start at running back on opening day for Meyer at Florida will change positions, especially since he had 5.58 yards per carry last year.

Stepping up

Perhaps the most impressive guy in Monday morning’s all-freshman practice was WR Frankie Hammond, Jr.

After Monday’s practice, Meyer singled out USC transfer RB Emmanuel Moody and freshman DT Omar Hunter for excellent play. Despite recent reports of Hunter experiencing back pain, he has been playing like a “beast” according to multiple beat writers covering practice.

WR Percy Harvin has impressed, but the coaches are limiting his work as a precautionary measure. He had an apparent mild limp at the end of Monday’s session.

CB Joe Haden has switched from #12 to #5. He already has an interception of Tebow and has been playing well all around.

Sophomore LB Lorenzo Edwards is a serious threat to pass A.J. Jones for the third starting linebacker spot alongside Brandon Spikes and Dustin Doe.

P Chas Henry has been booming his punts. Only five of his punts were even returned last year, but his distance wasn’t remarkable. This is a welcome development and matches what I noticed in the spring game. A quarterback in high school, he also has been showing off his arm while playing QB for defensive drills.

Speaking of special teams, RB Chris Rainey has been practicing with the punt blocking unit. He also is apparently a gunner for the punt coverage team. Rainey has switched from wearing #8 to #3.

Speedy RB/track star Jeffrey Demps has been getting reps at running back, and along with Rainey he has the best burst on the team. Demps is also wearing #2, coincidentally the same number as the last track star to play running back at Florida, Bo Carroll.

TE Aaron Hernandez appears to be great at finding open space. That was true of him in his limited duty last year, so look for his role to expand greatly in 2008.

DE Carlos Dunlap has also been impressive. On one play he forced Tebow to pump fake simply by raising his hand up, and the next play he got a practice sack on Tebow. He is still wearing #8, which looks really strange for a guy his size let alone a defensive end.

Still working

Sophomore QB Cam Newton has not looked sharp throwing the ball yet. New walk on QB Zack O’Quinn from Louisiana apparently has also not been impressing.

Despite the praise from Meyer, Moody is practicing as the third string running back. Sounds like a classic Meyer motivational scheme to me.

JUCO transfer WR Carl Moore is noticeably behind WR Riley Cooper in the speed department. That may not be a huge deal as Cooper is the fourth fastest guy on the team, just a step or two behind Harvin, Rainey, and Demps. In fairness and for what it’s worth, someone has reported that Moore has been “catching everything in sight,” though I don’t know who.

Injury news

Senior OG Jim Tartt has been seeing limited time as a precaution due to a shoulder ailment that has plagued him nearly his entire time at Florida.

OL Maurice Hurt is recovering from minor injuries sustained in a scooter accident and will be fine in a few days.

OL Carl Johnson is recovering from a broken wrist and is spending his time in the Pit, an area where injured players do excercises to make sure they’re working as hard as everyone else, rather than on the field practicing.

Redshirt freshman WR Paul Wilson had wrist surgery in June, is wearing a cast, and obviously will not be ready to go by the first game.

Etc.

Scouts for both the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the New York Giants were on hand for Monday’s session.


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