A Final Draft Wrapup

April 29, 2009

In the end, three Gators got drafted and four more found jobs as undrafted free agents:

Percy Harvin, 1st round to Minnesota

Louis Murphy, 4th round to Oakland

Cornelius Ingram, 5th round to Philadelphia

Phil Trautwein to St. Louis

Jason Watkins to Houston

James Smith to Cincinnati

Kestahn Moore to Denver

It was a bit disappointing, all things considered. I had heard that Murphy and Ingram each had the potential to go as high as the second round. I never expected to see them have to wait until the fourth and fifth rounds to go.

In Murphy’s case, it may not have a happy ending. The Raiders at this point are a black hole for talent, though he does get to have JaMarcus Russell put football-shaped holes in his hands on Sundays. He’ll be a great addition to Oakland’s track team, along with Darrius Heyward-Bey, but whether Oakland will find football success is beyond me. Incidentally, I don’t think Heyward-Bey is any better than Murphy is, but the inanity surrounding 40 times at the combine made him a No. 1 pick. Go figure.

In Ingram’s case, it is probably a blessing in disguise. Philly had the best draft in my estimation, and with Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, and Ingram, no one upgraded their offense more. He did say in an interview that the Eagles would have taken him earlier if they had a third or fourth round pick, so that makes him (and me) feel better. Regardless, he’s going to be on one of the NFL’s best offenses within two years thanks to McNabb, Westbrook, Jackson, and his fellow draftmates.

It seems odd to me that neither of the tackles got drafted. I know that Trautwein and Watkins weren’t going to be franchise cornerstones, but I would have thought they’d be worth a late round pick. It seemse like the NFL hasn’t been liking Florida offensive linemen lately, though that will probably change whenever the Pouncey brothers enter their names in.

I am glad to see Moore get picked up by Denver. He has no shot at playing running back there, as Denver now has about 15 of them on the roster, but he could make it as a blocker and a special teams guy. Last season had to be tough for him, having lost his feature back role to a couple of freshmen. However, he apparently never complained and kept on picking up blitz after blitz to buy Tebow time. Say what you want about his running back play, and someone probably already has, but the guy can block and could be in the league for at least a few seasons.

I am also glad to see James Smith get picked up. He’s a former walk on who will be remembered by die hard Gators as the guy who recovered South Carolina’s ill-fated throwback during a kickoff last season. It’s rare that long snappers ever get drafted, so he really never had a shot at hearing his name called over the weekend. However, he probably has a decent shot at making a roster somewhere due to his specialization and demonstrated ability to play well on special teams.

Next year, Florida will have a boatload of guys in the draft. Seniors like Spikes, Tebow, and Cunningham will be there, and underclassmen like Haden, Dunlap, and the Pounceys will probably be there too. Some mock drafts for 2010 are already out there, but I won’t link to any since they’re of no use now. After all, at this time last year, Todd Boeckman and Cullen Harper were no worse than second round picks.

What I do know is that the thin draft is not a sign of weakness, as FSU’s and Miami’s were, but the last echoing effect of the final, uncertain year of the Zook era and the transitional class that Urban Meyer had to throw together at the last minute in 2005. Only five players who we’ll see take the field from that time remain: Dorian Munroe, Jonathan Phillips, David Nelson, and Ryan Stamper in the two-deep plus Cade Holliday on special teams.

Next year is when Meyer’s monster 2006 recruiting class (minus Percy, of course) finally hits the draft. But before that, there is the matter of the fall when those seniors lead Florida to its third title in four years.


Breaking SEC News

April 1, 2009

I’ve got some big news about the SEC and ACC posted over at Team Speed Kills. This is big stuff folks; you’re not going to want to miss it.


Gator Football Spring Practice Week 1 Wrapup

March 30, 2009

The Offense

Florida is experimenting with a fast-paced, uptempo offense. It is partially as a result of seeing Kevin Wilson’s Oklahoma offense in the national title game and partially as a result of seeing Kevin Wilson’s Northwestern offense in 2001.

I took a look at pace earlier this offseason, and I projected that the Gators would have scored about 55 a game last year if they played at Oklahoma’s pace. Urban Meyer may or may not have seen a similar figure from his stats guys, but he seems most interested in the way that an uptempo offense disrupts defenses.

The other big difference is that Tim Tebow will be taking some snaps under center. Tebow says it’s happening because it’s the way Scot Loeffler is influencing the offense, while Meyer says it’s happening to get Tebow more comfortable with it since he’ll have to do that in the NFL. It’s not that one is wrong and one is right, since the offense has always been a team effort under Meyer.

Many have pointed out that packages with the quarterback under center existed in Meyer’s offense in 2005 and 2006 when Chris Leak was running the show. That is true, and the I-formation is also coming back if they can find a fullback.

Behind Tebow, redshirt sophomore QB John Brantley is looking sharp.

Receivers

The question on everyone’s mind comes down to this: who will replace Percy Harvin? Meyer said around national signing day that he sees incoming freshman Andre Debose in that role. So far, that appears likely because no one has stepped up to take control of that role so far. Deonte Thompson, Chris Rainey, and Jeff Demps are the other candidates for that position.

Carl Moore was the invisible man for a lot of last season, which was odd for someone touted as a five-star guy from junior college. He’s been looking a lot better this year, now that

David Nelson and Aaron Hernandez have also looked good catching passes. Justin Williams has been practicing with the first team offense along with Thompson and Nelson. Riley Cooper is playing baseball and is not participating in spring football practice.

Personally, I’m thinking that the 2008 receiving corps is not going to be the best analogue for the 2009 corps in terms of fitting guys into roles. To me right now, 2006 seems like a better comparison given the personnel and likely ball distribution. Having Nelson as Dallas Baker, Thompson as Bubba Caldwell, Debose as Harvin, Moore as Jemaille Cornelius and so on feels a little more right. We’ll see.

Running Backs and Offensive Line

With Rainey rehabbing from surgery and Demps running track, Emmanuel Moody is the only scholarship running back at practice. Fortunately, he’s been playing very well so far though the defense has been stuffing him in goal line scenarios.

A probable cause for that is the fact that the offensive line has not been great. Partially that is because both Pouncey brothers are sidelined with injury right now, and the only other returning starter (Carl Johnson) is at a new position.

The younger guys who haven’t played much haven’t stepped up a whole lot. Things will get better when the Pounceys come back, but they alone won’t solve all the problems. It took half the season for last year’s line to gel, but hopefully this year’s crew will work themselves out a little sooner.

Defense

The defense has been dominating so far, but Meyer says that’s “usually” the case at this early stage of spring practice. It makes sense considering the offense is working through a lot of issues with new schemes and personnel while the defense is enjoying complete continuity.

The defense won the first scrimmage.

Defensive Line

Things are great at defensive end. They are so good and so deep that redshirt freshman Earl Okine has been moved to the inside.

With Torrey Davis kicked off the team and John Brown deciding to transfer, depth is again an issue at defensive tackle. Even the vaunted 2006 line needed Ray McDonald to move from the outside to the inside for depth.

As it turns out, things at tackle have been fine so far. Jaye Howard is bigger than ever and looking like a solid backup to starters Lawrence Marsh and Terron Sanders. Okine has been adjusting well so far. Omar Hunter, the guy Meyer called the Tim Tebow of the 2008 recruiting class, is finally in shape, healthy, and contributing.

Linebackers and Secondary

Brandon Spikes is happy to be back, and the Gators are happy to have him. He will be the unquestioned leader of what should be one of the top defenses in the country. This position is one of the best and deepest on the team, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Spikes, Stamper, and Jones are the first teamers right now, while Doe, Lorenzo Edwards, and Lerentree McCray are the second teamers.

The secondary is very crowded, especially at safety. Starters Ahmad Black and Major Wright are back, and both are playing well. Fifth year senior Dorian Munroe, injured all of 2008, wants his starting role back. Will Hill has been making plays. Dee Finley is finally on campus, and he’s looking athletic. It’s crowded back there.

Not much has been reported about the corners, other than that Janoris Jenkins has been taking some reps as a punt returner thanks to Brandon James being out. Freshman Adrian Bushell intercepted Tebow as well, and that’s about it.

I would expect that the position will be just fine with Joe Haden and Jenkins locking things down as the starters. The depth at secondary is something any other team in the country would be envious of.


Told You So

March 27, 2009

Billy Donovan is not going to be the coach at Kentucky:

“In response to the rumors circulating about my interest in other jobs, I wanted to address this as quickly as possible. I am committed to the University of Florida and look forward to continuing to build our program here.”

When I saw a report that Jeremy Foley was in his office in Gainesville all Friday, I knew Donovan was staying put. When Foley doesn’t have a sense of urgency, there’s nothing to be anxious about. As it turns out, Kentucky’s A.D. Mitch Barnhart hasn’t even asked permission to speak to Donovan.

I know the rumors won’t end here, so I’ll just try to ignore them. Billy Donovan is the Florida head coach, and he will be for quite some time. That’s all anyone needs to know.

UPDATE

If you need anything more

“Billy (Donovan) will not be a candidate for any job that comes open, I can confirm.”

-UF spokesman Fred Demerest


No, Billy Donovan isn’t Going to Kentucky

March 27, 2009

Right now, it looks like Billy Gillispie is on his way out the door at Kentucky. I’d imagine that nothing causes folks to hit the panic button in Lexington quite like missing the NCAA tournament does.

With another coach out at UK, you know what that means: speculation about Billy Donovan going up there to take the head coaching job. Pat Dooley doesn’t believe it will happen, Kevin Brockway makes some good points in the negative, and Alligator Army reminds us all that the reason Billy D came back from the Orlando Magic was that he loved UF.

One of the other big arguments against Donovan leaving is that he already knows what the UK fanbase is like. After two down years in Gainesville, folks are restless but behind him 100%. After two down years in Kentucky, the Wildcats are ready to run Gillispie out of town.

Plus, I can remember it now: “We got the right Billy, and you didn’t.” That was the refrain I heard from ‘Cats fans after Gillispie signed on two years ago. Now what’s the verdict on that one?

I understand that Florida basketball will always be in the shadow of Florida football, whereas the opposite is true at Kentucky. If anyone knows that it’s Donovan, considering he’s spent time at both places. However, there’s something to be said for not having that kind of pressure and being able to survive a couple of rebuilding years.

The top reason I don’t see Donovan leaving is timing.

Why now? Why not two years ago? He’s admitted that one reason why he wanted to try the NBA two years ago was that he recognized that it was going to be a multi-year project getting UF hoops back to full strength.

It appears that with the young core of players returning along with the coming of guys like Georgetown transfer Vernon Macklin and all-everything recruit Kenny Boynton, that project is nearing completion. Why bail on Florida at this point to do another rebuilding project at Kentucky?

Now would be a terrible time to go take that job. If he truly did want to go there someday, it would make more sense for him to make a run with the guys he’s got now in Gainesville and wait for Lexington to chew up and spit out whoever comes in next.

I can’t find any reasonable explanation as to why Billy Donovan would choose to leave Florida for Kentucky. Never is a long time, and he may decide one day that he’s done all he can in Gainesville and that he wants a new challenge.

However, don’t expect to see him leave in 2009.


Bad SEC Ads: Going for the Gold

March 26, 2009

Over at Team Speed Kills, SBNation’s SEC blog, I am going to be doing reviews of unintentionally funny commercials from within the conference. The first one is up, and it’s on Tommy Tuberville’s absurd Golden Flake spot. Check it out.


The Florida-Era Steve Spurrier is Officially Gone

March 24, 2009

The Florida-era Steve Spurrier is completely gone.

I don’t say that lightly, especially because of how big a part of my childhood he was. My first time at the Swamp was the ’89 Florida-Kentucky game when I was four. I’ve been to at least one game there every year since.

On fall Sundays while I was growing up, my family had a custom of eating lunch while watching the Steve Spurrier Show with lunch after church. It was jarring to go from that to Ron Zook’s show, and it never did quite feel right.

I inherited a lot of my attitudes about football from that Steve Spurrier: it’s okay to throw for the endzone late in a blowout if it’s the backup doing it, there’s a certain elegance about getting receivers wide open over and over, he who’s on top gets to talk, etc.

When I saw that he is going to implement a Wildcat formation, I realized that the Spurrier I once knew is gone. I should have known this moment was coming given the state of the South Carolina offense the past couple years, but I figured it was what would happen if he got stuck with only quarterbacks at Noah Brindise-level and below.

I simply cannot fathom the Florida-era Spurrier ever deciding to run many plays without a quarterback on the field. He was a quarterback, loved to teach quarterbacks, and acted like a quarterback from the sideline as he still could read defenses better than most collegiate signal callers. That Spurrier would never have considered the Wildcat because he could get just as many yards on a fade route.

What started in Washington has completed in South Carolina. I am with those who think he thought he could walk into Columbia and win almost as quickly as he did at Florida. It worked before, why can’t it work now?

For one thing, the situations are completely different. Bear Bryant famously called Florida a sleeping giant of a program. Charley Pell and Galen Hall built it up to the point where it could take off, and they brought on the same probation that other big time programs had in the ‘80s while doing it. The cupboards were stocked, and Spurrier was the right guy in the right place at the right time for UF.

The talent level at South Carolina in 2005 was not comparable to that of Florida in 1990. It was comparable to that of Florida in 2005 though, and the Gamecocks’ win that year (in a game that Spurrier outcoached Urban Meyer, no less) showed it.

Three seasons later, the gap between Spurrier’s old program and his current one seems like it could scarcely be wider. Florida has added two more SEC and national titles, and it handed him his worst defeat ever last season to the tune of 56-6. Whatever he’s doing has caused him to fall behind the conference leaders, the opposite direction he wants to go.

Now to help catch up, Spurrier, a guy with six SEC titles, is essentially taking a page out of the playbook of Houston Nutt, a guy with no SEC titles. I can tell you that I would never have expected to see that happen when he took the job four years ago.

I have no doubt that his competitive fire is still burning; I doubt anything will ever extinguish that. The witticisms will still come, as they have periodically through his time in Columbia.

The trend-setting Spurrier though is gone, replaced by a more pragmatic and, yes, trend-following Spurrier. It’s time for all of us to stop expecting to see anything different.


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