Harvin to the Vikings

April 25, 2009

Percy Harvin didn’t fall out of the first round after all.

The Minnesota Vikings picked him up, which isn’t a bad place. They’re close to contending, but the black hole at quarterback looms large. Harvin and Peterson make two of a great Big Three, but they won’t go over the top without something better than Tavares Jackson under center.

Cornelius Ingram is probably the next Gator off the board.

Meanwhile, my Bucs didn’t just fall for Josh Freeman, but they traded up to get him. Raheem Morris coached at K-State so that’s why he likes Freeman, but that’s only going to make it messier when he doesn’t work out.

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Four Gators Headed to the NFL Combine

February 3, 2009

ESPN SEC football blogger Chris Low has the list of all 54 SEC players invited to the NFL combine. Somewhat surprising to me was that only four Florida players were invited to come.

Granted the team was very young and automatic invitees Tim Tebow and Brandon Spikes chose to stay in school, but that number seems low. The four guys were:

Percy Harvin

Cornelius Ingram

Louis Murphy

Jason Watkins

The name that jumps out to me as missing is Phil Trautwein. As I understood it, he could have left and been drafted after the 2007 season despite missing it with an ACL injury. I know he had about four false starts in the national title game, but I figured he’d at least be invited to the combine.

It is awesome to see that Cornelius Ingram is going though. Gator fans certainly didn’t forget about him this season, but it’s good to know the scouts didn’t either.

Not getting a combine invite doesn’t mean a guy will be passed over entirely on draft day, but it does just about end a player’s chances of being taken early. I just figure this is a sign that Trautwein will be a late round choice. If he is good enough to play in the league, he’ll make it one way or another.


Gators Working Through Injuries

October 6, 2008

It’s pretty remarkable how banged up the Gators were last Saturday.

They already had the five guys who tore ACLs in the offseason, most notably likely starters Cornelius Ingram and Dorian Munroe. Jim Tartt, Marcus Gilbert, and Maurice Hurt are all offensive guards that did not play (Tartt did for a couple plays before coming out permanently). Then you had running backs Emmanuel Moody and Kestahn Moore out with ankle and hamstring injuries, respectively. Even Tim Tebow admitted to being hurt or sore “a little bit;” I did notice him with a band aid on his left index finger after Brantley came in, but I don’t know if that’s what he was referring to.

Over on defense, the top two weakside linebackers were out with Dustin Doe and Ryan Stamper. Backup strong safety Will Hill apparently missed the game as well.

According to Urban Meyer, we can expect to see Stamper, Moore, Gilbert, and Hill play against LSU. Moody and Tartt are questionable right now, and Doe is definitely out until after the bye week, having just had surgery for a double hernia.

The guys that were missed most against Arkansas were Moody and Stamper. Tartt is a big loss for sure, but at this point he’s never going to be better than questionable for any game. For all the running up the middle the coaches wanted to do, Moody would have been perfect. Stamper is also great in run defense, something the Gators could have shored up last Saturday.

Kestahn Moore was able to run up the middle pretty reliably against LSU last season. That is until he fumbled of course, at which point Captain Hook benched him for the rest of the game. It would sure be nice to see Moody back for this one Saturday, and failing that to see Moore get another chance. LSU has some of their interior linemen a bit banged up, just like a season ago, and there could be opportunities for gains there.


Meet Aaron Hernandez

August 27, 2008

Losing Cornelius Ingram was a big blow to the Gators not just because of his on-field play, but also his leadership as a fifth-year senior. His tale of setbacks, triumph, and now disappointment in injury will be a story told by Gators for many years. Unfortunately the theme will be “what might have been.”

Ingram will still be a captain this year, and Meyer plans on having him be a leader in the locker room. The sad truth is that he won’t be a leader on the field, so I think it’s worth taking a look at the guy who will be taking up his mantle as starting tight end, Aaron Hernandez.

According to those who think they know, Hernandez was either the No. 1 (Scout) or No. 2 (Rivals) tight end in the 2007 prospect pool. Florida lists him at 6-3, 255 which puts him on the short side for NFL tight ends. However, he’s still at Florida for another two to three years, so that’s hardly a concern now.

He came to Florida from a long way away–Bristol, Connecticut. Predictably, UF’s biggest rival in gaining his services was UConn (the school he initially committed to), but Hernandez fell in love with the Florida program. He used his official visit in the fall of 2006 to get his family to warm up to the idea as much as anything, and the overwhelming experience of game day in the Swamp swung his mother’s vote to “yes” for him going to Gainesville.

He played wide receiver and apparently some defense too in high school, but his build had everyone projecting him to be a tight end in college. They called him a physical “freak” with great hands and impressive quickness for his size.

The most amazing thing in his UF profile about his high school career is that he once caught nine passes for 376 yards in one game, the seventh highest receiving total in high school history. That is an average of 41.78 yards per catch, if you’re counting along at home.

Last season, he saw a lot of work blocking on special teams and some spot duty on offense as he proved himself to the coaches. He caught Tim Tebow’s annual jump pass in the Kentucky game and saw an increased role in the games against FAU and Michigan.

I have put together a brief highlight video showing what he can do:

As you can see on the shovel pass play, Hernandez will be used as an H-back as well as a tight end. I would also expect to see him line up in the slot as Ingram used to, because like his injured elder he is too fast for linebackers to cover but too big for cornerbacks to tackle alone.

The promise he showed last season was great enough that Urban Meyer started drawing up offensive sets with two tight ends for the first time in his career. The coaches have said they’ll still use those sets with Hernandez and fifth-year senior Tate Casey, since Casey, though not as fast, is just as sure-handed of a receiver. Casey is also the best blocker of the three tight ends.

In all of the discussion of Tebow’s chances to repeat as Heisman winner to the upgraded running back unit to the needed improvement on defense, Hernandez has often been overlooked this offseason. However, I expect him to be a key part of the offense and a constant threat for being the receiver of fake punts.

His turn to be the man has come earlier than anyone expected, but I see no reason to think he won’t step up and be one of the Gators’ best and most reliable offensive cogs in 2008.


Gator News Roundup: Game Week Edition

August 25, 2008

Captains named

Urban Meyer does captains a little differently than most coaches do. He has his players vote on who will be captains for the year, and then each week he selects players from that group to be go out for the coin toss. They’re all technically captains the whole year, but only a few get to be captain for a particular game. It’s kind of confusing, but they make it work.

This year’s captains are: senior DT Javier Estopinan, injured senior TE Cornelius Ingram, senior RB Kestahn Moore, senior WR Louis Murphy, senior long-snapper James Smith, junior LB Brandon Spikes, junior LB Ryan Stamper, senior OG Jim Tartt, junior QB Tim Tebow, senior OT Phil Trautwein, and senior OL Jason Watkins.

The captains for each game are announced during the week leading up to them.

Wide receivers

Percy Harvin has been back practicing again, though not participating in everything. Tebow remarked that Harvin looks extra fast because he hasn’t been practicing as much as everyone else. Harvin already knows the offense and has great rapport with his quarterback, so the lack of practice is not really a concern. Being fully healthy is the most important goal, so Meyer has yet to fully commit to Harvin playing against Hawaii.

JUCO transfer Carl Moore had a rough spring, which he attributes to the complexity of the Florida offense compared to his junior college offense. Murphy took him under his wing a bit during the offseason, and now Moore is said to be one of Tebow’s favorite targets. Meyer has gone so far as to compare him to Dallas Baker. Urban is very reluctant to compare players to his favorite guys from past teams and Baker was certainly one of those favorite players, so that says a lot.

Moore, Murphy, Riley Cooper, and Deonte Thompson have separated themselves from the rest of the receiving corps, and along with Harvin make up perhaps the most formidable top-five receivers of any team in the country.

Running backs

For the first time in his tenure at Florida, Meyer has said he is excited about the running backs. Meyer hasn’t been completely pleased with Emmanuel Moody, saying there is room for improvement. However, he also has indicated that up to four running backs could be used regularly, and Chris Rainey has said the goal is to get the backs as a unit over 1,000 yards collectively.

Kestahn Moore and Moody figure to be the workhorses, with Rainey and Jeff Demps as speed backs. If either Moore or Moody catch fumblitis or otherwise upset the coaches, Mon Williams could step up in place. We also know that Harvin will be getting carries, potentially up to 15 a game, and Tebow of course will be doing some running of his own.

Defense

Meyer thinks DE Jermaine Cunningham was just OK last season, but he should be “better than OK” in 2008. Freshman DE Earl Okine will probably redshirt thanks to some lingering injuries and the emergence of fellow freshman DE William Green.

It is almost certain at this point that Major Wright and Ahmad Black will be the starters at safety, with highly-touted freshman Will Hill as a backup. It is partly due to strong play by Black and partly due to inconsistency in Hill’s play.

Special teams

The Gainesville Sun put up an excellent article on the Gators’ special teams. Did you know UF led the SEC in punt blocks last season with four?

Brandon James will still be returning kicks and punts. He was so effective a season ago that opponents began kicking away from him or doing squib kicks to keep him from ripping off a long return. Rainey and Demps are also expected to put in some return work.

Meyer says that senior Brandon Phillips is slightly ahead for the starting place kicker job. Competitor Caleb Sturgis should see the field regardless doing kickoffs since he has the stronger leg of the two.

Et cetera

The quarterbacking situations for the Gators’ first two opponents is looking shaky. Newly-named Hawai’i starter Brent Rausch has missed recent practice with a strained arm, a serious deal for the leader of a pass-heavy offense.

Meanwhile, Miami redshirt freshman Robert Marve has been suspended for the first game against Charleston Southern because of an arrest last Halloween. The coaches did not tell him until last Friday that he would be suspended so as not to affect his motivation in trying to win the starter’s role over true freshman Jacory Harris.

The Gators did not practice last Thursday due to Tropical Storm Fay. Practice on Friday was in sloppy conditions, but no one complained or slacked, much to the coaches’ delight. There have been many reports that last year’s team did not handle the recent success well and didn’t always put forth maximum effort in practice. Giving good effort in adverse conditions is a great sign for this year’s team.

Offensive Coordinator Dan Mullen has been getting help from Dirk Koetter in understanding the new NFL-style 40 second play clock. Koetter is a former head coach of Boise State and Arizona State and is now the offensive coordinator for the nearby Jacksonville Jaguars.

For whatever it’s worth, Florida is a 34 1/2-point favorite over Hawai’i. I don’t gamble, but personally I’d take the over. The Gators put up 59 on Troy, Tennessee, and FAU last season. This year’s offense (which will be even better) should be able to put up 60 or 70 on Hawai’i if they want to, and the defense isn’t going to let the Warriors get to 30 points.

Raycom Sports (formerly Lincoln Financial Sports and Jefferson Pilot Sports before that) has renewed its partnership with Yahoo! Sports this season. If you don’t have a Raycom affiliate in your area and would like to see the Gators eviscerate Hawai’i, you can stream the game live from here.


Cornelius Ingram Out and Other Gator News

August 8, 2008

Bad, bad news folks. Cornelius Ingram has told to the Sporting News that he tore his ACL towards the end of Tuesday’s practice. An MRI Thursday confirmed it.

Recruited as much by Billy Donovan for the basketball team as he was by Ron Zook for the football team, Ingram has had a long, strange ride here. He ended up giving up basketball to focus on football, but he nearly quit the team two years in when the coaches told him he wouldn’t be playing quarterback anymore.

He decided to stay and tough it out, and he blossomed into one of the country’s best pass-catching tight ends. He could have gone to the draft but decided to stay for his final season. For a guy who’s done everything right on and off the field, this hurts.

I supposed he’ll just rehab and go to the draft since he’s already 23 and getting a medical redshirt for a sixth year doesn’t make much sense. It hurts the team because it needs leadership from its tiny senior class. It hurts him as a football player because another season in school would have helped him improve his blocking, the glaring weakness in his game. He’s got the measurables to impress scouts and be drafted early, but the first round is probably out of the question now.

In theory, the team will be fine. Aaron Hernandez and Carl Moore can run Ingram’s routes, and Tate Casey can do his blocking. The only possibility this takes away is having Ingram and Hernandez on the field at the same time, a combination potent enough to have Urban Meyer drawing up two-tight end schemes for the first time in his career.

Fare thee well, Cornelius. It was great to have you as a Gator.

Other News

Chris Rainey was hobbled Wednesday due to a groin strain, an injury that has been bugging him since track season according to Meyer. Justin Trattou missed Wednesday practice with the flu, but it’s not serious. Jeffrey Demps appeared to injure his hip and/or knee on the last play Wednesday, but Meyer said he’d be fine. Omar Hunter has been practicing in everything but contact drills due to his back soreness, but the coaches hoped to have him in full contact on Friday.

Meyer was unhappy with practice on Wednesday, saying the guys weren’t flying around like Brandon Siler and Ray McDonald used to. For a team that still has plenty of youth, dragging on the middle day of the week is not entirely unexpected.

The Gainesville Sun’‘s Brandon Zimmerman reported from Wednesday’s session a few nuggets of good news. Redshirt freshman WR Deonte Thompson looked really good and really fast. He says Carlos Dunlap looks like Al Horford in a football uniform and performed well. The punt block drill gets Meyer fired up more than anything, and it looked good. Joe Haden looks confident and could have a breakout year.

Sophomore Lawrence Marsh and JUCO transfer Troy Epps look like the starters at defensive tackle for now. John Brantley throws a nice ball, better than the descriptions of Cam Newton earlier in the week. Frankie Hammond, Jr. also had another acrobatic catch.

Probably as a result of the lackluster effort, Meyer chose to close practice on Thursday and Friday. The days had originally been earmarked for open practice, but he probably felt that the standing room only crowd yesterday distracted his team.

That’s disappointing, but there’s nothing written that requires his practices to be open. No doubt the some of the regulars on Gainesville’s sports talk radio are bemoaning the further erosion of access into the program for “the average fan” that they’ve been mourning ever since Meyer arrived.

The Sun has an article up about how the other tight ends on the roster must step up. Towards the end it describes the insane hoops Tate Casey had to jump through to even be back this year.

Casey looked good as a freshman in 2004, but the most notable thing he’s done since Meyer arrived was catch Tim Tebow’s first jump pass. He’s a good blocker though, so he’ll get time on the field. I can also tell you from personal experience that he’s a good guy. He also likes to wear a Minnesota Twins hat because it has his initials on it.

There really isn’t much else to report since practice was closed and all of the attention in the post-practice interview with Meyer was rightfully about CI. The only other piece of information I could find is Meyer saying that the injury “puts a dent” in the plans to have two tight end sets this fall. In other word, they’re pretty much scrapped.

If you’re looking for a positive in this (not that there’s much of one), it’s that it allows Casey to get some real playing time his final year and gives Hernandez some of the spotlight. He showed some flashes last season that indicated that when it’s all said and done, he could end up being better than Ingram.

No doubt about it though, the Gators are worse off for this to happen.

ETC

Freshman CB Adrian Bushell was cleared by the NCAA Clearinghouse, so good for him and for Florida.

Freshman CB Jeremy Brown from Orlando’s Boone High School is receiving rave reviews from Meyer who called him “one of the hardest working guys on the team.” Enrolling early last January gave him a boost in skill and confidence.

Closing practice on Thursday had the desired effect as Meyer was pleased with the effort. He feels like “the circus is over” and everyone’s back to working hard. I wonder if this will cause changes in future practices being open, or at least the amount of them.

One of the video aces from the GatorSports.com message board has a nice tribute video up of CI.


Looking Back and Forward

October 29, 2007

I was stunned after Auburn; I was disappointed after LSU; I was angry after Georgia.

For one, Mark Richt should have been tossed from the game for having his whole team rush the field. Not suspended or fined after the fact, just thrown out at the time to ensure no one tries to pull copycat performances. For one, it’s classless. Also, it could have incited a riot, given the amount of bad blood between the two teams. Plus, Heath Cline pointed out it was stupid from Georgia’s perspective too – Moreno barely got the nose of the ball in the endzone, and if replay reversed the play, they’re looking at 4th and goal from the 31. It was completely unnecessary and bad from every angle. And to all of you out there talking about how great it worked: no, it didn’t work. Florida marched right back down the field to tie it, and even took a lead later in the half.

The missed opportunities hurt the most. The defense played its worst game this year, and I put far more of the loss on its shoulders than that of the offense. There were two turnovers in the first half that could have led to scores. Florida got the ball 1st and 10 at the UGA 30 thanks to penalties on the kickoff, and three plays later they were taking a delay of game to back up to punt. There was also the play in the second half where Tim Tebow had  Cornelius Ingram wide open over the middle  for an almost certain score but overthrew him. That’s four well-defined instances where the offense could have scored, not to mention when the defense got back-to-back stops in the second half that lead to a total of zero Florida points.

When it comes down to it, like I said earlier, the defense is the problem. Clint McMillan and Javier Estopinan are not SEC-caliber defensive tackles. Kyle Jackson is not an SEC-caliber safety, and Tony Joiner only is when he’s got Reggie Nelson at the other safety spot. The rest is too young to be counted on every play, and it showed. Georgia ran basic running plays, going left between the tackle and guard and doing toss sweeps to either side. It’s not rocket science, but it worked and was eerily reminiscent of the 2004 Mississippi State game where Jerious Norwood ran all over Florida doing the same 4 basic running plays in a random order.

Speaking of historic games, I could have sworn Dan Mullen learned his lesson about the 5 wide set after the 2005 LSU game. If the defense is blitzing every time you go 5 wide, as LSU did then and Georgia did on Saturday, you don’t call slow developing pass plays from that set. It’s that simple, because 5 offensive linemen can’t block 6 defenders for the time required for the receivers to run their routes. Despite this fact being patently obvious, and despite having reaped the consequences of trying to fight it two years ago, Mullen continually called for slow developing plays out of the 5 wide set. Now, I will never claim to have the expertise needed to be an offensive coordinator, and I have not played organized football. However, just because I’m not a singer doesn’t mean I don’t know when a singer is out of tune, and similarly the fact that I can count to 6 means I am qualified to say that having only 5 blockers for a 6-man blitz is a recipe for disaster. Especially when your quarterback has a bum shoulder and you instructed him not to run.

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As for the national scene, Ohio State can be #1 for now, but if Arizona State goes unbeaten then they have to be #1. The Pac 10 is about 1,000,000 times better than the Big Ten, and so is the SEC for that matter. Given the choice, I’d give an undefeated Arizona State and a 1-loss LSU team priority for the national title game over an unbeaten Ohio State. The statistical quality of Ohio State’s schedule is laughable at best, and in won/loss terms like the NCAA uses, it’s just as bad.

That is all.

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There will not be much more this week since I am very busy with class, projects, and job interviews. I am a graduate student, after all. I finish in December, so the interviews are coming by the bunches now, and I have one each day of this week.

If you are in need of a college football fix, by all means click any of the links in the blogroll and you won’t be disappointed.