Veteran Florida players leading way

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Florida receiver Josh Hammond (10) runs through defenders after making a catch during a practice in the spring at the Sanders Practice Fields on the UF campus. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

If there is a theme to Florida’s spring football camp it is that there are at least two of them — one, is that everyone knows what he is doing and, two, everyone knows where he wants to go.

There is so much confidence in the air that this team is talking openly about getting to Atlanta for the College Football Playoff because the returning players learned how to win big games last year.

You can see it in the body language of a team that feels sure of itself after a season where it looked at times (early) like a newborn calf.

“I’m able to teach a lot of guys because I move a lot faster than I did last year,” said running back Lamical Perine. “A lot of people last year were nervous. They know what to expect this year.”

And yet, Gator fans don’t know what to expect if they have any sense of history. They can remember the 1992 team that lost its offensive line and started two freshmen at the tackles and Shane Matthews was running for his life on every play.

We’re so far away from knowing if Florida will be able to figure out the offensive line situation we can’t even see the answer with a telescope.

We know Florida’s strengths and weaknesses and have studied the schedule and all that, but one thing that weighs me to the positive on the 2019 team is more intangible than anything.

The Gators have a lot of old souls.

They’ve got a lot of guys who are older than their years. You know, like a dog ages seven years for every human year? I think this group of players might have picked up an extra digit or two in life lessons.

Like receiver Josh Hammond, who came to Florida as a 17-year-old and has seen it all in four years.

“There are adjustments you have to make when you first get here,” he said. “I came here in the spring (as a freshman) and I could see it in other guys the next fall.”

Old souls.

Guys who have been through the dark side of college football, the side where your coach gets fired in the middle of the season and your home fans boo you during a game you end up winning.

You know, like Feleipe Franks. That’s an old soul.

“I try to lead people in the right direction. People can learn from my wrongs,” he said. “We have a lot of guys on the team who are super mature. They’ve been through this process a lot. They know how to prepare for games.”

And they know what is required of them when it comes to mentoring younger players. These old souls like David Reese (the Elder), Freddie Swain, CJ Henderson, Jabari Zuniga and Brett Heggie have seen how bad it can be and how much better it feels when it is not.

They know how to get there.

“Guys who are trying to set the standard, their job is to set the bar high and pull everybody up,’ said Florida coach Dan Mullen. “Much easier to do in year two.

“It certainly helps when your good players do things or trying to do things the right way and have leadership of the team. There is a comfort when you look at guys who have been around, who have paid some dues, are good players, have respect of their teammates and do things the right way.”

He has some of those guys.

“We’re working at it,” Mullen said. “I think a lot more this year than last year.”

Perine is a good example.

The senior from Mobile, Ala., is the lead back in more ways than one. He knows he has to help the young players go through the expectations portal that has gobbled up cocky high school stars and spit them out.

“I try to tell young guys, everybody had that mindset when they come in,” Perine said. “I’m going to play. I’m going to do this and that. You can’t do that until you actually prove yourself that you’re dependable.

“You can’t come in and think you’re going to take somebody’s position.

I was that way when I first got here. I had my days when I’d come in and was lazy, not going full speed. As I matured, you realize you got to work for it. Nobody is going to hand you nothing around here. It’s the SEC.”

Every day.

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at pat.dooley@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

15 COMMENTS

  1. “And yet, Gator fans don’t know what to expect if they have any sense of history. They can remember the 1992 team that lost its offensive line and started two freshmen at the tackles and Shane Matthews was running for his life on every play.” — Pat Dooley

    Thankfully, the Gators aren’t likely to have “two freshmen” starting at tackles on the 2019 OL. Hopefully, Franks won’t be “running for his life on every play” this fall.

    However, the experienced OL talent level left over from McElwhiner’s recruiting classes leaves a lot to be desired. Hevesy and Savage have their work cut out for them in extracting championship performances out of limited OL talent and/or experience. I, for one, believe they eventually will, although OL performance in the first few games might be somewhat less than stellar.

    GO GATORS!!!

    • When, in your opinion, does the OL come together? Don’t know what a “few” really is, so can you pin it down a little more? Know it’s a big ask and there are lots of variables in play this early, but I also know you’ve had your eye on it for a while now and may have some more finite, preliminary conclusions. I won’t hold you to it, StL.

      • The OL was a question mark last season and performed better than most or at least I expected. There are some well a lot of new faces here 4 starters for sure but some were there last year. I will say they were learning and developing and had the need arisen they would have been put in. They likely were ready but the coaches (I have full faith in them) thought the players were not far enough along in their individual or team development to be put in. There was some injury, maybe some attitude (left over issues from Mac etc.) and a freshman (who may have risked injury if he’d been thrown in before he was ready). I counted 14 OL on the roster 3 RS freshmen, 3 freshmen and the rest have been here awhile. I think the coaches will be able to find a starting line up a equally good second string and a rotation that will keep them from losing steam. While losing the veteran players will make thing different I think the key is still how much they all have advanced in ability to run what CDM wants to run. That key will be on FF or the QB. Worst case we have no improvement which will put us in the same boat as last year (which was pretty good) but that may make us predictable and could show in the final outcome of games. I feel we are even better and barring injuries the TE?WR/RB will have to do a little more blocking until the OL is fully up to speed. I think this happen by game 2 or 3. Meeting Miami is going to test their mettle. They are coming in with a new HC and staff dangerous but this will be a good meet for us. BRING ON THE CHOMP!!!🐊🐊🐊🏈🏈

      • OK 6, I’ll give it a shot.

        When 5 out of 6 along the OL (including TE) are new as starters, it will take at least 3 games vs. “real” defenses for them to settle in and get all the line calls and blocking assignments worked out, especially vs. blitzes. That means I don’t expect the OL to have its act fully together before at least the Auburn game in early October. UT Martin and Towson are NOT “real” opponents with “real” defenses.

        Until then, the Gators will rely on their improved defense to win relatively low scoring slugfests and turnover battles. Fortunately, their first 3 serious opponents (UM, UK and UT) are also offensively challenged.

        Of course, this assumes no potential day 1 starters missing starts due to injuries or suspensions.

          • Auburn will be the Gators’ first “real” challenge. UF must be able to put up at least 28 offensive points against them and they will bring a really good, veteran defense to the Swamp for our homecoming game.

            Question: What possessed the UA to name Auburn as our homecoming opponent when we have Vandy coming to the Swamp in early November? Inquiring minds would love to know!!!

  2. Spring is always about optimism (as it should be) and making some assumptions. On that basis I agree that 2019 will turn largely on the O-line. Assumptions/optimism: 1) qb play will be equal to or better than previous year-end; 2) we can backfill effectively for all departing defensive players (I’m hoping for a slight improvement if I’m being honest…that damn Spring optimism); and 3) backfilling for Scarlett and senior TE’s – no problem at all. >>>IF those optimistic assumptions are correct, it all comes back to the O-line (again this year). It is just impossible imo to make any assumptions about an O-line with 4 new starters. In Hevesy we trust.

  3. I don’t know if it will be this year or next, but I have this feeling that we will soon get to the point where we will be living the “why not us ? ” thing. Other teams have gotten there. Alabama has never needed a veteran O line to be great, much less good. Clemson used to be the perennial most overrated team in the country–along with ND. Talent and strength is talent and strength. Most teams are pretty young these days with these kids running off to the NFL before their 20th birthdays. I don’t see why we can’t get there now–with an O line that may otherwise be a year ahead of itself. “Why not us” is not even something a Florida Gator team should concern itself with, which makes it easier to believe when we get there. I fully expect our line to be a strength next year. Youth should not be an excuse in this day and age of college football.

    • mkf – we will have blocking TE’s and RB’s to assist the O-line. It is the issue of when the chemistry allows the O-line to coalesce and play as one strong unit. That could potentially happen early or maybe take some time. We know that between Savage and CDM and staff that we are in a very good situation regardless of when this team clicks. The best thing about all of this is that we know we are building to be great again year after year. GO GATORS!!!

  4. In terms of leadership, sounds like we are in relatively good shape, maybe good enough to win with one area not as strong as we would like. the clemson secondary got lit up for five hundred yards twice last year but still they won it all, with a freshman qb (i know, maybe a once in a lifetime freshman, but still a freshman). The thing is that everyone is getting better both here and with our opponents, so lets see in the fall what we really have for sure.

    • I knew you’d key back in on the leadership, Mveal……I agree, and the way I see it is that with the advent of CDM and crew, these youngsters are not going to hesitate to emerge. Especially with last season in the record books and the talent meeting the coaching this year. I’ll never forget something 65 said a few times last year (paraphrasing): “They had no business winning, but win they did”.

  5. That’s the thing with a spread offense, zone blocking makes it a bit easier for the linemen. Still, there’s going to be a learning curve.

    The big difference this season is most of the other units and positions are coming in with experience and confidence.