How did the Gators do in camp?
Published: Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 5:45 p.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 5:52 p.m.
On Aug. 6, the day Florida opened its preseason football camp, we came up with a list of five things we thought the Gators needed to accomplish during camp to emerge as a legitimate contender in the SEC this season.
Now that camp is over, the players are back in class and the final preseason scrimmage is in the books, it's time to look back at those five key things and see how the Gators did.
1. Don't beat each other up
With so little depth at several positions — especially on both lines of scrimmage — Will Muschamp and the coaching staff had to come up with a balance of what's tough and what's too tough. The coaches wanted to make it a physically demanding camp, but at the same time make sure the Gators reached the season relatively healthy. They found the balance. The only serious injury occurred early in the first week, when true freshman tight end A.C. Leonard injured his knee during a non-contact drill. Cornerback Jeremy Brown injured his knee a week ago and has been out, but he's expected to return in time for the Sept. 3 opener. Wide receiver Omarius Hines has been battling a hamstring issue, but there's a chance he'll be back next week. Overall, the Gators came out of camp very healthy. Several players commented that there was plenty of full-contact work, but much of it came with orders from the coaches for the players to stay on their feet.
2. Bulk up Brantley
We weren't talking about making him bigger or stronger, but building up his confidence and keeping it at a high level throughout camp. Mission accomplished on this one. Brantley was feeling so confident in Charlie Weis' offense that two weeks into camp he said it felt like he was back in high school again and the offense was already game-ready. When Muschamp commented on how well Jeff Driskel has done in winning the No. 2 quarterback role, he also made it clear Driskel is no threat to Brantley for the starting job. Brantley is clearly the guy — and coaches and players throughout camp have praised him for the way he's performed and managed the offense. Now, he has to go do it in games.
3. Identify the playmakers at WR
The Gators did this early in camp, when Muschamp informed the media that the top three guys were Deonte Thompson, Frankie Hammond Jr. and redshirt freshman Quinton Dunbar. The problem is nothing has changed over the last three weeks. UF was hoping to have five or six playmakers emerge at wide receiver, but the number apparently still stands at only three heading into the season. Muschamp, however, has indicated Solomon Patton and Andre Debose have done some good things and could emerge.
4. Build the depth on both lines
They were able to do it by training numerous players at more than one position. So, even though the low numbers on both lines are the same, the Gators have managed to improve their depth by double-training players. Here's a good example: Notre Dame transfer Dan Wenger has worked at center and both guard positions, and could be the backup at all three. Here's another: Kyle Koehne was performing so well behind Xavier Nixon at left tackle that the coaches moved him inside to left guard, where he has been running with the first-team offense this week. It's all part of finding the best five offensive linemen and letting them go play. On the defensive line, tackle Dominique Easley said Thursday there are no starters. Instead, the Gators have a playing rotation that involves two or three players at every position. Easley will play both tackle positions, Sharrif Floyd will play end and tackle and Jaye Howard and Omar Hunter can play both tackle positions. The improved play of Leon Orr at nose tackle has also improved the depth.
5. Develop some chemistry
Coming off last season — when there was a much-publicized divide between the seniors and some of the true freshmen — it was imperative that this team come together, bond and develop a strong chemistry. According to numerous players during interviews, this has happened. The players say this team is much closer than last year's and a strong chemistry has developed. This certainly was a priority for Muschamp, who rebuilt the players' lounge in the locker room so the players would have a place to hang out and get to know each other better. Also, during the summer, he took payers from varied position groups and put them on teams to compete in the weight room and in the offseason conditioning program. The players seem unanimous on this one: The Gators are a lot closer than they were a year ago.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or email@example.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.
Reader comments posted to this article may be published in our print edition. All rights reserved. This copyrighted material may not be re-published without permission. Links are encouraged.