August 29, 2011

Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down: Camp Edition



Though practices are closed to the media and fans alike, Inside the Gators has heard enough from Will Muschamp and the players to go a little more in-depth
with a Thumbs Up & Thumbs Down for the final week of fall practice.


There has never been much doubt in sophomore safety Matt Elam's talent, but his relatively quiet demeanor on the field had been leaving much to be desired
from the new coaching staff. All indications are that Elam has stepped his vocal game up a few notches recently and that, combined with his play on the field, is what led sophomore
defensive tackle Dominique Easley to offer him some very high praise late last week.

"My opinion - this is my opinion - I think he's the best thing out there. He works hard at everything he does," he said. "Basically he's
relentless every play; he doesn't take off not one snap. [He's the best] I see out there. Period. His whole plan is to beat that snap every play. He's just a smart player.
He can read the field, like he's our quarterback of the defense."

Head coach Will Muschamp also expressed his appreciation for Elam's ability and how he can impact games.

"Matt's just a really instinctive football player. He sees things on the back end. He's able to get a good jump on the ball where other guys may not see it as
quickly - it doesn't naturally come to some guys as quickly," he explained. "To me on the back end you've got to have some natural instincts. You've got to have
natural instincts to play the ball, to understand about reception area - where the receiver is going to be, where the ball is being thrown, understand about angles. We can talk about
coaching that all the time. Some guys get it, some guys don't. That's something that certainly comes very easy to him."


One year ago, it seemed almost as if Easley would be a lost cause. There were talks of discipline problems in practice, thoughts of transferring and other potential
distractions he was causing. Then-head coach Urban Meyer even left him off of the travel roster for at least one away game as a punishment. Things seem to have turned around for
Easley this year after Muschamp gave him an ultimatum: our way or the highway. And for a Florida team that is looking to the defensive line as its backbone, the change of mindset could not
have come at a better time.

"Wow. [He's taken] 10 steps forward. Big [difference]. He's definitely more mature," redshirt junior DT Omar Hunter said. "[Easley] has the right
mind going into the season; he knows we're counting on him to play a lot. He's definitely stepping it up. He is just going out and working hard. He's not talking as much.
And when he does talk, he's not complaining about anything. He's just having fun and going out and playing."

Muschamp has also recently been impressed with his on-the-field efforts, saying he is one of a handful of players who "flashed" during what he described as a bad
scrimmage. "He's got a very good first step, he certainly does. He's got a very good anticipation," he said. "I tell Charlie [Weis], 'Every snap, hard count
him.' We work on that an awful lot, and he's doing a better job of holding in there on those sort of things. But he certainly has a great first step."


Though Muschamp and senior running back Jeff Demps may not be too concerned publicly about redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley's hurt back,
that type of injury is not one that can just be brushed aside - it can linger.

Brantley only saw a few snaps in last week's scrimmage and was pulled early (as planned) in order to get extra rest and heal for the week one contest against
Florida Atlantic. Demps said late last week that resting Brantley has allowed the signal caller to dig even deeper into the playbook and really fine tune some things mentally in preparation
for the game.

Muschamp has said on more than one occasion that he does not expect it to affect him into the season, but the fact is that there is a chance it could and a back injury to
a quarterback can change a lot about their effectiveness week-in and week-out depending on the seriousness of the injury. By all accounts Brantley's is minor, but the truth is simply
an unknown at this point.


In desperate need to fill the Sam linebacker role, the Gators appear to have found their man in redshirt junior Lerentee McCray. McCray has been the team's
best and most consistent player at that position through most of practice. "He also gives us some good pass rush," Muschamp added. "He does a nice job rushing the edge so he can give us
some juice on the edge there."

To his credit, McCray has been working hard to earn the job after spending most of his time on special teams up until this point. And while he may be succeeding in making
a name - and earning a position - for himself, there are significant concerns about who will spell him (and the other linebackers).


SMuschamp has seemingly tried everything at this point - including moving a relatively undersized safety into the position - to build up depth at linebacker,
but the fact of the matter is that this will be an issue for Florida all season long. Luckily it appears (at least three of) the team's four starters are as solid as they come with
junior Jon Bostic, redshirt sophomore Jelani Jenkins and sophomore Buck Ronald Powell all impressing.

Redshirt freshman Gideon Ajagbe and sophomore Darrin Kitchens are apparently playing the best out of the reserves, but their lack of experience both on-
and off-the-field is a legitimate concern - especially if someone else goes down with an injury.

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