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September 22, 2011

Former Gators weigh in on Florida Football



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With one-fourth of the 2011 football regular season in the books, Inside the Gators decided to ask five former Florida football players to share their thoughts on this year's team, players at their specific position and the upcoming contest against Kentucky.


Wide Receiver Jack Jackson (1992-1994) - Jackson starred in Steve Spurrier's Fun & Gun Offense back in the early 90's. For his career he caught 143 passes for 2,266 yards and 29 touchdowns. He was the SEC Offensive Player of the Year in 1994. He declared for the NFL Draft as a junior and was selected by the Chicago Bears in the 4th round.

Through the first three games the Florida receivers have pretty much been an afterthought in the offense. As a former receiver, is that at all frustrating or do you just go about doing what is asked of you and be happy you are winning?

Jackson: It is a little disappointing - the performance of the receivers so far, but the season is early. There seems to be some plays that are not being made, but I have the utmost confidence in Aubrey Hill to get those guys performing at a high level.

What are your thoughts on the Charlie Weis offense through three games?

Jackson: So far I have been really pleased with Coach Weis' offense. It has shown a lot of diversity and it has been well balanced. I've also been happy with the way he has used his most explosive player, Chris Rainey.

That was a big East win over Tennessee, what do you think of the team through three games?

Jackson: The team looks much improved and focused compared to last year. You don't get the sense of entitlement going on with this team. Everyone seems to be hungry and playing GATOR football.

Up next is Kentucky, the first road game for a very young team. Though UF has a 24 game winning streak over UK, what are some of the challenges a young team faces on the road? Could they possibly be caught looking ahead a week to Alabama?

Jackson: This team should be hungry and welcome the opportunity to show the SEC the new GATORS on the road. I feel very confident that Coach Muschamp will have this team hungry and in a frenzy to perform on the road!


David Kearley (1998-2001) - Kearley, one of the top 10 offensive tackle prospects in the nation as a senior at Niceville, spent most of his first two years at Florida sidelined with back and knee injuries. He returned to play in 10 games as a red shirt sophomore and junior as a backup at guard and tackle.

Other than the performance of center Jonotthan Harrison, on Monday Will Muschamp said he wasn't happy with the way the line played. Having been a lineman yourself, what were your thoughts on how they played against Tennessee?

Kearley: I actually sat down, earlier, and re-watched the offensive game. It's amazing how much fluff CBS puts into their broadcasts of those games! Trying to watch the game from an analytic standpoint certainly made me more appreciative of the no-frills tape we used to review in the line meeting room. Overall, they did alright. Xavier Nixon got beat around the end, which makes me nervous for when he faces a faster defensive end. Hopefully, he'll keep his head up and shoulders back. Penalties were a huge issue. Nixon got caught jumping off the ball a couple times. There was one instance where he didn't get caught. Those penalties are really going to hurt us in critical moments in future games. The line did a good job on picking up crossovers by the Tennessee defense on pass protections. There were a couple plays that I think there was some confusion on blocking schemes.

Has anything really stood out to you about the line or any of the players on it three games into the season?

Kearley: Our guys are quick. It was fun seeing all the pulling our guys were doing. We don't have as much experience on the line, except for Jon Halapio. I like how he has progressed, from last season. I've always thought with that Polamalu haircut, he should be more of a beast and I think we're seeing that this season. Even though Dan Wenger has plenty of experience, it takes time to mesh with a completely new team. They've got to keep working on improving from week to week. With the schedule this year, there won't be any room for take steps back.

This past weekend Florida bagged a big SEC East win by beating Tennessee. What do you think of the team through three games?

Kearley: While there is plenty of room for improvement, I'm encouraged by the play of the team as a whole. Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps are exciting guys to watch. FAU and UAB were great games to develop the game plan and Tennessee was a great first SEC game. I think we have a strong team across the board. John Brantley is showing a lot of leadership with the team and I only see that becoming more so. He's coming into his own.

Up next is Kentucky, the first road game for a very young team. Though UF has a 24 game winning streak over UK, what are some of the challenges a young team faces on the road? Could they possibly be caught looking ahead a week to Alabama?

Kearley: That would certainly be a temptation. Our guys need to understand that every opponent gets 'up' for Florida, especially at their place. They're going to come out of the gates firing and our guys need to fire right back. They need to keep in mind that they're going to be at LSU in two weeks, then Auburn the following week. They need to understand how they prepare for their first away game is going to affect how they prepare for the other road games down the road. That isn't an invitation to look ahead, past Kentucky, but this first road game is going to set the pace for the other road games the rest of the season.


Cornerback Jermaine McCollum (2002-2006) - Jermaine made up one half of the McCollum Twins. He saw action in 50 games during his time in Gainesville.

Florida is incredibly young in the secondary, starting two true freshmen and two true sophomores. Is the secondary one of the places you can really get away with playing younger players as long as they are talented?

McCollum: If, and only if, they are talented you can get away with young guys in the secondary. Your front seven has to be dominant as well. You have to be smart with your schemes though because you can't make it so complicated that they are out there thinking about what to do. Playing in the secondary is all about reaction.

What do you think of the freshmen Marcus Roberson and De'Ante Saunders so far?

McCollum: They are two very good athletes who come from very prominent high schools in the state of Florida. If they take coaching and continue to work to get better they can be very good in the near future.

Florida had pass interference after pass interference penalty called on them last Saturday. As a defensive back, how thin is that line between making a great play and being there a split second to soon or just barely grabbing a receiver's jersey ever so slightly?

McCollum: The PI line is very thin. Its almost a judgment call for the referee. By them getting all those calls, they will be able to go back look at the film and see what they did wrong and work on how to fix it. They can't be afraid to get those calls either. Most of those call were because the off hand was on the receiver. That just takes reps and reps of not using that off hand in practice.

Does being on the receiving end of all of those yellow flags work to take away some of your aggressiveness back there?

McCollum: You can't lose your aggressiveness. When you do that the receiver will win every time. There is also a fine line between being aggressive and being stupid. You have to know the situation and know the receiver you are playing against.

Up next is Kentucky, the first road game for a very young team. Though UF has a 24 game winning streak over UK, what are some of the challenges a young team faces on the road? Could they possibly be caught looking ahead a week to Alabama?

McCollum: Young teams face the challenge of breaking a routine. You no longer have the comfort of being at home. The weather is going to be different. You will be sleeping in a different bed. You will no longer have the Gator Walk to pump you up for the game. They have to find a different way to get excited about playing the game. During the game it will be loud when they are on offense. Can they communicate without talking? Defensively it will be quiet. Can they find a way to feed off of each other rather than rely on the noise from the crowd. A lot of things will be different. I don't think they will have a problem with looking ahead to Alabama because they have a great coaching staff that has been in these situations before and they will keep them focused and ready to take care of Kentucky first.


Defensive Lineman Clint McMillan (2003-2007) - A bit undersized for a defensive lineman, McMillan still saw action in 48 games, including 13 starts during his four year career.

Florida is still pretty young up front, starting a senior, two true sophomores and a redshirt freshman on the line. In your opinion, is it asking a lot of a a freshman and sophomore not just to contribute, but start on the line on an SEC team?

McMillan: It's asking a lot in any conference, but especially in the SEC. Every opposing line is filled with players who weigh anywhere from 300 to 330 pounds. But the good news is Florida's defensive linemen are really fast and will only get better every week.

What do you think of Dominique Easley so far?

McMillan: He moves like he's 230 pounds. He gets off the ball well and plays with his hands. I think he could really be special.

UF only has four sacks in three games, but what are your thoughts on how they have affected the opposing team's passing game?

McMillan: Sacks are overrated. They have been bothering quarterbacks all season whether they sack him or not. The secondary has made plays when the ball comes out fast and turnovers are more important than sacks.

That was a big East win over Tennessee, what do you think of the team through three games?

McMillan: It's simple: They look fast. They look angry. They look hungry.

Up next is Kentucky, the first road game for a very young team. Though UF has a 24 game winning streak over UK, what are some of the challenges a young team faces on the road? Could they possibly be caught looking ahead a week to Alabama?

McMillan: Forget the winning streak and the records, there's no easy road games in the SEC, especially with young guys. I'll guarantee you the coaches won't let them look past an SEC opponent. They will worry about Alabama on Sunday.


Kicker Jonathan Phillips (2005-2008) - The former Lou Groza Award semifinalist (2008) finished his career as the SEC and Florida record holder for PAT kicks made (78) and attempted (79) in a single season. He was 12-of-14 on field goal attempts during his Gator career.

Will Muschamp was incredibly complimentary of Caleb Sturgis this week, basically saying that he is 'money' from 52 yards in. As a kicker, how important is it for a coach to have confidence in you, as far as building your confidence in yourself?

Phillips: I hope Sturgis gets a chance to kick a long one in a game. We used to have a lot of fun practicing long field goals, in fact we spent a lot of time during practice doing it. Once Sturgis is past 50 there really is no difference between 52 and 62 from teh way you approach the kick from a mechanical and mental standpoint.

Are you at all surprised that Sturgis has come back so strong from back issues?

Phillips: No. He always was a hard worker. And that kid eats more than anyone his size should. He eats like a lineman.

This past weekend Florida bagged a big SEC East win by beating Tennessee. What do you think of the team through three games?

Phillips: We beat Tennessee, again. I never knew a season as a Gator that we lost to them! 3-0 is a great thing. It makes it a different type of season. It's great to be a Gator!

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