NCF Nation: Deonte Thompson

When you look at John Brantley and Florida’s passing game this season compared to last season, it’s pretty clear that improvements have been made.

The often-criticized senior quarterback has looked more comfortable in Charlie Weis’ pro-style offense and his numbers are better than they were at this point last year. They aren’t tremendously better, but they are better.

He has 52 more passing yards than he did after four games last year, but two fewer touchdowns. Most of his production has come on swing passes and check downs and his best friends have been running backs Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps, who have the highest catch totals on the team.

[+] EnlargeJohn Brantley
Kim Klement/US PresswireJohn Brantley (12) has been able to rely on Chris Rainey (1) and the Gators' running backs so far this season.
We’ve heard ad nauseum that Brantley is taking what defenses have given him. If the deep ball isn’t there, go underneath. If the receivers are blanketed, toss to a running back. None of Florida’s receivers currently has a touchdown reception and only Deonte Thompson is close to 100 yards, with 93.

Florida has relied heavily on one of the best running games in the country (averaging a league-high 259 yards a game) that is coming off a 405-yard performance against Kentucky. The Gators might lead the league in total offense (461.8), but most of it has come from the running game.

Can it continue? And will the run-first, throw-short strategy work this weekend against an Alabama defense that smothers short games with ease?

According to Gator coaches and players, they won’t change until the defense makes them. It might sound hardheaded and cliché, but it’s the way this Florida team operates and the coaches are smart enough to know what works and what doesn’t.

“You have to wait to see how they play the game,” Weis said.

“You have to have a plan to where if they stop this you have another way of getting to the same means to an end.”

And the Tide will be looking to gobble up the run. Alabama is giving up 1.8 yards per carry and 45.8 yards per game.

Florida’s rushing duo of Rainey and Demps ise quite possibly the fastest rushing pair in the country, but it certainly isn’t the biggest. Rainey and Demps barely stand 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-8, respectively, and hover around 180-plus pounds.

This isn’t exactly a wrecking crew of a backfield, and Alabama should load the box to test their strength.

“You’ve got to be multiple against Alabama,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “You can’t be one-dimensional and have success. You've got to stay balanced in what you do in both the run and the pass and be effective in being efficient in both areas.”

As for those pesky passes to the flats, don’t think the Tide won’t be keying in on them. Florida has yet to face a defense with the speed of Alabama’s, so those throws likely won’t be as open.

So what does that mean for Florida’s offense? It means Florida might actually have to establish a more threatening deep game, something Brantley says is possible … with some help from Florida’s opponent.

“Anytime we can throw the ball downfield, we will,” Brantley said. “Like I’ve said, we’re just going to take what the defense gives us and try to protect up front.”

Of course.

While Brantley took a few shots against Kentucky -- leaving for the locker room just before halftime -- he said he’s fine and healed for Alabama. The fifth-year senior hasn’t been spectacular this season, but Alabama coach Nick Saban said he sees a different, more confident Brantley on film.

He also sees a team that has properly and successfully utilized its top playmakers, but notices that Florida has other weapons adept to making big plays when given the chance.

“I do think that they have capable receivers, good athletic tight ends and John Brantley is certainly capable of throwing the ball downfield,” Saban said.

“There’s not a lack of respect for their ability to do that on our part.”

Regardless of what Florida’s offense has looked like to this point, Weis assures that Alabama will witness new things. He wouldn’t dive too deep into the game plan, but Weis does plan to “throw the kitchen sink” at the Tide Saturday night.

“You guys have been writing about holding things back. Well, you won’t have to worry about that this week,” he said. “They’re going to get plenty.”
It's a touchy subject in college football.

We can thank Ohio State for that.

Just talking about selling college memorabilia immediately triggers beads of sweat to form on athletes' foreheads. Not because they might be guilty of it but because they're afraid anything they say could incriminate them.

After all, according to the NCAA, selling or trading memorabilia by college athletes is deemed illegal. The NCAA equates getting money for memorabilia to receiving improper benefits.

But it belongs to the athletes, right?

When Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson was recently approached with the question of college athletes being allowed to sell their game-worn jerseys or championship rings, he hesitated for a few seconds before reeling off a string of "I don't know" responses as he shook his head.

A common response, but there were some who didn't shy away from confronting the issue.

Tennessee defensive tackle Malik Jackson feels as though the jerseys, socks, belts, pants and rings given to players should be considered their property. And in this country, you're allowed to sell your property.

"If they give it to us, it’s ours. We should be able to do what we want," Jackson said. "You have coaches making millions and players who gotta wonder what they’re going to eat toward the end of the month because we’re not getting paid.

"I feel like if it has my name on the back of the jersey, I should be able to do what I want with it."

Jackson transferred from USC last summer. In his time there he went to a Rose Bowl, getting a special bowl jersey and ring for winning. To his credit, he hasn't needed the extra money and said he has never thought about selling his Rose Bowl ring or jersey.

And that's the general consensus from players around the league. Most feel as though players should be able to sell what is rightfully theirs, but most would rather keep their items for memory's sake.

Arkansas wide receiver Jarius Wright agrees with Jackson, but personally doesn't think selling memorabilia is right. He'd rather "cherish it and give it to his kids."

Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox said he wouldn't sell any of his items, but didn't consider it wrong for players to be able to. For some players, Cox said, affording everyday comfort items is hard because of financial hardships. If players are struggling for money, Cox thinks they should be able to sell their gear in order to get by.

He's also in favor of student-athletes receiving some sort of extra compensation because he sees college football as actual work.

"The way I look at it, football is a job to us," Cox said. "We always talk about it as a job. We’re in football all day. You really don’t have time for a part time job, like a regular student would."

We heard and read about proposals to give student-athletes extra funds, but that process is still in the ground stages. So, why not put in the hands of the athletes? If they own their jerseys, gloves and championship rings, why shouldn't they be able to sell them for some extra cash?

Will it transform a 4.4 guy into a 4.2 guy? Will a quarterback have a tighter spiral because he sold the jersey he wore in the national championship?

No, but it will help those in need, and while Wright might not agree with the idea, he understands the sense it makes to allow athletes to sell what belongs to them.

"I know I don’t have much say so in that, but in a way they should be able to sell it because once the school gives it to them, it’s theirs," he said.
Five years ago, Deonte Thompson was a can’t-miss prospect.

Visions of numerous touchdowns and dizzy defenders danced around in Gators fans’ heads when he picked Florida back in 2007.

But things haven’t exactly panned out for the redshirt senior receiver. He went from being labeled as can’t-miss to can’t-catch, as his hands have been his worst enemy at times.

[+] EnlargeDeonte Thompson
Kim Klement/US PresswireFive-star receiver Deonte Thompson finished his five-year career with 101 catches for 1,446 yards and 9 TDs.
Thompson has always wowed with his speed, but his hands have kept him back. And it’s no secret to him. He’s heard all of the negativity about his questionable pass-catching ability.

In his final season in Gainesville, Thompson is out to quiet his critics and lead his Gators.

"I’m just looking to help my team win any way possible. That’s what it’s all about, getting the ‘W,’" Thompson said. "You get the win, everything else falls in place."

Buried under his mistakes are 80 career receptions for 1,182 yards and eight touchdowns. Thompson admits he expected more during his career, and that fuels him for the fall.

Thompson took his summer workouts to the extreme by training with Percy Harvin, Riley Cooper, Louis Murphy and Cornelius Ingram. Working out in Gainesville, the four NFLers ran Thompson through a rigorous combination of passing drills and conditioning.

Thompson came away both exhausted and confident. He watched as the more reps he took the slower the ball came and the more his concentration grew.

"It’s given me another aspect of my game, stepping up a whole new level," Thompson said.

Thompson exudes new swagger and confidence. He flashes that boyish smile that was his high school trademark, but things weren't always this fun. He might have a more positive attitude, but there were times when he fell into a discouraging funk. He reached out to friends and family when he was at his lowest, but it was his embattled quarterback who he communicated most with.

Like Thompson, quarterback John Brantley has been draped in criticism. Heralded as one of the best to ever throw the ball in the state of Florida, Brantley hardly looked capable of running a college offense in his first year as a starter.

Together, the two have spent time picking the other one up, but enter the 2011 season planning to stay up.

"Deonte and I are real close," Brantley said. "We’ve been to the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. We’ve been through it all together and we want to be able to stick it out with each other the rest of this last year."

The two are so close that when Brantley finally decided that he wasn't transferring in January, Thompson was the first teammate he told.

When these two first got together in 2007, they envisioned a Brantley-to-Thompson combo being one of the best in the conference, if not the nation. They developed an on-field chemistry that made them nearly unstoppable to beat in practice.

And while that didn't transfer to the field last fall, there has been no lost love or trust.

"He’s my boy and I’ll always believe in him," Brantley said of Thompson. "I’ll always have his back, no matter what, and I think he’s going to have a great year."

Thompson feels the same about Brantley, but expects so much more from himself. He's ready for the hate and doubt. And he's ready to prove people wrong, flashing that confident smile in the process.

"I feel like I can be successful this year," he said. "Last year, if you asked me I’d say the same thing. I don’t go into the season thinking this isn’t going to be my year.

"This is the last go-round. Gotta make it happen.

"I just want to be one of the top receivers in the SEC. I just want to win. When you win, everything falls in place."
Alabama QBsUS PresswireWith no winner in the quarterback competition, Alabama may use Phillip Sims and A.J. McCarron.
Nick Saban understands the situation he is in. He also understands it is not exactly ideal.

Alabama’s coach will enter the 2011 season with one of the nation’s most talented football teams.

Ten starters return on defense and the offense has the experience and talent to put up fine numbers this season.

But experience fades at the most important position on the field -- quarterback.

That’s not comforting knowing that the Tide still has to play another season in the SEC, where life can be pure hell for quarterbacks, especially young ones.

The competition between sophomore A.J. McCarron and freshman Phillip Sims was fierce this spring and continues to be in fall camp, with both taking equal practice reps.

So, with two quarterbacks neck-and-neck in one of the nation’s biggest quarterback battles, Saban says he will not hesitate to play both in games.

“We want to continue to bring both guys along as best we can, and I think it’s only fair that both guys have an opportunity to play in games before any kind of decision gets made about who’s the best player,” Saban said. “Maybe, even, there isn’t a best player. There’s just two really good players.”

The use of a multiple-quarterback system has its perks and its drawbacks. It can be tough for offenses to get into rhythm with the switching, but using quarterbacks with different styles can also have the same effect on opposing defenses.

See the 2006 Florida Gators, who used Chris Leak as their primary passer and Tim Tebow as the running threat. It was successful enough to guide the Gators to a national championship.

However, that tactic backfired for Florida last season. John Brantley was used in passing situations, while Trey Burton and Jordan Reed were the run threats. Eventually, Brantley and Reed took the bulk of the snaps, and there were times where Brantley was brought in only for third downs, leading to a very predictable and underwhelming offense.

“I feel the one-quarterback system is better because it’s the quarterback,” Florida wide receiver Deonte Thompson said. “You don’t want to keep taking him out of the game and then just put him in on third down and he doesn’t even know the tempo of the game.”

Florida’s team passing efficiency was 117.29, while the offense ranked 82nd nationally.

That won’t stop teams from attempting this task. Ole Miss currently has three quarterbacks battling, but both offensive coordinator David Lee and quarterback Barry Brunetti wouldn’t be surprised if all three took snaps during games this fall.

"I'll tell you this, fellas, and I really believe it -- I think we can play with all three of these guys in this offense. It's not like none of them can play,” Lee told members of the media last week. “I think all three of them can play."

Brunetti and Randall Mackey are superb running threats for the Rebels, while Zack Stoudt is most definitely more of a passing threat, so Brunetti said he could see the coaches using each in different situations during games and expects the competition to continue throughout the season.

Like the Rebels, Auburn also has three quarterbacks battling and also like the Rebels, Auburn has one true pro-style quarterback (junior Barrett Trotter) and two more athletic dual-threats (freshmen Clint Moseley and Kiehl Frazier).

Trotter appears to have a slight edge at the moment, but Tigers could change the pace up by using the other two at times.

One team that always seems caught up in the two-quarterback system is LSU. The Tigers have yet another trio to work with in Jordan Jefferson, the unquestioned starter, senior Jarrett Lee and junior college transfer Zach Mettenberger.

There is a ton of hype surrounding Mettenberger and his big arm, but he and just about everyone else in Baton Rouge acknowledges that Jefferson is the starter. But Mettenberger still expects to get valuable playing time this season.

What a coincidence. Jefferson is a strong runner and Mettenberger is a more gifted passer.

For Mettenberger to get into some sort of in-game rotation he’ll have to learn and mature a little more. Jefferson is not concerned about sharing snaps, since splitting time will help Mettenberger's development for not just the fall but also the future.

“I’m doing whatever it takes to make sure that he’s prepared because there is going to be a time in his career where he’s going to become the starter,” Jefferson said.
HOOVER, Ala. -- Florida's Deonte Thompson looked back at his quarterback, John Brantley, more than once this spring following a Brantley rifle shot down the field and nodded his head approvingly.

"There were a couple of scrimmages where he ripped the whole defense apart," Thompson said. "He got his confidence back. It was the old Brantley out there."

[+] EnlargeJohn Brantley
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida quarterback John Brantley has forgotten about last season when he threw 10 interceptions to just nine touchdowns.
Or maybe the new Brantley.

Brantley gets a fresh start this season with a new offense, new offensive coordinator and new head coach.

The best part for Brantley is that the offense -- Charlie Weis' pro-style attack -- fits what he does best and has also helped to unify the team after a turbulent season a year ago in Gainesville with different players and different factions pulling in opposite directions.

"With a new coaching staff and a new offense, it's like you're starting all over again, a clean slate," said Brantley, who finished last season with nine touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. "Everyone has bought in, and everyone is closer together.

"I think every single one of us has forgot about last year. We're just looking forward to this year and moving on."

Thompson, who had his own struggles catching the ball last season, said Brantley's renewed confidence this spring and summer has rubbed off on the entire team.

That and the reality that the Gators lost five football games a year ago after losing only twice in the previous two seasons combined.

"The leaders have stepped up," Thompson said. "We're not used to losing, man. We've got to change something."

Brantley said one of the biggest changes fans will notice in the Gators' new offense is that they're not going to be in the shotgun nearly as much.

"It's going to be more ground and pound, but coach Weis isn't scared to take shots down the field," Brantley said. "That's his style of offense. I think the change is good, and I think our fans are going to love it."

Brantley said he's looked at a lot of tape from the Kansas City Chiefs last season when Weis was the offensive coordinator. He's also watched a lot of tape from Weis' Notre Dame days when Jimmy Clausen and Brady Quinn were running the Irish offense.

Thompson said Brantley absorbed too much of the blame last season for a Florida offense that went belly-up and finished 10th in the SEC in total offense.

"Last year, I wouldn't say it was all on Brantley," Thompson said. "There were times we should have gotten open quicker. It's more than just him. I know he's the quarterback and all the pressure's on him, but it's more than just him.

"It's on all of us, and we're in this together."
HOOVER, Ala. -- The certainty around the football future of Florida running back Jeff Demps isn’t so clear anymore.

This spring, coach Will Muschamp was confident that his world-class speedster would be roaming the Gators’ backfield this fall, but after a successful track season and his current trip to Italy with the U.S. national team, Demps’ situation is becoming more and more uncertain.

“He got that opportunity in Italy. I granted him permission to do that,” Muschamp said. “He and I will meet next week to see when he will join our football team in August. I'll update you once he and I speak and talk about that. I expect him to be a part of our football team.”

[+] EnlargeJeff Demps
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallFlorida's Jeff Demps has a decision to make regarding his future. Will it be on the track or on the football field?
But it appears that the fastest man in college sports is no longer so confident that he’ll be throwing his pads on this fall. He broke his own school record in the 60-meter dash with a national champion time of 6.53 during the indoor season this spring and also had a wind-aided 9.96 in the 100-meter dash in outdoor competition.

With some slimming down and total dedication to running, Demps would undoubtedly have a bright future in track. He’s never had the offers like he’s had this year in the professional world of track, and it might seem silly for him to turn them down.

Muschamp still wants to sit down with Demps to discuss his options, but his teammates expect to see him on the football field for his senior season.

“I feel confident, very confident,” wide receiver Deonte Thompson said about Demps returning. “Every time I see him he says, ‘I’m coming back, bro.’ So, I think he’s coming back.”

Added quarterback John Brantley: “He loves Florida football. He would do anything for the program and I think he still has that mindset. He’ll make the best decision.”

But when you start discussing Demps’ financial opportunities and a chance at the 2012 Olympics (a goal of his), players understand the magnitude of his decision.

“I’d make the best decision for me and my family,” Thompson said. “If track is best for him at the moment, we’re going to support him regardless of if he doesn’t come back. He’s a part of the Gator Nation, and even if he doesn’t, we’re gonna all support him.”

While he’s showed that he’s nearly unstoppable to catch in open space on the football field, questions about his size (5-foot-8, 181 pounds) and durability could hinder him at the next level. Sure, he’ll get drafted, and at times he’ll be able to do special things with the ball, but his longevity in the league is an uncertainty.

And Demps is far from reaching his track potential with football weight holding him back. Florida track coach Mike Holloway has said in the past that he’d like to have the chance to work with Demps year-round and help mold him into a track star with goals beyond collegiate achievements.

Playing another year of football could seriously diminish his chances of reaching his goal of running in the 2012 Olympics because of the bulk and weight he’d have to shed, while getting his times down even more during the spring.

For Demps, his decision will come down to two things: Will he pursue an occupation in his dream field (football) or will he head the route where he’s most talented (track)?

SEC media days: Best of Day 1

July, 21, 2011
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Best quote: "He's a players' coach. He lets the players play. It's like he told me, ‘It's your team.' That's what I like about him. He lets the players run the team. He makes the decisions, but he lets us run it." -- Florida receiver Deonte Thompson on first-year coach Will Muschamp.

Best support for a teammate: South Carolina receiver Alshon Jeffery said he's 100 percent behind embattled quarterback Stephen Garcia. Despite being suspended five times during his career, Garcia is on track to be fully reinstated to the team in August. "We believe in Stephen," Jeffery said. "No matter what he goes through, we all have his back."

Best running back: There was considerable chatter Wednesday among all of the players about who was the SEC's best running back. Arkansas' Knile Davis said it was a tough call, but that he would put himself on top. Jeffery went with his teammate, Marcus Lattimore, and said Alabama's Trent Richardson was a close second. "I'd have to say Marcus first and then Trent, and the rest of them fall into place," Jeffery said. "They're both great running backs. Trent is a little faster, but Marcus is a lot more powerful."

Best re-writing of history: Muschamp, who played his college football at Georgia, was asked how it felt to be a Georgia guy coaching at the University of Florida. Muschamp responded, "I'm a Florida guy."

Best threads: Florida's Thompson was sporting a black suit with pinstripes and a turquoise shirt. Even his tie had a splash of turquoise. He said his mother picked out his outfit.

Best candor: South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier made it clear that he wasn't a big fan of at least one of SEC commissioner Mike Slive's new proposals for the NCAA -- making scholarships a multi-year deal. "That's a terrible idea, Commissioner," Spurrier said. "Do you sports writers have a two-year contract ... three or four-year? Have you ever had a two-year deal?"

Best admission: Mississippi State senior quarterback Chris Relf admitted that he was playing almost exclusively on natural ability when last season began and doing very little reading of defenses. "A lot has changed since then, mostly what I'm seeing when I go to the line," Relf said.

Notebook: Petrino likes his defense

July, 20, 2011
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Arkansas: Bobby Petrino has been very vocal about his defense being the best it's been since his arrival, but what should guide this unit through the season is the defensive front.

With Jake Bequette and Tenarius Wright flying off the ends, the Razorbacks should have a ferocious pass rush and there is a wealth of depth in the middle.

"I'm excited for our defense this year because I really feel like it's the first time when we're physically where we need to be on the defensive front. Our inside guys will be big and physical and athletic. We've got speed on the edges, which matches what we see every week in the conference."

Florida: The one thing that stuck more than the ineptitude of Florida's offense last season was the lack of confidence quarterback John Brantley had. He was a former high school phenom and had a ton of hype thrown his way, but when it was his time to take hold of the Gators, he looked timid.

That old Brantley appears to be gone. He's taken more of a leadership role and with Charlie Weis' new pro-style offense Brantley is taking charge in the pocket.

"He's got his swag back," wide receiver Deonte Thompson said. "He's right.

"His confidence is the biggest thing. Just from summer workouts, 7-on-7 drills, he's come in and taken control of the huddle. A lot more verbal."

Mississippi State: There might not be a better defensive tackle tandem in the league than the one that resides in Starkville. Fletcher Cox and Josh Boyd combined for 53 tackles, 13 for loss and five sacks last year.

With the Bulldogs losing quality linebackers from a year ago, Mississippi State will need the defensive line to step up and Cox believes he and Boyd will definitely hold up their ends.

How do they get better? Both constantly look to outperform each other during drills and inside the weight room.

"We always compete against each other," Cox said. "We're never satisfied. We set a standard and meet our standard."

South Carolina: Steve Spurrier hasn't lost his sense of humor and he knows how to motivate his team. The Head Ball Coach yet again downplayed his team's success from the past year, saying that the Gamecocks still have a lot of work to do.

That hasn't upset his players at all. In fact, they embrace his barbs because they act as an extra motivator for them.

Check out these loving words from Spurrier today: "You know we lost our last two games last year, so we're not sitting around patting each other on the back too much. We got clobbered in the SEC game by Auburn and didn't play when the game was on the line. Against FSU in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, we fought back, got back in the game, but when it was on the line, didn't do much."


Florida's Deonte Thompson talks at SEC media days.

Hot and Not in the SEC: Week 1

September, 6, 2010
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It’s back for another year: Who’s hot and who’s not?

EN FUEGO

LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson: I guess I need to add return specialist to his duties as well, although I doubt many teams will be kicking it to him the rest of the season. He is truly a special football player, and is off the charts as an athlete. First of all, you just don’t see cornerbacks pushing 220 pounds who can run like that. And then he steps back there to return kicks for the first time since high school and rolls up 244 return yards by halftime, including an 87-yard punt return for a touchdown. Hey, I’d hand it to him a few times on offense, too. Peterson said Saturday night after the 30-24 win against North Carolina that he was game.

HOT

Mississippi State’s offense: The Bulldogs were pretty close to perfect in thrashing Memphis 49-7. Tyler Russell threw four touchdown passes, and Mississippi State finished with 569 yards of total offense. The Bulldogs did have one interception, Chris Relf’s first throw of the night, but had just three penalties for 30 yards.

NOT

Florida’s offense: Here’s how bad it was: The Gators had 13 total yards at the half. They couldn’t get the snap right. Their running game, especially when it comes to getting the tough yards, looks suspect, and the receivers look even more suspect. Where’s Andre Debose? He didn’t play a snap.

HOT

Georgia’s kickers: There are weapons in the kicking game, and then are Drew Butler and Blair Walsh. Butler, the Bulldogs’ All-America punter, punted six times for a 46.7-yard average. He launched a 59-yarder and had three downed inside the 20. Walsh’s day consisted of a 52-yard goal and then a 48-yard field goal. You don’t want to get into a kicking contest with the Bulldogs.

NOT

Auburn’s defense: It’s hard to be too picky about a 52-26 win, but Auburn needs to tighten up defensively if the Tigers are serious about making a run in the West. Arkansas State moved the ball well at times and kept it for more than 34 minutes, finishing with 366 yards of total offense. Auburn has to play more consistently on defense and tackle better.

HOT

Les Miles’ seat: I wasn’t one of those who was necessarily ready to concede that Miles was really on the hot seat. But after watching the Tigers nearly give that game away in the fourth quarter last weekend to a depleted North Carolina team, he better see to it that this team plays to its talent level the rest of the way, plays with more discipline – and most importantly – plays all four quarters. And one other thing: Quit saying that Russell Shepard should have gotten the ball more. Make it happen. You’re the head coach.

NOT

Vanderbilt’s luck: One game in, and we’re already debating an official's call. Looking at the replay from Saturday night, Vanderbilt safety Jay Fullam delivered his hit to the Northwestern quarterback’s shoulder pads, not his head. Yet, the official called a head-to-head personal foul penalty, which sealed the Commodores’ fate. Of course, they didn’t help themselves earlier in the game by missing an extra point.

HOT

South Carolina’s staff: The Gamecocks’ coaches did a terrific job last week of preparing for that Southern Miss game and keeping their players on point despite not knowing who would be available to them until about an hour before game time on Thursday.

NOT

Tennessee’s chances: The Vols are a two-touchdown underdog to Oregon this coming Saturday at Neyland Stadium. Can anybody remember the last time Tennessee was such a prohibitive underdog at home?

FREEZER BURN

Ole Miss: The Rebels went from feeling as if they were wronged by the NCAA in the initial Jeremiah Masoli decision last week to wondering what in the world went wrong in a 49-48 double-overtime loss to FCS foe Jacksonville State. Losing to an FCS team is embarrassing enough. But to blow a 21-point lead at home and give up 355 yards of total offense is inexcusable. Jacksonville State scored on its last six possessions, and Ole Miss turned the ball over three times in the game. In a word – ugly!

Early offensive woes for Gators

September, 4, 2010
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Can't resist, so I'm going to say it: What was all that chatter about Florida not missing a beat with Tim Tebow gone?

The Gators have had two offensive possessions in the opener against Miami (Ohio) and turned the ball over both times.

The first one came on a bad snap, and Chris Rainey lost a fumble after catching a short pass on the Gators' second possession.

Even more telling, though, was that Florida was unable to convert on a fourth-and-short near midfield. Emmanuel Moody was stuffed in the backfield for a loss. It ended up working out for the Gators because Miami was offsides, but those were the types of short-yardage situations Tebow converted in his sleep the last three years.

That's where the Gators are really going to miss him, and they've got to find somebody they can lean on to get the tough yards.

To this point, Florida has gotten very little, period, out of its running game and is using the I-formation some.

Also, Deonte Thompson couldn't come up with a deep pass in the first quarter that would have been a touchdown. He was plagued by drops last season.

SEC season predictions

August, 30, 2010
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The more things change in the SEC, the more they seem to stay the same.

If you’ve enjoyed watching Alabama and Florida tango each of the past two seasons in the SEC championship game, then why not make it a best 2-out-of-3 series with a third straight meeting in Atlanta this season?

Actually, it would be the fourth meeting, because the two teams clash in the regular season this year.

Alabama and Florida remain the class of this league, but defending their divisional titles will take some doing. The Crimson Tide lost nine defensive starters from their national championship team a year ago, and the Gators will be without nine players who were taken in the first five rounds of the NFL draft.

The rest of the field in the SEC is lining up to catch them. The chase begins this week.

What would a football season be without a few predictions?:

East champion: Florida. The Gators have a standing reservation in Atlanta for that first Saturday in December. They’ll make it back this season, but getting past Georgia won’t be easy.

[+] EnlargeMark Ingram
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireExpect Mark Ingram and Alabama to meet up with Florida in the SEC title game yet again.
West champion: Alabama. A third straight perfect regular season might be too much to ask, but the Crimson Tide will ride a powerhouse running game to a third straight West title.

SEC champion: Alabama. Just like Florida a year ago, until somebody proves differently, Alabama is still the team to beat. Don’t let the personnel losses on defense fool you, either. The Crimson Tide still have more talent than anybody in the league.

Offensive MVP: Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett. He can throw from the pocket. He can throw on the move, and he has great receiving talent around him. He’s also become one of the Hogs’ strongest leaders.

Defensive MVP: Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Defense will always be what sets the SEC apart, and now that he’s healthy again, Hightower will be a force, whether he’s lining up at middle linebacker or putting his hand down and rushing the passer.

Surprise team: Georgia. The Bulldogs will push Florida to the limit in the East, and in doing so, will re-establish themselves as one of the powers in the SEC.

Team most likely to disappoint: South Carolina. Nobody’s predicting the Gamecocks will have a lousy season, but history tells us they probably won’t live up to those grandiose expectations in the Palmetto State.

Surprise player: Florida receiver Deonte Thompson. He was known more for the passes he didn’t catch last season. But with John Brantley looking his way early and often, Thompson will be known more for the passes he catches this season.

Freshman of the Year: South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore. The Gamecocks needed a burst of something in their running game. They got it in Lattimore, who has the speed, power and acceleration to be a great one.

Newcomer of the Year: Auburn quarterback Cameron Newton. The way Newton describes himself is that he’s a pocket passer who can scramble when he has to. Sounds like a perfect fit for Gus Malzahn’s offense.

Coach of the Year: Georgia’s Mark Richt. Other than last season, the guy has been incredibly consistent. Finally, he gets some recognition for that consistency as the Bulldogs bounce back with a vengeance in 2010.

Can’t miss game: Florida at Alabama, Oct. 2. They’ve met in the past two SEC championship games and won the past two national championships. Their first regular-season meeting since 2006 is one nobody will want to miss.

A chat with Florida's Marotti

June, 23, 2010
6/23/10
12:15
PM ET
Florida coach Urban Meyer isn’t interested in starting a weight-lifting club.

His aim is winning football games, and he doesn’t mind telling you that one of the central figures in the Gators’ success the past few years has been head strength and conditioning coach Mickey Marotti.

Meyer points to how good the Gators have been in the fourth quarter as telltale proof that Marotti is getting it done in his strength and conditioning program.

Over the past two seasons, Florida has outscored its opponents 228-106 in the fourth quarter, while limiting them to an average of 3.78 points in the final stanza.

The only time the Gators have lost the fourth quarter over the past two seasons when the game was close was the SEC championship game loss to Alabama last season. Over the past two seasons, Florida has recorded 12 shutouts in the fourth quarter.

Those are the numbers Meyer is interested in when he starts evaluating his strength coach, and it’s the reason he calls Marotti the best strength coach in America.

We caught up with Marotti recently for a Q&A:

What’s the cornerstone of your strength and conditioning program at Florida?

Mickey Marotti: We talk every day about effort and toughness in terms of training and also attitude. It’s not a specific lift or run or some sort of exercise. To me, it’s more a mindset, more a mental approach to the daily grind of training for the football season.

Who are some of the players who’ve really excelled this year in the strength program?

MM: Number one is obvious. I think everybody saw it a couple of weeks ago -- Jeff Demps. Running a 9.96 in the 100 meters (at the NCAA track championships) and doing what he does on the football field and doing what he did in the indoor track season, he couldn’t have done that if he didn’t keep his body in shape and mind in shape. This isn’t a normal track athlete. I don’t want to categorize anybody, but this guy is different now. You tell him to go 100 percent, and that’s the way he’s going to go. He’s definitely been a workout warrior. There’s no way he would have been able to run that 9.96 without being one.

How about some of the players on this team who maybe haven’t been in the spotlight that are going to need to be this coming season? Who are some of those guys who’ve had big offseasons?

MM: One young player who’s really done a nice job is Jordan Reed, who’s going to play a couple of different positions and can hopefully step into Aaron Hernandez’s role as that pass-catching tight end. He’s really matured from when he first got here. Another guy is Jaye Howard on the defensive line. He’ll be a redshirt junior and has really changed the way he does things. We’ll find out about him. The other guy is Deonte Thompson at wide receiver. He has a ton of ability, but his work ethic and his demeanor and his leadership have really changed. Sometimes it takes guys longer to mature. I can’t wait to see him. I hope he has a great year, because he has really worked his butt off.

From your perspective, how much better and how much stronger has John Brantley gotten since the day he walked onto campus?

MM: It’s night and day. He’s what we call a grown-ass man right now physically and mentally. A lot of it is maturing, and I think a lot of it has to do with being around Tim [Tebow]. But Johnny has worked really hard and grown up.

How often are you fooled? When a kid is having a great offseason in the strength and conditioning program, does it typically translate to success on the field?

MM: You want to say yes, and that’s what we strive for. But it’s just one chapter in the book. We talk about a new book in January and then keep going through the chapters. If you take care of your business in the offseason and summer, it usually sets you up nicely for the next chapter, which is preseason camp.

How much one-on-one interaction do you have with the players?

MM: Two or three times a year, I sit down with every guy, and we go over specific goals, both objectives and individual goals like body weight, how much body fat they need to have, where they need to be in their lifts and their runs and their agilities. We make them write things down and make a big deal of that stuff. Each day, we’re asking them if they accomplished their goals of what they wanted to do back in April when we talked about it. We’ve got a saying around here: You either get better or you get worse.

Where has the whole strength and conditioning approach changed the most over the years?

MM: It’s kind of changed in how much the strength coach is involved in the total football program. With the decision-making of the football program, you’re so much more involved in everything now. You’re asked to do more than you did 20 years ago when I first started. Back then, you were the strength coach and in charge of that program, and that was it. They came in, went on and then the coaches kind of did their business. But I think as this thing has evolved over time, key components of your football program have been developed in the offseason. Coaches started to recognize that and gave strength coaches around the country more responsibility of getting to know their players, and not only helping with the physical attributes, but also helping with the mental part of it and just dealing with every-day life stuff because you’re around them all the time.

You guys are around the players a lot more than the position coaches, aren’t you?

MM: Oh yeah, way more, especially here in about another week when all those guys go on vacation to Bermuda and Italy and the strength coaches are stuck here in Gainesville (laughing).

How far back do you and Meyer go?

MM: We were graduate assistants together at Ohio State (in 1987) when I first met him. But when I was working at Cincinnati, his sister was working there in one of the colleges and he came to visit her when he was still at Colorado State. He stopped in the weight room and watched a workout for like three hours. I didn’t even stop to see who it was. I remember thinking that he looked familiar, but I was too busy to walk over. He just stood there in the room and stayed the whole time. We talked after we got done, and when the Notre Dame thing came up (in 1998), he had a lot to do with getting me up there. That’s kind of how it all evolved.

What goes through your mind when you hear Meyer laud you, your staff and the whole strength program for the Gators’ success in the fourth quarter?

MM: I don’t think it’s just what we do in the weight room. I think it’s more about the whole coaching staff, from the athletic trainers, to the defensive coordinator and his staff, to the offensive coordinator and all his coaches. We are all so much on the same page, and I think that’s why we’ve been successful here. Everybody buys in, and everybody sells the same thing to our players.
Most of us have seen the video by now of Florida coach Urban Meyer dressing down Orlando Sentinel beat writer Jeremy Fowler after practice on Wednesday.

I watched it a couple of different times, made some calls and re-read Fowler’s blog entry that precipitated the whole exchange.

[+] EnlargeUrban Meyer
Rick Dole/Getty ImagesFlorida coach Urban Meyer came to the defense of one of his players on Wednesday.
A quote by Florida receiver Deonte Thompson, who was discussing the differences between current quarterback John Brantley and former quarterback Tim Tebow, is apparently what infuriated Meyer.

Thompson, who’s struggled with inconsistency, was quoted as saying: “You never know with Tim. You can bolt, you think he’s running but he’ll come up and pass it to you. You just have to be ready at all times. With Brantley, everything’s with rhythm, time. You know what I mean, a real quarterback.”

Now, in Thompson’s defense, what he likely meant to say was a quarterback who was more of a pocket passer.

But he said what he said, and Fowler quoted him accordingly in his blog. It’s also worth noting that Fowler didn’t lead his piece with the quote or attempt to sensationalize it with a headline that read something like: Thompson says Brantley is a real quarterback.

Rather, the quote was several graphs down in the story, which centered on Thompson and his eagerness to jump-start his career with Brantley at the helm.

If Meyer has a beef with anybody, it’s with Thompson and his choice of words, even though I don’t think it was Thompson’s intention to rip Tebow. He was just being candid.

But coaches typically don’t like candor with the media, especially when that candor is directed at an icon like Tebow.

It’s no secret that Meyer and Tebow share a special relationship. In Meyer’s mind, he was protecting his guys. Coaches talk all the time about players having each other’s back. He was doing the same for both Tebow and Thompson.

I suspect there’s also something else at play here.

Meyer and the whole Florida offensive staff are probably a little sensitive about the way Tebow’s mechanics and delivery have been picked apart by NFL people. You’re talking about one of the best college football players of our era, and his delivery is having to be totally re-worked for a lot of teams to even consider drafting him as a quarterback.

You think that impacts the Gators’ recruitment of a pro-style quarterback in future years?

You think rival coaches are going to use that against the Gators?

You think anything that remotely suggests that Tebow wasn’t properly developed at Florida causes Meyer to bristle?

The answer to all three questions is yes.

Anybody who’s ever been around Tebow for any period of time knows what a stand-up guy he is. So it’s only human nature for his coaches and teammates to want to stand up for him if he’s cast in a negative light.

Tebow would do the same for them.

But for Meyer to direct thinly veiled threats at Fowler, telling him to be careful, and then suggesting that they would probably be going at it (fighting) if Meyer were the father in this case comes across as amateurish for a coach who’s won two of the last four national championships.

Don’t make a show of it. Then again, maybe Meyer wanted to make a show of it.

Either way, it’s good to see that he’s easing his way back into things.

video

Cooper to the rescue for Gators

September, 12, 2009
9/12/09
1:37
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low


It was a rainy mess in the first quarter in the Swamp, and I mean a mess.

Emmanuel Moody and Tim Tebow both lost fumbles, but Tebow has thrown two touchdown passes to lead the Gators to a 14-3 second-quarter lead. He just threw one to his roommate, Riley Cooper, a 36-yard strike in the back of the end zone.

The Gators have to be loving the fact that Cooper put off pro baseball for another year. He's easily their best receiver right now. Tebow's first touchdown pass was to Deonte Thompson. That's after Thompson dropped a wide-open pass early in the game. Thompson also dropped a touchdown pass in the opener.

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