Florida Gators: Jonathan Bostic

Tales from the road: Florida Gators 

May, 29, 2013
Each week, Tales From The Road will provide news and updates about where Florida's coaches are recruiting and the prospects making headlines.

This week's targets: With spring practices in Florida winding down, the Florida coaches aren't expected to visit many prospects this week. The two players that are expected to get visits are important though.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida came close, but the Gators fell one player short of tying the school record for most players taken in a seven-round NFL draft.

It was still an impressive showing. Eight UF players were drafted, the most since nine were taken in the 2010 draft. Defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd and safety Matt Elam were taken in the first round, giving the Gators multiple first-round picks for the first time since 2010.

Florida’s eight selections was one shy of LSU and Alabama, which led the Southeastern Conference with nine. Georgia also had eight players picked.

Here’s a breakdown of the Gators who were drafted:

DT Sharrif Floyd
First round: No. 23 overall by Minnesota

DT Kevin Williams and NT Letroy Guion are the Vikings’ starters, but Floyd should figure prominently in the rotation. He said he’s eager to learn all he can from Williams, a 10-year vet with 434 tackles and 56.5 sacks. The knock on Floyd is that he doesn’t have long arms, but he does have a quick first step and good speed for a 300-pounder.

S Matt Elam
First round: No. 32 overall by Baltimore

Elam couldn’t step into a better situation. The Ravens lost both starting safeties from their Super Bowl championship team. They released Bernard Pollard (he later signed with Tennessee) and Ed Reed signed a free-agent contract with Houston. Despite not having ideal size (5-foot-10, 208 pounds), Elam is more similar to Pollard than Reed. Elam is physical enough to play the run but also is good enough to cover slot receivers man-to-man.

LB Jonathan Bostic

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- They heard about it after the season ended.

In the spring, too.

[+] EnlargeDe'Ante Saunders
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida safety De'Ante Saunders tied for the team lead in interceptions with two last season.
And when they hit the practice field for the first time on Aug. 4, Florida’s defensive players will hear the same message: Turnovers. They have to force more turnovers, especially if they want to become an elite defense.

"Whenever you can take the ball from the offense, that’s like the hawk taking the worm out of the [bird’s] nest," linebacker Lerentee McCray said. "You have to practice it. We have to practice good habits, practice getting the ball out, stripping the ball."

Florida forced only 14 turnovers last season -- the fewest in a single season since the school began keeping fumble stats in 1950 -- and that was the main reason the Gators finished 113th nationally in turnover margin (minus-12). UF dropped multiple interceptions -- in the spring coach Will Muschamp said 15, a number that included six by linebacker Jelani Jenkins.

What was particularly disturbing was how little the Gators took the ball away against good teams. UF forced just eight turnovers in Southeastern Conference play, four of which came against Kentucky. The Gators had a three-game stretch against Alabama, LSU and Auburn in which they didn’t force a turnover.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Further confirmation of Florida's offensive concerns came Thursday morning from the huge throng of media at the SEC's annual media days.

The Gators didn't have a single player on the media's first- or second-team preseason All-SEC list for the second year in a row. It's the first time UF hasn't had a first- or second-teamer on offense in back-to-back seasons since the media began selecting preseason All-SEC teams in 1992.

In fact, the Gators were nearly shut out completely, but offensive tackle Xavier Nixon was named a third-team selection.

Florida fared much better on special teams and defense. Kicker Caleb Sturgis was UF's lone first-team selection. Safety Matt Elam was a second-team selection while defensive tackles Sharrif Floyd and Dominique Easley, linebacker Jonathan Bostic, and kick-returner Andre Debose were third-team selections.

Florida was picked by the 222 voters to finish third in the Eastern Division behind Georgia and South Carolina. The Gators did receiver 12 first-place votes. LSU was picked to win the Western Division and the SEC championship.
ESPN’s GatorNation is previewing each position leading up to the start of the season with a short video. Each Friday until the season kicks off, Michael DiRocco and Jeff Barlis will analyze a position group, tell you who is starting and why, and provide a breakdown of the depth at the position. This week it’s linebackers.

The starters: SLB Michael Taylor (RSo.) OR Antonio Morrison (Fr.), MLB Jonathan Bostic (Sr.), WLB Jelani Jenkins (RJr.)

The backups: Lerentee McCray (RSr.), Darrin Kitchens (Jr.), Neiron Ball (RSo.), Jeremi Powell (Fr.), Gideon Ajagbe (RSo.), Kedric Johnson (RJr.), Alex McCalister (Fr.), Bryan Cox, Jr. (Fr.)

Comment: Bostic and Jenkins are stalwarts who are tackling machines. UF coach Will Muschamp, however, challenged them in the spring to start making more big plays. That’s directly related to Jenkins dropping six interceptions last season. Taylor is a versatile player who can play all three spots and Morrison was an early enrollee who drew praise for his physical play. If or when DE/LB Ronald Powell returns from his ACL tear this season, McCray will move back to strongside linebacker.

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ESPN’s GatorNation brings you the 30 things you need to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. For 30 weekdays we’ll preview games, talk about trends, spotlight players and positions, and give you pretty much everything you need to know to be ready for the season before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida had one of the nation’s top defenses in 2011. The upcoming season should be no different.

Matt Elam
Kim Klement/US PresswireSafety Matt Elam might be the Gators' best player.
There are 12 players returning who started at least three games last season. There is a good mix of younger and older players, especially in the secondary. In fact, most of UF’s top players on the roster can be found on the defensive side of the ball.

That made choosing the Gators’ top five defensive players heading into the 2012 season difficult. Buck Ronald Powell was not included on the list because he is expected to miss part of the season with a torn ACL, and there’s no way to know how effective he will be when he returns. If he were completely healthy, he’d be on the list.

Here they are in order:

S Matt Elam -- He is UF’s best defensive player and is good enough to leave for the NFL draft after this season. He was a nickelback and special teams standout as a freshman in 2010, then started every game last season. He led the Gators in pass breakups (seven) and tackles for loss (11.0). He was second on the team with 78 tackles. He’s a big hitter who rarely finds himself out of position.

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ESPN’s GatorNation brings you the 30 things you need to know about Florida’s upcoming 2012 season. For 30 weekdays we’ll preview games, talk about trends, spotlight players and positions, and give you pretty much everything you need to know to be ready for the season before the Sept. 1 opener against Bowling Green.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida is one of only five SEC programs to make the top 25 in ESPN’s team recruiting rankings in each of the past five seasons.

In fact, the Gators finished in the top five in four of those five years. But somehow that hasn’t translated to consistent on-field success.

Florida lost just two games combined in 2008 and 2009, but very few of the members of those signing classes contributed significantly -- which shows how good UF’s roster was in those two seasons. Since then, however, the Gators are a combined 15-11, and while some of those highly touted signees have turned into very good players, UF has slipped from its spot among the national elite.

But things are looking brighter entering 2012. The core of this year’s team is comprised of members of the 2009 and 2010 classes, and several members of the 2011 class appear to be ready to become significant contributors or are on the verge of being elite players.

Here’s a look at those signing classes (see chart below):

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- At the beginning of spring practice, GatorNation brought readers' attention to five questions, five guys under pressure and five players to watch.

With 15 spring practices behind the Gators, including Saturday’s spring game, let’s re-examine those questions and decide whether they were answered as well as take another look at those guys to see whether they handled the pressure and made any improvements.


Will there be a clear-cut starter at quarterback by the time spring practice ends?

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Phil Sears/US PresswireMike Gillislee (left) made a case during the spring to be Florida's top running back.
Nope. Coach Will Muschamp said the competition between Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will continue into the offseason -- and likely into fall practice, as well. The two played pretty well in the spring game -- Driskel completed 12 of 14 passes for 147 yards and Brissett completed 9 of 16 passes for 233 yards and two touchdowns -- but neither has been able to gain separation.

What will UF's new offense look like?

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Defensive end/linebacker Ronald Powell was having the best spring of his career until he was forced to leave Saturday’s spring game with a left knee injury.

Florida coach Will Muschamp said Powell suffered a sprain and seemed to indicate that the injury was not particularly serious. However, Powell was on crutches during the second half of the Blue’s 21-20 victory over the Orange at Florida Field.

Powell (6-foot-4, 250 pounds) had been UF’s best defensive player throughout the spring. He was named the defensive player of the day during both of UF’s scrimmages and appeared to be on the verge of becoming the elite pass-rusher many predicted he would become when UF signed him as the nation’s top recruit in 2010.

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Muschamp encouraged by offense 

April, 7, 2012
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida coach Will Muschamp doesn’t want pretty. He wants production.

Running the ball between the tackles. Converting third downs and short-yardage plays. High-percentage completions. Checkdowns. None of that draws oohs and ahs -- but it is the way Muschamp wants his offense to perform.

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Phil Sears/US PresswireMike Gillislee ran for 35 yards on six carries in Saturday's spring game, as the Florida offense showed some spark.
He saw that on Saturday afternoon during the Blue’s 21-20 victory over the Orange in Florida’s annual spring game at Florida Field, and it has him encouraged that the Gators’ offense will be better than it was last season.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida held its first scrimmage of the spring on Saturday. It was closed to the media and public, but coach Will Muschamp said the following:

[+] EnlargeMike Gillislee
Courtesy UF CommunicationsFlorida running back Mike Gillislee was singled out for praise after Saturday's scrimmage.
Running back Mike Gillislee was the offensive player of the day. The senior continues to hold onto the No. 1 spot atop the depth chart, especially with his improved pass-blocking.

Defensive end Ronald Powell was the defensive player of the day. He had several third-down stops, a sack and several quarterback pressures. Muschamp singled out Powell and Gillislee for having great offseasons.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease doesn't have a magic formula to fix an offense that struggled in 2011 and finished 105th nationally.

But he does have five criteria that he believes are keys to any successful offense, and if the Gators master these five things they'll be better in 2012 -- a pounding running game, an explosive passing game, creativity, eliminate turnovers and great quarterback play.

"We want to get more physical up front, we want to develop a little bit better tempo, we want to eliminate some turnovers, a lot of turnovers, and put ourselves in better situations," Pease said Tuesday. "We're not going to run anything different. People run power, we're going to run power; they run zone, we're going to run zone. No one is reinventing that part of it."

Pease comes to UF after spending the past six seasons at Boise State. The first five were as receivers coach, but Pease was the offensive coordinator in 2011 and helped the Broncos finish tied for 10th nationally in total offense (481.3 yards per game). He's being charged with fixing a UF offense that averaged 328.7 yards of total offense per game and just 185.7 yards per game passing. The Gators haven't averaged that few yards of total offense since 1988 (316.0). UF averaged 184.3 yards per game passing in 2010, but that's the fewest since 1989 (148.0).

His first task is to find a quarterback. Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskel will share reps this spring, but UF coach Will Muschamp said there is no timetable to naming a starter. They both could play in the fall, Muschamp said, which is not what he would prefer but is willing to do if neither separates himself in the competition.

"Not particularly in favor of that," Pease said. " I'd rather see one kid step forward and take charge and be productive and let it be his team. But if that's not the way it works out, then as coaches you've got to do what's best for your football team."

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