(Photo Courtesy Florida Sports Information)
As the Gators quickly approach Saturday’s season opener against Utah, head coach Billy Napier, defensive back Tre’Vez Johnson and quarterback Anthony Richardson met with the media to preview the game.
Here are the main takeaways:
- On Saturday afternoon, Napier will be making his head coaching debut at the University of Florida, something he doesn’t take for granted. “I get to coach this game for a living,” Napier said, “so it’s pretty special to have an opportunity to do something that you love, that you dreamed of doing for a long time.” As far as entering the Swamp for his first game, Napier said he’ll be right in front with the players to lead them in.
- Napier briefly gave a positive update on the status of corner Jason Marshall Jr. and wide receiver Ricky Pearsall, two of the main players who suffered injuries in fall camp. “They’ve been able to participate the last two days, moving around well,” Napier said. “You know, obviously (they) had pretty significant time out of it, but we’ve incrementally been working those guys back into practice.”
- With the depth chart released Wednesday evening, a surprise on the chart was tight end Dante Zanders being named the starter. Zanders, who began his career as a tight end, moved to defensive end under the previous staff, but moved back to tight end in the spring following depth issues. “He’s got a great story,” Napier said. “I can still remember when we first got here and he walks into the office and he’s thinking about leaving.” Zanders ultimately decided to remain with the team, and his hard work in spring and fall camp paid off as he’s set to make his first career start on Saturday.
- A major issue for the Gator defense the past two seasons has been tackling. Napier said that area has improved during the offseason. “I think we’ve got a certain expectation and a brand of football that we want to play,” Napier said. “That requires us to practice a certain way. We work hard to develop a team that can be physical.” Napier said that while they haven’t done a lot of tackling to the ground because of health concerns, the team has done a tremendous job of angles, staying low and putting nice thud on the runner.
- Building off of the defensive issues from the last two seasons, Florida brings in a new defensive coordinator in Patrick Toney, someone who Napier is very high on. Napier said on the field, he lets Toney coach while he works with him on a game plan up to the game. “One of the things that we do is we work hand-in-hand together throughout the entire year,” Napier said. “So we’re playing chess throughout every part of the installation.”
- Napier discussed his process for choosing captains for games, and his method is a bit unorthodox. “We wait until season’s over and then we let the players vote and really observe the entire body of work,” Napier said. He added that there will be different game captains week-to-week based on merit, track record and what the coaches observe, which will be chosen on the Tuesday of a game week. Actual team captains will be voted on by players at the end of the season.
Star Tre’Vez Johnson
- A major aspect of Utah’s offense is the use of tight ends. Johnson, who will be starting at the STAR position, doesn’t think this will be a challenge but does know he will have to be more physical due to the size difference. “… they are like other receivers but they are not,” Johnson said, “really you’ve got to be a lot more physical against a tight end and, he’s going to use his hands so I’m going to use mine.”
- With a new defensive coordinator comes a new defensive scheme. However, Johnson said that the two schemes aren’t too different, but with Toney’s scheme, he doesn’t have to think as much. “I don’t have to think as much,” Johnson said, “and I feel like just being in this scheme you play fast.” He said that having Toney as the safety coach while being the defensive coordinator is extremely helpful in how they see the game.
- Making his return to the Swamp is former Gator linebacker Mohamoud Diabate, who saw the field plenty with Johnson over the last two seasons. He said that the two have spoken a bit with some trash talk exchanged.
- When Utah comes into the Swamp, the 2021 PAC-12 champions will be walking into a sold-out crowd. “This ain’t gonna be nothing they’ve seen before. Especially being in that Swamp, ain’t nothing like 90,000,” Johnson said. He also reminisced about his first time running into the Swamp in 2020, saying he was so nervous he actually threw up. “Yeah, I had some butterflies,” Johnson said with a smile.
- Richardson, a Gainesville native, will be making his second career start on Saturday. It’s also his first in the Swamp. “I’m very excited, first of all,” Richardson said. “You know, first game back in the Swamp, second career start, so that’s pretty much a big deal for me and my family.” He added that being from Gainesville and now being the starting quarterback for Florida does put pressure on him, but he’s fine with it. “… I get to show people what I can do and I can show people how it’s supposed to be done,” he said, “so I’m glad I have the opportunity.”
- Florida’s quarterback depth took a hit with backup quarterback Jack Miller III injuring the thumb on his throwing hand. With that in mind, as well as his own injuries in the past, Richardson’s main goal during fall camp was to stay healthy. “You know, prior to Jack getting injured, that was something I tried to improve on, just not trying to be a superhero and take on big hits all the time, and try to hit people,” he said. He added that he practiced sliding during practices.
- When the Gators moved into the new Heavener Football Training Center, Richardson made headlines with a picture of him sitting in his new locker. To his right, a laminated picture of the “Top 4 QB’s in the SEC,” a ranking he was left off. He uses that picture as motivation going into the season. “I think it’s important with all the hype and stuff, and everybody saying how great I can be, you’ve always got to find something to keep you going,” Richardson said. “Just finding stuff like that gets me motivated and keeps me from getting complacent.”
- With a new offensive scheme, many have wondered what the balance of running and passing would be, especially when it comes to Richardson running the ball. Richardson said he tries not to think of things like that too much, and he wants to do what the team needs him to do to win. He added that having a four-deep running back room helps alleviate the workload on him. “With those guys, just being able to communicate with me and be able to see things I see and play how they play, it helps a lot,” he said.
- As Richardson stepped into a new role as the full-time starting quarterback, he said he has grown as a leader on the team. Mainly, he’s learned to use his voice to lead rather than just his actions. “At first, I was a lead-by-example type of guy, but I noticed after a while that wasn’t enough,” he explained. “Being able to speak now, that’s something I’m improving on. Now I think I have a big voice and people listen to what I say.”
WCC: Updates on everything Billy Napier, Tre’Vez Johnson, and Anthony Richardson had to say can be seen HERE.