(Photo courtesy Florida Sports Information)
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On Wednesday, Florida Gators head football coach Billy Napier, defensive lineman Princely Umanmielen and wide receiver Xzavier Henderson met with the media to update this week’s practices and preview Saturday’s matchup with Texas A&M in College Station.
Here are the main takeaways:
- Napier began the press availability by updating the team’s general status and outlook during this week of practice. “Adversity sometimes gives you an opportunity to prove what you’re made of,” he said of his message to the team. “It can help you refine and develop your character.” He further explained that effort is non-negotiable, and he’s challenging the team to be the best teammates they can be.
- Arguably the biggest headline this week was the dismissal of JACK linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. from the program. Napier said that in his absence, guys have stepped up with a good sense of urgency. “Truth be known, at that position, we’ve been rotating players and sharing that workload for quite a long time,” he explained. He added that with additional snap counts, the other guys look forward to seeing the field more.
- Tight end Keon Zipperer made his first appearance on the injury report this season with what Napier describes as a short-term knee injury. “It’s pretty much to-be-determined based off of his rehab and recovery right now,” Napier said, “and we aren’t expecting him to be available this weekend but long term no issue there.” Jonathan Odom will be taking Zipperer’s place in the offense, and Napier said he had a good week of practice.
- Another player on the injury report is wide receiver Justin Shorter, who leads the team with 471 yards. Napier explained that the senior is questionable with a hamstring injury and has practiced minimally this week. “We did some things that have been modified and he’ll probably be a game-time decision,” he said.
- A final injury update Napier gave was on true freshman corner Devin Moore, who has missed multiple games with an upper body injury. Napier explained that Moore, who announced a successful surgery on Wednesday, had a shoulder injury when he arrived on campus that he played through. He said he is out for the season, and they’re hopeful he’ll return for offseason work.
- Texas A&M brought in the nation’s No. 1 recruiting class in 2022 with many of those guys impacting their season immediately. “To me, I sit around and think about it and it’s a good thing because rookies can impact your team,” Napier said. “There’s no question they evaluated well, they recruited well.”
- A major impact for recruiting in college sports now is Name, Image and Likeness, something Texas A&M used to their advantage. For Napier, NIL and the transfer portal is a game-changer. “All those things that maybe were a part of your recruiting strategy this has shifted the landscape in a huge fashion,” he said. “I think it’s very fluid.” He added that with state law, NCAA rules and enforcement, playing in the NIL world is “almost like living in a land with no laws,” according to Napier.
- As far as NIL at the University of Florida goes, Napier believes it can be a major strength for the program. “With the state we live with 21 million people we have 470,000 living alumni,” he said. “We have economies that are nearby that are huge. I think the Gator fan base in particular in this state are right up there with some of the NFL franchises.” Specific to UF, Napier said that the GatorMade program equips the school for success. “We have in-house advisement there to educate, equip our players, make good decisions. No one wants to talk about the negatives here: there’s a lot of people trying to take advantage of young people in terms of representation and a lot of legalities.”
- Transfer portal-specific, Napier compares it to NFL free agency, but there is one major difference. “The issue here is that there’s no contract for any player in the league and there’s no salary for each team so you got a really strange dynamic here and I think we’re looking for some uniformity here.”
- Saturday’s game will be the farthest game from Gainesville in Napier’s young UF tenure. On playing the Aggies, Napier said that having a balanced offense is crucial. “Developing your team in the long term, we’ve got a vision for the brand of ball you want your team to play and I think we have a practice environment where there is fundamentals, there is line of scrimmage play, there is edge play, rushing the ball and really stopping the run, they’re both really important and will be really important this week,” he said.
- With Cox Jr.’s dismissal from the program announced earlier this week, Umanmielen spoke about some of the depth at the JACK linebacker spot. Brenton was a really good player but I just feel like there was a lot talent under him that’s going to be put on display because the guys behind him aren’t like, that far behind him, like Antuan Powell he’s a great pass rusher, Lloyd Summerall, David Reese, those are big-time guys that can step up and help the team out.” Powell-Ryland was listed as the starter on the Week 10 depth chart with Summerall III and Reese as backups. He added that he probably won’t play much of the JACK role.
- At 4-4, Florida needs two more wins to become bowl eligible. “I think it’s very pivotal you know just because we’ve been coming off losses and things like that so I feel like our goal right now is just to start this month off with a win and win out for the rest of the season,” Umanmielen said of the final month of the season. He added that it somewhat feels like a new season due to goals changing.
- Hailing from Manor, Texas, a little over 90 miles from College Station, Saturday’s game is a bit of a homecoming for Umanmielen. He explained that he’ll have 25 to 30 family and friends at the game, which makes him want to play harder. “It’s my first time in college playing in front of my friends and family, so it’s been really giving me a lot of motivation to put on a show and help the team out,” he explained.
- Although a Texas native who was recruited by all the major Texas schools and was committed to Texas at one time, Umanmielen said there’s no love for the Longhorns or Aggies. In fact, he didn’t like them growing up. “I had three dream schools while I was young, it was Miami, Oregon, and LSU,” he said. “I never like leaned toward being a Texas and Texas A&M fan.”
- A big problem for the Gator defense this season is tackling. However, Umanmielen said he felt they improved against Georgia. “I feel like the main issue is that guys have to get out the stack and run to the ball,” he said. “If one guy misses a tackle, then another guy should just be right behind him to get that tackle.” He further explained that a lot of the big plays they’ve given up have been something they’ve done wrong rather than the opposing offense doing right. Additionally, it’s a lot of mental errors.
- One of the Aggies’ biggest offensive weapons is running back Devon Achane, who is third in the conference with 765 rushing yards and is a weapon as a returner. “When it comes to defense, they run counter a lot, so we just got to stop the counter,” he said. “I feel like whatever we do, if we execute it right as a D-line, then he shouldn’t, you know, be a problem.”
- Arguably the biggest play of Henderson’s career came last Saturday against Georgia with a 78-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, a new career-long for him. “I was smiling the entire way to the touchdown, to the endzone. I was looking up at the screen making sure nobody had the angle.” Henderson finished the game with a team-high five receptions for 110 yards and a touchdown.
- With Justin Shorter listed as questionable for Saturday’s game, Henderson spoke on the importance of the other receivers to step up in his potential absence. “People have really doubted us as a receiver room,” he explained. “We have a lot of talent in that receiver room, and everybody’s going to have to step up eventually. We’re working, and that’s all we can do. Move forward.”
- Although an Eastern Division title and a major bowl game are out of reach, Henderson explained there’s still a lot to play for in the final month of the season. “We’re kind of taking it one day, one step at a time, one play at a time,” he said. “Just show up ready to work for Wednesday practice as we did today. We’re just taking it on and go like that.” He added that the next goal is the best available bowl game.
- Saturday’s game will be the second time Henderson plays at Kyle Field in his career. Despite a limited capacity in 2020 due to COVID restrictions, Henderson remembers the crowd playing a factor his freshman season. “It was pretty loud, I ain’t gonna lie,” he said. “For it to be during COVID as well, it was still one of the loudest games we had that year.” He added that he expects the 12th Man to show up again on Saturday.
- As far as preparing for a long trip into a different time zone, Henderson said these types of games should motivate players. “So, this one we prayed for, this is what we worked for all our lives,” he explained. “So, I mean, if you ain’t ready by now I can’t do nothing to motivate you. Everybody lives for these big games at the University of Florida.” To have success on the road, he said it comes down to how well the team prepares in practice.
Everything Billy Napier, Princely Umanmielen, and Xzavier Henderson had to say today can be seen HERE.