Billy Napier and Scooby Williams discuss the loss of Shemar James and previews Arkansas

by | Nov 2, 2023 | 0 comments

The injury and loss of linebacker Shemar James will be a setback for the Florida Gators defense. However, head coach Billy Napier and linebacker Scooby Williams express confidence in the other players who will need to step up starting this week against Arkansas. Here’s what Napier and Williams had to say about losing James and hosting Arkansas this Saturday.

WATCH or LISTEN: Dave’s thoughts on Shemar James missing rest of season

Opening statement:

“We’ve been blessed this week to have some fantastic people speak to our team post-practice Sunday evening, Tuesday, Wednesday this week. Had a chance to hear from some outstanding leaders, people that have legitimate experience, that have lived a life of service, they’re currently in the process of living a life of service to our country, protecting our freedoms. And I’m going to tell you, man, it is impressive to hear the things that come with their way of life. And I have a tremendous amount of respect for it. I do think for our young people it’s beneficial for them to hear some of the details that go into what our military does. I think this weekend is unique in a lot of regards. This week in particular is special for our players. Hopefully our young people have gained an appreciation for what takes place. We had a good practice today, really good energy out there. Obviously we got to continue to detail up the plan. But I’ve been impressed so far this week. And I thought today, in particular, we were a little sharper. It’s been a good week. We’re excited about this weekend, playing in front of a sold-out crowd and 12 noon. Certainly wearing the uniforms is exciting, but ultimately it’s not about that; it’s about the cause and creating awareness around the cause. What questions do we have?”

Lessons learned this week:

“Yeah, James (Slayton) spoke yesterday. I think that’s unique because James is a part of our team. I mean, he works with us each day. I think when I listen there’s a lot we can learn from the selflessness that’s associated with choosing that path in life. And I think these guys when they tell their stories, some of their story. Obviously they don’t tell us everything. You can see that there’s challenge, there’s sacrifice. You also can hear in their voice the importance of brotherhood, of the unity, the people that they went through training with and ultimately the people that they went into battle with. And I think these are real people. There are just normal people. They’ve got wives. They’ve got kids. They’ve got a story. That’s what stands out to me. They’re just like you and I. They didn’t choose journalism. They didn’t choose coaching football. Those chose this path, and I think there’s something special about that. So there’s a certain respect that I think we all owe it to. That’s what I would say. And anytime we get an opportunity we ought to tell them how thankful we are about them. It’s impactful. This is the sixth year in a row that we’ve done. It’s pretty special.”

Level of energy at practice this week:

“I thought we were a little, we started a little slow yesterday but we finished really well. I thought the energy kinda improved as we knocked the rust off. Tuesdays are typically that way because we don’t practice on Monday. And then today we hit the ground running. I mean, I thought we started faster today than we have in a long time. I thought the good-on-good periods in particular were very competitive. So, I think that’s a good indication. Now like I’ve told you many times before, does that mean we’re going to play well on Saturday? We’ll see. But I do think they’re going about it the right way. I believe in this group, I like the makeup of this group. I think we’re still searching for consistency, we’re still trying to put the best performances together from all parts of our team. Ultimately, that’s the goal. And, you know, this will not be easy Saturday. I know the record may indicate that, but turn the tape on, this group can play.”

LB Shemar James being out. Arkansas RB Rocket Sanders possibly playing?

“I think it presents great opportunity for those other three guys, and they’ve all had good weeks. Certainly we’ll lean on Scooby and Teradja to go along that leadership, communication component. And then those three guys, you know, Wingo has some experience here, and certainly Mannie has played a lot of football for us, and Jaden has shown a lot of promise. So, this is another week in college football, right? I mean, very rarely do you run out there with all 22 starters. That’s a room that has depth. It’s been very competitive in that room to see who we play. And if you think back, Shemar missed a pretty significant amount of time, so these guys were able to gain a ton of reps.”

Week-to-week for Shemar or longer?

“Yeah, no, he’s done. Yeah, he’s done. He had surgery today and he’s out. So, he’ll be back for spring practice. This will be about a four-month deal. Ultimately, it’s just, it’s much like a shoulder dislocation. It’s a kneecap dislocation. Happened to him in high school, it was an injury he had before. Much like a shoulder comes out, if it comes out again you’ve got to get it fixed. So, everything went well with the surgery. It won’t be a major factor long-term for him.”

James’ performance this season?

“No, I think Shemar has been outstanding. He’s our leading tackler. More than that, Shemar, he’s a great example. His practice habits, his character. He’s developed a voice. You know, that’s something that I think, in particular as of late, he really was getting comfortable from a leadership standpoint of being vocal. So that’s the unfortunate part. But you know, I think sometimes, if you have the right perspective, injuries can… in the long-term, you may not realize it in the middle of it. But he’s been outstanding. We knew he was a good player upon arrival but he’s shown it this year.”

How much Arkansas can really change offensively and how he goes about studying for an opponent after a coordinator change:

“That’s the interesting part because they have a number of brand new players and they have no recall of the previous system. Now, the quarterback, obviously, played in the system. We’ll get a combination of both. I think Sam’s a good coach, Ken’s a good coach and they’ll do a good job. And, ultimately, it’s tough, man. It’s tough on their staff, it’s tough on their team. Dan Enos is a heck of a football coach. He’s a very accomplished coach. We’ll have the players ready. We talked about that process a while back. That’ll be part of the story on Saturday for sure.”

Challenges presented by KJ Jefferson:

“KJ is probably one of the more — he’s just a physical player and he’s tough to get on the ground. You may get to him but he’s like a lot of these bigger quarterbacks who have played throughout the years. This is a big man. Ultimately, it’s tough to get him on the ground as a runner and when you do try to finish on him, he’s a challenge in that regard and he is an athlete, there’s no question about it. He’s developed as a passer and he’s got a good group of skill around him and when you start talking about defending Arkansas, it starts with him and his mobility is a part of the equation.”

Princely Umanmielen’s role in containing Jefferson:

“Princely’s been great and Princely’s done a good job of affecting the quarterback, whether it’s pressure or hurries or actually finishing on the quarterback and sacking him. We’ll need to play well at every level of the defense, it’s a huge part of the deal. Certainly, affecting the quarterback, you have to play well at all levels and Princely is going to be a big piece of that.”

RB Trevor Etienne’s health:

“He’s in a great place. I think this week in particular, he’s practiced really well. He practiced fast. He’s out of the non-contact, we modified him there for several weeks and ultimately he’s back healthy, his shoulder’s good. I think he’s in a good place and we certainly need to get him going.”

Caleb Douglas’ progress:

“I would say he’s ahead of schedule. He’s out of the boot, he’s running around, he’s running with the altered-g, he’s making progress.”

How injuries have impacted the team:

“I think when you look at … you guys cover the Gators, but if you cover any team in our league, we got the same set of issues. We played Georgia last week, a long list of injuries, right? We all live in the same world. I think ultimately what it does is it magnifies the importance of depth, it magnifies the importance of player retention. Having a veteran team, having players that have been in your system for multiple years. And look, even last year it happened to us at the end of the year. So, I think we’ve handled them a little better, in my opinion, this year because of the depth. We’re still not there. We still have work to do. But what it does is it presents opportunity for the next group. They’re obviously excited. We got a lot of guys who work their butt off and they’ll be excited to go out there and play.”

How injuries impact the DL rotation:

“I think we’ve spread those reps out with a group of players. You’re going to see Kelby Collins more often, you’ll see Jack Pyburn more often, you’re going to see Jamari more often, Chris McClellan more often. So, all the guys that have been playing will continue to play. They’ll just play a little bit more. And let me tell you, them guys, they’re flying around out there because they know their role is going to increased and they’re excited about it. So I think ultimately, sometimes that can be a good thing.”

How many players UF will pursue in the portal?

“We do. I think ultimately a lot of that is to be determined. I think ultimately for me, where we’re at as we approach signing day and then when the portal window approaches, ultimately the players available determine a lot of your decisions, if that makes sense. But this is a bigger math problem. We used to be kind of, it was Algebra 1. It was 25 initials, 85 scholarships. That was the variables. Then midyear spots was a big deal. How many mid year spots did you have available. Now you’ve got portal, which is not only players in but it’s players out, and then you have NIL, which ultimately I think affects things in a significant way. So, now we’re approaching Calculus, if that makes sense. I’m getting my doctorate right now. I think your question is relevant, and I think that I could do math today, but the numbers that we’re putting in are going to change. So, we’ve got good people. We actually met on it today briefly, the personnel department. So, there’s just a ton of things that contribute to that. I miss those Algebra days. I miss those days.”


Scooby Williams

The challenge of competing without Shemar James:

“It’s always tough seeing a guy you got ready for the season with the summer, putting in the work, all that extra time but that’s what we’ve got guys for to fill in his role, some big shoes to fill but I know with our coaches with our team, just the whole plan, we’re going to be ready to go.”

What stands out about Mannie Nunnery:

“How athletic he is. He’s like a freak of nature. I don’t know if you remember but I think in spring I think we had interviews and I told you how he was athletic and made one-handed plays and all that so I’m really excited for him to be able to display that for everybody on Saturday.

“Mannie is one of those guys who can cover, drop back rush the passer, just do what the defensive coordinator tells you to do, so I feel like he’s a really valuable piece to the defense.”

How Shemar James is handling his injury:

“I feel like everybody in the room … I feel like he’s handled it well, but like I said, it took him all summer, all winter to get ready, I know it’s going to be challenging but that’s what we’re here for as a team, as an experience and as a family.”

Energy level this week:

“It’s always hard kind of losing because you didn’t execute the way you wanted to against a really good team, but just coming in putting our head down and working because nobody is going to give us empathy or sympathy for it. Everybody is trying to beat us, so they are going to be six and whatever or go out and try to win the rest of these games.”

The return of Arkansas RB Rocket Sanders, and the importance of tackling:

“I feel like any successful defense really relies on tackling so tackling has always been a big part of our practice plan, tackling circuits, doing this, finishing on the ball, getting the ball out, I feel like it’s a really key emphasis this weekend for the rest of the season.”

Communication without Shemar James:

“Shemar is a vocal leader but um it’s 11 people on the field everybody has got to relay the call, everybody has got to communicate. So I feel like everybody has got to do what they want to do and do their job and we’ll be just fine.”

How the defensive line has fared after injuries:

“For the older guys the younger guys are tough so they are planning to get back but the younger guys, great coaches and great leaders in front of those guys, so I feel like they will be ready and they’ve been developing this whole time.”

Progression on defense this season:

“The first couple of games started hot but we got into the real thick of the season and when you get into that part of the season it lets you know what we’re missing or not missing but what you need to get better at. As the season goes by there’s always room for growth and improvement so I feel like communication, tackling, just being elite at the little things can turn our defense into a better defense.”

His improvement throughout the season:

“Well a lot of it is my confidence level. We know the defense and we know what everybody has to do. That allows us to play faster. I feel like my confidence has grown. Just like the first couple of games I was getting my feet wet against great players and great competition. Once you succeed… until a player gets better. So I feel like I’ve grown, but there’s always room for improvement. Some things I struggle with and some things I need to do better. That’s why I’m at practice every day getting better and better.”

What he has earned from the speakers and visiting the VA:

“For starters, we kind of take for granted the freedom that we have and getting somebody from the Army or the military to come talk about their experiences and how much it means to them. It makes me realize it’s bigger than football, not just on the go experience. There’s a lot of people who think of football as an escape or a vacation. Just talking to us, they can give a whole bunch of names from the military of the United States. I learned a lot, like how important core values is, working as a team, overcoming struggles. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that the military can teach you. They brought it to us and it was nice to have them here.”

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