Billy Napier discusses practice, player response, and upcoming game against McNeese

by | Sep 7, 2023 | 0 comments

Florida Gators head coach, Billy Napier, discusses the team’s recent practices ahead of McNeese, tracking penalties, player responses to their loss to Utah, signs of defensive improvement, upcoming challenges, and more.

WATCH or LISTEN: Q & A: What does Billy Napier have to do to earn credit?

Opening statement:

Napier: “Reality is, if it was easy, everyone would do it. Very few are willing to do what’s required, so Tuesday, Wednesday is a challenge. I think the way that we practiced and the approach that we took, today was a tough practice. There was opportunity out there to develop intangibles. We talk to the team a little bit about how every individual player on our team and really the people throughout our organization, we’re all in a different place. I think the key is that each individual player, whether you just showed up here or you’ve been here for six years, you’re competing against your best, right? You know yourself relative to your effort, your toughness, your discipline, your knowledge, your fundamentals, your techniques, your ability to execute and do your job for the team. We have to continue to try to improve. We’re either getting better or we’re getting worse. You’re going forwards or you’re going backwards, and I think today presented that opportunity. That’s going to require discipline, it’s going to require discomfort, it’s going to require sacrifice, it’s going to require some patience and tomorrow is Thursday and we’ll continue here to clean up the plan. Really looking forward to being back home in front of our fans and, obviously, great news today being ranked the No.1 public institution and I think 15th in the country overall. Congratulations to our leadership in terms of all the work that went into that.”

Tough practice Wednesday:

Napier: “I think good and bad. I don’t necessarily think that we ever go out there on Tuesday or Wednesday and it’s phenomenal. Listen, I’m talking about the intangible part, we’re installing a few new things here and there, concepts against new variables on the other side. I think we’ve had some good days this week and I think we’ve had some days where we could do better. I think that’s probably the answer I’m going to give you every week. The key to the drill here is that each person is competing against their best. They’re trying to improve and, listen, every player is in a little bit of a different spot relative to that. That’s where there’s a little bit of integrity in that regard, just in terms of that individual knows he’s doing the absolute best he can do.”

Tracking penalties and seeing progress:

Napier: “I think there’s a level of intent there. The struggle there is that I don’t know that those things had really shown up in a practice setting, if that makes sense. And listen, discipline, everything matters, right? I don’t necessarily think it’s one individual thing. Maybe it’s a reflection of a lot of things. A lot of this is game day. I don’t want to use the work anxiety, but there’s an element of that to first game, on the road, different environment. I wish I could tell you that, ‘Hey, those things had been an issue in the scrimmage’, but we played pretty clean. We did a ton of work with crowd noise. Ultimately, as a coach, we go to the park and we play clean football, we can live with some things but those are the things that keep you up at night, so we want to try to eliminate any mistakes that are totally under our control and those certainly were.”

How players have responded to the loss:

Napier: “You just listen to players, you observe players. We have multiple cross sections of players that meet throughout the week that represent different groups and we give them a platform. We have the leadership development kind of things that we do. We have a group that meets on Monday, a group on Tuesday, a group on Wednesday — and that’s very evident. I think something that maybe is hard for people to comprehend: Nobody wants to do it more than they want to do. There’s no fan, there’s no alumni that’s worked hard as these players have worked. There’s no one that’s worked as hard as this staff has worked. No one wants to perform and be at their best and be loyal and do their job for their team than the players and the staff. We like to say hey, we view things from our lens and our expectation, and our standard is more demanding than anyone on the outside. I think that’s an important piece here. Look, with some of the things that happened in that game, criticism is well deserved. I think those are the things we’re very aware of that. I think our players, they want to do better. There’s not one individual out there who’s like, hey, it doesn’t matter. It’s important for people to know that. They wake up on Sunday, most weeks, and there’s some things they can do better – sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. But reality is no one wants it more than those players do. They’re hard at work to try to do it better.”

Signs that the defense is on the right track:

Napier: “Just overall there in Year 2 in the system I think the fundamentals have improved. The comprehension and the understanding of the concepts and their assignment, therefore they play faster. They are able to eliminate some of that indecision therefore they’re anticipating, they’re processing quicker, they play faster, they get better production, there’s less mental errors, there’s less technique flaws, we’re on the same page, communication is at a different level. We always can improve, but after the first play in the game for the most part pretty clean football to some degree. Now, we’re going to continue to play really good competition in the future and we need to train and prepare and get ourselves ready and continue to develop and grow as the season goes, so we’re ready for the best competition.”

Jonathan Odom’s return:

Napier: “Odom is a very smart player. He has worked at his fundamentals. Certainly, the rehab process is a challenge. People don’t understand the time on top of the normal work the team has to do, you add in the rehab process. This guy has been on one heck of a journey. I can still remember him and his parents in the locker room after the game. So, to be back and provide some steadiness in the room with some young players is a positive. But Odom’s a smart player and he provides some stability there with a young group.”

First home game:

Napier: “It’s a blessing. It’s one of the things I hear our players talking about. We work around the clock to get an opportunity to play only so many times. Those home games are special. You’re reminded of that each time you walk out there on the grass. We go over there only a handful times each year from a practice perspective – a couple of practices in the spring, Fan Day, a couple of scrimmages in training camp. I think every time I go over there, I’m reminded of that and to see our fans in there this weekend is going to be special.”

Night games in the Swamp:

Napier: “It’s unique. I always felt like my Dad being a high school coach. Any time you play at night, there’s a Friday night feel to that. I think for players and a lot of us who played high school football and maybe even have been around coaching high school football. That’s magnified times 10 when you’ve got a packed Swamp, and you think about the history and tradition. We spend a ton of time in training camp trying to teach our players about the history of the program.  We showed them numerous games from the past, going all the way back to the beginning. I’m just sitting here thinking about some of those games, just what the place means. Football success here, the culture, the tradition, the history here has meant a lot to this university. There’s been a lot of great memories made in that stadium on Saturdays at night. We’re hopeful that we can continue to improve and play our best football in here Saturday night.”

What it will mean to get a win:

Napier: “Yeah, you know, I think that there’s a lot that comes with that. And I think a little bit of me as a coach there doesn’t want to answer that question because we’re in the process of getting ready to do that. We’re going to spend a little bit more time on things that are going to get us the result more than thinking about the result. But there’s no doubt that winning helps a lot, you know, there’s no question about that. It helps all parts of your organization, and certainly for me as a leader, you want your people, players and staff, to get the satisfaction of winning a football game.”

The challenges of defending McNeese:

Napier: “Having been in that state, two things I think, for me. First of all, playing FCS level football and knowing the history of the program relative to what they’ve been able to accomplish. Matt Viator was on our staff at Louisiana and was a legendary coach there. When I was a player, every playoff bracket I can remember, you know, they were in there and they were always a contender. And then you magnify that with the talent in that area, at any level, and I think that’s the key thing for our players is to understand. Look, there’s gonna be a lot of good football players on that field Saturday. And look, these guys have had tremendous success, what they were able to accomplish at Valdosta. Schematically, they present variables and they can present issues for you. So, we’re gonna have to be ready to go.”

How to measure success this week:

Napier: “I just think it’s about all the things that we can control. All these things that we talk about here all the time. I mean, we’re talking about the preparation leading up to the game. Starting tomorrow, when we show up here on Thursday, how we execute Friday. We’re playing at home for the first time with this group of players, right? So, there’s some new processes that we have to go through here. And then once the game begins, you know, we’re looking for clean football, right? We’re looking for really good process, communication, alignment, eye discipline, technique and fundamentals, and then just having the discipline to execute and make the play.”

Freshman Eugene Wilson III getting his first start:

Napier: “He’s had a great camp. He’s very capable player, we saw some of that last week. Kahleil Jackson ****being banged up, we kinda shuffled the deck there. And he’s deserving, and he’s going to only get better as we go forward. So, still a freshman, and there’ll be some things that come with that. But he is proven to be a very effective player.”

Pace of the last drive against Utah:

Napier: “It seems like a long time ago. I think when you get behind, obviously, you’re two scores behind, there’s a certain pace that comes with that. You know, we can play with different tempos and I think a lot of that has to do with who we’re playing each week. You know, you’ve seen this played really fast at times, and then we have different processes to slow it down. We played complementary football, and certainly tempo is a piece of the puzzle. I don’t necessarily think it’s all of the puzzle.”

Devin Moore’s illness:

Napier: “He’s got strep. You know, pretty significant. Yeah, abscess. You know, some just medical, hasn’t been able to practice. I mean look, I mean this is today. We’ll see. But typically, guys for us that don’t practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, you know, we declare them out.”

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