Billy Napier: “I think the players have responded the right way this week.”

by | Sep 27, 2023 | 0 comments

The Florida Gators are seeking to build momentum as they aim for their fourth victory of the season in their upcoming match against the Kentucky Wildcats. Prior to the Gators’ trip to Lexington, Florida head coach Billy Napier met with the media for one final time. Here is everything he had to say during the gathering.

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Opening statement:

Napier: “Okay, I think, you know, as we get into the season, I think it becomes even more important than ever that we’re intentional about our approach. You know, and I think the elite players that I’ve been around my career are the ones that have a plan, right? And they’re very deliberate about every bit of their day. Certainly in season when you’re trying to maximize your time, you know you’re either trying or you’re training and this game requires training. And there’s no question that all of our guys, I think, in particular, our veteran players are doing a better job each week. I think the younger players are learning to be very intentional. You got to live with attention and certainly got to prepare with attention. So pretty, pretty quality day out there today. Obviously, the next couple of days will be mostly mental. We’ll sharpen this thing up tomorrow and continue to study the opponent not only the schematics but also the personnel. The individual matchups in this game are going to be really important. So what questions do we have here?

The focus during practice:

Napier: “I would say that it’s probably a little better than last week, I would say. You know, I do think that when you’re installing on Tuesday and Wednesday, some big bulk of information and material, you’re learning the opponent, some weeks are easier, simpler than others, if that makes sense. And then some are more challenging. I think the players have responded the right way this week. We were a little sharper today than yesterday. And that’s what you would expect because you go back and fix some things from Tuesday. And, you know, as we continue to prepare all the way to kick off, we’ll need to be detailing out the plan.”

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On turnovers:

Napier: “Yeah, no, it’s huge. Not only the takeaways, but fourth down. And when you play Kentucky the number of snaps go down a little bit because of the way that they play offense. Each possession counts and certainly takeaways are more impactful when there are fewer possessions in the game, right. So you know, we know the turnover margin is important in this league. If you win the turnover margin, you win three out of four games, right, so we talk about attacking the ball, owning the ball. And so far, we take care of the ball pretty good. But I do think defensively, one of our points of emphasis is getting more takeaways. But it’ll be critical in this matchup for sure.

Kentucky QB, Devin Leary:

Napier: “Yeah, no. Devin is a fantastic player, man. He had a great career at NC State, thrived under multiple coordinators. I think that he’s got arm talent, you know, and he’s an above average athlete. He can escape, he can extend and I see no drop off. I know he had the surgery on his pec, you know, in the offseason, but I think he’s, he’s done a really nice job. And certainly Liam’s done a good job. He’s in his first year in the new system, and I think he’s gotten a little bit better each week.”

Kentucky’s vertical attack:

Napier: “Yeah, that’s a big part of the game. I think explosives will be important in this game, in particular when you’re defending Kentucky, a lot of they’re explosives come when the ball gets to the second level in the run game and then also you got to survive the three-level vertical pass game, the shots off play action. I think the receiver group is talented. The two kids who  played as rookies last year that are in year two, the Virginia Tech transfer gives them some diversity of players in all three areas but it’s a huge part of this matchup for sure.”

Kentucky’s WR group:

Napier: “Yeah. Well, I think, you know, I think the big thing is you’ve got some veteran players at corner that have played. I mean, everybody’s in year two in the system, I can’t emphasize that enough. And I continue to harp on this, but I think the teachers are in year two. They’re teaching material for the second time. You know, Austin’s new, but ultimately he’s put his spin on our system, you know. And we have continuity there, and I think that’s helped the players and it’s helped the coaches. And look, this is a team game, right? The rush and the coverage must work together, right? So I think we’re doing a better job affecting the quarterback. And then obviously, if we can make him hold it a little bit, we’ve got capable rushers and vice versa, right? If we can rush then we don’t have to cover them as long, right? So, I think we’re benefiting both sides. And again, this is one of the more challenging groups that we’ve played. There’s no doubt about that.”

On Jalen Kimber:

Napier: “Kimber has had a great year. It’s been very competitive in that room with Devin Moore coming back off the injury, you know, and then obviously the two freshmen are very talented. But Kimber had, it goes all the way back to January, right? I mean, Kimber started in January. He started this process and then this guy gained a lot of lean muscle, he changed his body completely. If you dig into Kimber’s career, this was truly the first offseason that he’s had, right? Because he had shoulder surgery last year, wasn’t quite able to participate. So this, from January to August, this is the first training full-round, year-round process that he’s been through. So, Kimber tests well. I mean, his force play numbers, I mean this guy can jump, he can create power, he’s got twitch, and he’s long, right? So you know, last year he showed some toughness and some grit playing with the injury, he’s out there with the cast. And again, last year was his first year of experience. So, year one to two is where most players make the big jump and he’s certainly done that.”

Mannie Nunnery playing multiple roles:

Napier: “Yeah, no, Mannie’s another freaky athlete, man. He’s the fastest linebacker that we have, he tests through the roof in all the different metrics that we use. And Mannie, look, two years ago in college football, Mannie was the Special Teams National Player of the Year at Houston, right? He played, you know, kind of MONEY linebacker for them, and very, there was some similar concepts in their system that carried over here. So, he’s kind of hit the ground running. We’re playing him at the big SAM and then he plays WILL linebacker as well. So I think Mannie’s got a bright future in front of him and, you know, he continues to get better. I think he’s had some of these better weeks. One thing of note here, we keep up with how much video the players watch. And Mannie watches, it’s incredible the amount of tape that that guy watches in the typical week. So that part for him I think is paying off.”

Shemar and Scooby’s development as a linebacker tandem:

Napier: “Yeah, no, I think both of which are really young players. You know, when you look at their career, how much experience do they really have? I mean, last year, I think they played sparingly. Jay Bateman’s done a fantastic job. I mean, think about Ventrell and Burney last year and then these two guys this year. I think that those guys, they have the right approach. They’re some of the better practice players. Shamar James, you know, his output in practice is second-to-none every day. I mean, he’s playing fast, practicing fast. And Scooby, to compliment Scooby, Scooby has been banged up but he’s going. He’s practicing, he’s shown some toughness and grit to be able to go out there and try to play with some consistency. But we’re proud of those guys, and I’m proud of the way that both have improved as communicators. Let’s don’t forget that that was one of the more competitive rooms and it continues to be one of the more competitive rooms. If you’re not doing your job there’s someone who’s capable. I think the competition has really helped them grow.”

Getting Kingsley back:

Napier: “I think Kingsley’s presence affects our offensive unit. I don’t think there’s any doubt. Experience, there’s no value, no price tag you can put on it. The guy’s ability. He’s comfortable, he’s been there, he’s a really good communicator, he’s got an edge about him that rubs off on the other guys. It will be a big deal. He showed some toughness this week, relative to what he’s been able to do. So tomorrow’s going to be important to him all the way up until we kick it off he continues to work hard at it.”

The impact of Eugene Wilson’s return:

Napier: “Tre, we all know, you all were at practice and training camp. Our players know, our DBs know, the guy’s a unique player. He has unique acceleration. He has unique instincts, vision, ball skills, hand selection, run after catch, it’s not too big for him. It’s always good when he’s in there.”

The impact of Florida’s portal additions:

Napier: “If we really evaluated our portal decisions, we’d all be pretty happy with it. You think about Banks, Cam, Kimber, Mannie, Terajda, Moten, Pearsall, Montrell Johnson, Graham Mertz, Kam Waites. Micah Mazzccua, Damieon George. Hats off to our personnel department. Bird Sherrill does a fantastic job staying on top of those things and working the entire year preparing for those periods of time. I think we’ve gotten better at it and I think we’ll continue to improve. The first year, we were new and it was new. We have system in place now and it’s been effective for us. The evaluation part of it, I love that part of the job. We have hired really well. We have really bright people there who have done a good job. We’ve been doing it for a while. We know each other. We speak the same language. We see things together the same way. It’s benefitted the Gators for sure.”

Balancing the portal with high school recruiting:

Napier: “We’re going to sign … we’re trying to sign 25 good high school players every year. Player retention is important. I’m not ever going to get too far away from what I think football is about, what we’re here to do. Don’t get me wrong, there’s going to be years where a guy gets injured or a guy declares for the draft or a guy transfers because things didn’t work out. This is the world we live in. The attrition rate is going up so the portal is another avenue to add a good player. Look, we have to take into account NIL here, too. A lot of those things the National Football League, a lot of those strategies have to apply. It’s a big puzzle. I love every bit of it. I think we have a good team of people working hard on it. It certainly has made our team better.”

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