Florida Gators head coach Billy Napier met with the media on the SEC Teleconference ahead of Saturday’s matchup with Tennessee. Here are the highlights from the session.
Napier: “Really excited about opening up SEC play. Certainly an Eastern division game against a rival. We’re all well aware of the importance of the game, but we’re really excited about playing at our place. A ton of respect for the opponent. They’ve done a nice job with their team. They present issues for you in all three phases. We’re right in the middle of preparation. I’ve been pleased with our team. I thought yesterday in particular we were really sharp. We just continue to dot the i’s and cross the t’s here as we get close to the game.”
Promoting Russ Callaway to tight ends coach this offseason:
Napier: “Russ was with us at Alabama as a defensive analyst early in his career. Then he had an opportunity to go call plays. His dad is obviously a legendary coach at the collegiate level. He’s a former quarterback, he’s a team captain and a good player there. I do think his experience calling plays at Samford and then certainly the experience at LSU working with the quarterbacks and then in the National Football League for a year. So, he did a nice job for our defensive staff last year kind of giving them an offensive perspective. I think he’s got a good mind and is certainly connected in our recruiting areas and has done a nice job so far.”
How has the defense has improved so far?
Napier: “I think we’re in Year 2. I’ve been pleased with this staff’s improvement. I think each one of the assistant coaches has done a nice job going to another level, second year in our year-around plan for development of the players — knowing what to do with their time. I do think they’re benefitting from teaching the same material for the second year. Hiring Austin Armstrong gave us a chance to have continuity in the system. Austin has done a good job from a leadership standpoint connecting with the staff and the players. And I do think we’ve improved the personnel to some degree. We’ve added some new front-seven players and not only through the portal but also some really talented true freshmen that have made us better. The bigger challenges are ahead of us. Obviously, this weekend will be, they present a ton of issues relative to their personnel and their tempo. But I do think we’re making improvement, much like we anticipated in our second year. So good people, good players and working hard at it — and certainly we need to continue to grow and improve and develop these young players for us to have a chance to play our best football down the stretch.”
Has the defense has been better in any specific areas?
Napier: “It all matters. It all matters. Part of it is mental. Once you understand what to do, it becomes how to do it. Then there’s another level to learning of why we’re doing what we’re doing. I just think all parts of that unit are there, the staff in particular, to go along with some veteran players who are coming back. Don’t forget the majority of the players on this team were here in January. We benefitted going through the entire process starting back in January.”
Growth from UF’s secondary and the challenge of Tennessee’s offense:
Napier: “I think essentially, we have a couple veteran corners coming back, and then we’re relatively young, right? We’re a freshmen and sophomore group. So, majority of those guys if not all outside of DD (Dijon) Johnson were here in January. We knew we were going to have to get them ready to play, and I think we just really attacked that part of our team, you know, and so far, so good. I mean, we gave up an explosive in the opener on the first play, but look, the challenges are going to be more demanding in the future, we all know that and understand that. So, the key to the drill here is we continue to address anything and everything that we know we can do better. In the meeting, in the walkthrough, in the practice setting, and certainly learn from the game experience as we have several rookies that are running out there for the first time, right. So, Tennessee not only has good personnel, but they’re unique in their approach relative to the tempo, so some of the things they do from a formation perspective, they’re going to create run-after-catch opportunities, so there will be some open field tackling that will be really important in the game. And then, at some point, you get into some match-man matchups, and you got to win your matchups. You’ve got to play with the right technique, you’ve got to keep your eyes in the right place, you’ve got to make the play. So much like most weeks, there will be some very specific things that are important, and I think your question’s a good one.”