GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- There is light at the end of the summer doldrums tunnel and for a couple hundred members of the Titletown Gator Club that dark and narrow shaft may as well have been the one in the South End Zone at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The one the Gators will be pouring from en mass Sept. 1 and into the light of the 2012 season opener against Bowling Green at Florida Field.
That game is just 37 days away.
If it seems too long, consider the first practice of Coach Will Muschamp’s second season is just eight days (Aug. 3) away.
The good folks from Titletown got a preview of the season Wednesday night from Muschamp’s coordinators: Dan Quinn, in his second season after the leading the Gators defense to the No. 8 national ranking (299.5 yards per game) and Brent Pease, in his first season, by way of Boise State, where his Broncos offense averaged 44.2 points and 481.3 yards per game.
Members filed into the Champions Club and took seats in the midfield mezzanine while Quinn and Pease, amid the backdrop of the stadium and campus, casually spoke and took questions for about an hour.
* Both men praised the offseason addition of strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman (with Muschamp, left) and his staff. His Olympic-style training methods, which emphasize speed and explosion, are a perfect match for what Muschamp seeks with regard to physicality on both sides of the ball. What the players have gone through will go a long way toward chemistry and building unity and leadership.
* Quinn went first and spoke of three elements the UF defensive staff are out to improve on in ’12:
1) Takeaways. The Gators forced just 14 turnovers last season, so this season they’re talking “rips, strips, picks and bats,” as in doing things that force turnovers.
2) Tackling. The fundamentals of getting a guy on the ground will be emphasized, reemphasized and overemphasized with drills in camp.
3) Pressuring the quarterback. Quinn is a former NFL defensive line coach, so he understands what it means to get after the QB. The Gators did it pretty well last year, but want to do it better and with more splash results this fall.
* The defense has added 10 new players this summer (and three early enrollees last January) that could figure into the rotation. The unit lost only two players. That means the overall depth will be better.
* Of the incoming freshman class, which most recruiting services ranked in the top five or 10, Quinn sees anywhere from three to five players contributing right away. The most likely candidates, he said, are the players who arrived in the spring and have a semester jump on their indoctrination. The one player he mentioned was Antonio Morrison, linebacker from Bolingbrook, Ill. Morrison had nine tackles, including one for a loss, in the Orange & Blue Spring Game.
* Quinn can’t wait to see linebacker Neiron Ball, who has been medically cleared after missing the 2011 season after an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) was diagnosed in the spring of 2011. “We’re going to send him after the quarterback.” Ball played 13 games as a true freshman in 2010. He got a medical redshirt for missing last season and will be a third-year sophomore.
* Pease opened with the five elements of offense he’ll be out to instill in the Gators:
1) The biggest, of course, is physicality and that starts with the offensive line, the area both he and Muschamp believe will be the most improved unit on the team. How improved? “I’m not afraid to pump them up,” Pease said. “They will be one of the strengths of our offense.”
2) Explosive plays in the passing game. Can’t have No. 2 without No. 1, Pease said. The development of the line will allow Pease to do more things on offense, which will lead to more big plays down the field through the air. That also includes screen passes, which Pease loves.
3) There will be a lot of “funk” in his offense. That means pre-snap movement to confuse the defense.
4) Protecting the football or as Pease put it, “the opposite of what Dan is talking about.” Just as the Gators induced only 14 takeaways last season on defense, they coughed it up 26 times on offense. That equaled a minus-12 turnover ratio that was ranked 113th in the nation. “Turnovers put the defense in bad position.”
5) Which brings us to the most obvious goal -- and needed one. “Great quarterback play,” Pease said. At Boise State, he had one of the best in the nation in Kellen Moore (right), who went 50-3 as a starter and was the first quarterback in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards four straight years. Muschamp and Pease have said throughout the offseason that both sophomores Jacoby Brissett and Jeff Driskell will play this season and the Gators can win with both. Pease uses Moore as a reference point. “You have to reach that standard,” he said. “You know the bar. Go after it.”
* Trey Burton will be a prominent part of the offense, including a so-called “Wildcat” package, but look for the junior to line up all over the field as he’s done in the past. “He’s one of the best athletes on the team,” Pease said. “Sometimes, the ball has to be in his hands.”
* Among the incoming freshmen, the one with a chance for instant impact is wide receiver Latroy Pittman, out of Citra North Marion High. Like Morrison, Pittman enrolled at UF in January and took part in spring practice. Pittman had two catches in the spring game, including one for 43 yards.
* On calling plays from upstairs in the coaches box, rather than on the field during a game. “I want a sterile environment where I can really focus and see things.”