Major Wright Joins the Exodus, Will Enter the NFL Draft

After the 2006 National Championship season, four players with eligibility left – Jarvis Moss, Reggie Nelson, Brandon Siler, and Ryan Smith – decided to depart Florida for the NFL.  This time around the exodus is even worse.
Junior safety Major Wright marks the fifth early entrant for the 2010 NFL Draft to leave the Gators.  He joins Carlos Dunlap, Joe Haden, Aaron Hernandez, and Maurkice Pouncey and may very well be the most surprising of the bunch to throw his hat into the ring.
Wright is an extremely talented safety, but one can’t help but wonder if he is nothing more than a mid-round pick.  Not that the money offered to mid-round picks is anything to turn a cold shoulder at, but just something to consider.  However – as One Eyed Willy so graciously pointed out – could Wright realistically up his stock by returning for his senior season?
The answer is no.  Wright is most likely a mid-round pick in 2010 and would probably be a mid-round pick in 2011.  He is a physical safety who can cover a large area of the defensive backfield, but needs to improve his reads on receive route running.  He can get better and probably will, but the odds he will boost his draft stock by sticking around for the 2010 season are slim to none.  After all, the Gators have enough defensive backs to fill the rosters of the entire SEC.  Despite being entrenched as a starter, Wright could’ve actually seen his playing time decrease in 2010.

The Pounceys Spilt and Carlos Dunlap Heads to the NFL

2010 will mark the first time since the 2001 season in which Florida will not have a set of twins on the roster.  If that doesn’t concern you, you better get your head checked.  Junior center Maurkice Pouncey surprised no one when he announced his intentions to head to the NFL, but the decision of twin brother Mike Pouncey to stay was a shocking one.
Both decisions actually make sense.  While both are extremely talented offensive linemen, Maurkice has a little more experience (Mike contributed on the defensive side of the ball during their freshman year).  He was rated higher by most NFL Draft “experts” and appeared to be more, even if only slightly so, ready for the next level.  Still, the fact that one will go and one will stay is befuddling to stay the least.  However, the Pounceys did choose to not live together during the junior year in anticipation they would end up in different NFL cities.
Be happy at least one of them returns to anchor the offensive line in 2010.  And anchor Mike might do.  Word is he wants to move over to center to fill the void left by Maurkice.  Just be careful when you two go out together next season Pounceys.  One of you is in the NFL now and can’t be footing the bill for a collegiate athlete.
Jump across the line of scrimmage and the Gators lose another junior to the NFL with the declaration of Carlos Dunlap.  The defensive end is another one where the decision shouldn’t surprise you, even if there was some word last week he was considering a return.
The last two games of Florida’s season may have had the biggest impact on Dunlap’s draft status despite the fact he didn’t appear in one of them.  We all remember the DUI and subsequent suspension for the SEC Championship Game.  And even remember saying we weren’t sure Dunlap’s absence would be as detrimental as we first thought.  One Alabama victory march later and Gator fans missed big #8 even more.
He returned for the Sugar Bowl to cap off his Florida career by showing just how dominant he could be when he turned it on.  Dunlap continues a strong line a Gator pass rushers in recent years that turned their Florida success into becoming first-round draft picks.  There is some concern over character after the DUI arrest, but talent can’t be denied.
Both Maurkice and Dunlap will be missed as they join Joe Haden and Aaron Hernandez as early entrants.  And they may not be the last.  Rumors are circulating about Major Wright and who knows what Ahmad Black is thinking.

Florida Gators 41 – Kentucky Wildcats 7

The story in the victory over Kentucky is of course going to be the shot Florida quarterback Tim Tebow took. A clean, hard hit looked bad enough when Tebow didn’t get up, but the replay showed it might have been much worse. As Tebow went down, he head struck offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert’s knee. Tebow was able to get up and get to the sideline, but began vomiting not long after and was taken to the hospital as a precaution. First reports are that the senior suffered a concussion. He was kept in Kentucky overnight for observation.

As for the game, the Gators came out on fire and built up a 31-0 lead after only the first quarter before slowing things down. A solid 41-7 victory over an SEC East opponent was just what Florida needed before heading into a bye week. It’s been hard to get a read on LSU – Florida’s next opponent – this season, but they are still the Tigers and always present a good matchup. The Gators needed a good win before taking the next couple of weeks to prepare for what might be the season’s biggest matchup for both squads.

After carrying the ball what many thought to be too many times against Tennessee, a heavy dose of Tebow was on the plate again against the Wildcats. Tebow carried 16 times (and might have ran more if he hadn’t been knocked out of the game) for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Tebow is now only one rushing touchdown away from tying Georgia’s Herschel Walker at the top of the SEC’s all-time list. Although the Gators only attempted 16 passes all game, Tebow also managed to throw for a score. The quarterback has passed and rushed for 11 total touchdowns in Florida’s four games this season.

The running game as a whole was a big advantage for the Gators. Florida ran for 362 yards, compared to 86 gained on the ground by Kentucky. Jeffery Demps led the way among running back with 12 carries for 97 yards and although Emmanuel Moody only carried the ball five times, I can’t really complain. Moody totaled six touches (he also caught a pass) for 75 total yards and 12.5 yards per touch. The six touches don’t seem like a lot, but Moody was on the field for a lot of this one and might be on track to seeing more playing time.

The defense was great as usual. It seems like Charlie Strong took the leash off in this one and let them go. There were blitzes, aggressive coverages, and multiple schemes. It was the defense we’re all used to. And it works. Kentucky only totaled 179 yards and 11 first downs. Most importantly, the Gator defense allowed the Wildcats to convert only three of their 16 third downs.

Despite limping off the field on more than one occasion, Brandon Spikes finally showed the talent we’ve seen for the last few years. Spikes led the team with 10 tackles and always seemed to be around the ball. The Gators got interceptions from Janoris Jenkins and Major Wright and sacked Kentucky quarterbacks three times.

When these two teams face each other in 2010, Kentucky may not want to attempt any punts. Chris Rainey was on double duty in the first quarter as he blocked a punt and fell on the ball in the end zone for the touchdown. Special teams are an important part of Florida’s success and they got the big play in this one.

Now the Gators head for their weekend off. A good thing too. Tebow gets more time to rest after the shot heard ‘round college football. And all those flu-like symptoms have plenty of opportunity to go away. The big one is up next. LSU. In Baton Rouge. At night.

Game Preview: Florida Gators @ Kentucky Wildcats – 6:00

Is this the defining game for Florida? It’s hard to tell, but after last week’s win that wasn’t enough for most people, it sure seems that way. If the Gators come out and do anything similar to what they did to Kentucky last season, suddenly faith is restored and the #1 team is truly the #1 team. If the offense struggles and just does what it needs to do and nothing more, then the questions will keep coming. Anyway, here are 10 things I’d like to see today…

1. A convincing win. Last week I wanted a blowout. It didn’t happen, but it’s time to move on. That game is in the rearview mirror. So this week, I’m not calling for an absolute annihilation. I don’t need a 58-point win like last season. Something in the 35-7 range would be good. 45-17? Sure. Just get out there and get it done. It doesn’t need to flashy, but it damn sure can’t be ugly either.

2. Less Tim Tebow. That sounds blasphemous, but Tebow shouldn’t be carrying to ball 20+ times a game. He shouldn’t. Florida has too many weapons to be putting Tebow in that situation. There are other options. Use them. Which brings me to…

3. PLAY EMMANUEL MOODY! There’s news Tebow wasn’t feeling well and traveled to Kentucky on a plane with Major Wright and Joe Haden in order to pay special attention to the players with flu-like symptoms. It appears as if it’s not serious, but let’s use the other “power” back. It’s time to get Moody involved. 10-12 carries. Blocking in the backfield. Set up the outside runs by the speed backs by pounding away with Moody down the middle.

4. A receiver stepping up. Deonte Thompson isn’t 100%. Riley Cooper still struggles with foot problems. We might not see Carl Moore all season. So give one of the other receivers a shot. Let’s see Frankie Hammond show the speed he did in fall practice. Get the ball to Omarius Hines over the middle. Keep throwing to David Nelson and let him make plays. Basically, stop complaining about a lack of depth at receiver and use the ones you have. It’ll be much harder to work these guys into the first-team offense a month from now. It’s time today.

5. Stop the blitz. The offensive line has been less than spectacular this season, but part of it has to do with blitzing defenses. The linemen may have their assignments, but there’s very rarely anyone in the backfield to block blitzing defenders. Something needs to change to give Tebow more time than he had against Tennessee.

6. Stay focused. You never know what can happen when you go on the road. Never. Stranger things have happened than a conference road loss. The Gators need to stay focused from the second they enter that stadium until the final whistle. Florida is the #1 team in the nation. It’s time to take that ranking on the road and come home with a convincing win.

7. Blitz. This is a good defense. This is a great defense. Charlie Strong has created a disciplined unit that thrives on the sure tackle and the turnover. Now let’s unleash them. Bring the heat and force Kentucky into mistakes. Playing it safe is all good and well, but Florida has the talent to bring the blitz and make something happen.

8. Big hits. A repeat from last week, but where’s the intensity? The biggest hits we’ve seen this season have been from Tebow on a defender, Janoris Jenkins on a teammate, and Steve Addazio on an unsuspecting Riley Cooper. Let’s see some excitement and some hits. Run the Wildcats over.

9. Special teams. A kick return. A punt return. A block. Anything. One of Florida’s biggest strengths needs to be seen.

10. The starters on the field. There are a number of players hurt or under the weather. There are a number of various reports about who has gotten better and who has not. I want to see a game with everyone going full speed and contributing. Get on the field and make it happen.

BREAKING NEWS: Tim Tebow Comes Down with Flu; QB Travels to Kentucky Separately

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow is the latest to come down with flu-like symptoms. It appears as if several Gators traveled to Kentucky on a separate plane to be isolated from those that hadn’t come down with anything yet. Among those on the “sick” plane was the superstar quarterback. It’s also being reported that Major Wright was on the plane with Tebow. Although no other names have been mentioned, head coach Urban Meyer has said the team has had upwards of 35 cases in the last four weeks. It’s unclear what Tebow’s status is for today’s game. (H/T: One Eyed Willy)

Joe Haden and Major Wright the Latest Florida Gators to Catch Flu

Two of Florida’s 28 star defensive backs are the latest Gators to develop flu-like symptoms (Isn’t a hangover a flu-like symptom? If so, I better take today off.). Sure-tackling cornerback Joe Haden and boom-inducing safety Major Wright both missed practice on Thursday after coming down with a case of the aches. Despite not feeling well, newly-minted coach of the decade Urban Meyer expects both to be ready to go Saturday against Kentucky. And if they don’t, well who knows what could happen. Meyer sure doesn’t like the thought of that: “If Haden isn’t going, I’m not going.”

A number of other starters who have been under the weather are getting better or have beaten the sickness altogether. Jermaine Cunningham, Jeffery Demps, and Aaron Hernandez all appear as if they’ll be full speed and ready to go against the Wildcats and A.J. Jones looks like he’s improving. No word on how some of the backups that had taken ill are doing.

In other injury news, middle linebacker Brandon Spikes has been tender, but should still be ready to go against Kentucky. It’s game four already and time for Spikes to step up and show his All-American status. The defense has played great in the first three games, but they’ll need their leader to keep it up as they get into the depths of the SEC schedule. Luckily for the Gators, linebacker depth is a close second to safety depth on the wow meter. (H/T: One Eyed Willy)

Game Preview: Tennessee Volunteers @ Florida Gators – 3:30

Tomorrow brings a world of excitement. Not only for the game, but for the thoughts of a glorious tailgate followed by copious amounts of football. If I were you, I might not want to be near me between the hours of 3:00 PM and, let’s say. 3:00 AM. I’ll be a treat. Luckily the people I’ll be with tolerate my behavior and the things that come out of my mouth post a case of Busch Light. Of course the game is what everything revolves around and it’s what makes everything happen, so here are 10 things I’d like to see in Florida’s battle with the Volunteers from Tennessee

1. A blowout. Let’s be honest, every Gator fan, and every non-Vol SEC fan, wants Florida to absolutely annihilate Tennessee. The 59-20 drubbing in 2007 was good, but allowing 20 points in unacceptable. In 2008, holding the Vols to six points was what we wanted, but scoring 30 wasn’t enough. This year, we all want a little of both. 59-6 would be perfection. Offense and defense running on all cylinders. Oh and don’t forget the special teams. I don’t want this to be a good game. I don’t want it to be close past the opening kickoff. I’m a Florida fan and I want a blowout.

2. Maintain the ridiculously high yards per carry. Florida averages 8.4 yards on the ground. Jeffery Demps leads the way with 14.7, Chris Rainey is notching 12.4 a clip, and Emmanuel Moody comes in at 9.8. Basically, give the ball to anyone of those guys and odds are your getting a first down.

3. Get Omarius Hines on the field. Yes the competition hasn’t been ideal, but Hines has performed admirably. He’s currently third on the team in receptions and yards. Hines has earned his shot and should get time as the fourth or even third receiver if the opportunity presents itself.

4. Go to Deonte Thompson. I’ve kept #4 the same from last week. Thompson dropped another pass early in the game against Troy, but rebounded with two touchdown catches. Regardless of the two scores, Thompson’s involvement is less than ideal so far. Two catches in two games is not what you want from a guy who was supposed to be the go-to receiver.

5. Work in anyone else at tight end. If Gator coaches are so worried about the possibility of Aaron Hernandez getting hurt, then they need to work someone else into the rotation somehow. Now’s the time to do it.

6. Limit the big play. To expect Jonathan Crompton to lead more than one multiple-play, clock-eating drives, is like expecting an earthquake to swallow The Swamp whole on Saturday. If Tennessee is going to stay in it, they will need big plays. They seem to have the talent to break a big run or two and Florida knows it. Come tomorrow, they’ll need to stop it.

7. The Brandon Spikes coming out party. Spikes has been relatively quiet so far this year. It’s okay at this point because the Gators haven’t needed him. But this is SEC play and it’s time for the real Spikes to come out. The defense feeds off of Spikes’ enthusiasm. I’m sure he’ll be up for this one.

8. Big hits. Spikes, Will Hill, Major Wright. Florida has some big hitters and now it’s time to unleash them. Don’t think Vol receivers won’t be given a message when coming across the middle or looking up for the ball. This will be a classic slobber knocker.

9. Interceptions. Crompton likes to pass to the other team. He’ll hit Gator defensive backs at least once and most likely twice or even thrice. Florida’s secondary needs to be ready because they can singlehandedly put this out of reach.

10. Brandon James. James likes playing against Tennessee. Tennessee doesn’t like playing against James.

Conference play is here. Go Gators!

Morning Reading: Eric Berry versus Taylor Mays

I’m a big fan of safeties. Who isn’t? Being a Florida fan, it’s hard not to have visions of former Gator great Lawrence Wright leveling Joey Kent. Or Reggie Nelson scoring on an interception return against Alabama. Or, most recently, Major Wright knocking Manny Johnson into another zip code. Safeties are just fun to watch. It’s as simple as that.

Two of the best safeties in the history of college football (yes, I went there) are currently getting ready for their junior and senior seasons respectively. While a school like Florida may have a great all-around secondary, Tennessee and USC have the individual stars. Eric Berry and Taylor Mays have entire offenses making sure they know exactly where they are lined up.

Berry seems like the better coverage safety. He’s a definite ball hawk who is a threat to score anytime he gets an interception. Although the Vols are not expected to shock the world this season, Berry may be able to singlehandedly keep them in games for longer than most would think possible. You can probably write in between six and eight interceptions and six and eight game-changing hits right now.

If you’re going to give Berry that many big hits, you might as well give Mays triple that. Not that Berry isn’t a great hitter, but Mays isn’t asked to cover one-on-one as much and benefits in the hit department by playing more of center field. He won’t intercept nearly as many passes as Berry, but he’ll make receivers think twice before even attempting to catch the ball.

If you watch a single Vol or Trojan game this fall, watch it for these two. They won’t be around in 2010.

Jordan Haden to Enroll Early; Will Join Big Brother for at Least a Few Months

The latest in the Haden family line committed to Florida a while ago, but it appears as if we can now set his name in stone to become a Gator. Or at least, we’re pretty close.

Jordan Haden has announced he will enroll early and will join the Gators for the spring 2010 semester. He may never get a chance to play with older brother Joe, but he’ll at least be with him at Florida for a few months. The older Haden will be a junior this fall and with his talent, could leave school early for the NFL. If he does, the hopes of seeing both Hadens in the Gator secondary could be dashed.

Whatever happens between now and the 2010 season, Jordan will be a welcome addition to the Florida secondary, which will hope to maintain its greatness after players like Joe, Ahmad Black, and Major Wright move on in the next couple of years.