Two resignations and a subpar last season later and Will Muschamp is at the helm of the Gators and has had his own bumpy ride of a first year. Leading up to this season however, Lerentee McCray thinks everyone is starting to figure each other out. "The second year has definitely been better under Muschamp," McCray said at SEC media days a couple of weeks ago. "We definitely have a feel with what he wants, what to expect, and that is to win. That is the common goal for everybody."
There has had to be a mentality change among the ranks. From a roster that was depleted with numbers from transfers and players kicked out of the program, the changes have come with a group that is starting to get just what the Muschamp staff is trying to instill in them.
"We know what not to do," he said. "We know we have to do something different and we talked about that this offseason as far as chemistry… we are more physical and stronger. We are doing all the things it takes to be great in this league."
Chemistry has been a problem and the head coach is doing what he can to change that locker room. There have been quite a few transfers including several players kicked from the team that were masked as transfers… all for the sake of the team. This is something new to the program.
"It is definitely different with Coach Muschamp," he said. "He has handled it well with letting guys transfer and negotiating that and keeping it in house. He has done a great job with that."
McCray also thinks people will see a lot different Muschamp than the one that has been blowing up the officials and players on the sideline. A lot of the change McCray said, will come from a better season all around.
"(He's a) family oriented guy and is going to bring a lot of rah-rah and a lot of energy and passion to the game," he said about Muschamp's demeanor on the sideline. "I think he will do a lot better controlling that so you won't see quite as much.
"He got wild depending on the games. The games are going to be different, they are going to be fun. We are going to win. He was on the edgy side because we weren't winning. This year it will be a more fun experience."
McCray also knows the last couple of years have been hard on the guys that paid their dues for a program and won a lot of games to put Florida on a pedestal in the past. "For the alumni, it's disheartening to see your alma mater not doing as well as when you were there," McCray said. "We have to keep that up."
McCray also thinks physically and athletically the Gators aren't far behind for competing for an SEC East championship. The underdog role is something that has the Gators a little motivated this offseason.
"I feel like we were neck and neck with those guys," he said. "I think if it weren't for a couple of mistakes, we could have won at least half more of the games we lost. WE are definitely an underdog and ranked lower than those guys. We will come out with a chip on our shoulder and play physical.
"We like being the underdog. We want to surprise everybody because everyone doubts us.
"We have been working extremely hard. The leaders and I have been trying to get everyone to go the extra mile, do the extra rep to do what it takes to win."
After a home game with Bowling Green, the Gators have to jump into the fire early and play Texas A&M and Tennessee on the road. To start the season. It will be the Aggies first SEC game as a member of the conference and no doubt the home town fans will be at the top of their game. Then the 100,000 plus Vols fans in Knoxville is never an easy crowd to play in front of.
"We have to start fast, that is the main thing you want to do. I think with our team chemistry and our experience I think we are going to start fast. We have the complete tools to be great.
"That is one of the biggest things we talked about this offseason. Bowling Green, Texas A&M, and Tennessee, we start fast and start physical."
The defense finished eighth in the country in the ‘total defense' category. That was a lofty standard playing alongside an offense that helped them little to none. However, they know the one place they must get better is creating turnovers and McCray thinks that will happen in 2012.
"We will definitely get more turnovers," he said. "Our defensive line is stronger and our team as a whole is stronger. We will definitely be more physical, we will compete better with bigger teams, and have more speed as well.
"We have been doing a lot of different drills. In order to do it in a game we have to practice it."
Increased turnovers should be a direct reflection on the play of the guys up front. Pressure up front and big hits are going to force loose balls and bad passes. With that in mind McCray says things are getting better and some guys will step up. One of those is Dominique Easley who is recovering from knee surgery and the other is McCray himself.
"Easley has been working out with us this summer," McCray said. "He is coming back off his injury pretty well. He has been doing drills with us and poised to have a great year this year. I am 100%."
With Ronald Powell injured and out till near the end of the season there is work to do at the BUCK position. McCray is one of many that will try their hand at the BUCK and McCray talks about some of the others and the effect powell's injury has on the unit.
"It has been humbling," McCray said of Powell's ACL tear. "We have to take it play by play and day by day. You never know when that last snap will be. Injury can come at any time, it doesn't have a name or a face. It just makes our team work harder. Everyone has to step up their level of play so we can get back to where we want to be."
McCray is ready to play where they need him to make things work.
"I can play anything on defense, it doesn't matter to me," he said. "I like to play with my hand down and play linebacker also."
He also noted one freshman that has come on board.
"Dante Fowler is real good," he said of the 6-3, 265 pounder from St. Pete. "Yesterday we had some drills and he looked real good coming off the line. He will definitely contribute this year if he wants to and he has that ‘want to'."
The units just seem closer and the depth seems to be catching up quickly on the roster with quality players, some who will be pretty young. But they are all working together.
"I feel comfortable with my teammates," McCray said. "We made tremendous progress this offseason. We are more together and I can trust every one of my teammates."
The trust comes from a common bond wit6h the coaching staff and namely the head coach. A squad of 80 is preparing for a season to work as one and they plan to do it with the style and flare that he is known for.
"Our team is an image of Coach Muschamp," McCray said. "Whatever he does and whatever he says we are right behind him. If he has a fiery edge, we have a fiery edge."