James is a Game Changer

Ole Miss has the second worst kickoff coverage in the SEC, allowing 32.3 yards per return. Unfortunately for the Rebels, the Gators have the league's second best return average at 28.7 yards per game. There may not be too many kicks aimed in the direction of Brandon James on Saturday.

Brandon James is averaging 32.7 yards per return this season, which has given the Gator offense great field position in the last two games.

"I'm not sure I'd kick too many to him," Urban Meyer said. "He's got a little bit of confidence going now."

James' biggest return of the season came on a punt return, not a kick return, against Tennessee on Saturday. On his first chance of the game, the sophomore returned it 83 yards for a touchdown. Ole Miss may try to kick away from James, but Meyer said it's not easy to do.

"We've directional punted before, but that's hard unless you have a mature punter," Meyer said. "[Eric] Wilbur did a little bit, but that's hard. It's hard to place a punt. If you miss one or shank one, that's field position you've given up. On kickoff, if you want to sky kick, that's fine, but it's the 40-yard line where you're catching it."

Meyer also said once a team starts directional punting, it makes the punter vulnerable to blocks.

"You change your block style," he said. "A punter's pocket is no different than an offensive line protecting a quarterback. The pocket's designed to fold around the punter. The minute you start to change where the punter is kicking the ball, you're vulnerable. There are a lot of issues when you start punting away from people."

James almost didn't make it to Gainesville. Meyer wasn't completely sold on him when he was in high school, but he's proven his worth since arriving on campus. He has been both a game-changer on special teams and a true running back.

"Greg Mattison gets half credit for that one," Meyer said. "I thought he was a great player, but I was very concerned about his size."

But James has made the most of his size by bulking up.

"He's very strong," Meyer said. "He wasn't as strong when he first got here. He's actually a functional running back now. He can protect the quarterback. Chris Rainey's little too, but he's not very strong. There are a lot of players playing in the NFL who are small but very strong."

James impressed Meyer right away during his freshman season because he had a professional attitude and work ethic. So when James was arrested over the summer for drug possession, it was a shocker.

"I think Brandon is a good guy," Meyer said. "It was a very stupid mistake and that was as hard as I've ever been on a guy. I was crushed. I didn't think he would do something like that."

James served a suspension during week one, and Meyer has been pleased with the way he responded to the situation.

Too early to talk

Meyer said it's still to early to talk to his team, especially the younger players, about playing on the road in the SEC.

"We talk about that when the workweek is done," he said. "The workweek is done tomorrow. Right now, we're concentrating more on assignments and getting ready to play."

Meyer will rely on the seniors this weekend to help educate the younger players, and he may even take Andre Caldwell who will not play because of a knee sprain. Caldwell is a captain and is the spokesperson for the Gators during the coin toss. He hasn't had the chance to call a toss yet since the Gators have played all three of their games at The Swamp.

"I'm probably going to take him," Meyer said. "Ever since he's been hurt, he's been out there. He is our spokesperson."

The Gators have lost all three coin tosses so far this season.

Notes

  • Meyer said Riley Cooper was gimping around a little bit today, but he expects him to play on Saturday. Maurkice Pouncey is a game time decision.
  • No starter has been named at free safety. It's between senior Kyle Jackson who started the first three games and freshman Major Wright who has replaced Jackson in each of those games. Meyer said it will also be a game time decision.
  • Wide receiver David Nelson will continue to see more playing time. Said Meyer, "He's practicing his tail off. Instead of worrying about things, he's going out and going as hard as he can."
  • Meyer and wide receiver coach Billy Gonzales put a high priority on receivers blocking, which Meyer said has been improving since the start of the season. Said Meyer, "Near the end of last year, they were the best in the country. I don't think we're there yet. I think they're pretty good, but we've had a couple of missed assignments. There not like they were last year."


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