Q&A with Ron Zook

Here is the question and answers from the Ron Zook press conference yesterday in Gainesville, Florida. Coach Zook breaks down all the positions and more as Florida is about to begin spring practice.

Q: Talk about this year's spring practice outlook with what you faced 12 months ago when systems, coaches, and players were all new.
A: Well I think anytime you go into a system for the second time it is much more productive for the coaches and players. The carry over you have from the first year when you are able to keep the system the same is really good. The coaches and players know where to go, and so it is obviously a lot easier and smoother.

Q: Talk about the attitude of the team coming into spring practice.
A: The attitude of our football team right now is as good as I've ever been around. From the day classes started this spring semester, the work ethic has been unbelievable. The way they've attacked it, the extra time they've put in on their own, the things they've tried to accomplish this spring as far as the weight room and the conditioning, there is no comparison in intensity this winter compared to last winter. I am really proud of them and the way they've worked.

Q: How important is spring practice to be used as a springboard for the 2003 season?
A: I think it is very important. Obviously we want to build on where we finished last fall. I think the fact that we will have some new faces in there will be important that we get the most game-like situations as we possibly can in there this spring.

Q: Who do you expect to be the leader on the offensive side of the football?
A: I think if you look at the offensive side of the football, the guys you expect to have the opportunity to be leaders are Max Starks, Shannon Snell and Mike Degory—guys that have played a lot of football around here. Carlos Perez played quite a bit, as did Ran Carthon and Kelvin Kight. But I think you've got to look at Max and Shannon as the two with the most experience and playing time that are going to be the ones who are going to lead this football team on offense.

Q: Who are going to be the leaders on the defensive side of the football?
A: On the defensive side, it is a little bit different. On offense it is the guys in the front and on the line, it is the opposite on defense where the leaders will be in the secondary. Guys in the back like Gus Scott, Keiwan Ratliff and Daryl Dixon. Now Daryl didn't play last year, but he has played a lot of football around here, and we feel that he is going to have the chance to be a leader. We are expecting a lot out of Bobby McCray as well up front. Bobby played a lot of football last year, and he really needs to come on and be a leader for us in the defensive line."

Q: What would you say would be the keys to the offensive success going into spring practice?
A: The exciting thing about this spring is that there is so much competition. Competition makes people rise to another level. I think that if you look at what happens in college and the NFL is guys are always able to rise up to the next level when given the opportunity, and that is what is going to happen with our football team this spring. That is why it is exciting to see all these guys compete at the quarterback spot, the wide receiver spot, and the offensive line spot with the new junior college guys that are coming in here. That is what is going to make spring a lot of fun this year.

Q: What would you say would be the keys to the defensive success going into spring practice?
A: We have a lot of competition, a lot of guys who haven't played a whole lot of football so they will be competing for playing time, and when that happens, you see a whole other level of effort. It is evident in the way they've worked in the weight room and conditioning workouts. The intensity has just been unbelievable, and that is why I am excited about spring ball."

Q: What do you think is the strength of your team going into spring of 2003, and what is one thing you need to improve on?
A: I think we need to continue to improve in all areas, and I think the strength of our football team this year will be on the offensive side of the football. The defense is a little bit like the way we were last year on offense, going in with a lot of guys who hadn't played a lot of football. This year we have a lot of guys who haven't played a lot of football. But we are very athletic, and we have guys who we just need to get in playing situations as much as possible and have them improve. The one area we need to get a lot better in is special teams, but with a more athletes on the field should allow us to become better in special teams.

Q: Are there any player-positioning changes you are anticipating in spring?
A: Well there is a good chance Keiwan Ratliff will get a lot of work on the offensive side of the football as well as the defensive side, but there is a good chance we will spend a little more time with him on the offense because he is an explosive guy who can make things happen when he's got the ball in his hands. Also, Matt Jackson will get a look as a defensive back.

Q: Talk about the quarterback situation going into spring.
A: We have a bunch of very talented guys who are all vying to play. Ingle Martin, who was the backup, got a little playing time last year, and the situations he was in he was very productive and did a great job. Now you've got two guys in Gavin Dickey and Patrick Dosh who haven't played, so that's an exciting thing to see what they can do. When guys are put in a position where they have a chance to play they respond a lot differently to when they know that they will be a backup. Players have a different mindset when they know they are competing for something.

Q: Talk about Ran Carthon and the running back position.
A: The running back position should be one of the strengths of our football team. Ran Carthon had an excellent year and played almost as much as Earnest Graham. Earnest was a leader and guy that carried the football a lot, but Ran is a guy that can carry the load. Willie Green returns and the three freshmen, Ciatrick Fason, Deshawyn Wynn and Jimtavius Walker, are as good group of three as anybody in the country.

Q: Assess your tight end situation.
A: We are thin there. Obviously Ben Troupe is a very talented athletic guy who has a chance to be the guy. He played a lot of football last year and did a lot of good things. He got injured in the later part of the season with a high ankle sprain. He has come on with a great off-season and worked extremely hard in the weight room and conditioning, and he knows this is his chance. David Kenner is a junior college guy that will have the opportunity to learn the offense and prove what he can do. Darrell Carpenter returns after playing well for us late in the year and did a good job on special teams.

Q: Discuss the wide receiver rotation.
A: The wide receiver rotation is yet to be determined. With the exception of Taylor [Jacobs], all of the receivers are back, and with Taylor missing a few games last year we got a chance to see what some other guys could do. Kelvin Kight came on strong at the end of the year, and the wide receivers got steadily better as the season went on. Carlos [Perez] is back and should be at full speed and strength by the beginning of spring. We also have some young guys, Jermelle Cornelius, Dallas Baker, Kenneth Tookes, Reggie Lewis and Terrence Holmes that we are looking at to see what they can do. We want to put the young guys in a playing situation and see how they handle it.

Q: Talk about the offensive line, which you have already indicated will be one of your team's strengths this year.
A: I think the biggest strength on the offense should be the running back position, but I think the offensive line will be another strong point of the team. With the addition of the three junior college players and having more numbers than last year, we should be improved on the offensive line. We have three guys back who started in Shannon [Snell], Max Starks, and Mike Degory. We also have Randy Hand, who ended up starting at the end of last year as a true freshman, along with Jonothon Colon and Mo Mitchell who both played a lot of football for us. Adding the three junior college guys is exciting, and it will give us more depth and make us better.

Q: Talk a little about the impact the red shirt freshmen will have from a year ago and what kind of impact this year's recruiting class might have.
A: It is exciting because eight of the red shirt freshmen players were sitting in my office the first day of the spring semester wondering why we weren't working out the first week of school. We gave all of the players the first week of school off to make sure their academic schedules were in good order, but they were chomping at the bit and couldn't wait to get started. We are very excited about seeing them on the field and now it will be their opportunity to show what they can do. I am excited about this class; we signed 22 guys and we played just two and red shirted 20. Those 20 guys know they have a shot to play and will raise the enthusiasm and the athleticism of our football team.

Q: Talk about the defensive line.
A: The defensive line will be made up of guys who don't have a lot of playing time under their belt, but these are guys we think are capable and talented. Darrell Lee and Bobby McCray have played a lot of football out here. Darrell Lee had been hampered by some injuries, but he has probably had the best off-season since he's been here. Bobby McCray has worked extremely hard to put himself in the position to play and be a leader. Sly McGrew knows it is his turn to have a chance to play, and we are looking forward to good things from him. Kenny Parker was someone who would have been in the defensive line rotation a year ago, if it was not for his back injury. We feel that he could be a heck of a player for us. Junior College transfer Eric Holcombe gets my vote for the most improved in the off-season. He's gotten better day-in and day-out as the off-season has progressed. Steven Harris and Ray McDonald are two young guys that we were really excited about during the fall, and they gave our offensive line fits all season on the scout team. We are going to have a lot guys without a lot of experience, but we have guys who play with a motor and are athletic and can make things happen.

Q: Discuss the linebacker situation.
A: We have a similar situation with the linebackers as we do on the defensive line. We lost two very experienced guys with Mike Nattiel and Bam Hardmon, but we brought in some talented athletic guys without a lot of playing experience. Like the lineman, they have motors and are very athletic. We will be much more athletic at the linebacking position this year. Taurean Charles is a guy that we were very impressed with on the scout team as was Brian Crum and Channing Crowder. Crowder, who will be a true freshman this year because he didn't enroll until this spring, has been very impressive in the off-season conditioning workouts. We also have Todd McCoullough coming back who has played a lot of football, so I think there is going to be an awful lot of competition. Matt Farrior, Reid Fleming and Travis Harris are back as well, and Dwright Jackson should be recovered from a knee injury and has a lot of potential. We have guys who don't have a lot of experience, but are athletic and can make things happen.

Q: Discuss the secondary.
A: The secondary will be the leaders on the defensive side of the ball. Keiwan Ratliff and Guss Scott return after starting in the secondary for us last year. Daryl Dixon, who started two years ago, was redshirted last year but was very much involved in the game plan. There is a lot of competition for the one corner spot. The McCollum twins, Jermaine and Tremaine, will compete there. Nick Brooks, who redshirted last year but had a great fall playing on the scout team, has a lot of potential, and we have moved Matt Jackson from wide receiver to the defensive side of the ball.

Q: How much leadership does Daryl Dixon have, and how important was it to have him travel with the team last year, despite not playing?
A: Daryl didn't ask to travel last year because he knew he wasn't going to play, but the other players asked to have him on the trips. I think it shows the leadership qualities he has when guys like Todd Johnson and Robert Cromartie were asking me to make sure he was on the trips. Our players obviously have a lot of respect for him and that respect is something he has earned. I am excited to have Daryl back because he will have those same leadership qualities for us this year.

Q: Talk about the kicking game.
A: The kicking game is an area that we have to improve in. There is no doubt in my mind Mike Woodford will make us a much improved special teams unit. We are adding a lot of athleticism to the special teams - guys who can run, tackle and block and do the things you need to do in special teams. We have Casey Griffith, our long-snapper back, who had an excellent season last year but will be even better this year. There will be competition at the kicking and punting positions. We need to come out of spring with a pretty good feeling of who is going to be the kicker and who is going to be the punter.

Q: How important will it be to have Casey Griffith the snapper and Sean Morton the holder back from last year?
A: I think anytime you go into a season and have guys back at those two positions it gives continuity to the kicking game. It is critical for the kicking game to have some consistency with the snapper, the holder, and the kicker. It was tough on the kicking game last year when we started the season with a new snapper and lost our holder in the preseason workouts.

Q: Any surprises in the offseason?
A: They have all worked extremely hard and I'm happy the way the off season has gone. I'm proud of the attitude of the football team and the way they have worked.

Q: Comment on the changes on the coaching staff.
A: We have three new coaches. Our offensive and defensive system will not change. It was important to me when I was putting the coaching staff together to keep the same offense and defense. Charlie Strong is a coach who is very familiar with the Southeastern Conference and the University of Florida. He has been here three times before and has made the transition very smoothly. Bill Miller is a coach who has a wealth of experience and has been a defensive coordinator for 17 years including Miami and Michigan State. He has been in a lot of big games and has been around a lot of great coaches. Mike Locksley will coach the running backs. He has done an unbelievable job at the University of Maryland in recruiting and coaching. We've made some other changes on the offensive side of the football that will help make us a better football team.

Q: Last thoughts.
A: The message of the spring practice is that our guys have worked extremely hard in the off season and the attitude of the football teams is the best I've ever been around. The work ethic has been outstanding. The competition for positions is going to make it a very exciting spring that should carry over to the summer.

Q: Comment on the incoming class of recruits.
A: We are very excited about the class of kids that we have coming in next fall. We have a lot of opportunities to compete for playing time, and competition usually brings out the best in players so I'm looking forward to having those guys on campus and making our football team better.

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