After the first few practices, you can look around and see that Florida football is about to become a team that won’t let fans throw rocks at their TVs.
If you’re not sure what that means, don’t sweat it. Most importantly, the players seem to understand the message.
Proximity means to be close to something or someone. I wouldn’t have used it, but Billy Napier became the first coach in NCAA history to throw it out at a press conference a few days ago.
Theres a term called closeness, he said. I challenge you in the next press conference we have, you can give me the definition of that.
Napier tried not to come across as a linguistic brat. He highlighted one of the ways he is reviewing the program.
You’ve heard a lot about Napier’s emphasis on details, discipline, structure, responsibility, etc. We were now beginning to see those concepts in action.
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Solving small things to solve a big problem
It’s the little things, attacking guard Ocyrus Torrence said.
Were all out in white socks, said defensive gear Gervon Dexter. You won’t see a blue sock there.
Pre-Napier was more of a fashion mishmash. In a vacuum, sock compliance is no problem. Georgia would have beaten Florida last year with mismatched lead socks.
But trivialities are important. They are the football version of the Broken Windows theory of law enforcement.
It states that serious crimes are produced by disorder. You shorten that by tackling minor offenses such as vandalism, loitering, and public drunkenness. Not everyone believes the theory, but New York City tried it 30 years ago and crime rates plummeted.
In the football version, tolerating minor infractions leads to disorder leading to 15 penalties against Kentucky, including eight false starts. It leads to a misalignment in a crucial 2-point attempt against Alabama.
It leads to the Shoe Toss Heard Round the World. It leads to an average of 8.1 penalty points per game and a 120th place out of 130 FBS teams in penalties per game.
All of that led to 3-9 in the last 12 games against Power 5 teams, and a fan base reaching for rocks to throw.
That was an issue we just had to discipline, Dexter said. I think that was the biggest thing that needed to be changed.
There’s really only one way to teach discipline the old-fashioned way. Napier uses the term designed difficulty, which is akin to Welcome to Marine bootcamp.
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Each team has grueling workouts and likes to believe that more guys have puked in bins than in other camps. Torrence and running back Montrell Johnson followed Napier to Gainesville from Louisiana. They heard their new teammates talk about pushing physical boundaries.
Montrell and I had a good laugh before we started, Torrence said. Those guys thought they knew what was coming, but they really didn’t. You could see the recognition when boys fell to their knees.
Building a team concept
The key isn’t how many players end up on their knees. It makes them go into battle and see the greater purpose. They’re not just doing it to help their NFL stock. They do it to help the man who is on his knees next to him.
That’s where closeness starts again. When the new training facility opens in a few weeks, Napier plans to rearrange the locker assignments twice a year, so players will have to deal with different faces.
He does the same in the preseason camp, with unknown players room together. He wants every player to know the name and city of every other player.
There’s something to be said about developing loyalty and encouraging the team, Napier said.
It’s too early to say if it works. Players say yes, but that’s to be expected. Defensive line coach Sean Spencer proudly recalled Justus Boone landing on a teammate at the end of spring practice.
That’s not what we do, Boone told him. We expect more.
When you start to understand that, you get them talking like that, man, it can be special, Spencer said.
For a special season, UF could also use some other things. As a proven quarterback, game makers and SEC-caliber depth.
After the first few exercises you look around you and you are not sure what you see with those things. But you also look around you and see no blue socks or broken windows.
Consider that a pretty good start.
David Whitley is the sports columnist for The Gainesville Sun. Contact him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @DavidEWhitley.
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